Planning done by communities - not to them

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BEING in government is about making decisions. Some of these are uncontroversial. Not that many, because in the nature of things you’re constantly having to make a judgement about balancing different desirable interests.

Planning is a classic. The Government at a high level and then councils in their localities are constantly having to reconcile the need for more housing and investment with our desire to protect the environment.

Last week the Dept for Communities and Local Government made the system surrounding planning much simpler: the National Planning Policy Framework was published.

The NPPF is a readable guide of about 50 pages – much better than the previous system which was 1,300 pages of jargon spread over 44 separate documents.

Crucially, it gives communities unprecedented power – via local plans – to shape the future of the places where they live. It marks the end of the infuriating imposition of top-down housing targets by central Government. Planning is now done by communities – not to them.

It puts the focus on sustainable development – facilitating development unless, when looking at issues like local infrastructure, it’s shown to be against our collective interest. It also guarantees the protection of our natural and historic environment.

The NPPF is no panacea. It can’t make planning and housing development less polarising or controversial and it’s unable to simply square the circle of many people’s desire to preserve our communities with society’s very real need for more housing – especially affordable accommodation.

It does, however, reduce bureaucracy, eradicate regional spatial strategies and put the views of local people and locally elected representatives at the heart of the process – all of which should be welcomed by people with strong views – or none, if there are any.

I thought I should add a word on my own week. I’ve talked elsewhere in the County Times about the threat of a fuel strike, which has by no means disappeared. We have to take all steps to ensure that the country can’t be brought to a standstill by an irresponsible and unnecessary strike.

In the same week I found myself dealing with the issues around party funding. I’ve been asked to work with the other parties to sort out this long-running sore In British politics. I’ve been round this course before and we were frustrated by Labour’s dogmatic refusal to contemplate submitting trade union donations to the same caps as would apply to all other donations. I hope this time we’ll succeed.

FRANCIS MAUDE

MP for Horsham