Housing and Planning — [Sir Charles Walker in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:27 pm on 3rd March 2020.

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Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Conservative, North East Derbyshire 3:27 pm, 3rd March 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I congratulate my hon. Friend Neil O'Brien on securing this timely and important debate. The standard of the contributions shows how important it is.

It is a truism to say that planning is a challenge and difficult. We have heard in the past hour or so of different experiences from around the country. My constituency is no different. We have a unique set of circumstances. The previous council administration was kicked out last May, having created problems that built up over a nearly 15-year period—without a plan, with too much speculative development, and with a failure to put infrastructure in place—and a new administration is trying to clear up the mess. The challenge is the relatively blunt instruments inherent to the planning system. In the two minutes I have left, I want to point out to the new Minister—whom I welcome to his position—three such blunt instruments. I hope that he will consider their implications on a larger scale.

The first is the overall framework. The challenge with some of the numbers going through the system, which are having an impact on districts such as mine, is that we are trying to use a national planning policy framework that is supposed to solve problems as disparate as those of Westmorland and Lonsdale, Ealing Central and Acton and North East Derbyshire. That means it does not work well. I should like some form of regional assessment within the NPPF so that we do not need, in the east midlands, to put 6,500 houses in a part of the world where real-terms house prices—the best proxy for demand—have not risen since 2008.

Secondly, I share some of my colleagues’ concerns about neighbourhood plans. When my area’s previous district council administration failed to discharge its responsibilities adequately, parish councils stepped up and tried to fill the gap by passing neighbourhood plans. That gave the unique opportunity of having them signed off by referendums in local communities. Yet, as a result, limited protections are offered. I hope that that can be considered in the future.

Finally, as to the adoption process, which is under way with the new administration in my district, there is a unique issue on which I hope we can somehow get a little more flexibility and pragmatism into the system as a whole. In our part of the world, too much speculative development over the past decade and a half means that we will significantly exceed our own, in my view overinflated, target, which was set by the previous council administration. Yet the inspector is showing only limited pragmatism, at the end of our local plan process, in terms of removing green belt, which still needs to be done to give confidence in the overall local plan process. I hope my remarks have been helpful for the Minister.