One of the most important pieces of legislation going through the House of Commons at the moment is the Localism Bill. As an MP for a relatively rural constituency I know how fed up people are with the way planning decisions are taken in their local areas.
Residents can feel put upon by developers and councils. They can feel powerless as wind farms or supermarkets or housing developments are given the go-ahead without their approval. Above all they can feel as if they are not being listened to.
The last Government paid lip service to the whole process of consultation. Time and time again unpopular developments were rammed through against the express wishes of local people, creating a lot of anger and frustration in the process.
The Coalition government has recognised that this is no way to treat local people. Planning is an important issue and instead of acting all high and mighty, councils should be bending over backwards to ensure that residents are fully involved in the decision making process. The Localism Bill ensures that this will happen in future. It sets out a number of proposals which will give far more power to local communities, including:
- Local referendums
- Neighbourhood Planning
- Abolition of Regional Strategies.
The Bill will transform the relationship between local authorities and communities and give residents a far greater say on planning matters. Council leaders should now do the decent thing and suspend any planning consultations currently taking place in their areas until the Localism Bill is enacted.
In my constituency of Dewsbury, there are plans by Kirklees Council to build a further 28,000 homes in the borough by 2028. The Council claims that it has done this because it has been asked to by central government. Its website states that “the Local Development Framework (LDF) must be prepared in the context of national policies and planning needs identified in the Regional Spatial Strategy for Yorkshire and the Humber. The LDF must also integrate with the local Community Strategy to help deliver the long-term vision and ambition for Kirklees.”
Yet, as many people have pointed out to them, under the current government this is no longer the case. There is no obligation on the Council to implement any housing strategy. All local authorities are instead being encouraged to revisit their plans so that planning decisions can be taken in accordance with the principles set out in the Localism Bill, primarily that local communities are given a far greater say in decisions affecting the future make-up of their area.
I have called upon the Leader of Kirklees Council to suspend the consultation immediately and I believe that this should happen across the country. The rules of the game have changed with regards to planning and local authorities should respect that.