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  5. 6 October 2011
  6. PM: planning reform vital but we’re open to constructive ideas

PM: planning reform vital but we’re open to constructive ideas

Prime Minister David Cameron has stressed that the Government’s planning reforms remain central to the administration’s policy on growth but insisted they would not harm the countryside. And he said ministers were open to constructive ideas on how to make the changes right

That was one of the messages in his keynote speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.

He said: “Our businesses need the space to grow - literally. That's one of the reasons we're reforming our planning system. It's hard to blame local people for opposing developments when they get none of the benefits. We're changing that. If a new manufacturing plant is built in your area - your community keeps the business rates. If new homes get built - you keep the council tax. This is a localist plan from a localist party”.
 
He added: “Now I know people are worried about what this means for conservation. Let me tell you: I love our countryside and there's nothing I would do to put it at risk. But let's get the balance right. The proportion of land in England that is currently built up is nine per cent. Yes, nine per cent. There are businesses out there desperate to expand, to hire thousands of people - but they're stuck in the mud of our planning system. Of course we're open to constructive ideas about how to get this right.
 
“But to those who just oppose everything we're doing, my message is this: Take your arguments down to the job centre. We've got to get Britain back to work.”

Meanwhile, the message from ministers speaking from the conference platform or during fringe meetings was that the Coalition was listening to concern over elements of the draft National Planning Policy Framework.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps told delegates at the conference that there would be a transition period to allow local authorities time to prepare local plans before the final version of the NPPF comes into force.

Mr Shapps said: “We will ensure that there is a period of time, a transition, for local authorities to have plans filed and agreed.”

Ministerial colleague Greg Clark has responded to concerns about the reduced emphasis on brownfield development in the draft NPPF. Speaking at a seminar organised by the British Property Federation, he said: “It was never my intention, and it was certainly not the Government’s intention, to depart from the obvious desirable situation in which derelict land is brought back into use.”

Mr Clark has also responded to concerns that the definition of sustainable development was too vague. He said: “People have suggested it could be clearer there so we will respond to that. If people responding to the consultation think that various aspects should be more clearly expressed then we are very happy to do so.”

That stance was shared by Cabinet minister Oliver Letwin. He told a fringe meeting it was important to have an open debate about the draft framework because once it was in force every word would be pored over by lawyers.

“This does matter because every word in there is justiciable and we need to get the words right,” he said. But he added: “The pretence that this is a document that pledges to 'let rip’ is not actually possible to sustain when you read it.”

In her keynote conference speech, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman also vowed to maintain protection for the Green Belt, areas of outstanding natural beauty and National Parks.

 

Roger Milne

6 October 2011