The Rt. Hon. Brandon Lewis MP
Department of Communities & Local Government
Dear Mr Brandon Lewis 28 July, 2014
I am prompted to write to you following a front-page article in The Daily Telegraph dated Saturday 26th July and headlined “Minister: Nimbys have had their day”. The article starts by saying that communities that once opposed housing developments now support them because of the Coalition’s Planning Reforms. The newspaper report claims that you say that there has been a dramatic swing in public opinion with more than half the population now in favour of new house in their area. I really do not know what planet you are living on! The answers that you get to surveys depend on what questions you pose and how they are worded. I am attaching to this letter a copy of some letters printed in today’s Daily Telegraph to show that I am not alone in my views.
I speak as a very long-term Conservative voter and have never seen a time when Government and local authorities are less likely to listen to and do what the majority of the voting public wants. It is not doing you any good at all.
I don/t know if you have ever been to Guildford in Surrey but your “Apparent swing in favour of new housing” certainly does not apply here. Ask your colleague Anne Milton MP. Do you know the Hogs Back area. An area of outstanding natural beauty where you can see for miles. They want to build 3,000 (Yes THREE THOUSAND) houses on the slopes of the Hogs Back near to Guildford and there is a lot of opposition to this as you can imagine. This is on Blackwell Farm in the green belt. I personally have been to a number of council meetings recently at the offices of Guildford Borough Council and I can tell you that no one at that Authority is listening to the general public despite the fact they say they want consultation. With the current form of cabinet governance in our local authority far too much power is invested in the hands of too few people and it makes us wonder exactly what is motivating them. With the Lead Councillor Planning arrested twice recently, and now on police bail, and the Lead Councillor suffering driving bans it makes you wonder what type of people are making decisions on our behalf but that is another story.
There is very strong feeling in the area against this and other major development, not only on the Hogs Back but at other places in the Borough. The results of surveys quoted in the press certainly do not ring true in this area. Meetings have been held with your Nick Bowles and Anne Milton and Council leaders and advice given, in writing, but this Council just ignores Government advice. We, the public have no control, contrary to what you might say, over what is going to be built and how it is going to spoil our lovely countryside. There is too much collusion going on between developers and the Council. There is discontent within the Council and our Planning Officer has just left! That can not be good in the middle of preparing a future local plan.
The draft proposed plans are to build 625 house a year in this area over the next fifteen years and the Government is blamed by Guildford Borough Council for imposing targets. You can answer that. Is this right? When this is raised at Council meeting we are totally ignored. Consequently there are some very angry meetings around the village halls of Surrey and you think that we are having a say locally! It is little wonder that The Conservative Party is loosing support to parties such as UKIP. You are trying to pull the wool over our eyes and it just wont work. The Conservative Party will pay for this, which is a great shame.
I look forward to your comments, although sadly aware that you will probably never see this letter which will be dealt with by one of your minions.
Dear Mr Richings,
Our Ref: BLn2l021692l 1 4
Thank you for your letter of 28 July to the Planning Minister, Brandon Lewis MP, about proposals for large-scale housing development in Guildford. Firstly, I am sorry that the Minister was not able to reply personally to your letter, due to the large amount of correspondence he receives. I have been asked to reply, as I work in the team which deals with national planning policy. I am sorry to hear of your concern about these matters, and whilst you will appreciate that I am not able to comment on individual development proposals, I hope the following general remarks are helpful. The National Planning Policy Framework underlines the importance of early and meaningful engagement and collaboration with neighbourhoods, local organisations and businesses as part of the Local Plan process. The Framework says that a wide
section of the community should be proactively engaged, so that Local Plans, as far as possible, reflect a collective vision and a set of agreed priorities for the sustainable development of the area. I would also point out that local residents have a statutory right to comment on, and object to, planning applications as they come forward for decisions. ln making its decision, the local council must consider all representations made, and take into account any material issues that arise. The weight to be given to particular material considerations is, however, a matter of judgement for the local council. Ministers do not intervene in the day to-day administration of local authorities. lf you are unhappy with the way your council has handled the situation regarding this particular matter then you could make a formal complaint to the council. lf, after having been through that process, you remain unhappy, you could ask the Local Government Ombudsman to investigate the matter. The Ombudsman considers complaints of service failure and maladministration causing injustice. Further details on the Ombudsman can be found online at www.lgo.orq.uk, or by telephone, on 0300 061 0614, between 8.30am and 5.00pm on Monday to Friday.
I would like to assure you that this Government does not set housing targets, or ask local authorities to build more homes than they actually need, and it has been very clear that councils and local communities should be able to decide on the type of development they feel is suitable for their area, without being constantly overruled by top down regulations and plans.
At the same time, we have been building fewer homes as a country than we need for more than a generation, so we must increase the supply of new housing. The National Planning Policy Framework, therefore, asks local councils to use their Local plans to meet their own objectively assessed needs for all types of housing in their areas. This includes identifying, and updating annually, a supply of deliverable sites sufficient to provide five years’ worth of housing against a council’s housing need. The Framework also asks local authorities to identify a supply of specific developable sites on broad locations for growth for years 6-10 and, where possible, for years 11-15 of the plan period.
Getting an upto-date-plan in place, which includes a five year supply of sites for housing, is the best way to protect an area from unwanted development, and it will stand councils in good stead in deciding applications, and dealing with appeals from developers. To help those councils that have not yet adopted a L-ocal Plan, the Government continues to fund the Planning lnspectorate, and the Planning Advisory Service to provide advice and support in getting a good quality Local planln place. I am sorry to hear of your view that communities have no control over what is going to be built, but I would like to assure you that the Government is committed to Oetiveri-ng on its promise to devolve power to local councils and their communities. The Localism Act and the Framework together reaffirm the importance of Local Plans as the primary basis for identifying what kinds of development are needed in each area. Whenever a Local Plan is drawn up, consulted on and agreed, local residents should expect decisions to be taken in accordance with it. Through neighbourhood planning, we are enabling local communities to play a much stronger role in shaplng the areas in which they live and work. So far, over 1000 communities around fngiand have embarked on producing a neighbourhood plan, and 28 neighbourhood plans have passed a referendum. Sixteen of these plans are now fully in force, forming part of the development plan for the area, and giving communities real power to influence
Thank you, once again, for writing.
Department for Communities and Local Government
2 Marsham Street
London SWl P 4DF
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. gov.uk