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Volume 705: debated on Wednesday 15 December 2021


Wednesday 15 December 2021


Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Walsall Arboretum

The petition of residents of the United Kingdom ,

Declares that the Black Country Plan will build 5000 homes on the Walsall Green Belt; further that 592 of these homes will be built alongside the Walsall Arboretum, the only area of the park with open field and animal grazing views; further that the development will destroy the Green Belt, wildlife corridors and increase flooding; further that protected species of badgers and bats’ habitats will be destroyed; and further that the red deer, barn owl, tawny owl, buzzards and parakeets will be lost to the area as they try to navigate around noise and light pollution.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to take into account the concerns of the petitioners and cancel plans to build houses on the Walsall Green Belt.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Valerie Vaz, Official Report, 1 December 2021; Vol. 704, c. 1017.]


Observations from The Minister for Housing (Christopher Pincher):

The Department cannot comment on local planning matters due to the Secretary of State’s quasi-judicial role in the planning system. While the Government set national planning policy for England through the National Planning Policy Framework, local authorities are responsible for local planning matters. The development plan for the area outlines how land should be used, the type and location of future development, and the presence of necessary restraints such as green belt. Local plans and strategies are created in consultation with the local community and submitted for rigorous independent examination by a planning inspector, who acts on behalf of the Secretary of State to make sure it is sound and accords with national planning policy.

Local authorities act independently of central Government. Government Ministers have no remit to intervene in the day-to-day affairs of local authorities, except where specific provision has been made in an Act of Parliament. Democratically elected local authorities are accountable for their actions to their electorate and must act within their statutory powers. Therefore, we cannot comment on the handling by Walsall MBC or any other planning authority of any draft plan policy or strategy aspect in the Black Country Plan.

The emerging Black Country Plan has been subject to consultation; most recently from August to October this year and I understand that it is scheduled for pre-submission (Regulation 19) consultation in August 2022. At that time, the public will be able to respond to Walsall MBC directly and make their concerns known. Councils can only adopt a plan that is sound - it should be consistent with national policy, be supported by evidence and take the views of local people into account. Each plan is subject to a public examination in front of an independent Inspector, who plays an important role in examining plans impartially to ensure that they are legally compliant and sound.

The Government are committed to protecting and enhancing the green belt, in line with our manifesto. Our strong protections for the green belt remain firmly in place. The National Planning Framework states that a green belt boundary may be altered only in exceptional circumstances through the local plan process. A local authority should consider releasing land from green belt only if it can fully evidence that it has explored all other reasonable options for meeting its development needs. The authority should be able to show that it has been using brownfield land as much as possible, optimising the density of development, and discussing with neighbouring authorities whether they could accommodate some of the development required.

The Government are also committed to planning reforms which are intended to not only deliver the housing that we very much need but also to provide better protection for our environment. The Environment Act’s new requirements for biodiversity net gain will begin commencement from 2023, meaning most types of new development will deliver improvements of 10% or more for biodiversity. We are working in accordance with the principles in the Environment Act 2021 to ensure that development results in environmental improvement rather than merely preventing harm. Existing areas designated for environmental protections will continue to be upheld.

With regards to development increasing flooding, the National Planning Policy Framework is clear that all sources of flood risk need to be considered (including areas that are at risk of surface water flooding due to drainage problems), taking into account future flood risk, to ensure that any new development is safe for its lifetime, resilient, and without increasing the risk of flooding elsewhere. Areas at little to no risk of flooding from any source should always be developed in preference to areas at a higher risk of flooding. Inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding, whether an existing or a potential future risk, should be avoided, and, where possible, alternative locations at a lower flood risk should be identified.


Bennetts End Road

The petition of residents of the constituency of Hemel Hempstead,

Declares that Bennetts End Road is a very busy and long road; further that, over the last few years, there have been numerous incidents on the road as a result of local residents crossing the road for various reasons; further that it is especially dangerous for local children accessing the various schools in the area; and further that a solution needs to be found as soon as possible to avoid further incidents on the road and provide all residents a safe way of crossing the road.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to make Bennetts End Road safer by reallocating funding for Hertfordshire County Council to use to install a pelican crossing on Bennetts End Road.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Sir Mike Penning, Official Report, 7 December 2021; Vol. 705, c. 352.]


Observations from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Roads, Baroness Vere of Norbiton

The design, installation and maintenance of pedestrian crossings are matters for local highway authorities. They have powers to establish crossings on their roads, as well as a duty under section 122 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to “secure the expeditious, convenient and safe movement of vehicular and other traffic (including pedestrians)”.

Local authorities would need to consider local factors such as pedestrian numbers, road layout, traffic flow and speed and accident records in deciding whether a crossing is necessary, and if so what type to provide. The Department for Transport has published guidance on the assessment and design of pedestrian crossings, in chapter 6 of the “Traffic Signs Manual”.

This is available on the Department's website at:

With respect to funding, between 2020-21 and 2021-22, the Department will provide over £510 million to local authorities in England, outside London, through the integrated transport block for small-scale transport schemes, including safety measures. From this capital funding, Hertfordshire County Council will receive over £9.1 million. The integrated transport block is not ring-fenced, allowing authorities to spend their allocations according to their own priorities. It is therefore for each authority to decide how it allocates its resources and which transport improvement projects to support.

Local authorities are free to make their own decisions about the design of the streets under their care, provided they take account of the relevant legislation. It would be inappropriate for the Government to seek to intervene in the process of local democratic accountability.