This morning I attended a Westminster Hall debate on Planning Reform and Local Plans called by David Heath MP. In attendance were a large number of my colleagues who all raised issues similar to those we are experiencing here in Stratford.
Unfortunately as the debate was so well subscribed I only managed to intervene on the Planning Minister Nick Boles and not give the speech I had planned. However if you are interested in what I would have said you can read it in full below.
May I first thank my honourable friend for securing this debate on such an important issue. He has spoken eloquently about the challenges with local plan generation in his own constituency and I would like to add the experiences of my own constituency to the body of evidence being presented.
As my honourable friend the planning minister will remember from his approval of 800 houses on land overlooking the historic Anne Hathaway's Cottage in Stratford Upon Avon, my own constituency is no stranger to controversial planning applications.
However in recent months it has come under intense attack from what I can only describe as rapacious developers. That is developers who are determined to undermine the Government's good intentions to deliver bottom up planning and much needed housing with the support of the local community.
The planning authority of Stratford-on-Avon is one of many across the country that is yet to submit and adopt a local plan. It is also one of many planning authorities that is working hard to identify a 5 year land supply plus a 5-20% buffer as required by paragraph 47 of the NPPF.
As a result the NPPF's presumption in favour of sustainable development kicks in, and rather than going through the plan led approach, speculative developers are instead identifying farmland, large gardens, arable farmland and greenfield sites in order to shortcut the planning process and pick-up land at much cheaper prices than those identified in the plan.
If such applications are refused by the District Council as not in keeping with the in development local plan then they are extremely likely to be approved by the faceless planning inspectorate.
In my own constituency this is leading to bizarre levels of proposed development, including one village which has an identified need for 75 houses over 15 years but that currently has 8 applications in for over 200 homes to be built over 5 years.
I do not doubt that there is housing need in our country, but the plan led approach, rather than the planning free for all that Stratford is currently experiencing is the right way to deliver them.
In conjunction with my constituents I have looked at the NPPF and would urge the minister to seriously consider making the following changes in order to protect areas such as Stratford from the attacks that they are currently under. And to achieve a balance in the system and deliver on our promise of localism.
1) A third paragraph should be added to the section on decision making (paragraphs 186 and 187) to ensure that the cumulative effects of development should be taken into account and will be a material planning consideration.
2) An extension should be given to the end of 2014 for local planning authorities to get their new local plans in accordance with the NPPF and to identify a 5 year land supply. In the meantime saved local plan policies should be used.
3) In order to give more weight to encourage the use of brownfield land, the NPPF should include the requirement that a sequential test should be applied where appropriate by local planning authorities.
I am sure my honourable friend will say that these are major changes, however in reality they are simply the closing of loopholes. Loopholes that I hasten to add are currently being exploited at the expense of local communities.
The damage this is doing to our flagship policy of localism is immense, and, if it continues, the physical harm it is doing to our countryside will become the defining legacy of this Government.
No one in my constituency believes that we can preserve ourselves in aspic for ever. However, change needs to be supported by the community, and in the current situation that simply isn't happening.