I have given way several times, and I am conscious that many Members wish to speak.
The housing needs of my constituents in Lewisham are not going to be met in Lewisham alone. If every house built in Lewisham over the next 10 years was an affordable home—and I mean genuinely affordable—we would still not solve our housing crisis. There has to a Government plan to deal with this. There is not, and on the basis of the NPPF, I fear that the problem will just get worse.
I question the usefulness of a document that contains stronger stipulations about the habitats of birds than it does on say, housing for the elderly. There is a one-word reference to the way in which councils should take into account the housing needs of older people, compared with a very clear statement about sites protected under the birds and habitats directives. I am not against the inclusion of clear guidance on bird habitats, but I am against the absence of clear guidance on planning for the enormous demographic challenges that our country faces.
Before I conclude, I should like to touch on the apparent contradiction between the NPPF and the Government’s supposed commitment to giving local people more say over what happens in their neighbourhood. During our deliberations on the Localism Bill, I said that neighbourhood plans would serve to stoke up communities’ expectations about their ability to say “no” to development in their area—a nimby’s charter. However, according to the Government, the default answer to development should be yes. How can the two be compatible?
I put it to the Government that they have over-hyped localism. Neighbourhood plans have been sold on a false prospectus. They will not deliver power to communities to define the sort of development that they want to see in their area, as neighbourhood plans have generally to conform with the council’s strategic plan, which in turn must be consistent with the NPPF requirements on meeting housing need. The only way neighbourhood plans will work is if communities ask for lots and lots of new homes to be built. They may well do so in Tunbridge Wells, but that is not my experience in Lewisham.
In conclusion, the Government appear to have a laudable “consensus” view of planning. They believe that local people, working with local authorities, will ultimately deliver plans that meet the needs of the nation as a whole. I am not so sure that they will. Planning is ultimately a mechanism to resolve fierce competition over a finite resource. Judgments must be made in a balanced way, and consideration must be given to the environment and society, as much as to the economy. Planning policy and guidance has a role to play in setting out how those decisions are taken. Yes, planning policy could and should be streamlined, but let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater. As a local civic amenities society in my constituency, the Culverley green residents association, stated in an e-mail to me this week:
“Revision is a reasonable option but a bonfire is not.”