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Planning Policy Reform

Volume 714: debated on Monday 16 May 2022

The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill will improve our planning system and give residents more involvement in local development. The Bill will strengthen and scale up neighbourhood planning and enable the piloting of street votes supported by new digital tools to give communities more say in the developments that affect them.

The 2020 White Paper promised us a once-in-a-generation reform to planning policy. The present proposals appear somewhat unambitious and modest in contrast. Can I meet the Minister so he can explain to me how we can deal with the following situation in my constituency? Wealden and Rother District Councils have issued 10,000 planning permissions that have not been built out, and yet they still have to deliver 2,000 new homes between them each year. The developers responsible for building the homes deliver only 1,000 new homes. Surely, at the very least, we can have annual housing targets that take into account houses that are not yet built out, so that developers build rather than land bank.

I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend. There are measures in the Bill to try to address build-out rates, which are an important element that we have to tackle. Under the Bill, it will be necessary to supply the local authority with a commencement notice, an agreement on the number of houses that will be built each year and a completion notice. We are absolutely on this, and I assure my hon. Friend that we will do everything we can to ensure that the houses that have got permission are built.

I welcome the Government’s reform of the planning system, but Homes England proposes the development of up to 10,000 houses on flood-prone green fields to the west of Ifield, just outside my constituency. That will put unacceptable pressure on local infrastructure, and although local people in my constituency will be most affected, they have no say over it. How will these planning proposals allow the people of Crawley to say no to the West of Ifield development?

I am absolutely clear that communities must have a say on developments that affect them, and that is why we are making it easier and simpler to engage with the planning system. At the moment, it simply is not good enough. I recognise the specific concerns that my hon. Friend and the leader of Crawley Borough Council have raised about this development. The site itself is included in the Horsham draft plan that has been produced with Crawley council. Residents of Crawley are able to comment on that, as well as on any subsequent planning applications.

Constituents object not simply to the sheer number of developments in my constituency and the pressure that they place on local infrastructure, but to the environmental impact of the way the homes are constructed. My hon. Friend knows that I would like to see a requirement for homes to be built to the latest environmental standard, rather than the one that was in place when permission was granted. Can he tell the House whether local communities will be able to have a say on how the homes are constructed, rather than just what they look like from the outside?

My hon. Friend is right to raise that. It is a crucial area for me in this role, and I hope that he will be reassured that improving environmental standards and community engagement are key elements of our reforms. Clear local plans, tested against environmental outcomes and with strong community input, are central to that, alongside the steps we are taking through the future homes standard and the Environment Act 2021.

We look forward to seeing the Minister and the Secretary of State at the Select Committee to discuss these matters early after the recess. It seems there are some genuine improvements in the proposals, particularly, as described in paragraphs 50 and 60 of the explanatory notes, the clauses that give greater strength to local plans in looking at individual planning applications.

There are two areas where the Bill might be strengthened. The first refers back to what the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) said. Yes, developers will have to set out what they intend to build, but what sanctions will the local authority have if developers do not follow those promises? The second is about what happens if a developer does not observe conditions attached to a planning permission. That has happened with Avant Homes at Owlthorpe in my constituency—I have talked to the Minister about this—where the developer is refusing to comply with a whole range of conditions, including on wheel washers, compounds for workers and engaging with the local tenants’ association. I notice that the other day, the Daily Mail drew attention to the fact that the same developer has not met conditions in Nottinghamshire. What sanctions will the local authority have to deal with a developer in such a situation and to take into account those failures when a future planning permission is put in for?

I am grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee and for the reports that fed into many of the changes we have made. He is right to raise those issues. One issue communities see far too often, and the reason why they are sometimes opposed to development, is that they do not actually get what was promised at the beginning. I am really keen that, through the Bill, we give that power back to local communities and ensure neighbourhood plans are strengthened.

York is being overrun by investors hoovering up our new build by either leaving those properties empty or using them for Airbnb. That is causing the market to heat up, which is having a really disruptive impact and choking off opportunity for future buyers in my constituency. How will the Minister use his planning reforms to ensure we are not just building to numbers, but to local need?

The hon. Lady is right. The reforms are about empowering local communities to develop local plans and engage with the development of those local plans to identify the housing needs of each area. She is right to raise the issue on second homes and Airbnb. As I said to her the other day in the meeting we had, I look forward to potentially hosting a roundtable with her and colleagues around North Yorkshire to address those very issues.

On the point the Minister was making about developers or planners going back on previous agreements or advice, I have a case in South Leamington, which was consulted on six years ago, where we were to have social and truly affordable housing built on a particular site. As of last week, that has been changed and we will have 80 units with 92 beds in more or less the same space. Will he meet me to discuss that matter and will he explain how the planning changes will ensure communities get what they want, which is truly affordable housing?

Of course, I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the issue he raises. The whole point of the Bill is to strengthen the development of local plans in the first place, so local planning authorities can address the housing needs they have in their area, including the types of housing they need; and to strengthen enforcement issues around planning applications. I am more than happy to speak to him further to understand the issue in greater detail.