MP calls on Government to "keep its promise" on localism in planning
Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert has called on the Government to keep its promise to let local people determine the scale of development in their area.
The MP was introducing a debate which he called on 'localism in planning' in Westminster Hall on Wednesday (17 July).
The debate follows a series of speculative development proposals in his constituency that are jeopardising the community's new right to decide where new houses should be built.
Opening the debate, the MP was clear that this wasn't about saying no to all new housing. He said: "We must reject the false dichotomy that there is either a highest housing number or zero houses, with my constituents or councils rejecting the prospect of any house building. The councils are not doing that; they are actually planning for a very responsible level of housing, but it is important that they do that by consent and can carry their communities with them, which is the principle that we set out."
Mr Herbert drew attention to a specific pledge in the Coalition Agreement that the Government would: "rapidly abolish Regional Spatial Strategies and return decision-making powers on housing and planning to local councils... In the longer term, we will radically reform the planning system to give neighbourhoods far more ability to determine the shape of the places in which their inhabitants live".
While district councils and many villages had begun working on their plans, there was a danger, Mr Herbert said, that decisions would be taken over their heads by the planning inspectorate. He said: "there is now a growing risk that we will return to the bad old days of planning by appeal, under which the plans put together by local authorities are effectively overturned by the inspectorate."
Mr Herbert acknowledged that there was a requirement to build more houses: "More affordable housing is clearly needed, and there is strong support in local areas for that housing to be provided, to maintain the character of villages and ensure that communities remain strong."
Mr Herbert concluded: "When we explicitly promised localism not only in the Conservative manifesto but in the coalition agreement, when we have just passed a Localism Act, when we have told people that they will be in charge in their local communities and when we have put on them the responsibility for planning sensibly, we must uphold their ability to do so."
Responding to the debate, the Planning Minister, Nick Boles, denied that there was a serious problem and said that any difficulties would be resolved with time: "Childbirth is a painful process and gestation is not without its pains and difficulties, but the process resulting in local communities having local plans and neighbourhoods having neighbourhood plans will - I promise - be one in which everyone feels that they are in control of development in their area in a way that was never true under Labour or previous Conservative Governments."
Mr Herbert was supported in the debate by 11 other speakers representing constituencies across the country, including Mid Sussex MP Nicholas Soames.
The debate coincided with the launch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) "Save our Countryside Charter", a three-point statement that the CPRE hope politicians from all parties, and members of the public, will sign up to.
Mr Herbert welcomed the launch of the Charter, which he has signed, in a column for the Guardian, where he wrote that: "Communities that have seen random development as a threat have started to focus on what their villages and towns need, rather than on what they don't want. The earliest plans have envisioned more affordable housing, not less. Neighbourhood planning could turn people from nimbys into being part of communities that like to say yes."
Mr Herbert vowed to continue to make the case for protection of the West Sussex countryside and for localism in planning to be delivered as promised.
1. A full Hansard transcript of the debate can be read here: http://www.nickherbert.com/media_centre.php/627/localism-in-planning
2. Nick Herbert's column for the Guardian, discussing these issues, can be read here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/14/developers-vandalism-countryside-housing-crisis?INTCMP=SRCH
3. The CPRE's "Save Our Countryside Charter" can be read here: http://tinyurl.com/qcw4nx