Nick Boles, Planning Minister, addressed the All Party Parliamentary Local Government Group for their final meeting this summer. Representatives from around thirty local authorities were present as well as a number of parliamentarians and relevant stakeholders. Highlighting the aims behind the Government’s planning policy, he explained that the Government wants to persuade communities to bring forward more land for development by offering them incentives, more power and more responsibility.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) defines the responsibilities of communities and provides them with the powers to fulfil these new duties. The New Homes Bonus (NHB), Community Infrastructure Levy, business rates retention scheme and the Neighbourhood Plan process provide the incentives.
He explained that in a democracy you cannot make a community do something they are fundamentally opposed to, and so “you have to bring them with you”. This is the experimental part of the Government’s plan. He invited feedback on which parts of the policies were working and which parts were not.
Some questioned how effective the incentives were. Nick Raynsford MP queried whether the incentives provided by the NHB were sufficiently strong or clear. He asked why the Government has complicated the mechanism in the Spending Review by taking £400 million from the New Homes Bonus and putting it into LEPs.
Boles acknowledged that it is still too early to tell how well the NHB is working, although he welcomed suggestions regarding how it might be improved. He explained that a core element of NPPF, and the basis for the removal of the regional strategies, was the concept of the duty to cooperate. Local authorities need to look beyond the needs of the immediate area, and consider those of the wider community.
But as one delegate explained, difficult neighbours and the duty to cooperate can serve to prohibit the introduction of a local plan. An officer from South Derbyshire Council explained how such issues had left their authority vulnerable to development. Boles acknowledged that councils have been unsure about the appropriate use of the duty to cooperate, and stated that additional guidance would be provided. Furthermore, the Planning Inspectorate would take into account uncooperative neighbours when making its final decision. However, he added that the NPPF was designed deliberately to be uncomfortable for local authorities in order to encourage them to introduce a local plan.
A range of further issues emerged including what constituted inappropriate development, how to measure housing need and when revising the Green Belt was justified. Boles emphasised that in these instances there was no single, prescribed solution. Decisions must be reached which take into account the local area. Councils must determine the solutions for themselves.
Boles may have provided a greater sense of certainty and clarity to some local government representatives, but it was clear that for others, more thinking and hard decisions lay ahead.
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