Planning Permissions and Unauthorised Developments

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:18 pm on 26th January 2022.

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Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 4:18 pm, 26th January 2022

I appreciate and recognise my hon. Friend’s concern. We do want to ensure that the innocent are not caught up in a regime that pursues the guilty, but we also want to ensure that the system is more speedy and has much greater deterrent effects on those who attempt to gamble with the law, those who attempt to bend it and, indeed, those who choose to break it.

We all recognise that the reason why we need the important debate my hon. Friend has brought to the House today is that we believe—we genuinely believe—that there is more that we can do, and there is more that we shall do. As everyone in the House will appreciate, we are committed to improving our planning system and making it one that delivers better outcomes for people in all parts of the country. It is going to be the bedrock of one of our principal missions, which is to level up the United Kingdom and to help revive and regenerate those areas that have long felt forgotten by politicians of all stripes in Westminster. In our constituencies, however affluent they may be on the face of it, we all have areas of our constituency where there is deprivation and where residents feel left behind, and we have to fix that.

When it comes to pulling the handbrake on unauthorised developments in their areas, we want to make it even easier for local planning authorities to step in and make sure that retrospective planning permission is not exploited by those bent on gaming the system. Let me be clear: retrospective applications are only for individuals or businesses that have made a genuine mistake. As my hon. Friend alluded to, the enforcement process needs to work better. We make that happen by closing loopholes, and strengthening the existing powers and penalties at our disposal.

As we modernise our planning system in England, we plan to engage with communities and key stakeholders throughout the planning process. Our ambition is to ensure that the outdated system, which is essentially a relic of the post-war period, is now made fit for the 21st century, with proper digitisation of applications so that residents can easily see the proposed development in their area at the touch of their smartphone screen. As my hon. Friend and others have said, we have all seen and read about egregious examples of people bending the rules on retrospective planning applications. My hon. Friend mentioned the situation of the caravan park in Chelmsford, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell mentioned the situation faced by his constituents in Epsom. We see such challenges from individuals and commercial organisations up and down the country.

The simple idea behind retrospective applications is that they give people who have failed to seek planning permission prior to building a structure a fair chance to get the necessary approvals.