MP calls for planning loopholes to be closed

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has called for planning loopholes which allow developers cynically to “game the system” to be closed, warning that public support for democratically-agreed neighbourhood plans is being undermined.                          

Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate on the ‘Five Year Land Supply’ last week (Wednesday 4 July), Mr Herbert joined other MPs in calling for reform of the planning system.

He said “Decisions taken in neighbourhood plans are entered into by the whole community, having been drawn up by volunteers and then voted on by that community in local referendums.  Just as we are now debating nationally the importance of honouring a referendum result, so it gravely undermines democracy locally when decisions taken by local communities can be so easily overridden.  I am afraid that is exactly what is happening.”

The MP raised local problems with planning decisions being permitted, against the policies of locally agreed neighbourhood plans, despite new protections which he secured from the Government in December 2016.  Mr Herbert said: “Subsequent to the introduction of those new measures, I have had at least two decisions taken right up to the Planning Inspectorate or the Secretary of State and then lost on appeal because that guidance could not be used.  It offered no protection to the local community on those technicalities, and the speculative developers won.”

Mr Herbert voiced his concern that speculative development is undermining local planning, saying: “We have to understand that developers are not just taking advantage of a loophole but gaming the system.  As a consequence, I believe we are building fewer houses than we could if developers had to do what policy should require and deliver.

The MP asked for planning guidance to be strengthened, concluding: “Our policy needs to change and we need to move away from five-year land supplies to delivery as the test.  That is the fundamental change that needs to be made if we want to build houses and we wish to do so with public consent”.

In response, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Nigel Adams, said: “The review of the NPPF is fundamental to delivering the 300,000 homes a year we need, and sets out a comprehensive approach to ensure that we get the right homes, built in the right places and to the right quality.”

The Minister addressed issues of community confidence in neighbourhood planning, saying: “I have great sympathy with communities that feel that they have no control over planning, and nobody wants to see companies overtly gaming the system.  However, we need more homes, and that is why communities should consider a neighbourhood plan … to give them more control over the issue.”

In his response to Mr Herbert’s comments, the Minister said: “Neighbourhood planning protection was included in the draft National Planning Policy Framework.  We consulted on the draft wording, and I thank him for his continued work and suggestions in this area.  We are considering those responses and will publish the final NPPF in the summer.”



 1.     To read Nick’s speech in the Westminster Hall debate, including the Minister’s response, see here.

2.     To read Gavin Barwell’s Written Ministerial Statement on Neighbourhood Planning in December 2016 see here.

3.     To read the Draft National Planning Policy Framework see here.