Let's redouble our efforts to protect Norfolk's countryside
PUBLISHED: 07:04 07 February 2018 | UPDATED: 08:39 07 February 2018
We need to protect our countrsyide from planning loopholes, says Chris Dady, chairman of rural campaign group CPRE Norfolk.
Sometimes we face issues that we can only deal with collectively. The impact of some government policies are not on the radar of our MPs and councillors, and change will only happen when they realise we want changes made.
Housing is one such issue. Protection for our countryside is another. It is not often that we can deal with two such important issues at once.
Many people are being priced out of their own towns and villages. Young people are forced to live at home or forced into accommodation at exorbitant rents. Older people seeking more manageable accommodation in their local area cannot find any availability. We need to work collectively to send a message that we need to see changes made now to policies that are damaging Norfolk and its communities.
Many complex issues have led to the situation we find ourselves in, and the Government is looking at how they can be dealt with. The 25-year environment plan, new agricultural policies post-Brexit, a review of planning policy and measures that would prevent landowners not developing land allocated for housing in the hope of even higher future profits are all on the agenda. This is all to be welcomed, but these are still only at the talking stage, and in the meantime the Government is unnecessarily pressing ahead with damaging plans that are not addressing the issues.
At a Government level the Campaign to Protect Rural England is pressing for early decisions and a hiatus on existing work until new policies are agreed. At a local level the Norfolk branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England is looking at how councils can meet their legal obligations whilst at the same time mitigating against further damage to our landscapes and communities.
One such measure is that councils do not allocate any more greenfield land for development in the plans they are currently drawing up, to encourage development on existing allocated sites. The evidence is that allocating more land has not increased delivery of new homes at all, in any category, so such a move will not reduce development. However, allocation of more land through higher targets will enable developers to win permissions on inappropriate sites against communities’ wishes through a planning loophole known as the ‘five-year supply rule’.
We have already had much support from Norfolk’s parish councils, over a quarter of which have signed up to our pledge ‘no more land released for development until existing sites built’. This does not prevent communities through Neighbourhood plans seeking local schemes to address their own community needs. Even if councils cannot by law not continue to make these new plans, they can put all new sites into a future phase, not to be released for development until the existing land supply is all but used up.
Councils can fight harder for their communities as well. Building on two previously-developed vacant sites near the centre of King’s Lynn instead of allowing a new development on open farmland is one example. Refusing to negotiate the ratio of affordable housing on sites seeking outline planning consent is another way to be able to assert stronger control when the full application is made. Pressing hard to stop the Government implementing a proposal to change targets based on the ratio of house prices to wages, which seems sensible until you realise it increases land allocations in North Norfolk whilst reducing them in, for instance, Great Yarmouth which is equally in need. The evidence is that in neither case any change to the rate of provision of affordable homes will be achieved, but even more greenfield land in North Norfolk will become blighted.
The situation is complex, and its effects are being keenly felt. EDP columnist Keith Skipper is often able to put his finger on the issues which CPRE’s campaigns are seeking to address. The Green Party in Norwich have launched a petition to seek some common sense in the way new housing is being allocated. Some MPs have expressed their frustration. Support to the CPRE Norfolk campaign is another way to start to bring a beneficial change to the future of Norfolk.