Measures to help residents defend planning decisions have been welcomed by local Bexhill and Battle MP, Huw Merriman. The changes will allow residents to gain more access to the appeal process where a developer seeks to overturn a decision by District Councils to reject a development. Currently, the developer is given access to the Planning Inspectorate and allowed to view and comment on submissions from residents but the same residents who object do not get this access.
This issue was taken up in Parliament by Mr Merriman after local Councillors and residents had raised the matter and asked him to intervene about the way the community is unable to see vital documents when a developer appeals a planning refusal.
Speaking in the House of Commons, the MP said “Residents in my constituency village of Burwash have raised concerns about the transparency of the planning appeal process—namely, that the developer seems to have access to information that perhaps residents do not. Does our Housing Minister have any plans to reform the planning appeal process so that my constituents have more comfort and can be more involved in the process?”
In response, the Housing Minister, Kit Malthouse MP, promised to change the process so residents could get the same access to the planning papers as developers currently have. He said “He is quite right to identify an issue that a number of people have raised with me across the country—namely, the transparency of the Planning Inspectorate. That organisation is in the process of implementing the measures outlined in the Rosewell review in order for planning inquiries to provide more transparency. We are, at the moment, procuring a new online IT system that will allow progress of appeals to be tracked, providing exactly the sort of transparency that he is looking for.”
The government-commissioned review, named after it’s chair Bridget Rosewell CBE, is an independent review of planning appeal inquiries. There are a total of 22 recommendations made in the report aimed at making the planning appeal inquiry process more efficient and transparent.
Speaking after the exchange, the MP said “I’d like to thank my local residents for bringing this to my attention. It was good to hear the Housing Minister agree with them that the system is currently stacked against those who are seeking a fair hearing and outcome. Decisions made by local councillors are open to public scrutiny. The appeal process needs to follow the same good practice. I welcome new homes being built but they will only get the support of the surrounding community if the rules are seen to be correctly followed.’
Robert Banks, of Burwash Save our Fields from Concrete said after the Parliament exchange, “Our group is very grateful to Huw for this assistance. If the plans are followed through it will help all communities fighting applications to build inappropriate housing. It is especially important for those who live in Sussex villages who are fighting plans for houses for profit which will destroy their beautiful historic settlements. If residents can see all the documents they can help put the much needed housing in the right place”.
The intervention of the Housing Minister comes following a delegation earlier this year organised by Huw Merriman MP where councillors from local towns and parishes discussed with the Housing Minister how more powers can be devolved so communities can decide which sites should be used to deliver new homes.