I was delighted that Greg Mulholland MP invited me to attend a ‘Roundtable’ session at Westminster on Wednesday 9 July 2014, together with Clive Woods, the WARD Research Officer, to discuss possible reform to the NPPF. It was gratifying to see a good attendance from fulltime representatives of several important, well-known national organisations: the National Trust, CPRE, Civic Voice and English Heritage, together with delegates from several voluntary/action groups from across England. The meeting was chaired by Greg Mulholland and was also attended by Stuart Andrew MP (Pudsey), Philip Davies MP (Shipley) and by Sir Nick Harvey MP (North Devon. Greg’s 10 minute Bill from 30th April proposing widely agreed planning reforms has generated a lot of interest across the country. It listed, most comprehensively, all the points which are of great concern to those of us eager to see reform to current planning rules which are presently so heavily weighted against local communities and biased in favour of developers & housebuilders.
I was disappointed, but not surprised, to sense a reluctance on the part of the national organisations to back some of the radical solutions which could alleviate some planning problems, like the abolition of the inspectorate and the appeals process. Nevertheless, this was supported by Philip Davies MP, who clearly stated that this could have the effect of forcing local government to accept real responsibility for planning decisions rather than being able to blame current legislation and central government for these. In the opinion of WARD, this would go a long way towards enhancing the Localism Act and devolve real power to local people rather than, as at present, simply acting as ‘token’ localism! WARD would indeed applaud the abolition of the inspectorate, particularly as we see no real need for this body as developers already have the power to re-submit amended planning applications which have been unsuccessful on an unlimited number of subsequent occasions. This is grossly unfair to local communities as presently there is no third party right of appeal. Eric Pickles, in his wisdom, extracted the clause allowing third party right of appeal from the Localism Bill before it gained Royal Assent.
In general terms, however, I think that all who attended were agreed that some amendments to the NPPF are definitely required in order to level the playing field and everyone appeared to be ‘singing from the same hymnsheet’. On the whole, a very worthwhile session which, at the very least, provided useful networking opportunities and one which I look forward to reprising in the not too distant future.
Many sincere thanks to Greg Mulholland MP for the opportunity to participate in this nationwide discussion on the need for planning reform.