At the invitation of Andrew Bingham MP, Whaley Bridge Town Councillors John Pritchard, Barrie Taylor and Chair Martin Thomas met Nick Boles MP, Minister for Planning and Development on Friday 31 January 2014 in Chapel-en-le-Frith. In attendance were also representatives from councils and resident groups in Buxton, Chapel, Glossop, Hayfield and New Mills.
The meeting was set up specifically to address concern about the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Attendees were not allowed to speak about specific planning applications.
Chair, Cllr Martin Thomas made the following statement on behalf of Whaley Bridge Town Council:
“On behalf of Whaley Bridge Town Council and Whaley Bridge Neighbourhood Plan, I wish to express concern on a number of points:
1) Timescales to get a local plan in place are too short.
2) In the absence of an adopted Local Plan in High Peak, the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) paragraph 47 and 49, is effectively giving developers a free for all.
3) It is unreasonable to give local authorities so little power in such circumstances.
4) Decisions which would otherwise not be considered are being rushed through by this loophole e.g. prejudicing the water absorption capacity of the landscape by building on water meadows.
5) This situation is giving rise to increasing anger and hostility in the local community.
6) This is underming not just the interests of your party, as suggested by Nahim Zihawi, Conservative MP for Stratford-on-Avon but, democracy itself.”
In reply, the Minister showed himself to be an ardent supporter of the NPPF. He denied that time to create a local plan was too short, and he stated that the need to build houses and get the economy moving was essential. He added that only 8.9% of the English landscape is in any way developed.
After a discussion of the status of Chapel Vision, which might be formally adopted later this year, the Minister went on to say that once the local and Chapel’s Neighbourhood plan are in place they will provide a tight framework for development for the next 18 years.
Other members of the audience mentioned the need to build affordable homes. The minister agreed, and councils should use their power to enforce this through s106 Agreements. However, this is not always affordable, and he stated that any new homes at the moment would help the economy. The Minister also acknowledged that some existing s106 undertakings might be challenged on planning agreements granted pre-credit crunch, if these had become unaffordable.
The residents from Glossop lamented the chronic traffic congestion in the Glossopdale Valley. Andrew Bingham MP explained how he was pushing for this to be addressed through a new study of trans-Pennine routes.
In a general discussion about infrastructure, the Minister explained the benefits for the local community of the new Community Infrastructure Levy. He recommended local people push for this to be implemented in High Peak. One benefit is that parishes with an adopted Neighbourhood Plan will automatically receive 25% of this levy for their parish.
Cllr John Pritchard asked the minister “The Flood Water Management Act of 2010 envisages the designation of Lead Local Drainage Authorities, which in our case is the Director of Environmental Services at Derbyshire County Council, effective April 2014. In an area which acts as a natural sponge to protect our local rivers from flooding, this appears to be passing a critical responsibility to a Local Authority which has no means to administer it.”
The Minister said that such comments were often made by the Local Government Association, but he was not aware of a problem here.
A representative of Glossop residents asked the Minister if he was aware of the practice of developers submitting a second planning application while a similar one was already under consideration. The Minister replied that if a new application was similar to a pending one the Local Authority should not validate it. The resident explained that the first application was not pending, but refused and under appeal. The Minister appeared to disapprove, made a note of this and undertook to investigate this practice.
Other questions were asked about building on Green Belt. The Minister said that Green Belt protection has never been absolute, and there have always been circumstances when this can be reviewed and removed, but that protection is now stronger than ever before.
The Minister also met senior executives from High Peak Borough Council. Obviously we cannot reveal any details, as we were not present, however we do understand that discussions took place around the evidence base required to justify a lower housing target than the objectively assessed need. In a borough with a substantial portion of land lying within the Peak District National Park and green belt there is simply not enough land to build the volume of houses implied by that need assessment, however the difference has to be supported by a great volume of evidence, some still under preparation.
We understand the Minister confirmed this was the correct approach, and added that he had told inspectors to be pragmatic and to accept lower housing numbers, if genuinely backed up by solid evidence.
These matters are always difficult to resolve because of their complicated nature with so many issues to consider.
In my view the most important priority is to safeguard the interests of local people and those who come to work here. Therefore brown sites are far more preferable for use of building development than green sites which have health, recreation and conservation benefits for everyone, especially the local population.