Dan Poulter, our MP, has been strangely quiet about the threat of Debenham being swamped by new houses. This week he had his chance to say something meaningful in Parliament during a debate on the supply of housing land. He ducked it.
The Westminster Hall debate was initiated by James Cartlidge, the South Suffolk MP whose constituency includes Babergh district and parts of St Edmundsbury. His constituents face similar problems to those we face in Mid-Suffolk – developers exploiting planning rules to build where they want without regard to the needs of communities.
Mr Cartlidge explained the problem succinctly:
I fully accept that the Government require a method for measuring the extent to which councils deliver those homes, but the five-year land supply system—although it is understandable in the way it is set out—is fundamentally flawed. Rather than encouraging the delivery of homes, it encourages speculative development. That is true not only in my constituency, because a number of colleagues have spoken to me about it.
Let us understand why the situation arises. If the council or planning authority in question does not have a five-year land supply, rather than local policy taking priority when planning applications are considered, the national planning policy framework becomes the priority. Neighbourhood plans fall away and local policies become far less important.
Later in the debate he said:
To understand why the system leads to speculative development, it is important to understand that when I say local policy becomes less important in the absence of a five-year land supply, I basically mean that it becomes far easier for a developer to get an application through on appeal. That is the nub of the issue. The district may still reject the application, but the point is that a developer with savvy lawyers and all the rest of it can game the system and get their application through on appeal. When it goes to appeal, the local community and local democracy have almost no say and the system becomes unaccountable.
Another East Anglian Conservative MP, George Freeman from Mid Norfolk, said:
Does he [Mr Cartlidge] agree that although we must get the detail right, there is also a question of principle? Through the Localism Act 2011, we set out to be the party that, when in government, gave local communities the chance to shape their future. We are now in danger of looking like we are in favour of speculators, profiteers and out-of-town developers, who dump housing estates that we legislate for, with no responsibility being taken locally. That is not what our party should be about.
Mr Cartlidge gave figures showing that in Babergh unbuilt houses for which planning permission had been granted would go a substantial part of the way to meeting the target of building 7,820 houses in the 20 years to 2036.
The situation in Mid Suffolk which is planning for the future jointly with Babergh, is broadly similar. The 20 year target is 9,952 and permission has already been granted for 2040 homes which have not been started. A further 440 are under construction. (figures from the council’s 2017-18 monitoring report published in June.)
So what did Dr Dan have to say? This is his contribution in full:
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. As he rightly says, there is a need for local councils to deliver housing where that is appropriate. Mid Suffolk and Babergh failed for a number of years to address housing provision. Only under new leadership, with a new chief executive, did they take the issue forward and look at developing a local plan, underneath which neighbourhood plans will sit. What does he say to those councils, and how can we make councils look at their local housing need and deliver homes for people who need them?
It reads like the word of a man who felt he had to say something but really had nothing to say. I am starting to wonder if the rumours that he will not stand for re-election are true.
The full debate can be read at They Work for You.com