After my name was drawn 18th in the ballot to introduce a Private Members’ Bill, I was inundated with suggestions for the topic of my Bill and I had a few ideas of my own.
I was also keen to ensure that my constituents had a say in the focus of the Bill and so I placed an appeal in the local press and on my website, for constituency-related ideas or concerns.
The issue of the protection of local services, championed by the Campaign for Real Ale and its members (CAMRA) was by far and away the most popular suggestion and so I arranged a meeting with representatives from CAMRA to discuss the details of the Bill and how to take it further. My constituency of Selby and Ainsty is a brewing constituency, with many breweries in and around including John Smith’s in Tadcaster and so, despite this Bill focusing not just on pubs but on all local services, I could immediately see the relevance for my constituents.
The short title I came up with is the Protection of Local Service (Planning) Bill and it would give local planning authorities in England the power to “opt in” to protect local services from conversion to another use or demolition without the need for a developer to apply for and be granted planning permission. Local services include but are not limited to pubs, post offices, community buildings, open spaces and local shops as defined in accordance with the Sustainable Communities Act 2007.
I was particularly attracted to this topic because the Bill aligns itself with the underlying principles of the localism agenda by giving control of their communities back to the local people, in this case a greater control of the planning system.
I believe this Bill would be an important piece of legislation because local services play a large part in community adhesion, particularly in smaller communities such as many of the rural populations in my constituency. Local services can strengthen community life by providing a space for people to meet with others and participate in community events, all of which contributes to healthy, sustainable, prosperous and vibrant local communities.
At present, a loophole in the current planning system allows unlisted and freestanding premises used to provide such local services to be demolished without the need to seek planning permission and leaving Councils and local people powerless to act in order to save valuable and, in some cases, well used local community amenities. CAMRA also informed me that it is also possible to convert pubs into restaurants, cafes, financial service offices or shops without the need for planning permission because these are classed in the same use bracket. Currently, it is entirely possible for developers to react to a refusal of planning permission or the possibility of a historic listing by simply demolishing the building and, therefore, extinguishing the previous “use” of the premise.
This aim of this Bill is to close this loophole in the planning system, meaning that local people will have a greater say in the fate of their local services and community buildings – demolition and changes of use would still be possible, but not without the consent and planning authority officially required.
New legislation is urgently required to protect local services from such demolition or change of use without proper consideration and such legislation would benefit communities such as those in my constituency and empower local people by reinforcing their voice. The loss of local services is exacerbated by a planning system that currently fails to adequately protect them. This Bill would have significant impact on local communities, employment and valued local services but it does not represent a significant financial or administrative burden on local authorities because of the “opt in” nature of the Bill.