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Planning Reform

Volume 532: debated on Monday 5 September 2011

We are simplifying the national planning policy framework, as some Members may have noticed. Through the Localism Bill, we are also abolishing the regional strategies, which have placed top-down burdens on every authority in the country.

I thank the Minister for cutting back at the thicket of rules and regulations that hamper development. Can he quantify the cost to local authorities of creating neighbourhood development plans?

The cost of developing a neighbourhood plan will depend on how detailed the plan being executed is. However, we are providing support for every neighbourhood that wants to produce a neighbourhood plan. We have ensured that support will be available even before the Bill is introduced, so that every community that wants to have a neighbourhood plan can get on with it.

Is it not the case that the presumption in favour of development at the heart of the new planning framework puts every piece of green space at risk of development?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that question because it enables me to say categorically: no, the answer is that it does not. What the presumption says is that when a local plan is absent or silent, there will be an assessment of whether a development should go ahead, the test of which will be whether it is sustainable, which is absolutely crucial. I have been campaigning for the environment for my entire political career, and I will continue to do so.

Does the Minister agree that for high streets to survive and flourish through the planning system, as much control as possible should remain at a local level and away from regional inspectors?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and this is the situation that we have arrived at, because people quite rightly resist the imposition from above of targets and policies that take no account of local opinion or local needs. By stripping away those impositions from above, we will have plans that represent the views and aspirations of local communities. That will start making people in favour of development, whereas the previous Government set them against it.

If the Minister’s plans are to support local government, what powers will he give it when developers do not deliver? The Westfield shopping centre in Bradford has taken 10 years to happen, and the local authority has no powers to get the developers to deliver. Has he considered such powers in his new proposals?

I visited the development site that the hon. Gentleman mentions last month. It is right in the centre of Bradford, and I can see that there is a problem at the moment and that the site needs to be brought back into use. I agreed to work with the leadership of the council to explore ways of doing that, but he will know, as an experienced Minister, that we cannot force a developer to act if it does not have the necessary funds in place to do so.