New housing developments must not damage our natural environment | Gillian Keegan MP

I think it is fair to say that there is considerable concern with the current planning system and the proposed new reforms across the country.

This week planning was the subject of a backbench debate in the House of Commons following on from the disappointing Chesham and Amersham by-election result. In Chichester, the scale of housing development has been an ongoing challenge especially with the infrastructure and environmental challenges we face in our area.

To discuss these complex issues, this Friday I’ve organised a panel event, the Chichester Community Conference, which will look into planning and development, local infrastructure, the environment and much more. Joining me on the panel are representatives from key agencies involved in making these important decisions for our area including both local councils, the Environment Agency, Natural England, Highways England and Southern Water. If you would like to attend please visit my website, where you can find out more detail and the Zoom meeting link.

We have received a huge amount of interest in the meeting and I want to thank everyone who has submitted questions to be put to the panel in advance. There will also be a Q&A message board during the event to allow people to contribute to the debate live.

Chichester Harbour at Thorney Island

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One area that will be discussed at length is the number of houses our area is expected to build. I recently raised our concerns with the Minister for Housing, Christopher Pincher at a meeting I arranged which included the Leader of Chichester District Council, councillor Eileen Lintill, and its chief executive, Dianne Shepherd, as well as my colleague Andrew Griffith MP.

At that meeting, we clearly explained our unique challenges with much of our developable land being sandwiched between the South Downs National Park and the AONBs of Chichester Harbour and Pagham Harbour. Therefore, the bulk of the houses we are being asked to build are planned for a very small area, which will still likely impact these internationally important environments.

Although we were unable to get our housing number reduced during that meeting, we have secured more support from the Department that should help the council gather evidence more quickly, giving us greater protection from speculative development which is a growing concern.

We all know we need more homes in the country and every region needs to take on its share – but we must not do so at the expense of our natural environment and protected landscapes.

The long-term goal is to spread opportunity more evenly across the UK to reduce the pull factor of London and the South East. As a Government, we are working to achieve this with key investments in infrastructure, education and access to training at any point in life. Over time these changes will see our levelling up agenda increase the attractiveness of areas that have always trailed behind London and the South East. For now, however, we must work together to provide enough homes for the next generation whilst ensuring development is done in a way that enhances our communities but doesn’t damage our natural environment.