Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The National Planning Policy Framework. My comments on the floor of the Commons

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has had been a topic of concern recently. You may have read that many people who live near green fields have been out objecting to the government's proposal to relax plannng constraints on virgin turf.

Led by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) and the National Trust with over 5 million members combined.

There argument is to build on Brownfield sites. An argument I am concerned about. I do not want to see towns and cities, particulartly deprived areas who are sat in old industrial inner urban areas having to shoulder future development.

This will deny the open space to deprived areas, open spaces CPRE and NT are trying to protect for their wealthy supporters. It will result in low value, low demand areas suffering cheap developments that refelect the surrounding market conditions.

How often do we see in Hyndburn's poorer areas, aspirational or affluent housing being built. Never. It is usually cheap build unless the site is significant to buck neighbourhood market values.

The debate was about many aspects but inthe time I had to speak I wanted to concentrate on this issue. Unfortunately my 10 minutes speech was incomplete when the time allocated by teh speaker was reduced to 5mins only moments before I spoke.

This is the full draft text which I spoke around on the floor of the House of Commons and the parts I didn't get to say.

Thank you Mr D/Speaker,

Members have made many good contributions and do not wish to repeat their points.

I want to focus on the effects in Hyndburn and areas like mine.

The North is not the South and a one cap fits all National Planning Policy Framework focused around the under supply of housing in the south will not work in Hyndburn.

Secondly the Framework document exists in a vacuum.

It ignores other government policies on sustainable communities and health outcomes and thirdly that Brownfield sites in area like mine sit predominantly in low value, ..... low demand areas and the consequences of concentrating development on these sites are detrimental.

Given that this is a housing supply side problem I have every sympathy with the Government’s presumption in favour of sustainable development. It is attempting to achieve the same outcome as the last government. More houses.

Parts of the National Planning Policy Framework are to be welcomed.

1. Particularly the removal of Brownfield targets for housing

2. The protection of community facilities in inner urban areas.

3. Green space designation which should be used as a tool to green our towns and cities.

4. Finally the issue traveller sites which I do not intend to speak to but offer my support.

This planning document Mr Speaker is a crude document and I want to highlight some of its failings that I hope the minister will consider.

I accept the issues in the South. That there is insufficient availability of housing land in some areas.

I can see the last and the current government’s dilemma with record lows in house building, high prices and the prospect of a generation being priced out.

Virgin turf must be part of the answer and the market would say the more virgin turf that is allocated for housing, ... the lower the build cost will be .... allowing for higher quality build .... leading to greater home ownership and importantly .... greater disposable income and better life balance.

Mr Speaker I do not want in the time I have to say more about this southern dilemma.

I want to reflect Mr D/ Speaker on why this national planning policy framework will not work for places like my constituency, Hyndburn and other similar old industrial areas of the north.

Two particular spatial planning failings in particular. Empty homes as touched on by the member for (first speaker) and secondly old factories.

The issue of oversupply of unwanted housing is neglected the National Planning Policy Framework despite the empty reference to a presumption in favour of sustainable development.

My constituency has 2500 empty homes. These properties must be part of any housing consideration and the National Planning Policy Framework must include a presumption, I would argue a first preference, that these are brought back into use.

Brownfield and Greenfield must be secondary.

The National Planning Policy Framework takes a blanket view on sustainable development. Unmanaged sustainable development will not abate the oversupply of housing in my constituency but exacerbate the problem...

Secondly Mr Speaker I want to the issue of old factory sites and ADDRESS the gaping gap in the sustainable of a lack of JOINED UP DEPARTMENTAL THINKING.

The sustainable excludes any policies which will tackle health inequalities In fact it fails to recognise the importance of spatial planning when setting macro policy.

Put simply inner urban Brownfield development can be a disaster for poor and deprived communities and there is a case in some areas for a policy of no more urban infill.

A framework that would alleviate the problem of an ageing stock where de-population or static populations’ exist and sufficient housing already exists.


Hyndburn, my constituency, has a population in which over 89 percent of the people live in the urban area.

In many neighbourhoods there is a significant lack of open space and recreational areas. Row after row of terraced housing sit by derelict former mills classed as Brownfield sites.

Mills and factories which frequently seek housing planning permission.

It comes as no surprise that when it comes to physical activity and health, Hyndburn has one of the lowest rates of physical activity for adults in England.

It consistently has come in the lower 25% of all localities when it comes to adults having 30 minutes of physical activity, 3 times a week. It consequently has poor and or chronic health statistics.

The importance of this national planning policy framework on health and lifestyle inequalities cannot be underestimated.

The previous Brownfield first presumption which much of this debate may focus on .. favours the rich and privileged on the urban fringes and works against the relatively urban poor.

It is not fair to maintain an expectation that the poor who neighbour many old Brownfield sites should shoulder the burden of housing development.

It is no wonder Mr Speaker the gap between the rich and the poor is widening when the national planning policy sits in a policy vacuum, where it has no relation to and works against the objectives of other government policies.

Health inequalities

Health inequalities are widening yet this document makes no reference to government ambition on health or happiness, community well being, build cost pressures as a result of ... or the environment of the inner urban area.

The Prime Minster himself placed emphasis on the importance of a happiness index he has established.

If the government is serious about putting forth an agenda of improving the health of our people, then it must resist the further crowding of densely populated urban areas by Brownfield developmental pressure.

Free for all ... urban infill ....... based on gross housing need will simply not work for my constituency.

Hyndburn is one of the most deprived constituencies in the country. 60% terraced houses sit cheek by jowl with old unwanted industrial sites.

For the last twenty years I have lived in one of the most deprived wards in the constituency where.... as you would expect...... all the social problems the government wishes to address ... exist.

We must resist a Brownfield first presumption of development of former industrial sites, one particularly in my neighbourhood stands as good example.. being turned over to housing.

It is surrounded by old Victorian housing that sells for £40,000 per property. Many properties have been empty or boarded up at some point. Most of the remainder are in the hands of less than caring private landlords. I am sure honourable members understand the issues.

The pressure to release the Brownfield site resulted in a successful housing application to build what can only be described as the slums of tomorrow.

No one is willing to develop a former industrial site in a poor area with five-bedroom luxury houses and open space and no one will with this national Planning Policy Framework.

What gets built in my neighbourhood are low-value, cheaply-built shoeboxes. Quite frankly what the market delivers is disgraceful. The only profitable development on that site ... a dystopian future.

Is this how we want to live? Is this our future?

It would have been far better to allocate a green field, virgin turf which would have resulted in a lifestyle I enjoyed when growing up in the village of Baxenden.

A house that ordinary people could afford built in an environment and to a standard that made for healthier individuals.

In West Accrington a very dense area of housing, the former Council, thankfully a distant memory, had a policy of building on every inch of Brownfield.

Their idea of solving the health inequalities to alleviate this overdevelopment of Brownfield was to provide a few benches. However they were very keen whilst throwing thousands of pounds protecting the urban fringe.

It is clear the government must provide a steer. Councils whose executive represent the urban fringe may offer little or no protection to those in the inner urban core.

Whilst housing is a local matter, health is the responsibility of the SoS and the government and there needs to be aligned aims.

Opening up new land

I believe this document is both insufficient in detail on dealing with problems in areas like mine and lacking in lateral thinking on the spatial planning issues that will adversely affect other government objectives.

The NPPF refers to developmental sustainability; I want to see long term... community... sustainability Mr Speaker.

We should be looking to regenerate our urban areas and this inflexible one cap fits all approach won’t work in Hyndburn .. or Mr D/ Speaker in large parts of the north with similar issues.

The people of my constituency would be better served by a more intelligent approach.

The national Planning Policy Framework must recognise other key factors like density, health inequalities and oversupplies of housing.

They must also seek quality of build by using the market to lower land prices.

And all of this may come through developing an acre of virgin turf protecting an acre of urban infill for those communities to enjoy a lifestyle they could only dream of.