Nigel Evans today spoke in the Westminster Hall debate on planning reform which was attended by Nick Boles MP, the Minister for Planning. Mr Evans put to the Minister the concerns he shares with many of his constituents regarding the large number of planning applications received in the Ribble Valley.
Mr Evans’ speech from the Westminster Hall debate:
I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that if he is under any illusion or delusion that the planning system is working well, all he needs to do is listen to the hon. Members who are speaking here today. This is rather a large turnout for Westminster Hall. Hon. Members are talking about their anxieties and frustrations and the fact that their constituencies are under siege. I certainly feel that myself, because the Ribble Valley is under siege.
I was first elected in 1992. I said to my executive that I hoped that after my days in the House, when I handed the Ribble Valley over to my lucky successor, it would be in better shape, or at least in no worse shape, than when I became its Member of Parliament. I was doing rather well until 2010, when the planning system started to change. We in the Ribble Valley are under siege.
There are not as many villages in my area as in that of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), but there are many wonderful, lovely villages and towns, including Clitheroe, the main market town. The whole area is under siege. We do not have our core strategy in place, and it seems as if that is a green light to every speculative developer to put in a planning application, with no protection for the local authority or for the people themselves.
Barrow in my constituency is a perfect example of a village where planning applications have gone in that would more than double its size. The people are up in arms against that. I hope that the public will get protection against that application, which I think is barmy.
There are a number of other areas. Clitheroe is the largest town; applications have gone in all over the place there, and many have been granted on appeal. Somebody did suggest getting rid of the inspector, or the inspectorate. That would make me smile more than anything else, frankly.
The frustration for many of my local councillors is that they go out and tell the people what they will do when they are elected; the people tell their councillors what they want when planning applications go in; and the councillor stands up for them and says, “No, we don’t want to see 1,000 houses in Clitheroe”. However, the decision is then overturned or, as in this particular case, the local authority gets the feeling that if it did turn the application down, it would go to appeal, cost it a lot of money to defend its position and the application would then be allowed. In many cases, local authorities are allowing certain applications when their hearts tell them that they should not.
It means frustration on the part of not only the people, but the councillors. They shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, what is the worth of being a local authority councillor if we are making these decisions on behalf of the public and then they are overturned?” Or, even worse, the local authority is told, “Listen, you’d better accept this planning application. Otherwise, it’s going to cost you a lot of money and you will lose.”
I used to use a counter-argument against those in my constituency who said, “This is a disaster. This is what is going to happen if the Localism Bill goes through.” I said, “No, localism will give power back to the local authorities.” Now, when we look at what has happened, it seems as if there has been some Orwellian double-speak. Localism sounds as if it is giving power back to the local people when in essence it has not done that at all—quite the contrary. If people want to build houses, localism is fine. If people want to go against the building of the houses, localism does not help them one jot.
I was elected as a Conservative. I am a Conservative; just as the name on the tin suggests, I want to conserve—I want to conserve what is best in our area.
If people in the Ribble Valley want to live in Manchester, that is fine—they can go and live there. What we do not want is Manchester coming to us. We do not want to see these towns growing at such a rate that we do not even recognise them.
The Ribble Valley is one of the nicest places to live in the whole country; it is one of the jewels. People want to live there for a certain reason. I know what the Minister is talking about when he says that people deserve the right to have a roof over their heads. Everyone deserves a home; I agree with him on that, but we need to look at areas that neighbour places such as the Ribble Valley—such as Burnley, Preston, Pendle and Hyndburn—and see what we can do to regenerate some of the run-down areas there. We need to ensure that homes that are run-down are made available to people in those areas and that they do not have to flee those areas and live somewhere else.
I will finish shortly because I know that many other hon. Members want to speak, but I just want to say this. I believe that we ought to have a planning system that is based on consent—the consent of the local people. I finish by referring not just to housing but to wind turbines. When fairly well everybody in a local area is saying no to three wind turbines in a suburban area and the council turns the application down because it has listened to what the local people say, but it then goes to the inspectorate and the inspectorate passes it, there must be something wrong in the system because we are not listening to the people. Minister, listen to the people.
Speaking from Westminster after the debate Mr Evans said:
“I welcomed the opportunity to put my concerns to the Minister today and sincerely hope that those concerns were taken on board. Nobody can argue that there should be no development at all in the Ribble Valley, but the current situation has no support within the community. The planning system can only survive if it has the general consent of the people and it is clear to me that the planning system has lost that support.”