An MPs plea for greater protection of neighbourhood plans against speculative development has won the backing of Government ministers.
Nick Herbert, Arundel and South Downs MP, moved amendments to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill at the report stage in the House of Commons last Tuesday (December 13).
These changes aimed to give neighbourhood planning, which he said ‘embodies the spirit of localism by giving local communities control over where development takes place’, greater protection.
He said: “I’m delighted that the Government listened to our concerns about neighbourhood plans being undermined by speculative development and has acted. The minister’s clear statements give welcome new protection to neighbourhood plans, with further measures on the five-year land supply to come.
“I am grateful to the CPRE [Campaign to Protect Rural England] for their help in drafting and supporting these amendments.
“It has been very useful to have their expert advice and I’m pleased to have been able to work with them again.”
Mr Herbert asked for the Government’s response to ‘one of the thorniest questions in planning’ when communities are confronted with development that they really do not want.
This is often the case when speculative development is put forward in an area where the local planning authority does not have a sufficient five-year land supply or a local plan in place.
He warned of the danger of losing public support for neighbourhood planning, saying developers were ‘undoubtedly gaming the system so as to secure speculative development applications and planning permissions, in a way that is deeply cynical and that is undermining the principles of localism and community control’.
His first amendment requires planning authorities to consult neighbourhood planning bodies on decisions to grant permission for applications,
Meanwhile if a planning authority wants to grant a major development against the wishes of a neighbourhood planning body it would be required to consult with the Secretary of State beforehand.
His second change looked to address the five-year land supply issue, empowering the Secretary of State to issue a development order to clarify the means by which housing land supply is assessed, define the minimum amount of time before a local planning authority’s failure to meet its housing targets would result in its local plan being out of date, and specify that neighbourhood plans should be taken into account where there is a lack of a five-year supply of housing land.
The amendments were backed by several other MPs including Mid Sussex’s Sir Nicholas Soames who said ‘councils are constantly abused by the disgraceful behaviour of house builders. In my constituency - I intend to deal with the matter at some length - they have spent a very great deal of time and money trying to undermine the local plan’.
Gavin Barwell, housing minister, set out a response in a Written Ministerial Statement confirming that ‘where a planning application conflicts with a neighbourhood plan that has been brought into force, planning permission should not normally be granted’.
The minister agreed that there was a need to address the issue where ‘communities who have been proactive and worked hard to bring forward neighbourhood plans are often frustrated that their plan is being undermined because their local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five-year land supply of deliverable housing sites’.
Mr Barwell added that he has now written to the Planning Inspectorate and local councils on this issue.
The White Paper for Housing will be brought forward by the Department for Communities and Local Government next year and will include revisions to neighbourhood planning policies.
Matt Thomson, head of planning at the CPRE, said: “Along with the minister’s written statement [of 12 December], yesterday’s debate included important steps in the right direction of strengthening communities’ faith in the power of neighbourhood planning.
“We are particularly buoyed by the news that Government has promised to introduce its own measures requiring councils to consult with neighbourhoods when they make planning decisions.
“There are still some concerns over the application of housing targets, particularly the frequency with which developers can challenge a council’s supply of housing land, but the Minister has indicated an opportunity to address those in the much-anticipated Housing White Paper.
“Nick’s work on these issues has been invaluable, and he has led sterling efforts to achieve concessions from Government that will not only strengthen neighbourhood planning and improve public confidence in it, but also help to protect precious green space across England from unnecessary development.”