I spent ten years sitting on a planning body, and am acutely aware the issues facing mixed constituencies such as mine. In the urban areas, we have a real need for more affordable housing, but in the rural areas, the need to protect rural communities from inappropriate development. Finally, we need to ensure the law is equally applied to all, and make sure that some groups do not get preferential treatment.
Although an improvement on previous planning policy proposals, I was still deeply critical of the first draft of the National Planning Policy Framework, because it didn’t give sufficient protection to rural areas – or what the document called ‘ordinary countryside’. There is nothing ordinary about the countryside of the Test Valley – it is all extraordinary in my opinion. That is why land designation was and is still an issue for me. It is ridiculous that we have almost no Green Belt land in Hampshire, and no new Green Belt can now be designated. That exposes rural communities to the potential of inappropriate development.
Planning policy should not be about Government doing things to local communities, but doing something for them. That is why the second draft of the NPPF was a vast improvement on the first. Local communities, rural, suburban and urban have many similar needs, but those needs have to be met in different ways. The communities need to be treated differently. Good quality affordable housing is of course the key issue, but so is sympathetic development and ensuring the rural economy can grow through planning regulations which do not disadvantage rural business.
But the most important aspect is the voice of the local resident must be heard above the voice of the local authority. We need planning policy which empowers local people, not local authorities.