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Volume 569: debated on Monday 21 October 2013

2. What steps his Department has taken to make the planning system more accessible to local people. (900550)

For the first time ever, people who are not councillors or planning officers can get involved in drawing up a plan for their community that has full statutory weight. More than 540 communities have been designated as neighbourhood planning areas and a further 210 have applied.

Constituents in Skipton, the gateway to the Yorkshire dales, continue to be frustrated about the overturning in Bristol of planning decisions have been taken locally in Craven. What advice can the Minister give to my constituents?

The best defence and the way to guarantee that the local authority representing local people is in the driving seat is for that local authority to get on and complete its local plan. That is sometimes a difficult process, but that is the best thing to do—to get on and complete that local plan.

Does the Minister agree that for far too long under the previous Government planning seemed to be done to communities, rather than by them? Last week I attended and spoke at the public inquiry into the potential development of the Tiffey valley, which South Norfolk district council, with a five-year land supply, is defending. What assurance can my hon. Friend give me that under the Localism Act 2011, which we all supported in this House, councils that have a land supply and are seeking to implement a town plan will receive the Government’s support?

It is true that we have finally, after a certain amount of effort, managed to scrap the regional strategies that the previous Government used to impose entirely unwanted plans on local communities. The best way to ensure that local decisions will be supported and will stick is for local authorities to have a clear plan which sets out how they will meet their objectively assessed needs. That means that they can pick and choose where and how those needs will be met.

Planning guidance about a material change of use from a residential house to a children’s home necessitating a planning application is unclear. Last July, in response to my Adjournment debate, the then Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, and now the Comptroller of Her Majesty’s Household, the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster), said that he would continue to keep under review the planning guidance in relation to that. Has there been any progress? As the Minister will appreciate, many local people would welcome the opportunity to contribute to a planning application because of the safeguarding issues surrounding children.

We have no further plans at this point, but I am happy to meet the hon. Lady to explore the issue further, if she would appreciate that.

In last week’s debate on high streets, my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock) said that on her high street Nos. 14, 37, 38 to 40, 44, 48 to 50, 52, 60, 70, 72, 93 to 95, 175 and 206 are all betting shops, payday loan outlets or pawnbrokers. Does the Minister honestly think this is what local people want? Will he explain to the residents of Deptford and elsewhere why his Government are making it harder, not easier, for communities to stop such premises taking over their high street and town centre?

Local authorities have a range of powers under planning rules and licensing to restrict the growth of these various uses. However, the hon. Lady must say why the Government whom she supported did more to relax licensing laws to encourage the growth of gambling, and only now in opposition seem to have changed their mind about this business.

Local authorities whose local plans have been found wanting find themselves under siege from opportunistic developers. The result is planning applications in places such as Evercreech which are the reverse of what local people want. Can the Minister say that emerging local plans will have a material impact on planning decisions, and can he make sure that local authorities resubmitting plans get to the top of the list to stop this happening further?

The best way to stop this happening is for local authorities to get their plan right the first time, but if revisions have been made, once the plan has been through the public consultation phase, it does not have a huge number of unresolved objections and it has been submitted to an inspector, it certainly can start gathering weight. The precise position is set out in the revised planning guidance that is currently open for consultation.

Is not the relaxation of planning laws over recent months making matters worse for local communities trying to deal with the growth of payday lenders, bookmakers and unwanted fast food outlets, are not the Government adding to the problem?

No, that is not the reality, as is almost always the case when the hon. Gentleman asks a question about planning law.