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National Planning Policy Framework

Volume 585: debated on Monday 8 September 2014

11. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the discretion given to local authority officers in the national planning policy framework. (905209)

Our planning reforms and locally led planning system have given more discretion to local authorities—to members, and through them, to local communities—especially when preparing local plans that identify where development should and should not go. Wherever possible we want local authorities to make decisions about their local areas.

On Friday, following a concerted campaign by local residents, Newcastle city council exercised that discretion and rejected an application recommended by officers to site a two-storey McDonald’s drive-through opposite the city’s largest school at the northern gateway to our city. Does the Minister agree that the spirit of localism is best served by McDonald’s respecting democracy and not appealing?

The hon. Lady will appreciate that I cannot comment on a particular planning application, but she is right to say that local democracy means that local decisions should be made by local members of local council authorities.

Will the Minister confirm that the national planning policy framework has provisions that protect the green belt from developers and people like the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) who would like to build all over it?

My hon. Friend is right, and I intend soon to issue additional guidance to reiterate the protection that the national planning policy framework provides to the green belt and other designated areas. That will make it clear that local planners should seek to meet their objectively assessed needs, unless there are specific environmental and other policies in the framework—such as those on the green belt—which indicate that development should be restricted.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I just gave. The NPPF gives clear protection and priority to the green belt, and I encourage local authorities to respect that.

The Secretary of State has said that only in the most exceptional cases will fracking be allowed in national parks. Will my hon. Friend say what those exceptional circumstances will be, and that the precautionary principle will normally prevail for fracking?

Any planning application must be decided on its own merits. That means that things will change from application to application, based on the merits of each individual case.