In a Parliamentary debate, at the end of 2013, on Planning and Housing Supply
Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con), said:
“I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate, which has been supported by a large number of concerned Members. In particular, I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) for sponsoring it along with me. There is concern among hon. Members and local planning authorities about apparent confusion in the Government’s planning policies. I requested this debate because I want to consider planning, the countryside and housing projections, as well as related issues, such as the Government’s professed preference for localism, as these matters are all interconnected.
Protecting the countryside was one of my main motivations for entering Parliament in the first place. As I represent the constituency of Tewkesbury, I am more sensitive than most to the need to avoid developing on or near flood risk areas. The terrible 2007 floods in Tewkesbury will never be forgotten by anyone who lived through them. I spend a lot of time trying to attract businesses, visitors and people in general to Tewkesbury, so I believe that a balance can be struck between allowing appropriate development and protecting our green belt, green fields and important open spaces, but I am not sure that we are striking that balance at the moment.
What do I mean by confusion in policy? The Government have said frequently, for example, that their policy is to preserve green-belt land, yet my local planning authorities—my constituency covers three—are telling me that the Government are pressuring them to provide for so many houses in their local plans or joint core strategies that it will inevitably compromise the green belt, green fields and flood risk areas.
In a ministerial statement dated 6 September 2012, the Government said:
“The green belt is an important protection against urban sprawl, providing a ‘green lung’ around towns and cities. The coalition agreement commits the Government to safeguarding green belt and other environmental designations”.
That seems clear enough. However, the same statement goes on to say:
“As has always been the case, councils can review local designations to promote growth. We encourage councils to use the flexibilities set out in the national planning policy framework to tailor the extent of green belt land in their areas to reflect local circumstances.”—[Official Report, 6 September 2012; Vol. 549, c. 33-34WS.]
That is less clear. Indeed, it is confusing, perhaps even contradictory.
On the face of it, reaffirming councils’ right to re-designate the status of their land could be seen as promoting localism. However, the fact is that Government pressure to create high housing numbers is forcing such re-designations, which flies in the face of localism and contradicts the localism policy. Etc”
Mr Robertson appeared to have pre-empted the thinking behind Mr N.Boles’ letter to the Planning Inspector attempting to clarify the issues of Green Belts and Local Planning.
Whilst Canvey Island has been fortunate to have not suffered flooding from the sea since 1953, apart from two recent occasions when the barrier failed to be closed causing minor ingress onto roadways etc, the adverse weather of August 2013 did cause some concern to residents as surface water made its way into houses.
In this respect some similarity can be compared with Mr Robertson’s Tewkesbury constituency.
Canvey Island, as you will be aware is a Zone 3A flood risk area, Castle Point Council, through their Local Plan intend to develop on 3 different areas of the Island’s Green Belt.
Evidence behind the Local Plan making is being confused by elements of Planning Policy; preserving and enhancing the Green Belt;
directing development away from Flood Risk areas;
Satisfying housing need;
And meeting housing demand.
Regarding preserving and enhancing the Green Belt, the Government have been clear recently. However in practise it appears that in the rush to build as many houses to assist the economy, large developers are pursuing a Green Belt first route so as to maximise profit over cost as an alternative to town centre regeneration and more costly brown field development.
Castle Point Council have not challenged this through the SHLAA document, they appear to have simply made soundings locally and then accepted those with land interests wishing to make the proverbial “quick buck.”
The Local Plan direction appears to be being developer led.
This suggests that rather than looking to satisfy housing need, the Borough is in danger of satisfying “demand.”
CPBC have already dug a hole for themselves by suggesting that capacity is the controlling issue that will limit housing numbers. Having listed their preferred housing location and suggested that it cannot meet the National projections of housing need in the area, CPBC goes on to reason that there are in fact areas of Green Belt available that are not deliverable within the Plan period.
If the will had been indicated during the very early years of Plan making, by now these site/s would have been organised and the necessary paperwork in place, whilst the necessary infrastructure would also have been organised.
Flood Risk, in the case of Canvey Island, should be a limit to capacity.
One must question the approach of a local authority that appears to be in denial that Canvey could ever suffer from flooding again.
Proof suggests a cautious approach should be adopted.
Three of the sites identified for development in the Flood Zone, also happen to be Green Belt areas.
If the will was there, these development sites would be easily defendable.
With the Government’s reminder that Green Belt’s should receive the special protection offered by the NPPF, and that the Planning Inspectorate is headed by Sir Michael Pitt, compiler of the Pitt Report into the summer floods of 2007,
It should not be beyond the wit of our Borough Councillors to suggest that Canvey Island has very little capacity for growth.
This would allow the Town Centre to become the focus of local regeneration for housing and retail. Other focus could then fall upon using infill to the best advantage possible.