Somerset MP Tessa Munt asked a question in the House of Commons on Monday, raising her concerns about one tiny clause change included in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament, which seemed likely to give central Government the power to bypass Local Government on major planning applications, most notably for gas shale ‘fracking’ proposals which might affect the Mendip Hills.
Tessa’s concern was that consultation and local views could be ignored if planning applications could be made directly to the Secretary of State in a situation where the Local Authority’s planning department was deemed not to be performing to a high standard.
Tessa asked the Minister: “If the Secretary of State decides to designate a local planning authority, under the proposed new Section 62A to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, planning applications can be made directly to him. What mechanisms will be in place to ensure that the influence of local people through consultation is not reduced if the voice of local authorities is excluded from the process?”
Nick Boles, the Planning Minister, replied: “I thank my Hon. Friend for her question, because that is an important point. In the very few cases in which planning authorities are designated as poorly performing, it will be possible for major applications to be referred directly to the Planning Inspectorate. After relentless questioning from her Liberal Democrat colleagues in Committee, I came to understand that it is particularly important that the Planning Inspectorate is given clear guidance that it should consider using local hearings, so that people can put their views across, rather more regularly than it does for appeals, when local views have already been taken into account. I have already started discussions with the Planning Inspectorate to ensure that this happens.”
Yesterday evening, Tessa met the Minister to ensure he understood the importance of the changes proposed. She pressed the point that the Planning Inspectorate currently has no powers to consult local people, and said that local hearings would not be sufficient to ensure that local voices were heard. Tessa referred the Minister to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey’s, answer to another question from Tessa in Parliament about fracking only last week, when he had assured her that consultation with local people would be an important part of the planning process.
Speaking late last night, Tessa said “I am pleased that the Minister has listened. I feel reassured that thanks to pressure from my party colleagues and me, in the unlikely situation that one of our local authorities should be bypassed in the future, there are safeguards being developed that mean local communities will continue to have their full say.”
18th December 2012