I write to respond to two letters in the County Times of May 9.
‘Distrust of the planning system’ was an open letter addressed to me.
Recent changes to the planning system have been designed to give greater independence to local councils to make decisions based on their assessment of local needs and interests.
However, there remains a serious concern about the interpretation of the requirement for councils to have a five year supply of land available for development.
This must be evidence-based and defensible, but nonetheless is an assessment to be made by the council itself, rather than being handed down from Whitehall, as was previously the case.
Horsham District Council, for example, has made such an assessment, one that seems to me eminently sensible; and on the basis of which there are already considerably more than five years’ future planning permissions current.
There are two difficulties, both of which I have been discussing with ministers. They arise from the way planning inspectors on appeals require the council to make up a shortfall in housing over the previous five years.
This would significantly increase the number of planning permissions needed, and could lead to the inspectors over-riding the council’s decisions, and allow appeals on sites that would not have been chosen by the council, or by local communities.
The second difficulty is that where a council’s District Plan has not been through all of its statutory processes, inspectors may feel able to ignore it, and rely on the previous figures laid down by Whitehall under the old discredited system that has now been abolished.
Most councils have plans that are public but still in draft and undergoing statutory consultation processes.
A possible solution would be for inspectors to be able to rely on a new District Plan that is still in draft, as long as it includes a new locally evidence-based housing number which shows clearly that there is a five year land supply.
This could be viewed as a ‘major’ consideration at any planning appeal, so there would have to be a good alternative reason to allow an appeal from a developer.
I believe these problems are transitional ones which arise as we move from the old top-down system to one genuinely based on local decision-taking.
But they are nonetheless real. I will soon be meeting with Nick Boles, the minister with responsibility for planning matters, with a view to finding solutions.
With regard to the May 9 letter headed ‘UKiP is the only party I can trust’ , Mrs Hepburn is perhaps the only person who has questioned the commitment shown by Henry Smith and myself to securing a new acute hospital for local NHS patients.
I think local people know that for ten years or more we’ve devoted enormous time and energy to this project.
The project that is currently on the cards - securing the active support of local residents and local councils - is real and alive and it’s still not too late to make it happen.
But success will depend on local residents getting behind it, not sniping at the motives of those who’ve striven for years to deliver the new hospital that local communities desperately need.
MP for Horsham, House of Commons, London