Rescue has noted with interest the Government’s latest response to concerns raised about the proposed Neighbourhood Planning Bill, provided by Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth following the Second Reading of the Bill on the 17th January.
Once again, the Government has failed to provide any support for their conclusion that the Bill will not unduly restrict the use of pre-commencement conditions by local planning authorities, or damage environmental protection regimes. They claim to seek to reassure the Lords that the way conditions can be used to maintain environmental protections will not change, but if that is the case then why the need for this clause in the Bill? Their continuing lack of understanding or concern for how damaging these measures will be surely betrays their true intent. Our valued historic and natural environment is deliberately being put at risk if these damaging proposals proceed unaltered.
Of greater interest is the provision of supporting evidence relating to the proposed legislation, which Rescue has repeatedly asked for in previous correspondence, and is now provided to the Lords in this response following their identical request (Annex A). It is clear that the “evidence” is nothing of the sort: indeed – they admit that the DCLG does not collect any relevant data. What they have provided however are a list of opinions from developers that conditions are onerous. No supporting statistics, no supporting information. In fact no “evidence” at all.
Planning conditions protect our environment from damage by development. They might well “restrict” the process of some developments – but this is because without them, the developments would cause unmitigated damage. Planning conditions are an essential tool for regulatory bodies and are instrumental among the measures that are used to make our towns and countryside pleasant places to live and work: by and large they are a good thing, well used and well policed. The Government hasn’t provided a single example of an unnecessary pre-commencement condition relating to environmental protection, and crucially nor have the developers. They have stated their opinion, which is that fewer conditions would be better: would anyone seriously expect property developers and housebuilders to say anything else? They’d almost certainly ask for unrestricted development rights with no conditions at all if they thought they could achieve this – and these proposals put that scenario firmly within their sights. Our opinion – and presumably that of the overwhelming majority of the natural and historic environment sector – is that pre-commencement planning conditions are essential, and so is the need for an effective system for planning authorities to impose them. We will continue to assert this and, unlike the Government, we can suggest real evidence to support it.