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Planning (Green Belt Protection)

– in the House of Commons at 4:39 pm on 3rd May 2011.

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham 4:44 pm, 3rd May 2011

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to increase the powers available to local authorities in relation to unauthorised development of green belt and greenfield land;
and for connected purposes.

This Bill is about fairness. Laws apply to everyone across society in equal measure and the Bill reinforces the powers of local authorities so that they may take action against people who pay no regard to planning rules. It applies to developers who build a house beyond agreed specifications, the farmer who lives in a barn for a few years and then reveals it and claims it is his home, and to Travellers who attempt to circumvent planning rules. There is a need to tighten planning legislation to remedy the frustrations of my constituents about certain types of planning abuse, and the problem has been compounded in Beckenham by Ireland, which has expelled quite a number of Travellers through some of its draconian laws.

I fully support the Localism Bill and I want to reinforce some of its intentions. Everyone in the House thinks green belt land is precious and we have a duty to protect it for future generations. We all accept that unchecked urbanisation will lead to a steady eradication of both our forests and our green fields, and I am sure that we would all like to improve the speed and effectiveness with which local authorities can act when planning laws are flouted.

The local authority for my constituency is Bromley council, where I have spent some time with Bob McQuillan, the chief planning officer. I asked him what we could do and he suggested that anything that expedited responses to planning violations would be a great help. After all, only 150 yards from Parliament we see real difficulties in planning enforcement. The struggle by the authorities to move protestors has been a running saga for 10 years, and they were still there for the royal wedding on Friday. Surely we can do better than that.

Clearly, many problems relate to green belt infringements by members of the travelling community, and that is sometimes a particular problem in the Beckenham constituency. Of course the vast majority of people obey the law, but a small minority of Travellers and other itinerants often pay scant regard to it. That creates a perception that almost all who travel the roads behave illegally.

Our community relations between the settled population and the travelling community are often fractious, and that tension is only heightened when people see Travellers arrive illegally on green belt land. The settled community, after all, must jump through all the hoops of the planning process to obtain planning permission, even just for an extension. The same rule should apply to everyone in this country.

In my constituency there are several problem areas: for example, the entrance to St John’s church in Wickham court and the former All Saints school on Layhams road. Travellers have stopped there too often—three times in the past year. This is private land owned by the Roman Catholic and Church of England Southwark dioceses, and although the council and the police try their best, responsibility falls on the landowners to take action.

This problem is a continual one for many Members of the House, and particularly in my constituency for Councillors Anne Manning, Graham Arthur and Neil Reddin. Other places in my constituency have suffered too, such as Hayes lane, at the entrance to Norman park, and Pickhurst green. Norman park and Pickhurst green are council owned. Measures to restrict entrance have now been put in place and might deter illegal trespassing—a height barrier has been erected at Norman park and a gate at Pickhurst green. The problem is that local people have to deal with illegal sites. They have to foot the bill to remove the litter and rubbish and they have to pay for barriers, height restrictions or gates. Perhaps most importantly, there is a psychological impact when people wake up to discover Travellers parked right on their doorstep.

The previous Government were criticised by many local authorities for their circular 01/06, which compelled local authorities to build, sometimes on green belt land, and to engage in compulsory purchasing. The circular seemed to favour Travellers over the local settled community, and its contents have been used time and again at hearings to prevent enforcement. I am very pleased to hear that the Government are revoking circular 01/06 as part of the new planning guidance proposed by the Communities and Local Government Secretary.

What sort of changes to the law on the unauthorised development of green belt and greenfield land would I like to see enacted? Let me give two examples that I hope to see in the Localism Bill. First, I would like the options available to those who offend to be reduced. They should be able either to appeal against an enforcement notice or to apply for retrospective planning permission, but they should not be able to do both. Secondly, there should also be a time limit, of perhaps 28 days, in which appeal decisions should be made. These problems are not easy to address, but the law should be on the side of those who obey it. In short, I should like to see powers for dealing with planning violations strengthened and speeded up. I commend this Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Bob Stewart, Stuart Andrew, Thomas Docherty, Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson, Stephen Gilbert, Karen Lumley, Sheryll Murray, Priti Patel, Mr Dominic Raab and Iain Stewart present the Bill.

Bob Stewart accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 9 September, and to be printed (Bill 184).