It is always fascinating when one reads the text from Parliament and finds a radical and strong argument being made by people who one might not expect would challenge their own political party based Government. That said it is very clear that Peter Bottomley who is the Father of the House of Commons and has been a Conservative MP since 1975, so for over 45 years, is certainly currently willing to challenge his Government. This following comment took place on Thursday of this week and the subject of the debate was the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee. Peter Bottomley is not part of the Committee but his comment was very clear and very supportive of the Committee and indeed of local councils. Sadly this did not lead on to a reflection of the strength of involving people from outside of the electoral section which of course is dominated by a very small number of political groups.
The whole House—those who are here virtually and those who are here physically—will want to thank the members of the Committee and its Chairman for the work they have put into this report and the work they do on other parts of planning and housing. I am glad that the Chairman said that the Committee is going to do a review of permitted development rights. The notorious statutory instrument 2020/632 is causing chaos all round England.
I want to add to what the Chairman said—he said that he could not cover every point—to reinforce the absence of the words “local councillor” in the planning statement. It seems to me that the Government need to realise that Members of Parliament matter and so do local councillors, especially in the planning process. I am glad that the Chairman of the Committee raised the point about non-housing development, whether that is commercial development or making provision, where there is large-scale development, for churches, sports areas, children’s facilities and the like, so that a whole community is held in mind.
I would like to end by inviting the Chairman of the Committee to come with the Minister to my two planning authorities, Arun District Council and Worthing Borough Council, to look down from the chalk garden at Highdown, which is well renovated now, look at the vineyard and then look at the north and south Goring gap, and give assurances to my constituents that that green area around the town of Worthing, the largest in West Sussex, will not be built on as a result of anything in these proposals. If it were metropolitan, it would be green belt and protected. It is not. It still should be protected. We should not have to build on every strategic gap between one town and a village, or between the hamlet of Kingston and the villages of East Preston, Ferring and Goring. Please come.
My own view as I have written on other occasions in this blog is that one of the most destructive actions by this Government in terms of planning was its ending of the Regional Assemblies. I was privileged to be part of the South East England Regional Assembly from 2002 – 2009 and in that time I was actively involved in a group of people from charities and other voluntary sector agencies along with the health and educational sector and also the Environment Agencies. Another group that we worked closely with was the business sector that involved a wide range of businesses and also the trade unions. My friend Roger House was Chair of that group for most of the time I was Chair of the Social and Environmental Partners group (2004-2009). These two groups were a total of 34 people in SEERA. In addition to us there were 73 Council Leaders, one from each District, Borough and County Councils in the region and 3 town and parish leaders from across the whole area. Our two non political groups were a small number within the total and so the decision making was always managed primarily by the Council Leaders. However they listened and often responded, sometimes positively to the views of the voluntary sector, environmental and business sector views. It is a shame that people like Peter Bottomley have not been able to persuade their Government to replace the Regional Assemblies with something similar as many of the issues he is referring to are part of what we covered in the regional planning proposals.
As it happens in 2010, a year after SEERA was destroyed Roger became a Councillor in Horton Kirby and South Darenth Parish Council and over the last 5 years he has been Vice-Chair of the Kent County Board at The Kent Association of Local Councils. There were a significant number of other people I worked with in SEERA who included Catriona Riddell who was the planning specialist and indeed she is still working in the planning area. I have had the privilege to meet a number of planning leaders in various Counties, particularly in Sussex and it is clear that we need people like Peter Bottomley to also refer to these people as well as Councillors.