With yesterday marking the 80th anniversary of the Kinder Scout Trespass, it seems appropriate that MPs spent the evening discussing the planning system that so greatly affects the relationship we all have with our own local places.
But though yesterday’s debate had a distinctly localist focus, it was somewhat of a whistle-stop – with just a half-hour time-slot remaining for discussion, there was little time for any detailed examination of the document.
That’s not to say that important points weren’t raised – they were, notably the issue of the relationship between the Planning Inspectorate and local communities. Responding to Chris Heaton-Harris’ question, Planning Minster Greg Clark argued that the removal of contradictory regulation and Regional Spatial Strategies would allow the tension and antagonism in the planning system to dissipate. Besides this, he stated he had made it clear to the Planning Inspectorate that planning reforms place authority securely in the hands of local people. He is expecting to see a sample of the decisions that are being taken, including after the examination of plans, to ensure that this is happening.
The notion that the NPPF will bring more power to communities was broadly welcomed by all MPs, and Conservatives in particular. Caroline Lucas, however, touched on an issue that may undermine the promise of localism: local authority resources. Although Ms Lucas asked her question in relation to carbon reductions, there is a clear need for the resources, guidance and assistance she referred to in the production of good local and neighbourhood plans.
The response from the Minister was not particularly encouraging on this front – while he admitted that the government will support local authorities in their production of local plans, he did little to explain by what means they will be supported.
Clive Betts, the Chairman of the Communities and Local Government Committee, was another voice of caution. He said that the real test of the NPPF is whether it is better than the former system, and success on this count would come from its delivery of more houses, more green energy projects and more development in general.
Mr. Betts’ view is one shared by many: the proof of planning reforms will be in the decisions made in coming months and years, and its delivery of development local people want, in a way that does not compromise our environment.
A continuation of this debate on another day has been promised by Mr. Clark – time allowing, this should enable MPs to ask important questions of the Minister on the detail and implementation of the NPPF.
Blog by Ellen Reaich, Government and Parliament Campaign Assistant.