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John Howell MP: The Localism Bill will deliver a fairer and simpler planning system which genuinely engages with local residents

Picture 21 John Howell is MP for Henley and Parliamentary Private Secretary to Greg Clark, the Minister for Decentralisation and Localism.

Only a radical approach will produce the planning system we need to take the country forward and today we have the chance in the Localism Bill to deliver a planning system which is fairer, simpler, genuinely engaging of local residents - and more enabling of the growth we need to restore the fortunes of the country, in the face of Labour’s disastrous economic and financial legacy.

It will be a personal pleasure to see this Bill to the statute book. As a very new backbench MP in the last Parliament I was delighted to be asked to pull together a proposal for reform of the planning system following our Green Papers on localism and housing. The result was Open Source Planning in which I proposed a new and radical approach to planning. This was adopted in the Coalition Agreement and forms the basis of the changes set out in the Localism Bill. It has been a wonderful opportunity to have been involved in taking radical ideas from inception through to Second Reading.

The current planning system is broken and has failed to support our economy. It has contributed to the breakdown of our broken society. It has been a recipe for delay and expense. It has become a charter for confrontation.

What it delivered was broken promises, such as the Labour pledge to protect the green belt which the last Government then proved so keen to build on.  It failed to deliver the new housing we need because its only tools were central and regional targets which ignored local residents, and the bullying of local authorities. Its targets not only alienated local opinion they were also a cruel deception to developers trying to plan ahead.

At its heart, this is an issue about human nature. For Labour, local people are nasty, brutish, NIMBY and selfish. As such, Labour never trusted them to play a responsible part in how their communities should develop, which was left to ‘experts’ and ‘those in the know’.

By contrast, we think local residents must be made part of the solution rather than part of the problem, and that this is best done by giving them a real say in the future of their communities, with the appropriate incentives to match.

This will lead to a fundamental move away from the centre and into the hands of local people. Whole layers of bureaucracy, delay and Labour’s micro-management will disappear as communities take the lead in shaping their own surroundings.

Labour had enough chances to get this right. It introduced a badly-thought through set of reforms in 2004 which it then had to amend in 2008, and tinker with still further in 2009. Despite this, it still needed to issue in the period from 1st January 2005 a colossal 3,254 pages of national planning guidance, with another 1,000 pages of draft National Policy Statements. But they were so fearful and cautious of making mistakes that they could not bring themselves to make the changes they knew the system required. And so, the houses still did not get built.

Sadly, there are still those, like Labour, who believe that only experts can know what is best for people; that democracy has no place in this, and that development can only be pushed through with a centrally and regionally driven stick.

At last, if this Bill is agreed to, we will kill that argument forever and have a planning system which is truly fit for purpose.


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