Javid backs 'central thrust' of expert group's local plan recommendations

The communities secretary Sajid Javid has said that he agrees with the 'central thrust' of recommendations in the government's Local Plans Expert Group (LPEG)'s report related to strengthening cross-boundary cooperation and making local plans a statutory requirement.

Communities secretary Sajid Javid
Communities secretary Sajid Javid

The LPEG report, published in March, proposed a host of far-reaching recommendations, including making local plans a statutory requirement, changing the test of soundness, strengthening the duty to cooperate and reducing the evidence base required. 

Speaking yesterday during the second reading of the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, Javid said there were "many excellent examples of local authorities working together to meet the housing needs of their areas".

"I want to see more of this. I want more joint planning, more tiers of government working together and, of course, more plans put in place. I want all areas to have one. Failing to put a plan in place creates uncertainty among communities, who are left with no idea of what will be built where, and it creates resentment when developments are eventually imposed through speculative applications", he said.

The minister added that he agreed "with the central thrust of the Local Plans Expert Group’s recommendations in this area".

He said: "We need more cooperation and joint planning. The requirement to have a plan should not be in doubt, and the process for putting a plan in place needs to be streamlined. As the expert group set out, most of those changes can and should be made through national policy and guidance, rather than through primary legislation.

"Should primary legislation be required, I look to use this bill as the vehicle for it. If we do use the bill in that way, we will of course ensure that the House has sufficient time to consider the provisions."

The debate revealed significant disagreement between Conservative and Labour MPs on the bill’s proposed measures to restrict the use of planning conditions.

Acting shadow communities secretary Teresa Pearce defended their use, saying that such conditions "have an important role in securing sustainable development that is careful and considerate of local communities".

Pearce added that she did not anticipate the bill "adding any of the extra homes that we urgently need".

"It is not pre-commencement planning conditions that slow planning consent, but the chronic underfunding of local planning authorities ... It is not pre-commencement planning conditions that slow new schemes coming forward, but the lack of strategic infrastructure involvement", she said.

Labour MP and former town planner Helen Hayes echoed this. She said: "Instead of this paltry bill, the government should be setting out a vision for planning and for involving communities in planning; bringing forward a National Infrastructure Commission on a statutory footing, because infrastructure is critical to the delivery of new homes; building up our plan-led system as the basis for certainty in decision-making; establishing a basis in legislation for new towns and garden cities; setting a context for communities and councils to come together to plan for the future; and resourcing councils to build the genuinely affordable council homes that we so desperately need".

But Conservative MP Sir Oliver Letwin said that "pre-commencement conditions imposed by local authorities are a major cause of delay and also distract the officials who [Theresa Pearce] complained were underfunded.

"One reason why they are over-occupied is that they are too preoccupied issuing absurd pre-commencement conditions that are not properly enforced and lead to massive delays in the process", he said.

Elsewhere, Tory MP Fiona Bruce asked housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell whether he would "look again at strengthening the authority of neighbourhood plans where there is no completed local plan and no agreed five-year land supply, and declare that the neighbourhood plan has the weight of a local plan where there is no such plan in place".

Barwell said that this "got to the heart of the matter: the interaction between neighbourhood plans and local plans, and particularly the issue of the five-year land supply".

"We will want to return to that issue as the bill goes through Parliament", he said.

Barwell added: "We should be honest that there is a tension here. On the one hand, clearly we cannot expect our constituents to put a huge amount of work into neighbourhood plans if they do not hold weight in certain situations.

"On the other hand, if there is a local authority that either does not have a plan, or that has a wholly deficient plan that does not meet housing need in its area, any member of this House who cares as passionately as we do about building the homes this country needs cannot allow such a situation to persist for years and years. That is a difficult issue, and I think that the suggestion of a mix of carrots and sticks is probably the right way to address it."

Asked by Letwin if he thought "there is at least a potential for the National Planning Policy Framework to be used as the reference point under those circumstances", Barwell replied: "I certainly do, and I think that there are ways we could look at addressing the issue, either through the Bill or through policy changes. I am very conscious of what the problem is, and I am sure that we can work together to find a solution as the bill goes through."

The Neighbourhood Planning Bill will now move to its committee stage. 

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