Broad Agreement at Planning Conference – Localism is not working!

At a successful Planning Conference entitled ‘Planning Issues and Localism ….. Is it working’ which was hosted by Wharfedale & Airedale Review Development (WARD)  in Ilkley last week there was unanimous agreement from local residents about the urgent need for reform to the NPPF.  The conference was attended by three local MPs, Stuart Andrew (Pudsey), Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) and Philip Davies (Shipley) who have consistently, over the past five years, supported local groups, including WARD, in efforts to rebalance the planning system so that it reflects the needs and wishes of local communities as was originally intended by the Localism Act.

Four guest speakers expressed their views on relevant topics, namely Martin Hughes, Horsforth Town Council Chairman;  Jackie Thompson of WASP (Wharfedale Alliance for Sound Plans);  Ilkley Independent Ward Councillor Anne Hawksworth and industry expert and building consultant Paul Renton.

Martin emphasised the need to scrutinise numbers – particularly of the housing target set by Leeds and its consequent impact on the Site Allocations process now being considered by planners in Leeds.  He went on to say:

“The NPPF has to be revised.  Some sort of Community right to appeal must be allowable or the right of developer appeal taken away, so that the playing field is levelled.  Costs of this appeal exercise must also be kept much more under control to stop huge legal bills landing on local authority council tax payers.”

 Jackie questioned the validity of the statistics produced by Edge Analytics and compared them with the latest ONS and 2011 Census figures which clearly demonstrate that the Leeds 70,000 target in particular is far too high.

Anne stressed the adverse effect that the high housing target in Bradford would have upon greenbelt/greenfields in the Ilkley area and the impact on local infrastructure particularly traffic issues.

Philip Davies MP in response said:

Whatever our political allegiances we are all united in protecting our local communities from inappropriate development of our greenfields.  WARD do a wonderful job supporting our local communities and I will always do all I can to work with them and support the great work they do.”

Paul Renton highlighted problems caused by major developers including land banking and the control of the supply of basic materials such as building bricks.  He also emphasised that incentives or other measures would need to be taken by the Government to encourage the development of brownfields before greenfields.  An interesting aspect of his presentation was his ideas for modular house building (ie the use of kits as in the Highlands) which could be used to create urgently needed extra housing on brownfields at a fraction of the cost of regular building.  Kit houses are also built at a far faster rate than conventional buildings.  Therefore these are capable of fulfilling housing need much more quickly.

Greg Mulholland’s ‘Manifesto for Planning Reform 2015’, which is supported by a cross-party group and a number of community organisations, emphasises some of the key changes to policies on brownfield land which were referred to by Paul Renton as necessary to encourage brownfield first development and the work that Greg has done with his cross party parliamentary group for reform of the NPPF is to be commended.  Following the conference Greg made the following statement:

“I was very pleased to attend the WARD conference over the weekend. WARD have consistently campaigned to protect much-valued local green spaces, hold Leeds City Council to account on the amount of housing development that is necessary, and also pushed for housing to be built in the right places. The conference also looked at how we can ensure communities are at the heart of the planning process. This is a matter I feel strongly about and it was great to see WARD’s continued work in highlighting the importance of this.”

The conference closed with a David Dimbleby style Question Time with the panel comprised of our three MPs and the four speakers.  This was well received by the delegates who welcomed the chance to question the panel on the most important areas they would wish to see reformed in the next parliament.  These were mainly concerned with real brownfield first incentives, change to the five year land supply and better engagement with local people.  There was a general consensus that localism under the Localism Act is not working and that reform to the NPPF is very much needed as, in its present, state local people have no say and are currently getting a raw deal as the balance of power is in favour of developers who are able to ‘cherry pick’ the most profitable greenbelt/greenfield sites under the NPPF which is nothing more than a developers’ charter.

As such, and in light of the above, it is gratifying to have the support of cross party MPs who have been working hard at Westminster for planning reform.  Stuart Andrew MP in conclusion stated:

I was more than happy to attend last week’s WARD conference, which was very productive.  It is clear to me that people across Wharfedale and Airedale have real concerns about the impact of planning issues on the area, and I am pleased that MPs can come together irrespective of political party to try to consider everyone’s concerns when it comes to local planning matters.  For example, we need to fight the 70,000 housing target, which poses the greatest threat to the Greenbelt. People are rightly concerned about the impact this will have, and I would ask that everyone voices their opinion on this”.

WARD thanks everyone who attended the conference which has proved so worthwhile in that we all appear to be singing from the same hymn sheet – may it long continue.  Special thanks go to our four guest speakers and our three MPs who took time out from a busy election programme to attend.