Neighbourhood Plan Working Groups – statutory consultees?

9 February 2015

Conservative backbencher Stuart Andrew MP has suggested that the views of groups drawing up neighbourhood plans should play a formal role in the determination of applications.

Speaking in the House of Commons last Monday, Mr Andrew said:

‘‘Neighbourhood forums in my constituency are engaging with the planning process and developing considered and well-researched neighbourhood plans, but their complaint is that they are not statutory consultees on planning applications that affect their area.  Will the Department look at this?’’

The DCLG Minister on duty, Liberal Democrat Stephen Williams, stuck closely to the usual Government formula in his reply:

‘‘Our guidance is clear.  Where there is an emerging neighbourhood plan and the local authority—Leeds in the hon. Gentleman’s case—does not have a local plan, it should take account of the emerging issues in the neighbourhood plan in designated areas, such as Aireborough in his constituency.’’

Though rebuffed on this occasion Mr Andrew had more luck in winning DCLG concessions later in the week during a House of Commons debate on housing targets.  Responding to Mr Andrew’s calls for more protection for the Leeds Green Belt, Planning and Housing Minister Brandon Lewis restated the Government’s commitment to protection, stating that:

‘‘Our planning guidance makes it clear that unmet housing need, including need for Traveller sites, is unlikely to outweigh harm to the Green Belt.’’

Stuart Andrew’s busy week on planning is indicative of a winder political trend: Conservative backbench MPs are taking an increasingly robust stance on Green Belt development and localism and pressuring their leadership to follow suit.  Indeed, Brandon Lewis is now required to respond to debates initiated by backbench colleagues on strategic planning issues on an almost weekly basis.  What impact this sustained pressure will have on the Conservative manifesto remains to be seen.

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