National Planning Policy Framework (Community Involvement)

Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:52 pm on 30th April 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

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

Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Liberal Democrat, Leeds North West 1:35 pm, 30th April 2014

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring a Bill to make further provision for the National Planning Policy Framework;
and for connected purposes.

The planning community involvement Bill seeks to build on the initiatives in the Localism Act 2011 to give communities more of a say in planning decisions, and to amend the national planning policy framework. Despite having much to commend it and despite it being a much-needed simplification of planning law, that framework has still not got the balance right between the rights of developers and those of local communities. It is also not being properly implemented by some local authorities.

In a June 2011 guide to the Localism Bill, the then planning Minister stated that the purpose of the Government’s localism agenda—one I warmly welcomed —was

“to help people and their locally elected representatives achieve their own ambitions”.

Although I am delighted that the coalition Government have taken many steps in the right direction, including the assets of community value scheme, neighbourhood development plans and a number of measures, in reality many of our constituents—including those of Members from both coalition parties, and around the House—know that unwanted development is still being imposed on them, often with little chance to do anything about it.

Developers are still cherry-picking greenfield sites and building expensive multi-bedroom houses in areas that do not want and cannot support significant development. That is not what the country needs; we need more affordable homes in key areas and more social housing. Reform is needed to ensure that building happens where it is wanted and needed by communities and regions, and on brownfield sites first, not simply where developers will make money building homes that are out of the reach of the pockets of ordinary people.

These are sensible measures; they are not radical and this is not nimbyism. I do not propose to try to stop development everywhere, and I am certainly not trying to discourage the housing we need. The measures in my Bill are supported by organisations such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which has suggested a number of measures, the Campaign for Real Ale, Civic Voice, and also by the Local Government Association and local councils. I hope that the Bill will start a debate about how we can reform the planning system to get it right as we approach the general election, which is now just a year away. In Leeds, many communities such as Cookridge, Bramhope, Pool-in-Wharfedale and Adel, are already facing huge increases in housing, including on green-belt land. That is at a time when many parts of the city and region are crying out for housing of the sort that we need, yet those sites are simply being land-banked and ignored.

There are also issues with housing targets. For example, Leeds city council is proposing to build 70,000 homes by 2028. That is the highest figure among all major UK cities, despite it having the lowest population increase of any major city since the 2001 census. It does not make sense. A local campaign group, Wharfedale and Airedale Review Development, has pointed out that if figures are calculated on the 2011 census, the figure should be only 48,000, yet a higher target is being imposed on local people. That is the situation in Leeds, but it is reflected around the country.

We also have permitted development rights for assets and local facilities that clearly involve a fundamental change of use, and the loss of that community facility. That can apply to community centres, local shops, post offices and pubs. It is great news that the Government have now responded on betting shops. It was clearly an absurdity to allow betting shops to go through without planning permission, and it is also absurd—and I speak in this regard as the chairman of the all-party save the pub group—that pubs can become supermarkets, solicitors’ offices or payday loan shops without having to go through the planning process and without any opportunity for the community to have a say.

The Department for Communities and Local Government says that that problem is solved by the assets of community value scheme and article 4 directions, but it is not. The ACV initiative is being undermined by the inadequacy of the planning system, and in many areas the Localism Act 2011 is being ignored. For example, recently in my constituency an application was made to build houses and a supermarket on a playing field, in an area where local schools do not have their own playing fields. Despite a campaign by the local Hyde Park Olympic legacy group and a pending asset of community value application, the application went through. That is scandalous, and my Bill would address that.

Some 350 pubs have been listed as ACVs, but how many have actually been saved? The answer is only a few. In London, the Campaign for Real Ale has pointed to several pubs—the Castle in Battersea is a heap of rubble, the George IV in Brixton is a Tesco store, and the Chesham Arms is an office with an unauthorised flat. The initiative is being undermined.

My Bill would abolish the right of developers to appeal. There has been an inequity between communities and developers for too long. A report by Savills estate agents shows that 75% of all planning appeals for large housing developments are allowed after local councils have originally voted them down. My Bill proposes the simplest and cheapest solution, which is to abolish the right to override local authority decisions by appealing to a distant planning inspector. That would be good news for the Treasury, because we could abolish the Planning Inspectorate, saving £50 million a year.

I acknowledge that we need new homes, but paragraph 49 of the national planning policy framework should be amended to demand that developers must still meet local policy objectives, such as where a local authority seeks to prioritise development on brownfield sites before greenfield sites, and sweep away the nonsense of councils being unable to demonstrate a five-year land supply.

My Bill would also drop the requirement in the NPPF that local authorities should allocate an additional 20% buffer of deliverable housing sites. Developers can cause a 20% buffer to be required, rather than a 5% buffer, by under-delivering housing, so they are manipulating the system.

My Bill would give councils the power to refuse applications on prematurity grounds. Local plans and neighbourhood development plans can often take a long while to develop. Developers know that and exploit it. With an increasingly transient population, we should stop focusing simply on local authority areas and having artificial targets set by the local authority—in the case of Leeds, they are wrong—and look at how local authorities can work together, rather than in isolation, to address the country’s housing needs and where we should be building homes.

We need an overhaul of the plans panels process, which is frankly a fig leaf. Plans panels are presented as a quasi-judicial process, but they break every norm of any fair or just process. In Leeds, they allow a lengthy presentation by the developer and then only three minutes for two individuals to speak against. We need a proper process, with an independent chair, that gives equal time to proposers and opponents of significant developments.

We need to do more to prioritise brownfield land, and my Bill would put a specific requirement on developers, as well as local authorities, to prioritise brownfield sites through controlling or phasing the order in which allocated sites become available for development. My Bill would also ensure that councils have the power to refuse applications on greenfield sites until such sites have actually been brought forward for development. Developers are deliberately not bringing such sites forward so that they cannot be considered, and then the developers can use the loophole to get planning permission.

The Government have had the common sense to deal with betting shops, and my Bill would do the same thing to stop the nonsensical conversion of assets of community value to uses that are clearly different, including those suggested by CAMRA. The ACV scheme was a good start, but our communities deserve more than simply a right to try to raise money to make a bid that can then be ignored. My Bill would do what the Localism Act 2011 should have done and bring in a genuine community right to buy. It would also tighten the legislation and guidance so that councils do not unreasonably deny communities the right to list local assets, as has recently and disgracefully happened in Leeds.

Ministers have made considerable improvements to make the planning system simpler and more accessible to the public—and to involve local communities—but they need to go further to achieve their ambitions. We need further reform as soon as possible.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Greg Mulholland, Rosie Cooper, Mr Jim Cunningham, Jason McCartney, Stuart Andrew, Philip Davies, Martin Horwood, Chris White, Ian Swales, Mike Thornton and Julian Huppert present the Bill.

Greg Mulholland accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 June, and to be printed (Bill 203).