Joint Press Release by WARD & Aireborough Civic Society

WARD Press Release Following Meeting With MPs et al On Friday 7 October 2011


Last Friday, at a meeting organised by Wharfedale and Airedale Review Development (WARD), the proposals outlined in the draft National Planning Policy Framework document were savaged by delegates in the workshop session at the meeting. This document has as its basic premise ‘the presumption in favour of sustainable development’ – which obviously means the default answer to development is ‘yes’. This shifts the balance of planning legislation, already weighted against communities, still further in favour of developers. The document mentions ‘sustainable development’ more than 80 times yet fails to offer a definition of ‘sustainable’. It also uses the term interchangeably with ‘sustainable economic growth’ and ‘development’. These are not, however, one and the same thing.

Although the document allows communities to shape their neighbourhoods through Neighbourhood Development Plans and to say where building should take place, it does not give a community right of veto. ‘Brownfield’ sites no longer have priority which will inevitably lead to urban sprawl, the loss of green space and subsequent environmental damage. It states ‘affordable housing’ should be seen to give ‘acceptable returns’ to landowners and developers yet this term also is not defined. WARD is not against development per se but only against inappropriate developments. There is obviously a need for development to be viable. Houses should be of the right type and in the right place – where employment opportunities exist and where there is a need. They should not be in commuter areas where there is no employment. This places excessive strain on already congested roads, public transport systems and local infrastructure.

Delegates, comprising of MPs, councillors, civic society members and CPRE representatives, together with community residents associations, were given a presentation by Sarah Wills, Chief Planning Officer for Yorkshire & Humberside CPRE. In the workshop session which followed there was unanimous agreement that the draft proposals were totally inadequate, ill thought out and open to abuse by developers. The coalition claims the proposals are intended to stimulate economic growth and are designed to lead a way out of the current recession by providing jobs in the construction industry.

Chairman of WARD, David Ingham, stated “it’s a shame the government doesn’t do something about stimulating economic growth by encouraging house builders to build the houses for which they already have planning permission granted. Across Leeds this figure is 22,500, whilst in Bradford the figure is 16,500. Countrywide the figure is 280,000. If the government were to stimulate the housing market by ensuring the banks provided 95% mortgages to first time buyers and house builders were to build these houses then perhaps that would be a better way of ‘kick-starting’ the economy.”

It was widely agreed that the current draft proposals would do little to stimulate an economic recovery but would simply offer further opportunities for developers to ‘landbank’ as, in fact, they are now doing. The current economic climate is doing little to encourage house building as demand is low but it does not prevent developers from acquiring land, obtaining planning permission for development and delaying the start until the economy recovers. They are still making money, as the value of land can multiply 100 fold from its original purchase price when it receives planning permission.

Delegates at the meeting were also unhappy about the appeals system where an appellant’s appeal is decided by a single government inspector which leaves the system open to corruption. A trio of inspectors would be fairer. Costs of an appeal, normally awarded against a council, should also be paid by a developer. The present system, over the past year, has cost Leeds City Council over £1 million in legal costs from ten lost appeals and the Clariant site at Horsforth is yet another in the pipeline which WARD currently intends to contest.

Two of the Yorkshire MPs supporting WARD’s campaign for reform of planning legislation attended the meeting. Stuart Andrew MP stated that “the meeting had been highly successful and the workshops sessions in particular have provided a good insight into the concerns and views of a wide section of the community. This has been an informative and constructive learning experience.” Greg Mulholland MP, also found the meeting useful and informative and reiterated the views of his colleague. Both agreed to lobby Greg Clark, local government Minister, to attend a meeting in Aireborough to meet with community representatives to discuss their common concerns. Chairman David Ingham also indicated that WARD representatives would be willing to send a delegation to London if this would facilitate an early date for such a meeting.

Finally, it was gratifying to see representatives at the meeting from Craven at the Skipton end of the A65 corridor. Peter Rigby and Verner Wheelock CPRE, and John Harker from Glusburn Parish Council, also promised to lobby their local MP, Julian Smith, for his support.

Anyone wishing to comment on the DNPPF can do so via the WARD website and the CPRE link. Or, alternatively, via the Survey Monkey website. Closing date for consultation is Monday 17 October 2011.