Building development in our area is a big concern and therefore I spend a lot of my time exploring this issue, especially as it can have such a large impact across our neighbourhoods. However, this often leads me to frustration as, at the crux of it, local planning is the sole domain of the Borough Council, and as an MP I have no legal powers in determining applications.
Below is some information on planning which may explain what is happening locally, why it's happening and w.
A Lack of a Local Plan
I believe that the fundamental problem at the centre of most of our planning problems concerns Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council not having an up-to-date local plan. Despite the protestations of the leadership of our Council, the lack of an up-to-date local plan means our area is open to speculative development, with very little legal protection to try to stop inappropriate development; a huge cause for concern for me. Every day that goes past without and up to date plan our community is vulnerable to speculative development.
I have explored this issue further at Westminster. You can watch my intervention here: https://www.drlukeevans.org.uk/news/question-housing-minister-parliament
Due to the occasionally unfortunate emotive nature of the planning debate, where people seek to take entrenched positions - sometimes for unproductive ends - I must stress that I am not against all development across our area. We do need to build more homes to ensure that local people, including our key workers, our young people seeking their first rung on the property ladder, families, and those who have retired and are looking to downsize, are able to have a suitable home to call their own.
However, I hope that development is sustainable embracing new technologies (especially energy saving devices mindful of the worldwide energy situation) and it's not to the detriment of necessary infrastructure whether that be our roads, public transport routes, local health and education provision or community spaces.
In essence, for me it boils down to “the right houses, in the right place, with the right infrastructure, that is right for our environment.”
I have heard misleading statements blaming the current issues about a lack of a local plan on Government policy. This is not correct. Both the Conservatives and Lib Dem’s in their manifesto’s committed to a target of 300,000 houses needed a year, which I broadly agree with. Government planning policy gives Planning Authorities, like the Borough Council, the power to plan the most suitable locations for future development and the infrastructure to support this through the Local Plan.
Sadly, due to a lack of clear direction being set by the current controlling group at Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council, our area has not had an up-to-date local plan for some time now. This is the reason why so many speculative and piecemeal applications are being approved. Every day without an up-to date plan our community is vulnerable to inappropriate development. I have been pressing the Borough Council to address this issue as a matter of urgent priority.
National Government is aware of this issue; but the Local Plan process needs to be completed locally, by Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council. The Housing Minister specifically wrote to the Borough Council about the delay in their plans. In his most recent letter to myself and my parliamentary colleagues across Leicestershire dated 3 May 2022, the Minister stated:
“I should reiterate that it is critical for local areas to have an up-to-date Local Plan in place.”
The plan should identify development needed in an area, the location of the development, and certainly is provided for communities, businesses, and developments. The Minister states local communities must be at the heart of all stages in the planning process, including local plans, neighbourhood plans, design codes and on development applications. To be fair to our Council, some progress has been made, but not at a level which I think is satisfactory.
Progress of the Local Plan
The Council recently completed an important stage in the consultation process, setting out a vision and framework for future development in our area. You can read further about the Regulation 19 (Publication) phase of the Local Plan via this link: https://www.hinckley-bosworth.gov.uk/info/200398/local_plan_review_2020_to_2039/1805/local_plan_review_regulation_19
Representations closed on Wednesday 23 March 2022, and I will continue to seek updates from the Council on this important issue. But at the time of writing, the work about the Local Plan has yet to be completed.
I am also aware of further concerns raised by Leicestershire County Council about the Draft Local Plan not having an accompanying up-to-date Sustainability Appraisal. Issues have been raised about transport, schools and environment and I have urged the Borough Council to work with the County Council and address the significant issues that appear to be at the heart of this dispute, but again I must recognise my limitations.
I cannot determine the progress of the local plan, as local planning is the sole domain of the Borough Council. However, I will continue to engage with the Leader of the Council to encourage the process forward, which I am concerned seems to be extremely cumbersome and without the necessary urgency.
You can find further information on how the Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council Local Plan is progressing here: https://www.hinckley-bosworth.gov.uk/localplanreview
Housing: Leicestershire v Leicester
I recently joined my parliamentary colleagues across the County in a meeting with the Housing Minister, the Rt Hon Stuart Andrew MP to raise concerns about the overspill housing numbers from Leicester expected across Leicestershire and Rutland. I am seeking an appointment with the Housing Minister to explore these process issues in further depth.
I, along with my Conservative colleagues, believe that the City of Leicester should, and could, do more to attract necessary inward investment to regenerate areas of the city to attractive quality housing developments. I was pleased the Minister did acknowledge these important points and he assured us that the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill may assist us to ensure that our concerns are considered in a fair and workable manner minimising the unnecessarily high housing numbers due to be placed on local authorities in Leicestershire and Rutland.
Obviously, I will be following the Levelling Up Bill with interest.
The Planning Department
I have considerable professional sympathy for staff working in the Planning Departments in Local Councils. I believe that everyone working in public service, comes to work with a sense of duty and wants to do their very best for their local community. However, I do have concerns about staffing levels in the Planning Department at Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council, on which I have already made enquiries with the Council’s leadership.
Following my recent meeting with the Chief Executive, I wrote to Homes England to ask whether there is any further support they can offer the Borough Council to address some of the staffing and logistical challenges currently being faced by the borough Council’s Planning Department.
Subsequently, Homes England offered to support the Council in the development of a longer-term recruitment and retention strategy. Homes England were willing to have those conversations at one of their regular meetings with HBBC, should that be helpful.
Homes England is supporting the first phase of Public Practice’s national expansion. Public Practice is a social enterprise who have successfully implemented a professional placement programme which matches skilled people with public authority hosts. I offered to link the Council with Public Practice.
I cannot order the Council to pursue a course of action, but I do hope that the Council positively reviews this representation.
What have I been doing at Westminster on this topic?
I thought that it would be helpful to highlight my ongoing work about national planning policy at Westminster. In my first year as your MP, I submitted substantial responses to the Government’s call for evidence about possible changes to national planning policy. This was an important moment in terms of the future of the planning system.
I also worked with other parliamentary colleagues to get changes to the planning algorithm which determines the number of houses that are targeted to be built in given areas. I argued that a potential 100% increase in our housing numbers was untenable, and I was pleased that the Government eventually agreed that the numbers would stay the same as the previous system.
You can see my speech about the topic here: Planning reform and house building targets in relation to the White Paper | Dr Luke Evans MP
I raised the issue with the Housing Minister: Question to the Housing Minister | In Parliament | Dr Luke Evans MP
Protecting the Countryside
I am also looking to explore ideas about the importance of protecting our treasured countryside. My intervention in a Westminster Hall debate on Wildbelt Designation is one such example.
You can watch my speech here: Planning Debate | Dr Luke Evans MP.
I always look for further opportunities at Westminster to explore these issues.
I am aware that for many communities across Bosworth, the Neighbourhood Plan process has been an essential and worthwhile activity that has helped local people to determine the future of their communities.
You can read more about neighbourhood plans via this weblink: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/neighbourhood-planning--2.
I advocate for a stronger role for neighbourhood plans in local and national planning policy.
In January 2022, I asked the Minister for Housing and Planning about the role of neighbourhood plans in future national planning policy. I will continue seek to champion the cause of neighbourhood plans at Westminster with the aim of making the process more straightforward and the protections offered more robust.
I was also pleased to learn that I have managed to secure a Westminster Wall Debate on Neighbourhood Planning on 7th June, I will post details of how this goes on my website and social media.
I am also lobbying to setup a system to prevent “land banking.” i.e. when a developer gets an application granted, they have to build it out in a set time frame. This will help areas like ours get the houses we need, in the right place.