'If ministers are going to attack planning, they need to produce evidence'

Jamie Carpenter catches up with Labour MP Roberta Blackman-Woods, who was appointed shadow planning minister in October 2011.

Blackman-Woods: urged strong brownfield first focus
Blackman-Woods: urged strong brownfield first focus
You are only two months into your role as shadow planning minister. What’s your focus going to be?

"At this point in time, the focus is going to be on the final National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). I want to look at specifically what it is saying about green field, about green belt, about town centres and whether there is enough protection for local communities in terms of growth and that there’s a say for local communities in terms of what is built in their areas."

What’s your verdict on the planning-related measures contained in the chancellor’s Autumn Statement, published last week?

"No one wants a planning system that is going to impede growth. We need to have growth in this country, but we want to see a planning system that balances growth with protecting the environment. We think that can be done and we think that we did that when we were in government to a large extent.

"What we’re a bit concerned about is that this is going slightly out of balance at the moment. We do understand the need to have infrastructure and the need to have more investment in infrastructure. But we think that needs to be done in a way that ensures that local communities have a real say. I’m just not convinced that that’s there at the moment."

What changes would you like to see the government make to the National Planning Policy Framework?

"We would like to see a much, much stronger statement in favour of brownfield development first. We think that was a very sensible approach and that it shouldn’t have been changed in the NPPF. We also want to see the green belt strengthened, if that’s at all possible. I also think that the government needs to be much clearer about the relationship between neighbourhood plans and local plans and what they see as the main policy directives of the NPPF."

Are government ministers right to say that planners are among the ‘enemies of enterprise’ and to describe the planning system as a ‘drag anchor on growth’?

"What we do know is that there’s a lot of land already out there with planning permission for housing. We’d like the government to really concentrate on supporting the construction sector in order to bring those jobs and those projects forward. If they are going to attack the planning system, they need to produce evidence. We don’t think that they have produced evidence. I have been writing to the planning minister asking for evidence of some of the costs that have been bandied about. At the moment I’m not convinced about that argument, but it’s something that needs to be examined further."

Are there elements of the government’s package of planning reforms that Labour would support?

"We introduced the Community Infrastructure Levy. We are pleased that the government is going ahead with that, but we think they need to clarify its position vis-à-vis section 106 agreements much more than they have done. We think it is important that there is a community payback. That’s something that we support.

"But I do think that we would have been much more explicit about what we mean by sustainable development. I think that is an area where we would like the government to say how they are balancing the needs of the economy both now and in the future against the need to protect our areas of outstanding natural beauty."

jamie.carpenter@haymarket.com

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