James Sunderland supports Planning (Enforcement) Bill

James Sunderland backs a Private Member’s Bill to give local councils greater powers to tackle rogue development and deal with unscrupulous landowners and calls on the Government to focus house building on areas that have the capacity to absorb development and need levelling-up, and not on green spaces in the congested south-east.

James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to be called to speak in the debate. I commend my good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer), who has been an excellent champion for his constituency, in which I was born. I have watched his excellent work with interest and I commend him for a brilliant Bill, which I will support really hard.

As we know, the Bill creates offences relating to repeat breaches of planning controls, makes provision about planning offences and establishes a national register of persons who have committed planning offences. That is all good. The key point is to protect our countryside. Although the majority of developers and councils follow the rules, the Bill will hold those who flout the rules to account.

Clause 1 would facilitate the establishment of an England-wide database of breaches of planning control. That is important, because councils such as Bracknell Forest Council, a working borough council, are spending an absolute fortune fighting breaches and repeat appeals. It is right that the cost of those appeals should be covered by the fees. Why should we as taxpayers pick up the tab for rogue developers?

Clause 2 would require planning applicants to declare previous breaches, which is absolutely right. Clause 3 would allow planning authorities in England to seek an injunction from the High Court in response to an unresolved breach of planning control; again, that is spot on. Clauses 4 and 5 are also excellent clauses that will aid transparency.

Why is my hon. Friend doing this? It is quite simple. At the moment, development is immune from enforcement within four years of substantial completion for a breach of planning control, and within four years where there is an unauthorised change of use to a single dwelling house. Councils are powerless to deal with the problem, and it is morally wrong. Again, my hon. Friend has an excellent Bill and I support it.

On wider planning, I am very enthused by what lies ahead in the Government’s forthcoming planning Bill: a new £11.5 billion affordable homes programme over five years, a new mortgage guarantee scheme for those with a 5% deposit, and discounts from the market price for first-time buyers. The abolition of section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 on no-fault evictions will help to protect tenants against being thrown out into the streets.

That is all excellent stuff, but there is a big “but”. The housing and planning Bill needs to focus its future planning on areas that have the capacity to absorb planning and whose need for the levelling-up agenda is most acute. To put it bluntly, that cannot come at the expense of the quality of life that constituents enjoy in parts of the UK, notably in the congested south-east. It must not include building on green belt or green spaces, eroding what is left of our open spaces, or ripping the heart out of our rural or even urban communities.

In the Bracknell Forest Council area, which I am proud to represent in this place, 1,688 homes were built in 2019-20—a 123% increase. Bracknell Forest Council is doing that in line with the local plan, mostly on brownfield sites. That is really important, but this Government-driven policy is vexing our communities. It is wrong that councils should be forced to build on whatever scraps of land are left over, including pub gardens, school playgrounds, golf courses, common land, forest blocks, recreational areas and open spaces. That is a disgrace. There is a similar picture in Wokingham, where the council is almost powerless to stop the activities of speculative developers. I urge Wokingham Borough Council to engage with its MP and run its local plan past its MP, particularly in relation to Pinewood.

Ripping up the Lichfield table was absolutely right. What we need is not the Lichfield formula, but a new formula that focuses on residual land availability as a percentage of total available area. If there is nothing left apart from residual farmland, golf courses or school playgrounds, we should not build on that land. We must build on urban and brownfield sites, particularly in areas such as the midlands, the north-west and the north-east. The Government should therefore incentivise developers to target less valuable land by levelling up further north and in areas that need new housing.

I am led to believe that 1 million homes across the UK are currently unoccupied, and a further 1 million permissions have already been granted. Let us exploit that first, before building on yet more green-belt land. We also need more protections for farmland, so let us impose punitive and progressive taxes on those who seek to build on what is left of our constituencies. We must also allow councils to honour existing local plans and not have extra targets forced upon them. We need to give communities the autonomy and ability to say no.

Our communities need a voice. Our constituents need a voice. They must not have targets imposed on them, particularly in the south-east. Will the Government listen, please, to Conservative voters in particular, who are really concerned? Let us get the planning Bill done, please. I say to the Minister, who is in his place: let us get it done in the right way and build in the right locations. Let us not erode the quality of life that our constituents already have with yet more concreting over what is left of our green and pleasant land. That is just plain wrong.

Lastly, let us subsume my hon. Friend’s Bill into the planning Bill. It is the right thing to do, and we must support it. Let us deal, once and for all, with these rogue developers.


Earlier intervention in the same debate

James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)

I can think of plenty of examples in my neck of the woods in east Berkshire, and indeed in neighbouring Hampshire and Surrey, of where unscrupulous landowners have put scrap cars on sites, contaminated the soil and put up small dwellings, with constant encroachment on what is there already. Does my hon. Friend agree, therefore, that we must give councils the powers to deal with this issue and to ensure that these unscrupulous people cannot make money from their actions?

Dr Spencer 

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. That is just another example of something I said at the start of my remarks: while this issue blights many parts of Runnymede and Weybridge, it affects people across England and Wales.