John Howell: ‘Local people will help shape towns’

Thame MP John Howell
Thame MP John Howell

THE three objectives of the government’s planning reforms are to give greater power to local people, to simplify the planning system and to make sure local plans are put together in a way which is sustainable.

These changes do not promote growth at all costs. National policy provides protection, for example, for heritage, green belt and for environmental designations including AONB and SSSIs. Local plans will also continue to provide strong safeguards for the environment.

For the first time local people will help shape their towns and villages by producing neighbourhood plans which will become a formal part of the planning system.

Thame is one of the front-runners in this process. These plans will have to be approved by a referendum of the whole neighbourhood.

These reforms will finally sweep away Labour’s top-down approach and the imposition of housing numbers from Whitehall, an approach which has caused so much anger in the town.

Housing numbers will become a matter for local councils to determine in their local plan.

Planning applications will continue to be judged against the local plan, where it is up-to-date. Local plans will need to be put together on the basis of evidence which allows a balance to be struck between the environmental, social and economic requirements of the area.

There is no necessary contradiction between development and the environment as long as development is planned and undertaken responsibly. Local residents now have a share in that.

We are building the fewest number of houses in peace time since the 1920s. The average age of the first time buyer unaided is now 37.

Margaret Thatcher set a vision for the UK as a property-owning democracy. That was a popular vision for our generation and we need to make sure it remains both a good and achievable vision for this and subsequent generations.