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Planning and Local Representation

Volume 699: debated on Wednesday 14 July 2021

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to give people who have made representations about development plans the right to participate in associated examination hearings; to require public consultation on development proposals; to grant local authorities power to apply local design standards for permitted development and to refuse permitted development proposals that would be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of an individual or community; to make planning permission for major housing schemes subject to associated works starting within two years; and for connected purposes.

I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

It is a privilege to introduce my first ten-minute rule motion on such an important issue, which is affecting so many of my constituents in Luton South and so many people across the country. We need a bold plan to tackle the housing crisis, but the Government’s planning White Paper will restrict local communities’ ability to shape their own area, allow for the creation of poor-quality housing through permitted development rights and allow developers to sit on planning permissions rather than build desperately needed, truly affordable housing. It amounts to nothing more than a developer’s charter that restricts communities while benefiting wealthy developers. This Bill would ensure that local communities’ right to participate in the planning process at a local level and on individual applications is protected.

This measure is vital, as the Government’s White Paper intends to create a zonal approach to local plans, weakening local authorities’ and communities’ detailed oversight of the planning process. That represents a shift away from public engagement and scrutiny of individual planning decisions on applications to engagement only at the overarching local plan stage, which greatly restricts, and in many cases removes, the rights of local councillors, local resident associations and local residents to shape or object to a particular planning application in their area. It seems as though the Government’s solution to speeding up planning is to remove the rights of local people and councillors to have a say in the planning process, rather than tackling other obstacles. The Government’s plan to remove the voice of local communities has been opposed by a wide range of groups, from the Local Government Association to Civic Voice and the Town and Country Planning Association.

The delivery of new, truly affordable homes must be pursued through a locally led planning system with public participation at its heart. Indeed, just last night Luton Borough Council unanimously passed a motion that emphasised that planning works best when developers work with the local community and called on the Government to protect the right of communities to object to individual planning applications. I would point out that even councillors from the Government’s party supported that motion. The Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government, of which I am a member, also recommended in “The future of the planning system in England” report:

“All individuals must still be able to comment and influence upon all individual planning proposals.”

This Bill would reflect Luton Borough Council’s motion and the Select Committee’s recommendation by legislating to ensure that people have the right to participate in development plans and associated examination hearings.

The Government also intend to end the statutory planning notice requirement to inform local people through notices in local papers, on community noticeboards, and on lampposts and, potentially, through hard copies of documents, in favour of using just technology. The Select Committee heard about how local people want to continue to be able to comment on specific local planning applications and that the proposal to drop the legal requirement to publish planning notices in local newspapers and the like would create a “postcode lottery” as to where that opportunity continues. That would undermine local democracy, by creating barriers for those who do not have digital access, such as the elderly or those on low incomes. Instead, the Select Committee recommended retaining “existing statutory notices” for all local authorities, alongside using technology, to make the planning process as accessible as possible.

This Bill would also expand the right to participate to include permitted development, which currently does not allow for objections from residents, and also seeks to allow local planning authorities to set local design standards for when an application is made for prior approval through the permitted development process. Constituents have also contacted me to raise their frustrations at how local planning authorities do not have sufficient power to oppose planning applications. The Select Committee has heard that permitted development rights

“weaken local authorities’ ability to shape places; and diminish community engagement in the planning process.”

A report the Government commissioned on the impact of permitted development homes concluded that

“permitted development conversions do seem to create worse-quality residential environments than planning permission conversions in relation to a number of factors widely linked to the health, well-being and quality of life of future occupiers.”

Many Members from across the House will also have heard horror stories of where permitted development rights have allowed the creation of poor-quality housing in their constituency. One such example is at Unity House in Luton, an office building converted through permitted development rights which houses families with children alongside a four-lane inner ring road. This permitted conversion brought more people into an area that is within an air quality management zone because of traffic congestion. It was allowed to happen because permitted development rights bypass necessary planning permission and air quality regulations. When the Government’s own former housing adviser Ben Clifford warned that the changes to permitted development risk creating the “slums of the future” I had to agree.

This Bill allows local planning authorities to refuse prior approval if the development would be to the detriment of the health and wellbeing of an individual or the wider community, therefore preventing poor-quality homes that are in inappropriate locations or that lack adequate community infrastructure, such as shops, schools and parks.

I have seen in Luton children having to play football in the middle of the pedestrian area in the town centre as a consequence of a higher density of housing being created in former commercial premises in the town centre under PDR without any consideration of local amenities. The children in my town deserve so much better.

Last year Labour formally opposed the Government’s changes to PDR which allowed for additional storeys to be placed on existing developments such as flats and houses. It is clear that the measures in this Bill are needed to prevent the creation of homes through PDR, further damaging people’s, including children’s, health and wellbeing. The housing crisis will not be addressed through PDR’s creation of poor-quality housing and will certainly not be addressed while developers sit on planning permissions. The failure to ensure that sites with planning permission have been built on is a key driver behind the Government’s poor record on house building.

According to analysis by the Local Government Association, more than 1.1 million homes granted planning permission in England in the past decade are yet to be built. As the LGA also said, local plans are not holding up the building of new housing, with more than 1 million homes on land earmarked for development by councils yet to be brought forward by developers for planning permission. Currently the requirement is for the development to begin within three years of permission being granted. This allows developers to land-bank, which means holding land and selling it in the future when its value rises. We need to incentivise developers to build. That is why the Bill would ensure that planning permission for major housing schemes will be granted only on the condition that development begins within two years of planning permission being granted.

This Bill safeguards the interests of my constituents and many of the organisations that are deeply concerned about the Government’s planning proposals. It lays the foundation for a planning system that allows local people to shape their place and deliver good-quality homes that promote health and wellbeing.

Question put.

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.

Ordered,

That Rachel Hopkins, Andrew Gwynne, Kim Johnson, Debbie Abrahams, Navendu Mishra, Liz Twist, Rachael Maskell, Kate Osborne, Ian Byrne, Sarah Owen, Barbara Keeley and Peter Dowd present the Bill.

Rachel Hopkins accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 22 October, and to be printed (Bill 149).