A good debate in the Commons yesterday on the Government's proposals to streamline the planning system.
There was a strong speech from the Planning Minister Greg Clark.
On the need for simplifying the system, he said:
When I first started to review the planning policy statements and planning policy guidance notes over a year ago, I asked for them to be brought into my office. They had to be carried in—in boxes. It is not possible to put local councils and members in charge if they have to wade through more than 1,000 pages of national policy.
The policy has accreted over time. It was not the intention of the previous Government or Governments before them to accumulate such a mountain of policy; it has grown up piecemeal over time. That is why—to respond to the hon. Member for Huddersfield, who has now left the Chamber—it was important to take the issue seriously and review the policy from first principles. That is what we have done to make it accessible. The proposals that we have received to boil it down and distil it reflect a consensus in the House and beyond. In the submissions that have come in from the groups outside the House, I have seen many detailed “track changes” comments, and none of the proposals departs significantly from the type and length of document that we are aiming for.
On reducing the costs of the bureuacracy to help get more houses built, he said:
I have been looking at the joint submission from Shelter, Crisis, Homeless Link, the National Housing Federation—representing social housing providers—and the Chartered Institute of Housing. It says that “reducing the quantity of policy will help simplify the planning system, make it more accessible to all users and will remove a significant barrier to much needed development” —in this case, in social housing. Recent statistics show that in the five years to 2010, real spending on planning, through planning applications, increased by 13%, while the number of applications fell by 32%. By my reckoning, that means that the average cost has risen by something like 66%. That is a factor.
Let me turn to some of the concerns that have been expressed, including the definition of brownfield sites that the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned. It is true that the draft national planning policy framework does not use the words “brownfield sites”. However, that is not for the reasons that have been imputed to us. The reasons are rather more prosaic. Many Members will have participated in debates during the previous Parliament in which we discussed the fact that it was being presumed that gardens that had ended up being included in the brownfield definition were available to be developed. One of the first things that we did was to take them out of the definition.
In the draft framework, we decided not to use what had been quite a crude definition. Another example—something that I did not know before—is that a china clay quarry in Cornwall apparently falls outside the definition of a brownfield site. Paragraph 165 of the national planning policy framework therefore contains a requirement on councils to allocate land of the lowest environmental value. That was suggested by the environmental charities. There have been representations to say that some strictly brownfield land that has been developed has, over the years, been put back into use to support nature, especially in our cities. That was the reason behind having a more environmentally based definition.
Without pre-empting the consultation, which would clearly be wrong, let me say that there have been suggestions that, because some people have got used to the word “brownfield”, they might appreciate some reference—some explanation—that links the policy to that. That is a representation that has been made, and given that it is our intention, for all the reasons that the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton suggests, to ensure that we bring back into use first land that has been derelict or previously developed and that makes a lesser contribution than green fields, that will be made absolutely clear when we respond.
Finally, he mentioned a point which I think is critical: