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06/01/2016

Housing and Planning Bill: MPs unhappy with "privatisation of planning"

Words: Laura Edgar

During the third reading of the Housing and Planning Bill, a number of MPs expressed their concerns about an amendment that is “effectively about the privatisation of the planning service”.

Communities secretary Greg Clark tabled the amendment just before Christmas, which would allow planning applications to be processed by “alternative providers”.

The amendment states the secretary of state “may by regulations make provision for a planning application that falls to be determined by a specified local planning authority in England to be processed, if the applicant so chooses, not by that authority but by a designated person”.

The clause adds that this does not affect a local planning authority’s responsibility for determining planning applications and only applies until a specified date.

During the third reading of the Housing and Planning Bill on 5 January, Clive Betts, Labour MP for Sheffield South East and chair of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, said the move is “effectively about the privatisation of the planning service”.

Betts proceeded to question what this might mean.

“Does it mean that an individual or organisation that submits a planning application will be free to shop around for whichever alternative provider they think can give them the best chance of getting a planning application accepted? Will they be able to look at the track record of providers around the country?”

Chris Philp, Conservative MP for Croydon South, pointed out in response that the third party providers would be handling the process not the determination, but Betts said “just because a committee may make the final decision and say yes or no, the idea that the process has no role to play in shaping that eventual final decision is fundamentally wrong”.

Ruth Cadbury, Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth suggested the amendment meant there would be less opportunity for communities to be consulted and for proper research into the local history and conditions, “the new providers are interested in speed productivity as opposed to quality decisions”.

Green MP for Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas suggested planning authorities should be funded properly to allow them to “operate properly” rather than “undermined further”.

The “privatisation of the planning system", she said, destroys the “last shreds of the democratic process that safeguards how our communities are made, putting power instead in the hands of developers”.

Shadow planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods, Labour MP for the City of Durham, added that the government must see that the “potential for this mechanism to generate a degree of corruption and totally inappropriate conflicts of interest is probably endless”.

Stephen Hammond, Conservative MP for Wimbledon, accepted that there may or may not be problems with the pilot, but said housing minister Brandon Lewis has “clearly set out” that the amendment aims to have “not privatisation but competition between local authorities”.

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