19th September 2012

Many constituents have contacted me in recent months concerned about the planning process and Amber Valley Borough Council’s ongoing Housing Options consultation. Anyone who has experienced the planning system in recent years will know that it has been excessively complex and we’ve ended up with unelected inspectors approving applications where local people and councillors were overwhelmingly opposed.

There’s no doubt that reform was needed and the Government’s efforts to reduce all the planning guidance to 50 pages were welcome – however the original draft did raise some fears that there would be a threat to the beautiful greenbelt land we have remaining.

I share those concerns, and the need to protect town centres and encourage the use of brownfield land first – and there are of course many sites in Amber Valley that need clearing up and re-using. You can read here the speech I gave in the House of Commons and here my response to the Council’s consultation.

I’m pleased that the Government have now finalised the guidance and made various amendments reflecting the concerns I, and many others, raised. You can see the final version here. You can also see a letter I received from Greg Clark MP, Minister for Decentralisation and Planning, here. In both my speech back in October to Parliament and the announcement of the final version to Parliament, I asked specifically on the protection of greenbelt and use of brownfield sites:

“The key thing for the Government now is to get the emphasis right and ensure that the green belt is strongly protected by the framework. That should come right at the start of the plan. We should say, “Okay, we have a presumption in favour of sustainable development, but we also have a strong presumption against development in the green belt.” We do not want councils to reduce the size of the green belt when they set their local plans.”

“My constituents will be heartened to hear that there will now be an explicit instruction that brownfield sites should be developed before greenfield ones. What else can the Government do to make that more practical and cost-effective, and to make developers want to do it rather than develop easy and cheap greenfield sites?”

The key aspects of the revised guidance are now:

  • –  Local Plans will form the basis for decisions in the planning system and that the presumption in favour of sustainable development will work through Local Plans as opposed to against them.
  • –  Greenbelt protection, as with a requirement to utilise brownfield sites first, has now been written in to the formal guidance. The government has stated that the protection of these spaces cannot be overriden by a presumption in favour of sustainable development.
  • –  A one-year period is now being provided during which local councils can ensure their Local Plan is in place. This will help in those areas where the council doesn’t have a current plan in that it will protect against any exploitation of this type of loophole by developers.

I also welcome the Government’s announcement of funding to help builders complete sites that already have planning permission – we don’t need to sacrifice countryside while sites remain undeveloped and planning permission is already in place.

With the move to allowing parishes and towns to set their own plans, via referendums, I hope we can move planning from a fight against developers to a constructive approach that gives communities and developers what they want, not just developers.

The important thing now is for the Council to complete their consultation and ensure that only suitable sites, outside the greenbelt, where there is suitable infrastructure and which don’t join up separate and distinct communities are allowed to proceed.