The purpose of the planning system is to balance economic, social and environmental priorities at the national and local level. However, our current planning system creates bureaucratic barriers rather than supporting communities in their future development.
Many local politicians and council officers have tried to make the current system work and I would like to take this opportunity to praise the role of our local councillors who take these difficult decisions.
The purpose of my adjournment debate in the House of Commons today is to challenge Government for its woeful approach to planning, its failure to give a lead and to support local councils taking very tough decisions.
As Labour has taken power over planning away from locally-elected representatives and given it to bureaucrats in Whitehall
and in regional government, the mistrust of the planning system has grown – along with an increase in protest and in the use of judicial review. Labour has transferred strategic responsibility for housing and planning from local councils to unelected regional quangos.
The abolition of county structure plans has led to more red tape. Labour's policies – such as passing powers over housing and planning to the unelected regional development agencies, and the creation of the central planning quango, the Infrastructure Planning Commission – have increased the level of centralisation and further reduced the say for local people.
The Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) will strip local authorities and the Secretary of State of their say on major planning applications. The IPC will quickly be bogged down in legal challenges – from judicial review in the High Court to the European Court of Justice.
I believe that local communities should be given the greatest possible opportunity to have their say with the greatest possible degree of local control. As the system stands, the electorate increasingly feel that their opinions on planning developments are being ignored and that developments are being imposed upon them. This sense of disenfranchisement often leads to antagonism, with an inherently adversarial system as a result.
Only radical change is going to deliver the planning system that we need to succeed in the years to come. Rather than have one planning structure determined centrally and then applied unvaryingly across the country, Conservatives want a planning system with a basic national framework of planning priorities and policies, where the local plan is truly local.
We will ensure there are proper democratic checks and balances. We have pledged to abolish the IPC whilst retaining its expertise, we will allow proper planning inquiries and give back discretion to the Secretary of State. We want to create a planning system where local people and their accountable local governments can produce their own distinctive local policies to create communities which are enjoyable to live in, sustainable and attractive.
In my constituency, there are currently a number of very contentious applications: both at district council level, notably a residential community for the elderly, and at county council level, such as a proposed energy from waste facility.
Residents feel that their concerns are not being heard and have approached me as their MP to intervene.
There is confusion over the role of Government, the Planning Inspectorate, the planning authorities and the role of an MP. According to the Prime Minister, the common practice is that "a planning decision is not a matter for this House but one for the planning authorities".
It is often the case that representations from MPs, pressure groups or other interested parties will be made to persuade Ministers either for or against the call-in of a planning application, rather than leaving the decision to the local authority.
While such representations may be taken into account in the decision on whether or not to call in the application, the law states that ministers should act, and be seen to act, fairly and should not discuss the decision with these parties.
Frequently MPs can be criticised for not listening. This seems as odds with their meeting with the groups concerned and explaining their role in the planning process. MPs are best not taking a political position on planning applications as this responsibility has been devolved to the local planning authority. Parliament has entrusted them with responsibility for day-to-day planning control in their areas. It is right that, in general, they should be free to carry out their duties responsibly, with the minimum of interference.