MP wins protection for neighbourhood plans

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has won the backing of Government in response to his call for greater protection of neighbourhood plans from speculative development. 

At the Report Stage of the Neighbourhood Planning Bill in the House of Commons on Tuesday (13 December), Mr Herbert moved amendments to give greater protection to the policy of neighbourhood planning, which he said “embodies the spirit of localism by giving local communities control over where development takes place.”

Mr Herbert asked for the Government’s response to “one of the thorniest questions in planning” when communities are confronted with development that they really do not want.  This is often the case when speculative development is put forward in an area where the local planning authority does not have a sufficient five-year land supply or a local plan in place. 

Mr Herbert warned of the danger of losing public support for neighbourhood planning, saying developers were ‘undoubtedly gaming the system so as to secure speculative development applications and planning permissions, in a way that is deeply cynical and that is undermining the principles of localism and community control.’ 

A number of villages in West Sussex have passed neighbourhood plans, only to find that these have been undermined by planning applications which have been allowed, either by the local council or by the Planning Inspector on appeal, even though they are contrary to the neighbourhood plan.  The issue has caused enormous local concern, and parish councils sought Mr Herbert’s help to address it.

Mr Herbert tabled another new clause (number 7), which gained support from both sides of the House, to address the problems he set out before Government.  This would require planning authorities to consult neighbourhood planning bodies on decisions to grant planning permission, and if a planning authority wished to grant a major development that was against the wishes of a neighbourhood planning body they would be required to consult with the Secretary of State before granting permission. 

The MP tabled a new clause (number 8) to address the five-year land supply issue.  This would empower the Secretary of State to issue a development order to: clarify the means by which housing land supply is assessed; define the minimum amount of time before a local planning authority’s failure to meet its housing targets would result in its local plan being out of date; and specify that neighbourhood plans should be taken into account, notwithstanding the lack of a five-year supply of housing land. 

The amendments were backed by several other MPs including Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) who said: “councils are constantly abused by the disgraceful behaviour of house builders. In my constituency - I intend to deal with the matter at some length - they have spent a very great deal of time and money trying to undermine the local plan.” 

The Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell, set out a response in a Written Ministerial Statement confirming that “where a planning application conflicts with a neighbourhood plan that has been brought into force, planning permission should not normally be granted”. 

The Minister agreed that there was a need to address the issue whereby “communities who have been proactive and worked hard to bring forward neighbourhood plans are often frustrated that their plan is being undermined because their local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five-year land supply of deliverable housing sites.” 

Gavin Barwell responded to Mr Herbert’s speech in the Chamber saying: “Where communities plan for housing in their area in a neighbourhood plan, those plans should not be deemed out of date unless there is significant lack of land supply – this is, under three years.  That applies to all plans for the next two years, and for the first two years of any plan that is put into place.  That will give a degree of protection that has not been available.” 

Mr Barwell added that he had now written to the Planning Inspectorate and local councils on this issue. 

On the matter of five-year land supply, Mr Barwell said: “once a five-year land supply has been established, there should be a period that it holds for … We will look at them as part of the White Paper, so I can reassure him that the Government are actively considering that issue and will return to it.”

The White Paper for Housing will be brought forward by the Department for Communities and Local Government next year and will include revisions to neighbourhood planning policies. 

Matt Thomson, head of planning at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said: “Along with the Minister's written statement [of 12 December], yesterday's debate included important steps in the right direction of strengthening communities' faith in the power of neighbourhood planning. We are particularly buoyed by the news that Government has promised to introduce its own measures requiring councils to consult with neighbourhoods when they make planning decisions.

“There are still some concerns over the application of housing targets, particularly the frequency with which developers can challenge a council's supply of housing land, but the Minister has indicated an opportunity to address those in the much-anticipated Housing White Paper.

“Nick’s work on these issues has been invaluable, and he has led sterling efforts to achieve concessions from Government that will not only strengthen neighbourhood planning and improve public confidence in it, but also help to protect precious green space across England from unnecessary development.”

Mr Herbert said: "I'm delighted that the Government listened to our concerns about neighbourhood plans being undermined by speculative development and has acted.  The Minister's clear statements give welcome new protection to neighbourhood plans, with further measures on the five-year land supply to come.

“I am grateful to the CPRE for their help in drafting and supporting these amendments.  It has been very useful to have their expert advice and I'm pleased to have been able to work with them again" 





   1.     To read Nick’s speech in the debate:

   2.     The Written Ministerial Response can be read here.

Michelle TaylorPlanning