I have written column inches equating to metres on the subject of planning. At last, the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (aka Planning Bill) will come before the House of Commons this week for its second reading. This offers the opportunity for MPs to raise their concerns, table their amendments and begin the debate and discussion process as the Bill makes its way through the Chamber, Committee, the House of Lords and then onto Royal Assent.
Having recently met with local groups like the South Hams Society to discuss the contents of the Bill, I feel well prepared to stamp and shape it with a South Devon mark that will ensure we have a planning system that is fit for the future. However, rather than repeat my speech to the House of Commons on Wednesday 8th June, I would like to use this week’s article to pay particular focus on the need for the Bill to include more on renewable energy, the protection of greenfield sites and the development of brownfield sites first.
Across South Devon, we have numerous acres of previously developed land that are crying out for redevelopment. Yet due to increased development costs, these sites are all too often avoided by developers. This has to change. While greenfield sites (undeveloped areas) may prove cheaper and more attractive for developers, we must insist on and enforce a principle of ‘brownfield sites first’. Only by doing this can we ensure we are using vacant, unsightly, previously developed land to meet our housing needs. From Torbay right across to Plymouth, there are plenty of sites to consider building on for those who wish to live and work in South Devon.
In taking on brownfield sites first we can protect agricultural farmland, enhance our biodiversity and ensure that we have land that is producing food to help meet our food security concerns. We must take a long-term view to this decision and build for the long-term future, rather than as we do now with poor-quality, short-term properties.
However, it is not just about building on brownfield sites, it is also about how we consider providing improved infrastructure. Part of that network must be a consideration about how and where our power comes from. It has been an enormous source of frustration to see commercial buildings erected with large roof space but no solar panels. We must make use of the hundreds of thousands of commercial buildings across the country and top them off with solar panels.
Two years ago, the Local Electricity Bill came before Parliament but failed to secure a second reading. The Bill provided the opportunity to connect local power sources into the national grid. Effectively, it would have allowed us to help lower the price of electricity by providing other sources that complement the mainstream provisions. Not only does this bill need to be reintroduced, but we must now consider it as standard practice that any commercial building or unit developed from now on must come with space for renewable sources of power. From warehouses to gyms to supermarkets, there is plenty of space for us to use, which has the added benefit of keeping our greenfield sites green.
Planning is always contentious. There will always be those who want more and those who want none. Of course, a balance must be found, but it strikes me that we need a commonsense approach when it comes to looking at what can be redeveloped and what space can be used more innovatively and ingeniously. These two points are neither contentious nor out of kilter with the public mood. I hope the Government will be listening carefully when I and others call for these measures to be put into law and I hope that the people of South Devon will support me in this endeavour.