Dr Julian Lewis: In order to cheer my hon. Friend [Dr Sarah Wollaston] up a bit, does she think that the Government are exercising a degree of expectation management? The proposal that national parks such as the New Forest should be open to this sort of unregulated development is so preposterous that I cannot help wondering whether it has been put up as a kite so that the Government can then dismiss it and make a great concession by doing the obvious thing, which is to exclude places like the New Forest and Dartmoor from these ridiculous provisions. I wonder whether she agrees with the New Forest National Park Authority, which says:
“It will make a mockery of our planning rules when a resident in Southampton will still need planning permission for a dormer window, but three houses can be built in the middle of the New Forest National Park”
without any such permission?
Dr Sarah Wollaston: I thank my hon. Friend. His final point is very pertinent, but I do not share his cynicism, because I know that the Minister is absolutely committed to the important aspiration for people to be able to have access to housing. Having lived on Dartmoor for a long time and seen the pressures that people are under, I feel that there are genuinely some unintended consequences that I hope he will encourage us to address.
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Nick Boles): I hope it is not cheeky of me to observe that the best debates and discussions tend to take place within the Conservative party with a contribution from the Democratic Unionist party, and that we do not miss Her Majesty’s Opposition on this occasion.
Dr Lewis: Or the Liberal Democrats!
Nick Boles: I will glide over that point. ...
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Dr Lewis: The Minister is being very courteous, as always, in giving way. Surely, in judging areas of such sensitivity as national parks, the body that has to be able to decide these matters is not central Government with a blanket rule but the national park authorities themselves, so why is there this blanket rule which will take away their discretion?
Nick Boles: My hon. Friend anticipates the question of whether the proposed relaxation, or permitted development right, should apply to national parks. I was setting out the broad case for introducing a permitted development right in the country that would make it easier to convert agricultural buildings into homes. Having done so, it is now entirely legitimate to ask whether it would be appropriate to extend that right to national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty – or, in the planning jargon, section 15 land. We have undertaken a genuine consultation on the issue; it is not an issue on which the Government had a firm view and were just pretending to consult.