MP’s CONCERNS OVER NEW NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANNING BILL
Dulwich and West Norwood MP Helen Hayes has voiced her concerns over a new Government neighbourhood planning bill.
Speaking during a House of Commons debate she said “We have in the UK a strong plan-led system, which allows democratically elected local authorities to lay out the basis on which applications for new development will be considered.
“There is no excuse for not having a plan in place or for poor performance.
“Last year the Government made that system less coherent with the introduction of permission in principle which introduces a blunt form of zoning into our finely balanced plan-led system that is capable of balancing so many different interests and concerns to get to a good decision.
“I am concerned that this bill does nothing to address the serious under-resourcing of planning departments while also giving local authorities new responsibilities to resource neighbourhood planning.
“Resources for local planning departments have been cut by 46 per cent in the past five years, and the British Property Federation — not councils themselves but the private sector — identifies that this under-resource is the primary cause of problems in the planning system.
“During debates on the Housing and Planning Bill, I argued that councils should be able to recover the full cost of development management services through fees.
“I was very disappointed that the Government rejected that proposal at the time, and I hope that the new minister will reconsider it. “It is a common sense proposal that will make a huge difference to efficient planning decision making.
“Councils must also be properly resourced to support neighbourhood planning. “Involving and engaging communities is resource intensive, particularly in areas where there are high levels of deprivation.
“But unless it is done properly we will not have neighbourhood plans that fully represent the views of the local community.
“Sadly, it remains the case that those in our communities who often stand to gain the most from the things that planning can deliver — for example those in housing need — are often those whose voices are not heard in debates about planning policy, and that must change.
“I am concerned that this bill proposes to water down pre-commencement conditions. “Planning conditions are one of the significant levers that local planning authorities have to secure the best possible outcomes for communities.
“Very often the things that form the basis for conditions are make or break issues for communities—anything from providing additional sewer capacity to the choice of bricks.
“Conditions should not be unreasonable but it should remain the prerogative of the local authority to decide what conditions best protect the interests of local residents.
“The idea that conditions can be imposed only following the written agreement of the developer greatly underestimates the role that conditions play in ensuring good outcomes.
“This proposal also sets up an unnecessarily adversarial relationship between applicant and local authority where, in reality, it is best practice for the parties to come together to discuss and agree conditions through the pre-application process.
“I hope that the Government will reconsider this proposal.
“I am concerned that the measures in this bill relating to permitted development rights do not even begin to address the problems that are being caused by the extension of permitted development rights to allow the conversion of offices to residential without planning consent.
“In London, the policy is having a detrimental effect on the supply of business space in some areas.
“We are also seeing new homes being delivered without regard for the physical infrastructure or public services to support an increasing population because they are not subject to section 106 agreements.
“We are seeing new homes being delivered without regard to minimum space standards or the types of homes that are most needed. “Most importantly, we are seeing new homes being delivered with no affordable housing being provided in areas where it is desperately needed.
“Fundamentally, this is a tinkering piece of legislation when we need major reform. “It is polishing the banister when the staircase is falling down.”
In her opening remarks Helen Hayes said she was a supporter of neighbourhood planning.
She told the House: “Before entering this place, I spent my working life as a town planner seeking to involve and engage communities in planning policy making. “I know the benefits that come from giving communities the ability to shape planning policy and from giving that policy formal weight in the planning process.
“I therefore welcome the measures in this bill which will strengthen neighbourhood plans and neighbourhood planning. “I also have concerns about several aspects of this bill, which reflect my wider concerns about the Government’s approach to planning.”
Helen Hayes’ comments came during the second reading of the neighbourhood planning bill, which the Commons agreed to.