Report on the meeting with members of the Communities & Local Government Select Committee in Portcullis House 1st September 2014
On Monday 1st September 2014 I attended the Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s investigation into the workings of the Central Government’s National Policy Planning Framework (the planning bible for the country) as a representative of the Otter Valley Association. This was a follow up to the submission the OVA made as to how we thought planning was evolving in our part of the world and what the OVA would like to be improved.
Eighty representatives from all over the country attended, representing parish councils, amenity associations and those who made individual submissions. We sat in tables of eight representatives with a MP from the committee sitting on each table for 20 minutes asking questions. The MPs then moved on. We had 2 conservative MPs, 1 labour MP and the academic advisor to the committee sitting with us so the questions they all asked were very varied.
The positive outcome of the day was that the MPs heard at close hand the range of planning problems experienced by communities in the country. Representatives demonstrated that they were not just NIMBYS but the planning system was in chaos. Developers were building where ever they chose as Local Authorities had no power to say no, and even if they did so, the Planning Inspectorate would likely grant planning permission at an appeal. The result is: large tracts of agricultural land being built on; villages doubling in size; brownfield sites in the centre of old industrial towns being left, yet the green fields around the margins of the town being built on instead as it was cheaper; the green belt eroded; AONB protection swept aside. All this is happening with no planned infrastructure to accompany the developments.
There was discussion on whether developers could ever deliver truly affordable housing.
There was a consensus that democracy was suffering as local consultations promised in The Localism Bill had been buried in the rush of developers to build.
This hearing was for the “small” voices. The “big” voices and national organisations had their evidence examined in formal committee sessions.
Portcullis House where the meeting took place is a beautiful, contemporary, building with purpose-built wood panelled meeting rooms. It is built around an atrium which is a meeting area for MPs and their constituents. Corridors are lined with contemporary portraits of MPs.
It was a wonderful opportunity to meet representatives from all parts of the country, all with different problems as a result of the NPPF. Some areas are suffering enormously and there are many dedicated people devoting a lot of energy to meeting the needs of housing in their area in a way the community can live with.
Do we think we were listened to? On balance - yes.