Thank you, Mr Speaker
New reforms are always likely to be questioned and viewed with caution, however planning is long due an overhaul in this country. Having been a local councillor for well over a decade, before becoming an MP, I recognise that it is bureaucratic, cumbersome, slow and complicated.
Efforts to address this – I do welcome.
But change needs to be proportionate for the communities it affects, work for us and deliverable. More than anything planning must be in the hands of the local communities it affects.
As a District Councillor and even more now as a Member of Parliament, I receive a great deal of complaints every week about the slowness to pass applications and in principle I welcome an overhaul and simplification.
That said, I have many concerns with the new planning reforms and so do many in my constituency who have written with considerable worries.
Such is the concern that two of my parish councils in North Norfolk, Cley and Blakeney have joined forces, launching a petition with over 140 signatures in just a few days. It is no coincidence that these are incredibly picturesque and beautiful areas.
To have a debate and air the many concerns is vital, I want my constituent’s voices to be heard and that is at the very crux of my constituents issues with these reforms – their voices are being taken away!
I live in the most beautiful constituency – we don’t want centralisation of decision making. My community wants more say in planning matters, not less. We want local development management policies, local design codes, and to be able to decide what is ‘beauty’ in design, not have these dictated to us.
There must not be such simplification or deregulation that local decision making is removed and a reduction in the ability to object. My constituents have real fears over this, that there is considerable control removed once the local plan is completed. Similarly, the complete digitising of the system in rural communities and areas of the country like mine with older residents, is a step too far. It leans in a direction to remove transparency and visibility of what is happening in the community.
I am also deeply concerned about the new Standard Method for allocating housing which perpetuates historic inequity and concentrates building in areas of already high demand, thereby not increasing affordability, or levelling up growth between areas of different demand.
The new Standard Method does not take local policy objectives, supply constraints, or environmental impact into account. It pressures authorities to meet the calculated housing need forced on them by the Standard Method calculation but does not look at factors that might constrain the ability to deliver those targets.
If you take North Norfolk, we have been given targets of 730 homes a year up from 552. An almost impossible uplift target of 32%. Being contentious is one issue, but this is simply wrong for the area when so much of our landscape needs protecting from vast overdevelopment.
I believe we have neither the infrastructure nor the employment opportunities for this level of growth. I doubt we even have the building capacity through building companies to deliver at this pace. I feel it is unachievable, unjust and will be detrimental to the beautiful place we live in as an area of outstanding natural beauty.
There is much more this paper needs to address – powers to unlock the 900,000 planning applications currently sat on and the missed opportunity to address a problem that so many coastal communities face – how we enable enough local, young people to buy a home in the community they grew up in.
But above all – I stood up as local MP, rooted in my community which has been my home all my life. When people are worried, they are usually right and in its present form the planning proposals need substantial work to address these concerns.