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Planning (Broughton)

Volume 563: debated on Tuesday 21 May 2013

It is a huge pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I thank Mr Speaker for granting me this special parliamentary debate to highlight the planning issues affecting the important village of Broughton in my constituency.

I welcome the planning Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), to his place. He takes such issues extremely seriously and I know that he will listen with an attentive ear to what I have to say on behalf of my constituents. My aim is to relay to him the feelings from a recent public meeting that was held in the village of Broughton on 11 May, attended by significantly more than 200 villagers. I wish to relay to him what they were telling me and other local elected representatives about their concerns to do with the development of their village.

I want to pay particular tribute to local borough councillors, Jim Hakewill, who stepped down as mayor of Kettering last year, and Cliff Moreton, who have been effectively representing local residents’ concerns on the issue. Likewise, the Broughton parish councillors, including Mary Rust and Hilary Bull, and Mr Gary Duthie, the clerk to the parish council, have all been doing sterling work.

The problem is that national planning policies are allowing inappropriate housing development to take place in the village of Broughton. For those who are unfamiliar with Kettering, it is middle England at its very best. Geographically situated in the heart of England, it represents all the best that middle England has to offer. Broughton has about 2,500 people, making it one of the largest villages in the borough of Kettering; it is located in the south-west of the borough, just off the A43 which links Kettering to Northampton. Before the completion and approval of a neighbourhood plan for the village, however, building developers are able to use national planning policy guidelines and the lack of a demonstrable rolling five-year housing delivery target from Kettering borough council to submit planning applications for housing developments around the village, confident that the applications will meet with approval from the borough council or be won on appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.

The developments are in unsuitable locations that are unlikely to be included as preferred development sites in the village’s neighbourhood plan, once it has been produced, and as a result there will be unacceptable pressure on the local infrastructure used by existing residents. Broughton parish council is firmly committed to the development of a neighbourhood plan for the village, but before such a plan is signed off, there is in effect carte blanche for developers to choose sites around the village, put in a planning application for housing development and get it approved.

The problem started with a planning application from Redrow Homes South Midlands—the Kettering borough council planning reference is KET/2012/0709— for the development of 65 dwellings at Cransley Hill in Broughton. There are to be 46 homes, 19 affordable homes and a substation. On 12 February, the application was put before the borough council—I have the privilege of being a member—and 67 comments were received from local residents, 65 of which objected to the application.

The site in question is to the north-west of the village, on a parcel of land between the built-up part and the A43. It is adjacent to but outside the village envelope and on a greenfield site. Objections included: the site is greenfield and good farmland; sewerage and electricity supply are at capacity; there is a problem with water pressure in the village; there is pressure on school places; the village does not have a doctor, dentist or chemist’s; there will be traffic congestion as a result of the development, on top of the existing parking problems in the village; there is not enough local public transport, and the bus service is often inadequate; many of the local footpaths are unlit; lanes in the village are unsuitable for construction traffic, and the density of the development is too great. That is a flavour of some of the objections to the application.

However, Kettering borough council granted approval for the application. It did so not because it wanted to, but because of the Government’s national planning policies, which insist that, if the council cannot demonstrate a rolling five-year housing delivery target, it must grant permission to such sites. If it does not do so, the Planning Inspectorate will, charging costs to Kettering borough council.

According to a statement from Kettering borough council:

“The five year land supply is pretty simple—the Council has to be able to demonstrate that there are enough housing sites with a realistic prospect of being built out to satisfy the targets in the Core Spatial Strategy over the coming five years, and if we cannot do that, then there is a presumption in the national planning framework that consents will be given to new applications, unless there are sound planning reasons for refusal. Because of the slow down in the national economy, we can no longer argue that we have a five year land supply but the government have not changed the rules; indeed they have strengthened them.”

That is right, because the present Government have enhanced the policy adopted by the previous Government in insisting on a rolling five-year housing delivery target for each authority—it is now plus 20%.

There were good reasons for the council to refuse the application. It was contrary to: policy 1 of the local core spatial strategy, “Strengthening the Network of Settlements”; policy 7, on housing delivery; policy 9, “Distribution & Location of Development”, and policy 10, “Distribution of Housing”. It was also contrary to the local plan, to policy RA/3, about restricted infill villages, and to RA/5, “Housing in the Open Countryside”. According to the council:

“Saved policy RA/3 of the Local Plan defines Broughton as a Restricted Infill Village. Policy RA/3 states that where development is proposed outside of the defined boundaries of a Restricted Infill Village, open countryside policies will apply (policy RA/5). Saved policy RA/5 states that planning permission will not normally be granted for residential development in the open countryside, and sets out several exceptions. The development proposed does not meet any of the exceptions in the policy.

Therefore, the adopted Development Plan position is that the village is not a priority for development, and development outside the boundary is contrary to policy unless the development is required to meet local needs”,

which it clearly is not.

Kettering borough council cannot be accused of developing its planning policies slowly. Indeed, Kettering is part of the north Northamptonshire core spatial strategy, which was adopted in June 2008. It was the first core spatial strategy of its type in the whole of the country. That was as a result of the planning policies of the previous Government, but Kettering was not slow in coming forward—it ticked all the boxes and in pretty smart fashion. In policy 10 of the core spatial strategy, there is a housing requirement of 1,640 new dwellings in the rural area of Kettering during 2001 to 2021. Just over half way through, in March 2012, there had been 1,421 housing completions in the rural area, with a further 41 soon to be constructed. That left an outstanding requirement of just 178 dwellings over the best part of 10 years. The council cannot be accused of not building houses in the local area, and it seems extremely punitive that, as a result of the Government’s planning policies, this application for 65 houses in Broughton was approved. I am not blaming Kettering borough council for that. It is doing only what it has been told to do by the national Government, but I blame the national Government’s policies.

Redrow Homes has set an example, and another application has just been submitted, this time by Glanmoor Investments Ltd, for development of 67 dwellings with associated parking at Glebe avenue, Broughton on the other side of the village, again in an area unsuitable for development. There is every likelihood that that planning application, under the same criteria, will be approved. The village of Broughton is likely to find itself with an additional 130 houses, and will find it difficult to cope with such a scale of development.

Councillor Jim Hakewill has highlighted the problem effectively. He was so cross on behalf of local residents about what is emerging in Broughton that he delivered a letter to the Prime Minister at No. 10. On 12 March, he wrote:

“The desperate problem we have is that developers…are seeking to exploit the fact that, whilst Kettering Borough Council have gone through the pain of approving permission for some 7,500 homes, some of those are unable to be built until the A14…has a new junction”—

junction 10a. Kettering borough council

“has done all it can to create a five year supply, making hard, sometimes unpopular decisions.”

He continued:

“The Borough Council are well on their way to creating the Local Plan framework under which the communities will have their Neighbourhood plans tested.”

Broughton

“Parish Council are desperately keen to engage with the Borough to create a Plan to be proud of, a positive independent inspection and a referendum to support it. All of this will be of no consequence whatsoever should this current application be formally approved. It will be imposing development that has no local support; it will set a precedent for uncontrolled development and disillusionment for local people, who would normally be prepared to get involved with their community’s future. Worse than that by pre-empting the decisions about where best development would suit Broughton the applicant will have no obligation to deliver”

community infrastructure levy

“funding for the benefit and mitigation of development that a Neighbourhood Plan would demand. The application contravenes all the current Local Plan and Core Spatial Strategy policies we are used to relying on. Indeed it has significant highway implications for the safety of villagers, present and future, using the village centre shops and particularly the primary school.”

Councillor Hakewill continued:

“Our request is simple: Stop the current permission from being issued, give a clear lead that the development and completion of a Neighbourhood Plan must happen before applications will be approved, and that Government Inspectors will uphold that right, dismissing appeals in advance of”

an

“approved Neighbourhood Plan. Don't let random development spoil”

villages like Broughton.

That sums up the position well. I invite the Minister to come to Broughton, to speak to and listen to local residents who are worried about the future of their lovely village. Broughton is not against any development, but it does not want inappropriately large development on inappropriate sites, especially when Kettering borough council has a very good record of working with central Government to provide local homes for local people. Indeed, it approved 5,500 homes under the previous Government on the outskirts of Kettering at Kettering East. Those homes cannot be included in the rolling five-year housing delivery target because, for the development to go ahead on that site, the Highways Agency must approve a new junction—junction 10a—on the A14.

Many housing starts are waiting to happen, dependent on a Government decision on highways. Kettering borough council is doing its best to unblock that blockage, but while it is in place, those houses cannot be counted against the borough council’s rolling five-year housing delivery target and that exposes villages like Broughton to inappropriate development. Developers know that, which is why they are coming forward.

Through you, Mr Weir, I appeal to the Minister for help. Kettering borough council is trying to be helpful, but it is in a difficult position with the Government’s national planning policy framework on rolling five-year targets. I appeal to the Minister on behalf of my constituents in Broughton and all those who live in rural communities in Kettering. He is welcome to come and listen to local concerns, but will he please use his authority to allow authorities such as Kettering to say no to such development when neighbourhood plans are being worked up and will be in place soon? We need his help in the interim.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) on securing this debate on an important local issue. He is, as you know, Mr Weir, the living embodiment of localism, being a representative of his constituents not just in this Parliament as a Member of Parliament but as a borough councillor. I am in awe of his work ethic in taking on two such testing roles.

I strongly welcome Broughton’s interest in pursuing a neighbourhood plan. It is probably the most transformative of the Government’s planning innovations, and I am delighted that it is making particularly good progress with the first three referendums on neighbourhood plans, which were passed with overwhelming majorities. Thame in Oxfordshire secured a higher turnout than the county council elections that took place on the same day. People went to the polls to vote for the neighbourhood plan, but did not vote for a county council candidate. There is a huge amount of popular interest in neighbourhood planning, and I strongly welcome any community that wants to pursue one.

My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot discuss individual applications, past or prospective, but I hope that I can explain to him how the balance of planning policy works and offer to engage with him and Broughton’s residents in future. At the heart of the Localism Act 2011 and the national planning policy framework that it introduced is our wish to devolve to local communities responsibility for making provision for future development as well as the power to plan how those development needs should be met. It is important to understand the combination of the power and the responsibility.

This country has an intense housing need; that is true in Northamptonshire, in my county of Lincolnshire and certainly to the south of both. Every year, the country has built many fewer houses than we need just to meet the growth in our population as a result of ageing and other social changes. That is why we placed at the heart of the framework the idea that discharging responsibility to the local community involves providing sufficient sites to meet the five-year land supply need. That means having sites that are available for development now that could satisfy the area’s housing needs over the next five years. The framework then says that if a local authority does not have the five-year land supply in place, its housing policies will not be considered robust, and applications for housing developments will therefore have to be judged against the national framework policies, which cover a wide range of planning issues, and the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

To reassure my hon. Friend, it is important to understand that it is not a presumption in favour of all development—it is not a free-for-all. The presumption is in favour of sustainable development. The sustainability policies, which are clearly set out in the national planning policy framework, relate to environmental protections and to the importance of sufficient infrastructure. Sustainability captures not only environmental concerns, but economic sustainability and physical sustainability, in terms of the infrastructure supporting development. I am well aware of other decisions by inspectors. They regularly turn down proposals for development when authorities do not have a five-year land supply, because they accept that those development proposals are not sustainable and would conflict with important policies in the framework.

The presumption kicks in when there is no five-year land supply. As my hon. Friend has accepted, that is unfortunately, at the moment, the case for Kettering borough council, although he makes a good argument about why that is, in part, a result of problems with the A14 and its new junction. I would like to reassure him that, as somebody served indirectly by the A14, I am very keen for the A14 improvements to be brought forward. Just yesterday, I met the Minister in the Treasury with responsibility for infrastructure, Lord Deighton, to discuss major national infrastructure projects, and I know that improvements to the A14 are absolutely at the top of the Government’s list of priorities for such projects.

I hope that together we can work to try and accelerate those improvements and the creation of the junction, which my hon. Friend supports. I hope, however, that he also accepts that national policy must be made to apply equally everywhere. Having a policy that requires boroughs to have a five-year land supply means that his borough then needs to find alternative sites while the sites off the A14 are not available, knowing that there will continue to be development needs, and perhaps at the back end of the 15-year plan, those sites will come on stream and other sites will not need to be provided, once the A14 development is complete.

My hon. Friend quoted Councillor Jim Hakewill’s eloquent letter, which I read and replied to on the Prime Minister’s behalf, and which asked, importantly, whether it would be possible to call some kind of moratorium on development applications while neighbourhood plans are under way. That case has been made by other Members of Parliament and by a number of organisations, including the Campaign to Protect Rural England. The difficulty with that proposal is that, first—of course, Parliament could change this—there is no legal basis for introducing a moratorium on development applications while plans are under way.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly—because we can change the law any time if we are persuaded of the merits of doing so—it would, unfortunately, create a perverse incentive that I fear communities less responsible and less proactive than my hon. Friend’s would be inclined to abuse. If we said that once work had started on a neighbourhood plan, there would then be a moratorium on all development applications until the plan process was complete, every single community in the country that wanted to stop development would have a clear incentive to start a neighbourhood plan and take their own sweet time to conclude it, as they would know that they could see off any application in the meantime.

Unfortunately therefore, we need to have, embedded in the system, a dynamic incentive for communities to get a move on and put their plans in place, whether at neighbourhood or local level. The fact is that only through having a robust plan can the community make decisions about speculative applications and know that they will stick. That provides the incentive to take the difficult decisions involved in drawing up a plan, and for the borough council, of which my hon. Friend is a member, to put in place its five-year land supply. That same incentive puts a tiger in the tank of people working as volunteers in neighbourhoods to do their community plan, because they will then know that if they want to control the future development of their community, the plan is urgent, important, and worth getting on with.

In the meantime, I accept that a few applications may be made that will ultimately be accepted, either by the planning authority or by a planning inspector on appeal, that the community would rather not see happen. I completely understand that, but planning is a long game. My hon. Friend has been representing his constituents and residents for a very long time at different levels, and I hope that he will carry on doing so for an even longer time in future. Even if an application that a community does not like gets through in the next year or two, the game is over the next 10 or 20 years. If, 15 years ago, there was the possibility of having neighbourhood plans in all those communities, they would have been able to shape such developments in a way that they were never able to.

I hope that the community of Broughton, which my hon. Friend is representing so well today, will see that even if they cannot control the application that he referred to, they have the possibility, through plan making, of controlling developments for the next 15 years. That applies not only to housing developments, but to the development of community facilities, green spaces and design codes, and to lots of other issues that are vital to people growing up and living in a community.

I have been listening to what the Minister is saying. He has obviously spent a lot of time on the brief and is explaining the policy clearly. On the way home to his constituency, I have a feeling that he probably comes very close to Kettering. Would he be kind enough to call in at Broughton, at a meeting that Councillor Hakewill and I would be pleased to arrange, so that he could listen to residents’ views on the issue and explain the policy?

I would be delighted to. There is nothing I enjoy more than getting out of Westminster and talking to people. I was in Worcestershire and Shropshire last week, and next week I am in Devon and Cornwall—it is rather quicker and easier to get to Kettering and Broughton. I would be delighted to come and talk to residents, and hopefully explain to them the benefits of neighbourhood planning.

It is not that there are no frustrations—there are. It is not that there are no disappointments—there are. It is not that it is easy or quick—it is not. It is a long, painful process that requires volunteers and local councillors to undertake exhaustive efforts on behalf of the common interest, which is a thoroughly admirable thing that I applaud. However, we have a support contract in place to offer communities such as Broughton direct support. There is the possibility of securing a grant of £7,000 towards the out-of-pocket costs of organising a neighbourhood plan. I would be happy to explain that to them, and hopefully, to share the experience of other communities that have done neighbourhood plans successfully. Neighbourhood plans, such as that in Thame, have had to wrestle with substantial development. A plan has been backed that includes plans for 775 additional houses in Thame; nevertheless, it secured the support of more than 70% of the people who voted.

I believe that neighbourhood planning is the answer. I hope that the people of Broughton will not be downcast or put off this important initiative, and I would be delighted to join my hon. Friend in meeting them to discuss how we can make their neighbourhood plan come to reality.

Sitting suspended.