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Planning Rules

Volume 702: debated on Monday 25 October 2021

1. When his Department will publish its response to the consultation on the planning for the future White Paper. (903779)

The response to last year’s consultation on the planning White Paper generated significant interest. I am considering all those responses and will make an announcement on next steps in due course.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his role.

The Gosport peninsula is more than 80% built on, and a further 12% of it is conservation area. There is simply nowhere to build the wildly unrealistic 2014 housing numbers without decimating any remaining green areas and, of course, the vital strategic gap. Worse, the 2018 Office for National Statistics population data reveal that our actual housing need is 3,000 fewer homes. I really understand that the nation needs houses, but this Government champion localism. Will he please give me hope that they will not be imposing unrealistic, outdated housing numbers on us?

It is still something of a surprise to me, Mr Speaker. I do not know what it is like for you.

I completely understand the unique issues faced by my hon. Friend’s constituents. The unique geography of the peninsula and the communities she represents poses particular challenges when it comes not just to meeting local housing need, but to respecting the environment and, indeed, the nature of the communities and their special cherishable character. As we take forward our proposals for planning reform, we will be balancing the need for new housing with environmental concerns and also the vital importance of listening to local people.

The Harlow and Gilston garden town development is the largest release of green-belt land for our housing for generations. The scale of the challenge for magnificent community groups such as the Hunsdon, Eastwick and Gilston neighbourhood plan group to get their voices heard is a David and Goliath challenge. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to listen to and trust local people, and will he meet me to discuss this project and how it can provide a live case study for the design of future planning reform?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. It is thanks to the work of organisations such as the Hunsdon, Eastwick and Gilston neighbourhood plan group that we involve local communities in making these uniquely sensitive decisions. As we consider our plans for the future, one thing we want to do is to make sure that the voice of local people is integrated more effectively into planning decisions.

The two district councils that Wantage and Didcot cover are in the top 10 areas of England for houses built, but in the bottom third for infrastructure. People would be less unhappy with the house building if it came with more GP surgeries, the reopening of Grove station and better roads. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that, as he reforms planning, there will be a greater emphasis on improving infrastructure to support the population that the houses come with?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Across the country, many people would welcome new housing development enthusiastically if they had the assurance of knowing that there was sufficient investment in infrastructure to ensure that public services and other utilities were there for them so that additional pressure was not applied unequally. His argument is correct, and it has been incorporated into our thinking about the future of planning reform.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his new role and look forward to seeing him at the Select Committee next week. I do not know whether he has had the chance to read yet the Select Committee’s review of the planning reforms. May I suggest that local plans need to be at the heart of a plan-led system, indicating where development is likely to happen? To do that, local plans need to be simpler, easier to understand and get more people involved in the process so that there is real community buy-in to them. Finally, even when local plans are in place, there still needs to be an opportunity for local people to be able to comment on, object to, and, where necessary, influence the outcomes of individual planning applications.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is a very distinguished Select Committee Chair. At the danger of establishing a treacly consensus right from the very beginning, may I say that I entirely agreed with the first part of his question? As for the second part, I certainly welcome that direction of travel.

Today, York has been voted Britain’s most popular city. However, if we get planning wrong, we will embed inequality into our city. The governance structures over projects such as York Central are currently in the wrong place, so they will not deliver for the people in my city. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss York Central, as I have met many of his Ministers, so that we get the governance structures right for the future?

I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady. It is important to recognise that we want to work with York to ensure that there is a local plan in place, but it is also the case, as she knows, that this Government are investing in York, deploying more resource and bringing more civil servants to the beautiful city that she represents. I hope that we can continue, in that consensual manner, to deliver for the people of York.

I welcome the new Secretary of State to his role. I also welcome his replies to hon. Members, as he said that, effectively, the Government’s developers charter is being reviewed. I have not seen the right hon. Gentleman torpedo something so effectively since he sunk the Prime Minister’s leadership bid in 2016. But we know that, like Lazarus, the Prime Minister came back. Will the Secretary of State therefore take this opportunity to confirm that the Government’s wholly unpopular and disastrous planning reforms will never return?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for taking me back to the halcyon days of 2016; it was not so much a torpedo being launched as an unexploded bomb going off in my own hands. As the former Member for Kensington and Chelsea, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, pointed out, one of the things about committing political suicide is that you always live to regret it.

On the hon. Lady’s broader point, it is only fair to say that the planning White Paper was mischaracterised by many. There is so much that is good in it, but it is important that we listen to concerns that were expressed in order to ensure that an already powerful and compelling suite of proposals is even more effective.