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New Housing Developments

Volume 697: debated on Monday 14 June 2021

If his Department will take steps to ensure that new housing developments are conditional on the consent of local people. (901080)

Local plans create the local community’s vision for where essential development such as housing should go. Our planning reforms will give communities the chance to be involved meaningfully at the start when local plans are prepared and will make it easier for local people to understand proposals and express their views. This will bring certainty that housing will come forward in areas best identified for growth by the community, while ensuring that valued countryside remains protected.

Does my hon. Friend share my concerns about the Greater Manchester spatial framework, which has twice been vetoed and has not gone ahead? The absence of that plan causes a great deal of problems with uncontrolled building in the whole of Greater Manchester, but particularly for my constituents in Bolton West. Will he do all he can to support Bolton Council in adopting and implementing its plan if the GMSF’s faults cannot be rectified soon?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; he is a doughty champion of his constituents in Bolton West. He will know that rather than allowing suffering from speculative development, local plans give certainty both to developers and to communities in providing the homes that the country needs, and where agreed. It is essential that we get local plans in place to help to put our economy back on track; I am pleased that he recognises that. As he says, Bolton Council, along with eight other Greater Manchester councils, is committed to taking forward the Places for Everyone joint local plan. I will continue to monitor and support the progress of plan making across Greater Manchester to ensure that plan coverage is achieved by the end of 2023 and that my hon. Friend’s constituents in Bolton are best protected.

One year ago, the Secretary of State took an unlawful decision in the Westferry case to help a billionaire Conservative party donor to dodge a £40 million tax bill. Now it seems that they are at it again: The Sunday Times reports that John Bloor, a billionaire property tycoon, gave £150,000 to the Conservative party barely 48 hours after the Housing Minister had overruled the local council to approve a controversial planning application on rural land, raising fresh questions about unlawful lobbying. Will the Minister commit right now to releasing all unpublished documentation relating to the case, so the public can see whether this is indeed yet another case of cash for favours?

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman likes to cast himself at the court of Keir as something of a witchfinder general—a sort of weird amalgam of Lavrentiy Beria and Mary Whitehouse—but I can tell him that there are no witches to be found here today. With respect to the Sandleford Park application, that was recovered by officials, as many applications are, without recourse to Ministers; we have yet to see any advice from officials on that application.

With respect to the Ledbury application, that was a recommendation to proceed made by the independent planning inspector, not least because at the hearing the local authority reversed its position and took the view that the application should go ahead. I took the advice of the planning inspector; I accepted the planning inspector’s recommendation. Process and procedure were followed punctiliously. The hon. Gentleman has to find other witches to burn.

Let us go to the Chair of the Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government.

I am sure the Minister has had a busy weekend reading the Select Committee report on the planning system. In it, he will have seen that the Committee was supportive of the Government’s proposals to improve and enhance the local plan system, particularly through getting more public involvement by making the plans digital. That is to be welcomed. However, many people in our evidence-taking were concerned that once a local plan has been agreed, local people will lose their right to have any meaningful say in individual planning applications. That was a real concern that was expressed to us, so when the Government respond to the report and to its wider consultation, will they look again at how they can ensure that local people have a meaningful voice on individual applications, particularly those in the renewal areas, which are often very contentious?

I am grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee for his report. We will consider it carefully, as we always do, and I am pleased that he has, with some caveats, been so very supportive of our proposals. He asks about the way in which we can better democratise our planning system. The fact is that 3% of all planning applications are engaged with by the local community, yet 90% of planning applications go through, so only a small number of people are engaging with the planning process and the overwhelming number of plans go through anyway. I do not think that that is particularly engaged or democratic, and we are seeking to bring forward the democratic element of plan making so that local people can have a real and meaningful place and decision-making role in what happens in their communities.