On the House: Column by Kingswood MP Chris Skidmore
I WAS born and grew up in the Kingswood constituency which I now represent as the local MP. I have always been committed to protecting and preserving the fantastic countryside between Bristol and Bath, commonly known as the Kingswood Green Belt.
Under the previous government, plans were afoot to build 10,000 houses in the area, covering over vast swathes of the greenbelt around Oldland Common, Warmley, Siston and Mangotsfield.
These plans have now been overturned and local councils have been put in charge of deciding where housing will be built.
I have always stated that this should mean brownfield sites should be considered for housing first, but even with cross-party agreement locally that in South Gloucestershire we will need tens of thousands of homes to be built by 2026,
I have always been committed to protecting the Kingswood green belt: land in my constituency specially reserved with protected status in planning.
In parliament, I have submitted a petition of more than 2,500 residents calling on the government to retain greenbelt protection and I was pleased that the government's new planning laws strengthened greenbelt preservation.
The government is also encouraging local areas to get more involved in the future of their local communities with the introduction of neighbourhood plans.
This should allow communities not only to decide where housing should be built, but also to be financially rewarded for taking those decisions. Community facilities will benefit significantly from this investment.
But I remain very concerned that the planning process is not a level playing field.
While developers have a right of appeal when the local authority and residents overturn a planning application, there is no such right of appeal for local people if the council votes through an application under pressure of legal challenge.
If people are to have confidence in the planning process, this must change. This is why I have introduced a bill into parliament calling for a Community Right of Appeal.
This would allow for a community under threat from say a large supermarket application or unwanted plans to build a housing estate inappropriate to the nearby surroundings to present a petition with a certain proportion of signatures from the local area, which if the threshold was met, would overturn the application.
This already happens in Australia and New Zealand.
I recently met up with the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England and Civic Voice, who represent hundreds of local community organisations, and I am delighted that they are keen to back the bill.
I am now hoping to carry on the campaign in the hope that the government too will back my bill: for the sake of our local communities and protecting our countryside, we need a community right of appeal.
Chris Skidmore is MP for Kingswood