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Planning Applications (Community Right of Appeal)

Volume 555: debated on Tuesday 11 December 2012

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide that communities may appeal against planning decisions on collection of the signatures of a required percentage of the electorate in the relevant ward within a designated time period; and for connected purposes.

I should inform the House of my own personal interests with regard to this Bill. Ever since I became the Conservative candidate for Kingswood, which lies principally on green-belt land between Bristol and Bath, I have campaigned with local community groups to protect green-belt land from the threat of over-development. The previous Government had the top-down regional spatial strategy under which over 10,000 houses were planned in that area. Local community organisations such as the fantastic Save Our Green Spaces group, which represents Oldland Common, Warmley and Siston, and Hanham District Greenbelt Conservation Society, worked tremendously hard on collecting signatures for petitions and letters opposing the regional spatial strategy, which thankfully this Government have removed. They have introduced the national planning policy framework, which has provided specific protection for green-belt land, and that is incredibly welcome.

We were able to defeat planning applications from developers to build on green-belt land because South Gloucestershire council was on our side—it has now introduced its core strategy to protect green-belt land in Kingswood—but under the previous Government, each time the applications were defeated, the developer was allowed to appeal, and appeal again, gradually eroding local people’s faith in the whole planning process.

Other applications have been made on non-green-belt land since 2010. Local residents have fought such applications for nearly a decade, particularly one by Tesco to build a large supermarket in Hanham. Local residents opposed the application for 10 years and every time they managed to defeat it, with the council’s support, Tesco would simply come back, appeal the decision and put in another application.

This seems to be a David and Goliath-type situation in which the developers are Goliath and the residents are David. When the residents lose an application, as they did a couple of months ago when Tesco won over the council, which was afraid of the legal costs—I think that played a big part in its decision to allow the application to go through—do they have a right of appeal? No, they do not. The planning process remains dangerously unequal. We have taken away David’s sling, so he cannot even try to bring down the monster.

This Bill would address that problem. To restore confidence in the planning system, we need to have in place a right of appeal for residents when an application goes through and the developer wins. I do not intend this proposal to be another piece of red tape, which is why I have suggested that it should involve certain percentages. For example, 50% of those registered on the electoral roll in the local authority ward would have to sign a petition within a designated time period of one month—two months at most—to trigger an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate or even the Secretary of State.

That would be vital. I am sure Members will recognise that every single constituency has constituents who fight planning applications based on the claim that they represent the views of the silent majority. No one likes to be called a nimby—not in my back yard—but, for want of a better word, that is what the press call them. How do we define whether someone is a genuine nimby who simply does not want a development to take place? I am pro-development and keen to have thousands of houses built in south Gloucestershire on non-green-belt land, which has been agreed in the core strategy, but a persistent minority will claim that they have majority support and will continue to do so even once an application has gone through. If we introduce the appeal mechanism, it would ensure not only democratic accountability, but shut up those people who claim that they have support. If they cannot get 50% of the electorate to subscribe to a petition within a month, they will lose their case to claim that they represent the majority.

This Bill would help to restore confidence in the planning system and to create a symmetric planning system. The Conservative party’s “Open Source Planning” Green Paper discussed introducing something similar in February 2010. The Government have yet to do so, but I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), who is listening and who kindly came to Kingswood to meet community groups—their members spoke of their frustration at the lack of accountability and lack of the right of appeal for local residents—will take this on board and that it will end up as a future programme.

This is ultimately a question of fairness. The fact is that we allow developers to appeal planning decisions and they often have big pockets and barristers on their side, but where are we for the little man? We need to stand up for residents who are genuinely concerned about planning applications that will blight their local areas for generations. It is not good enough to say, “The council passed it and it is democratically elected, so you can vote them out in five years’ time.” The councillors may well be voted out, but the community as a whole will have to live with their decisions for generations to come. A community right of appeal would restore the local population’s confidence in a planning system that will allow them to become democratically engaged, so I recommend this Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Chris Skidmore present the Bill.

Chris Skidmore accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read the Second time on Friday 1 March, and to be printed (Bill 106).