On Wednesday, The Queen opened the last session of Parliament before the General Election next year.
A number of the Government’s proposed measures are of local interest.
An Infrastructure Bill will “bolster investment in infrastructure and reform planning law to improve economic competitiveness”. Measures to reform the Highways Agency could help to deliver key road schemes like the A27 upgrade we need.
More contentious will be measures to allow fracking beneath private property without the landowner’s consent, although the proposed drilling would be very deep, often a mile or more below the surface.
The real concerns about fracking in the South Downs are the lorry movements and disruption involved in drilling, and any risk to the chalk aquifers if fracking goes ahead. It’s essential that these issues are addressed before any licence is granted. There’s already oil production in various parts of West Sussex which isn’t controversial, for instance at Storrington, but some of the proposed locations for new drilling are poorly chosen. I’ve objected to exploration between Kirdford and Wisborough Green because of concern about lorry movements.
The Queen’s Speech also announced that the “Government will increase housing supply and home ownership by reforming the planning system, enabling new locally-led garden cities.”
The important principle is that these “garden cities” will be “locally-led” and not imposed. This is the case at Ebbsfleet in Kent. It is not the case between Henfield and Sayers Common, where the Mayfield new town plan is opposed by the public, councils and MPs alike.
Nicholas Soames and I will reiterate this when we speak at a public meeting on the Mayfield plan on Friday 20 June. I am also very unhappy that the Planning Inspectorate has overturned Horsham District Council to allow 120 new homes in Henfield. I think this is bad for the village and for localism.
It is especially damaging when Horsham has just made the decision to focus the bulk of new housing away from the villages, and Henfield is drawing up its neighbourhood plan.
Once local and neighbourhood plans are through, our villages can be protected from this kind of speculative development. Local councils should decide these issues, not a quango based in Bristol.
In my alternative Queen’s Speech, I would abolish the Planning Inspectorate and give new powers to communities so that they are fully in charge of local decisions which are rightfully theirs.