National Planning Policy Framework

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 3:17 pm on 20th October 2011.

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Photo of Gavin Shuker Gavin Shuker Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:17 pm, 20th October 2011

That highlights the point I have just made: Members have different opinions. I regularly knock on doors in my constituency and find people living in the most terrible circumstances, with private landlords taking advantage of them. I am torn about whether to report that to a housing department, as I know that there is such limited housing stock. It is therefore worth looking at different areas in different ways.

There is a quiet crisis in housing across the south-east in particular, but also in other areas. I am certainly not opposed to simplifying the planning system; one of our jobs as Members of Parliament is to simplify things. However, to slim down a 1,000-page brain surgery manual, as it were, to just 60 pages is not the best way to proceed. The best way to proceed is to say that we want to have more housing and more localism, and that we want people to have choices in decisions affecting their own constituencies and communities. We want to do that sensibly, however, which is why this debate has been very good so far.

Many of today’s speeches have been wish lists of various items about which people are concerned, and mine will be no different. I have specific concerns about a number of areas and I hope that the Minister will respond to them consensually at the end of the debate.

My first concern relates to sustainable development, about which we have heard from Members on both sides of the House. I have counted four or perhaps five possible definitions of “sustainable development” published either by this Government or previous ones. I have shadowed the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs team and seen sustainability go from being the sole remit of one Department to being mainstreamed. The Department for Communities and Local Government has been one of the major winners from that. As I have shadowed the DEFRA team, I know that DCLG has probably scored more points against DEFRA than Labour Members have, and that applies on various things, including bin taxes. There is uncertainty about “sustainable development” and its definition, and it is important that the body of this policy framework defines incredibly clearly what that is. Brundtland’s work obviously provides a good starting point, but the tighter the definition the easier it will become for planning applications to go through and for us not to end up with things in court for six or seven years when the definition could be clearly set out from the start. If we want more affordable housing, we need to be clear and exact in our definitions—that is a great place to start.

The Attlee Government enacted sites of special scientific interest in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, and we have been clear about wanting to maintain those protections. The chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Mike Clarke, has stated:

“One thing the final plans must state clearly is protection from development for some of the nation’s finest wildlife sites—those areas designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest. We have received legal advice this week which suggests that the proposals as they stand will weaken protection for these areas.”