George Freeman MP: The 5-year Land Supply is beginning to undermine public trust
Ahead of Rural Planning Week, George Freeman MP explains why he is deeply concerned about the impact of the National Planning Policy Framework and the 5-year Land Supply on villages and towns across rural Britain.
In 2011 we passed the Localism Act. It was a ground-breaking statement of the commitment of a new generation of Conservatives to reverse the tide of centralisation. It recognised that the best way to get the necessary quality and quantity of housing is through suitable neighbourhood plans that allow local councils to set out their own vision and priorities and then require that they deliver on our plan.
But the system isn’t working as it should. Few other issues are as important to my constituents (or to the country if we are to build the homes we need). The abuse of the 5 year land supply was the top local issue in the recent general election campaign. And I promised to come to Parliament and work to find a solution.
This isn’t a new battle. In the 1990s I started the UK’s first ever localism think tank, The Local Identity Agency. Since then I have been a passionate advocate for giving local communities more responsibly for local plans.
But, for those of us who backed localism, the 5 year land supply is beginning to undermine public trust. In fact, it is beginning to foster the very nimbyism that was not there before and compound a distrust in political promises.
Take an example of my own patch. In Mid Norfolk, we have four magnificent towns: Dereham, Wymondham, Attleborough and Watton. Attleborough and Wymondham are both on the A11, just south of Norwich. Norwich is growing very fast. The Norwich research park is booming thanks to the Government’s support through the Industrial Strategy and the support for science and small businesses. In many ways, Norwich is becoming a mini Cambridge, which is only 40 miles down the newly dualled A11. Indeed, when the Government have opened up the Ely junction and made half-hourly the rail service, Norwich will become part of a Greater Cambridge “Cluster”. That is why there is such housing demand along that corridor. There are 15,000-odd houses going in at Ely, 5,000 at Brandon, 5,000 at Thetford, 4,000 at Attleborough and 2,000 at Wymondham. It is a corridor of high growth.
For that reason, my local council wisely suggested that the bulk of its housing target should be placed on that A11 corridor, where the rail and road links support the cluster of development. Unfortunately, the developers recognised that they have those permissions and that allocation there. As a consequence, they have taken the opportunity of the five-year land supply rule to force very substantial, large-scale commuter housing estates on a number of the villages close to Norwich in my constituency. But without the necessary investment in services and infrastructure.
The developers are now piling into south Dereham, along the main roads. The model is all too familiar: large commuter estates dumped along the road without any accompanying infrastructure. A string of villages between Dereham and Norwich—Yaxham, Mattishall and Swanton Morley—have all found themselves the subject of aggressive, large-scale, out-of-town developments.
In each case, the villages have been working on putting together their own village plans, taking the powers that we gave them in the Localism Act. Every time, each local plan has led to more houses being suggested by the local council than were originally envisaged.
Therein lies the game-changing truth at the heart of the Localism Act: if we empower communities to think about their own futures, most will end up planning developments where they want it, in the style they want, in line with their own vision of their own community. People are not naturally “Nimbys”, but they are resistant to growth being dumped on them by a remote bureaucracy, whether it is in Brussels or London.
In Norfolk we could build many more houses if we were able to get the essence of the localism promise right. That would mean building where we want, building how we want, building for local people as well as those moving into the area. And building in a way that supports our grassroots communities. Fundamentally, this means development being seen to be done by and for communities, not to communities by those with no connection or accountability in the community.
Ensuring we get a planning system that works for all is vital for our economy but also for our democracy. At a time when many are asking whether the system works for them, we must prove that it does. To do so, we will have to answer these difficult questions. Addressing the five-year land supply must be top of the list.
George Freeman is the Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk
Matt Thomson, Head of Planning at the Campaign to Protect Rural England has responded to this article:
“A plan led system is essential in delivering the homes that communities need in the right places. With a plan communities have a say in the location and type of development in their area."
His full comment is available here.