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Parliamentary roundtable discusses how to get real community involvement in the planning system

July 15, 2014 4:54 PM

Parliamentary roundtable discusses how to get real community involvement in the planning system

Last week in the House of Commons, Greg Mulholland MP chaired a roundtable event with campaigners to discuss existing issues with the planning system and possible solutions the next government should seek to implement.

Attendees included representatives from the National Trust, Campaign to Protect Rural England, English Heritage, Civic Voice as well as local groups such as Oxford-based Community Voice on Planning (CoVoP), Wharfedale and Airedale Review Development (WARD) and Aireborough Civic Society, both from Leeds, and Suspense Property Guardians from north east London. A number of MPs also took part in the discussion to relay local planning issues in their respective constituencies (Sir Nick Harvey MP- North Devon, Philip Davies MP- Shipley, Stuart Andrew MP- Pudsey, and a representative from the office of Fiona Bruce MP- Congleton).

This follows Greg Mulholland's National Planning Policy Framework (Community Involvement) Bill which had support from across the House of Commons and also from organisations and communities up and down the country. To give ordinary residents back control over their communities, amongst a number of measures, Mulholland's Bill called for abolishing developers' right to appeal and scrapping the £51mn Planning Inspectorate. Other measures in Mr Mulholland's Bill included:

  • Communities being able to appeal against high housing targets.
  • Strengthening the Assets of Community Value and Community Right to Bid schemes.
  • Closing planning loopholes that allow certain local facilities to be converted into retail use without need for planning permission.
  • Enabling councils to reject developers' planning applications on grounds of 'prematurity' (so communities have the time they need to put together their own Local Plans and Neighbourhood Development Plans, as allowed under the Localism Act 2011).
  • Encouraging local authorities in regions to work together to address housing needs rather work on their own.
  • Allow councils to enforce building on brownfield sites before Greenfield sites can be built on.

Issues discussed ranged from the five-year land supply local authorities are required to plan for, how to require prioritising on brownfield sites before greenfield sites, the methodology of calculating housing targets, the future of the Planning Inspectorate, amongst other issues.

Attendees also discussed the planning application approval process and their various experiences around the country. Stuart Andrew MP remarked that this could often be "intimidating" for local people as developers "could be baffling". "The process needs to be friendlier", he went on to say. Philip Davies MP added that decision-making was often "not local enough", reflecting on his experiences with Bradford's council, who have reportedly, despite a need for inner city housing, allocated sites in far out villages instead.

The next stage will be to pull together key reforms to give communities a genuine and reasonable say in the planning system which organisations will be invited to sign up to and to lobby for change in the run up to the 2015 general election.

Commenting, Mr Mulholland said:

"I was pleased to welcome such a range of people and groups to the roundtable. This helped bring out a great variety of issues affecting communities around the country as well as many different solutions from many different perspectives.

"It is clear that despite some welcome changes to the planning system through the Localism Bill, there is still not a sufficient genuine community voice heard in the planning process. Too often developers can cherry pick valued greenfield and even Green Belt land even when there are brownfield sites crying out to be developed.

"As well as unnecessary loss of green space this leads to large, expensive houses out of the reach of most families and does nothing to help the Government deal with the shortage of housing in some areas. It is also clear that the system is much too heavily weighted in favour of developers who use the system to get what they want, even when it is not right for an area.

"So it was valuable hearing the views of all these organisations and some simple, sensible changes that would give communities a fair right to be heard and would actually lead to houses being built where they are needed and wanted and not just where developers will make most money from them. I look forward to continuing to work with these organisations, to come up with a list of key planning reforms with which to lobby MPs and parties in the run up to the general election".

Chair of Civic Voice, Freddie Gick said:

"It was a useful meeting and allowed the organisations present to have a wide ranging discussion centred on the operation of the NPPF. Civic Voice welcomed the opportunity to present some of our proposals for enhancing the voice of communities in the planning system and we were also glad that we were able to share some ideas about how to give greater protection to assets of community value. We look forward to continuing discussions with Greg and others at the meeting".

Julie Mabberley from Community Voice on Planning added:

"The Community Voice on Planning (CoVoP) was very happy to be represented at the meeting yesterday and hopes that the very positive discussion generates action to prompt changes to the NPPF after the next election."

David Ingham from WARD commented:

"I was delighted to be invited to attend the roundtable and was pleased to see a good attendance from several important national organisations, MPs and voluntary community/action groups England wide. Greg's Bill from 30th April has generated a lot of interest across the country as it listed most comprehensively all the points which are of great concern to those of us eager to see reform to current planning rules which are presently so heavily weighted against local communities and biased in favour of developers & housebuilders. I was disappointed, but not surprised, to sense a reluctance on the part of the national organisations to back some of the radical solutions which could alleviate some planning problems, like the abolition of the inspectorate and the appeals process, as this could have the effect of forcing local government to accept real responsibility for planning decisions rather than being able to blame current legislation and central government. This would go a long way towards enhancing the Localism Act and devolve real power to local people rather than, as present, simply 'token' localism!

"In general terms, however, I think that all who attended were agreed that some amendments to the NPPF are definitely required and everyone appeared to be 'singing from the same hymnsheet'. On the whole, a very worthwhile session which, at the very least, provided useful networking opportunities and one which I look forward to reprising in the not too distant future."