Planning Decisions: Local Involvement

Simon Clarke Excerpts
Monday 21st June 2021

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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The wind-ups will begin promptly at 7.10, and apologies to the probably 17 Members who will fail to be called.

Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Simon Clarke (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Con) [V]
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It is a pleasure to be called to speak today, because Britain needs more good homes. That is an undeniable fact. We witness it in the ever-increasing house prices right across our country. We witness it in the ever more cramped accommodation that too many families are forced to settle for. We witness it in the ever more expensive and dysfunctional rental market trap, which makes it so hard for so many people of my age to buy their first home.

The Government have sensible proposals on the table to allow communities to designate those areas that are appropriate for development and those that should be protected; to make building beautiful homes a top priority; to empower communities to set out the right design codes to ensure that new homes are in keeping with their surroundings; and to create an infrastructure levy to fund the new roads, schools and GP surgeries that these new developments need in order not to impose a detrimental effect on the existing community.

Like any constituency MP, I know just how hard it is to discuss matters relating to planning, but we are sent to this House to do the right thing for the country, and I am clear that this must mean cutting the ropes that are preventing us from building the homes that our people need. For too long, we have attempted to address what is fundamentally a supply-side problem with demand-side solutions. Frankly, that is the easier politics of the situation, though we owe it to the country to be honest that the fundamental issue is one of land supply. Even if someone is fortunate enough to own their own home, especially in the parts of the capital or the south where prices are so high, it is their children and grandchildren who are the victims of the impasse that our efficient planning system has created.

We meet today in the shadow of the Chesham and Amersham by-election. I wish the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sarah Green) every success in her new role representing that constituency and welcome her to this House, but this was an election won in the very worst spirit of pandering to nimbyism, denying the growing social injustice that we are witnessing and privileging the interests of the haves over the have-nots in our society. This may be all right for the Liberal Democrats, whose long tradition of saying one thing locally and one thing nationally has reasserted itself; it may be all right for a desperate Labour party whose speeches collectively today have been nothing more than a terrible mixture of, frankly, hypocrisy and innuendo directed at those on the Government Benches; but it is not a choice open to my party.

To govern is to be sent here to make the tough choices on behalf of the nation, and we have to face the reality that there is nothing inevitable about the broken housing market that we have at the moment. It is broken because we have lacked the political courage to fix it. That needs to change. The Government have come forward with moderate and pragmatic proposals to unlock more land for housing while protecting the legitimate interests of existing communities and looking after their areas. It is high time for us to take this forward and build the homes that Britain needs.

Darren Jones Portrait Darren Jones (Bristol North West) (Lab)
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The planning process is part of our democracy. It is one of the reasons we elect local councillors and one of the reasons we have planning committees that are independent of party political leadership. Citizens in every community across the country have a stake and a say in what happens in their local area, but the Conservatives’ planning reforms pull the rug from under our local democracy and instead roll out the red carpet for the big developers, with the automatic granting of outline planning permission; statutory presumptions in favour of development; planning notices moving to online only; no real role for existing neighbourhood plans; still not enough action on net zero energy-efficient housing resources and low-carbon heat; proposals that do not go far enough to deliver more council and affordable housing; and, based on recent permitted development rights, high-street shops that can be converted into often low-quality housing, with limited standards on space, light or community structure, and mobile phone masts that can be seemingly plonked anywhere. All in all, it is a complete shambles.

Let me take a few examples from my constituency. In Horfield, a developer bought a large house on the corner of a street and is developing a complex of bedrooms with shared living spaces. Local residents with concerns were able to submit them to the planning process, but under these proposals, the development could have had its planning permission automatically granted. In Avonmouth, we have had a long-running battle with an over-concentration of low-quality waste processing sites. Each new application for such a site now receives very high engagement from local residents, but under these proposals, a statutory presumption in favour of development could now apply.

On the Downs, a proposal to convert an old toilet block into a new coffee shop required the publication of physical notices. Even in those circumstances, many local residents did know about them. Under these proposals, those notices will now just be online. In Lawrence Weston, we have a very successful local neighbourhood development plan, but under these proposals, all that hard work by local residents now stands for nothing, with neighbourhood plans being effectively closed down.

In Henleaze, a freeholder is trying to use permitted development rights to build more flats on top of existing ones. Leaseholders sought to buy the freehold to prevent a future development, but under these proposals, the cost of the freehold has massively increased because of speculative development, making it impossible for the existing tenants to afford it. The Government promised to revive high streets, but under these proposals, they are just closing them down.

Lastly, for the thousands of young people and families on low incomes, these proposals offer little hope. We need more council houses, more affordable homes, a route to home ownership where tenants can save for their deposit, and low-carbon, energy-efficient houses now, and we need to protect the rights of citizens to be a valued part of our local democracy. It is therefore evident that the Government need to get back to the drawing board.