Housing and Planning Bill
Nick's Speech in the Consideration of Lords Message
Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)
I accept that the Government have reasons for again rejecting the neighbourhood right of appeal—on which I originally tabled an amendment—but would the Minister accept that there are real concerns about the integrity of neighbourhood planning? It is an important policy, and know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is particularly keen to promote it. Such neighbourhood plans are undermined by speculative developments, and there needs to be a mechanism to ensure that those neighbourhood plans, once agreed or when close to agreement, are not subverted. It would be in no one’s interest to end up with a developer-led process rather than a plan-led process. Will the Minister agree to introduce more robust measures at some future opportunity?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have shared platforms and spoken about the strengths and benefits of neighbourhood planning. I know that he feels passionate about this, and I share his desire to ensure that communities have the confidence that, when they draw up a neighbourhood plan, it has weight in law and will be respected by the local authority and by the planning inspector. The call-in process is partly aimed at ensuring that that will be the case.
I am happy to make it clear that I want the law to be strongly in favour of neighbourhood plans. I want them to become the norm everywhere in England. We are well on our way to achieving that, with a record 18 referendums being held last week and hundreds more communities due to complete their plans soon. This makes it even more important not to have amendments coming forward that could carelessly introduce change. We need to ensure that we get this right, and I am happy to tell my right hon. Friend that we will work with him and other colleagues to ensure that we give these neighbourhood plans the confidence and primacy that the Government always intended for them. We must ensure that neighbourhood plans are respected by the decision makers.
I do not believe we should be routinely reopening debate on locally made decisions, which is effectively what this Lords amendment would enable. Those decisions are locally and democratically accountable and they already take into account neighbourhood plans. I ask this House to send the amendment back, while reconfirming my commitment to work with colleagues to ensure that neighbourhood plans enjoy the primacy that we intend them to have in planning law.
Neighbourhood planning has been one of the success stories of this Government and a flagship of the localism policy. I commend my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the work he did in putting that legislation through and in pioneering neighbourhood plans. They put communities in control and create a situation where they ask themselves what they want in their local areas rather than what they do not want. Neighbourhood plans have ended up producing more housing than was originally intended. As the plans are voted on by a local referendum, it is very important that they are respected once they are agreed. We tell local communities that their neighbourhood plan will apply for, say, 15 years, and that certain areas that they decide will be developed and that others—green spaces and so on—will be protected. It is therefore of concern to local communities that are about to produce a neighbourhood plan or have made one, and to other areas in the process of producing such plans or considering them, if developers appear to be allowed to come along, game the system, bang in a speculative planning application in the hope that they will get it through, arguing that there is some reason why it should be allowed despite a neighbourhood plan, perhaps because of the five-year land supply, and their planning permission is then upheld by the local authority or a planning refusal is overturned on appeal.
Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury) (Con)
That is exactly the position I face in my constituency, where a number of speculative planning applications are being put forward, often involving the argument that there is not a five-year supply. One case is now having to go to the House of Lords in order to uphold neighbourhood plans, which clearly is not what was intended by the Localism Act 2011 and neighbourhood planning.
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. Indeed, a number of hon. Members are concerned about this issue, as the Minister knows. As I explained in my earlier intervention on him, the intention of the original amendment to introduce a neighbourhood right of appeal was not just to redress a perceived inequity that developers have a right of appeal but communities do not; it was to deal with this particular problem, whereby we cannot allow the whole policy of neighbourhood planning, or the democratic decision, to be undermined in the public eye, given that we accept that a local planning authority does reserve the right to make a strategic allocation. That is understood, but that is a rather different position from suddenly deciding that an area should be developed contrary to a neighbourhood plan.
My right hon. Friend is making an impassioned case on behalf of his constituents, but does he not see the other side of gaming? It might be possible for a local planning authority that has not produced a local plan to move a residential development on to the neighbourhood plan scheme and, with a right of appeal that would, over time, stymie the development of much-needed housing.
I think my hon. Friend has expressed the Government’s concern about the particular amendment and the proposal for a neighbourhood right of appeal. He has shown why they were not willing to accept it as drafted, and why they rejected it and seek to do so again.
I understand the Government’s concern in this area. I am seeking not to drive a coach and horses through the local planning system or to stymie house building, but to ensure that this very important policy, which is producing more housing than was anticipated and which reflects local needs, is not wrecked because local support for it is undermined. That is certainly in danger of happening in my constituency in west Sussex where neighbourhood planning was going very well, but people are now starting to say, “Well, what are neighbourhood plans worth if they can so easily be overturned?” That is why action in this area is necessary. The Government have taken a step towards it by seeking to insist on an amendment in lieu, which would require local authorities to identify where there was a conflict with the neighbourhood plan. That does not go far enough, because it merely reflects what happens in the planning system at the moment. I welcome the Minister’s willingness to engage with concerned Members on this issue, his understanding of its importance and his commitment to look at it again, perhaps with a view to some future proposals that will ensure that the policy of neighbourhood planning is upheld.
Although I appreciate the reasons why the Government wish to insist on their amendment in lieu for the reasons that my hon. Friend the Minister set out about the specific right of appeal, I do hope that the Government will not dismiss the intention behind the amendment and will honour the commitment that they have made to Members to look again at this important issue. Where we have given local communities a say, we must stand by that commitment, particularly when they have voted democratically. It will damage the policy of neighbourhood planning if we do not. That is why future action, properly constrained in a way that does not stymie planned development, is so important.
To read the full debate, see: http://tinyurl.com/z953ajt