Planning Minister Brandon Lewis was the guest at a Portland Local breakfast in Westminster as an invited audience of development and infrastructure representatives took stock of the practical impacts of the Government’s localism agenda and the key planning and development issues ahead of next year’s General Election.
The Minister’s recent comments around local plans and reliance on the National Planning Policy Framework were, as expected, an early subject of discussion and opened up an interesting debate on the need for balance between local intervention in the planning process and clearer central guidance for developers.
Frustrations were aired regarding the nature of dealings with local planning committees, but with no changes to this process expected in the near future, the Minister was keen to ensure that developers worked within the system and took responsibility for shaping their own ‘best practice’. He encouraged those in attendance to see the practical value of early and genuine local engagement, noting the contribution to successful applications played by early and consistent communication with local communities.
He fought back against criticism that efforts to formalise local planning priorities lacked serious local support and engagement, noting that referendums to approve Neighbourhood Plans were often achieving turnout out rates above 80% – far above turnout figures for local authority elections in many of the same areas.
Head of Political Polling for ComRes, Tom Mludzinski, who, along with Development Securities’ Julian Barwick, joined the Minister on the panel, noted that young people – particularly in London, with a young population to whom becoming a property owner is an unlikely prospect – tended to feel disenfranchised from their local communities despite being better connected to the world as a whole.
Despite this, he outlined how even a rational, understanding audience – aware of the need for more housing and development – still became a strong opposing force when those plans are unveiled to impact their local area. The dreaded term ‘NIMBY’ may never be far from the lips of those looking to take forward development projects, but with clear and continued fear of development from local communities, it is easy to see why planning committee members approach applications with caution – beyond the recommendations of their planning officers – and why frustrations continue to mount for developers.
Addressing the need to unlock land for development, and with demand for housing still far outstripping supply, the Minister outlined the potential for more brownfield development and the need to look sensibly at changing use classes for properties as our high streets continue to change. It is clear, however, that this remains a government not keen on adopting a top down approach to planning and place shaping which bucks their own commitment to localism.