Last Thursday there was a debate under the subject of Planning and House Building in the House of Commons. Having read the speeches it is clear that the elements being raised by some of the MPs who were able to take part would be best addressed by a series of regional assemblies who can bring together a wide range of local authorities including the town and parish councils as well as other public sector agencies such as the health and education sectors. Then there are groups of the business, voluntary and environmental sectors. These agencies and their appointed representatives can help to interpret the best way of taking the Government requirements and matching them to the local settings with all of the strengths and challenges that exists in each region. The debate was set up by Bob Seely who is the Isle of Wight MP. He is the first to speak and states the motion which his colleagues discuss on the day.
Bob Seely: That this House welcomes the Government’s levelling up agenda and supports appropriate housing development and the Government’s overall housing objectives; further welcomes the Government’s consultation, Planning for the Future, updated on 6 August 2020, as a chance to reform housing and land use for the public good; welcomes the Government’s commitment to protect and restore the natural environment and bio-diversity; and calls on the Government to delay any planned implementation of the changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need proposed by the Government’s consultation, Changes to the Current Planning System, published on 6 August 2020, and Proposal 4 of the Government’s consultation, Planning for the Future, on a standard method for establishing housing requirement, until this House has had the opportunity to hold a debate and meaningful vote on their introduction.
Bob then goes on to outline some of the issues that need too be addressed by regional groups like took place 10 years ago and was torn up by the coalition, led by Bob Seely’s political party.
Bob Seely: The figures I will be quoting from the House of Commons Library show that in rural and suburban England, excluding cities, the new algorithmic process demands an additional 772,072 homes—more than three quarters of a million—or more than 100 new towns of 7,000 souls. The new total for shire England, minus the cities, is 1,513,529 properties, or more than 200 new towns. Both those figures are underestimates, in that, for example, they do not include Dorset, Cornwall or the Isle of Wight. So over 15 years, compared with current agreed local plans, rural and suburban Gloucestershire will see an additional 29,000 homes, taking the total to 54,000; rural and suburban Surrey will see an extra 45,000, creating a new target of 84,000; and in rural and suburban Northamptonshire, an extra 26,000 will take the total to 72,000.
Other MPs took part in the debate and includes Andrew Griffith who is the MP for Arundel and South Downs
Andrew Griffith: I thank my hon. Friend for the detailed work he has done and the figures he has shared. Does he agree that this is not about the national figure, which many Members on this side of the House fully support and want to see built, but that the test of any good planning system is whether it reflects the true geography of an area and fully takes into account the need to protect things such as national parks, to take care of floodplains and the inability to build on them, and to make full use of brownfield land?
Along with Andrew Griffith, Caroline Ansell expressed her support for the motion, but there was no other Sussex contributions which clearly demonstrates how important it is for the whole of Susssex and indeed the whole of our region to be able to contribute. Even the Government Housing Minister who finished of the session stated the following
Christopher Pincher: Local planning authorities have a crucial role to play. They are the building blocks of local democracy, and certainly they should be responsible for designating what goes on in their local authorities. Importantly, one of the factors we have to contend with is land constraints such as national parks, green belts and flood risk, so that we identify the most appropriate land. We continue to welcome views on how we can best implement this and will reflect very carefully on those before proceeding, particularly on the incentives we can provide to small and medium-sized enterprises and other developers to get building—that was mentioned by a number of Members across the House—and how we can encourage greater neighbourhood involvement. I am keen to ensure that the present neighbourhood planning system and neighbourhood plans find their place in our new regime, and I encourage contributions and thoughts on how that might be achieved. Importantly, a number of Members raised the issue of infrastructure, including my hon. Friends the Members for Leigh, for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall), for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith), for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) and for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller). We welcome further thoughts on how best to deal with this.
All of this makes it clear that we need to re-establish the Regional Assemblies.