MP should listen to the critics

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HORSHAM MP Francis Maude has declared his unequivocal support for the contentious draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Yet Mr Maude’s mantra before last year’s election was that ‘communities and their elected councillors – not Whitehall bureaucrats – should be able to decide how many new homes they need and how many they can reasonably accommodate and support with local infrastructure’ (eg, County Times July 31, 2009). But that was before the election.

Unfortunately, while the South East Plan is soon to be abolished, diktat by central Government to local authorities and communities has not. This is because the purpose of the NPPF is to enable the Government to impose ‘a presumption in favour of sustainable development’.

In future, local authorities will be required by Government diktat ‘to approve all individual proposals wherever possible’. In other words, the aim of the new planning policy is to make it much easier for developers to build huge numbers of houses on our countryside.

For district councils, knowing exactly what constitutes ‘sustainable development’, as opposed to development that is unsustainable, is crucial. Unfortunately, the draft NPPF does not provide a clearly expressed definition of ‘sustainable development’ and the Government has recently rejected a request from the all-party environmental audit committee to ‘enshrine in law’ a definition of ‘sustainable development’. Any proposed development outside of designated protected areas might therefore be deemed ‘sustainable’. Note that Sussex does not have any designated ‘Green Belt’.

Local authorities will not be free to decide for themselves where and how many houses should be built in districts. As now, local plans will require central Government approval before they can be implemented. The Government will be able to increase house-building targets, if it so wishes.

Because of the presumption in favour of development and the Government’s diktat that local authorities must ‘approve all individual proposals wherever possible’, the right of local people to object to planning applications will be limited. Moreover, in consequence of the NPPF, communities will only be permitted to say ‘YES’, not ‘no’ to development. Having housing allocations reduced will not be an option. In districts where local plans are deemed to be out of date developers will decide where and how many houses are to be built, NOT elected Councillors, NOT local communities. How many districts in Sussex have up-to-date local plans?

Unfortunately, the draft NPPF does NOT include a clearly expressed requirement for developers to fund and provide a specified proportion of ‘affordable homes’ in their developments. Indeed, draft NPPF paragraph 39 seeks to limit contributions paid by developers not only for ‘affordable housing’, but also for ‘infrastructure requirements. Development cannot be ‘sustainable’ without adequate infrastructure and providing communities with affordable homes should be a high priority.

If Mr Maude and his fellow MPs are truly committed to empowering communities, providing affordable homes and protecting our countryside, they should listen to critics and withdraw and rewrite the National Planning Policy Framework.

Dr R.F. SMITH

Vice-chair (West Sussex), Council for the Protection of Rural England

Bashurst Copse, Itchingfield