Localism Bill Debate

Peter Aldous welcomes the Bill as ‘radical and bold’ and welcomes moves to neighbourhood planning. He calls on the Government to ensure the principle of sustainable development is maintained and that there is sufficient co-operation between neighbouring districts.

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): At the outset I should state that before coming to this place I worked for 27 years as a chartered surveyor. I no longer practise and I have no consultancies. I have also been a district councillor and a county councillor.

I shall concentrate on the planning aspects of the Bill. I support the Bill, although there are areas that require further scrutiny. The Bill is radical and bold, and the Secretary of State and his team are to be applauded for thinking outside the box. Change is needed as the current system is not working. At a time when there is an urgent need to build more houses, we are building fewer than at any time since the war. Local development framework coverage is patchy. Only 15% of the country has an adopted core strategy. The country's infrastructure is crumbling. Our roads, drains and power supplies are in need of upgrading. The planning system provides one means of achieving that. The Bill proposes a fundamental change in how the planning system works, representing a move from a top-down to a bottom-up approach. There is a need to accept that the man from the Ministry does not know best, and there must be a shift in responsibility to individuals and local communities. They, after all, are the people who know their areas best.

I shall comment on various features of the framework in which the new approach to planning will operate. We need to consider whether the principle of sustainable development is embedded in the legislation, and whether the requirement for such development is explicitly stated. Currently, the proposal is that the need to follow sustainable principles will be implicit because it will be included in the national planning framework. That has not yet been published, however, and sustainability needs to be at the heart of the planning system.

There is a need to ensure that local decisions and developments have regard to surrounding districts and fit into a county-wide and regional framework. The regional spatial strategy was too rigid a straitjacket, but is the duty on local authorities to co-operate sufficient to ensure that an adequate strategic overview is taken? That requires further scrutiny. In East Anglia, SCEALA, the Standing Conference of East Anglian Local Authorities, did the job adequately in the 1980s. To ensure that sufficient houses are built in a district, consideration should be given to asking local planning authorities to assess local housing need regularly. In that way, they will be able to monitor their success in bringing forward land for development and land on which to build the new houses that are so badly needed.

One of my main complaints as a surveyor for the past 10 to 15 years was that the planning system was getting slower and slower. There is a need to speed up the whole process, both in determining planning applications and in preparing local plans, and I look forward to receiving details of how the Government are going to do that.

I welcome the move towards neighbourhood planning, which will give people a real say in how their neighbourhoods evolve, but I would be grateful if the Minister took on board some observations. For neighbourhood planning to be successful, there is a need for capacity building in neighbourhoods and for communities to have access to advice, training and funding. With that in mind, the ending of planning aid this March appears short-sighted, so I would be grateful if consideration could be given either to reviewing that decision or to putting new arrangements in place. It is also important to ensure that all communities are able to participate, not just a few, so I would welcome further information on how neighbourhood planning will be promoted in those deprived areas where it is needed most.

There is a concern that some developers might hijack the system. For example, a food store might put forward in a particular neighbourhood an enticing planning-gain package that appeals to that community but has a negative knock-on effect on surrounding areas. How is it intended to guard against such scenarios? The Government should continue to promote the concept of the sustainable high street, and there should be sequential tests and economic development impacts.

Local planning authority costs should be taken into account, and I would be grateful if the Secretary of State confirmed that neighbourhood plans will apply not only to residential areas but to business districts.

9.28 pm

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The Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries

Construction (Retention Deposit Schemes) Bill

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Peter holds regular surgeries at various locations in the constituency. Please call 01502 586568 to make an appointment.

Next Surgeries - 2018: 
Lowestoft, Wednesday 8th August



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