Christchurch MP Christopher Chope has revealed that plans for erecting beach huts at Highcliffe as part of ‘George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces’ TV show are unacceptable to Natural England.
The MP was speaking in Parliament on Wednesday having secured an adjournment debate in the House of Commons.
“Many councils recognise that if they are going to give permission for beach huts, they should go through the normal planning procedures, which involve an application, a consultation and so on. However, Christchurch Borough Council has avoided doing that over many months, to the extreme consternation of the public.”
He added: “We need clarity in our planning law. I hope that, by the end of tonight’s debate, my hon. Friend the Minister will have given some assurance that he will fill that lacuna and ensure that there is clarity, where currently the legal background is uncertain.”
He further added: “The gap in the public protection of our coastal amenities is where the land itself is owned by local councils, which seek to give themselves deemed consent for development without the need for any planning application or public consultation.
When Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane; Con) intervened to say that beach huts had a certain attraction, Mr Chope responded by saying that when we talked about amazing spaces we ought also to think about amazing natural spaces.
“If my hon. Friend has ever had the privilege of visiting Highcliffe cliff top, she will probably agree that that is an amazing space because it is unspoilt. We can look out to sea and out to the Needles. Why should we wish to despoil such a place, to the detriment of local people, without at least some proper consultation?”
Support came from Peter Bone (Wellingborough; Con) whilst Ian Mearns (Gateshead; Lab) suggested that the matter should be referred for consideration by the district auditor, given use of public money.
Gavin Barwell, making his first Commons appearance as the new the Minister for Housing and Planning, said in reply to the debate that the Government supported coastal communities.
He was, he said, unable to comment on any specific case due to the Secretary of State’s role in the planning system but added that he knew the beach in question, having family in nearby Hordle.
But the minister added that regardless of how planning permission is granted, safeguards remained to protect the most important landscapes.
“Permission granted by the general permitted development order is still subject to the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010. If a development granted permission by the order is likely to have a significant effect on a European site, the development cannot be begun until the local planning authority has determined, in consultation with Natural England, that it will not adversely affect the site. That is still the case when the local authority itself is the developer.”
Before closing the minister said: “It is for local councils to develop their local plans, but the Government would certainly encourage them to engage with their local communities, businesses, Members of Parliament and other interested parties as they do that.”
Meanwhile the natural cliff face between HighclifFe Castle and Chewton Bunny has posts marking the intended locations of the concrete rafts for huts.
Christchurch council’s scrutiny committee is investigating but does not have the power to halt any work.