North Wiltshire MP James Gray took part in two Parliamentary debates on matters associated with planning this week. On Tuesday during a debate on the role of Neighbourhood Plans in national planning policy, Mr Gray emphasised the importance of local people being able to decide what houses should be build where, when and in which quantity.

Mr Gray said:

“I am very proud of the fact that Malmesbury in my constituency was one of the first places in the UK to produce a Neighbourhood Plan, setting an example to other neighbourhood planners across the country. However, in practice, Neighbourhood Plans are often trumped in favour of expansion, are already out of date by the time they are fully completed and the so-called five-year housing land supply figures which determine whether an application should be allowed routinely trump the Neighbourhood Plan. Not only that, but because the required five-year land supply is calculated using completed houses, there is an inbuilt incentive for developers intentionally not to complete housing estates in the area. The developers are experts at gaming the system.”

Mr Gray added:

“At the moment, the planning system does not take account of local interests and beliefs and neighbourhood planning. It takes account of nationally set targets, which tend to trump the wishes of local people. I very much hope that during the passage of the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill, which will start tomorrow, the Government will consider some of these detailed points and change the Bill in such a way as to ensure that the interests of local people are looked after when we decide how many houses will be built and when and where.”

During the debate, Mr Gray further remarked that:

“Developers should, of course, be encouraged to reuse brownfield sites in town centres, but, given the choice between a brownfield site in a town centre or a greenfield site in the countryside, they are going to go for the greenfield site. We therefore have to change the planning system to focus house building on previously used land.”

Then on Wednesday, Mr Gray turned his attention to planning regulations on solar farms and battery storage solutions, on which he sponsored his own debate.

“While I am strongly in favour of renewable energy, the Government should rethink the type of land these installations will be built on. Solar farms seem to be spreading uncontrollably here in North Wiltshire. They are an unsightly desecration of the countryside; they reduce the agricultural use possible from the area just when we are facing a real crisis in food production due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; and they are of a technology which will probably be outdated before long. Further, battery storage solutions also seem to be springing up all over the place. They are a huge fire risk, and they do not make a single contribution towards renewables. Myself and other Colleagues across the House are therefore calling on the Government to reduce the number of solar farms and battery storage solutions on agricultural land in favour of increasing food production.”

“It was a great privilege to be able to welcome HRH The Princess Royal to Parliament last Tuesday, and together with the Prime Minister, Lord Speaker, and Mr Speaker to witness the magnificent spectacle of the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines ‘beating retreat’ in Speaker’s Court at the heart of the Palace of Westminster, followed by a reception in Mr Speaker’s State Apartments”, said North Wiltshire MP James Gray who arranged the event in his role as Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Services.

“It is right that we remember Britain’s great victory in the Falklands 40 years ago, removing the last invader of British Overseas Territory.”

Veterans of the conflict and representatives of the Falkland Islands Government also attended the event, alongside MPs and Peers with an interest in the Falklands.

Her Royal Highness was welcomed to Parliament by Black Rod, and at the reception was delighted to meet many of the veterans, including Major General Julian Thompson, the former Royal Marines officer, who commanded 3 Commando Brigade during the conflict.

Two 105mm Light Guns that fired in action during the conflict in support of British ground troops were placed either side of the front door to Speaker’s House.   The Guns now belong to the Honourable Artillery Company and are used for firing gun salutes at the Tower of London, most recently firing a 102-round Royal Gun Salute to mark the Platinum Jubilee, and kindly lent for the occasion.  James Gray is a longstanding member of the Honourable Artillery Company, in which he served as a private soldier for 7 years.

On Tuesday, North Wiltshire MP James Gray asked the Foreign Secretary to clarify what role British troops could play to aid Ukraine against possible Russian aggression during Oral Questions for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Before the debate, Mr Gray said:

“Ukraine has of course been on our radar for a very long time - long before Crimea. It is possible that Putin will act at any moment; but then on the other hand he may not act at all. Sabre rattling is at least as much a part of the Russian inventory as is invasion. In any case, the UK Government needs to be prepared for all eventualities and stand behind our allies in Europe as well as NATO to do all we can to aid Ukraine in this most difficult time.”

In the House of Commons Chamber, Mr Gray added:

“I very strongly welcome the strength and determination of the message that the Foreign Secretary is sending to Mr Putin to deter any possible aggression against Ukraine; it is just right. However, are there any circumstances under which she could foresee British troops being deployed in a combat role, defending Ukraine?”

​The Foreign Secretary, Elizabeth Truss MP, replied that:

“As the Defence Secretary said, it is unlikely that that would be the circumstance, but we are working very hard to make sure that Ukraine has the defensive weapons that it needs; that it has the training that it needs—we have trained 20,000 Ukrainian personnel—and that it has the support of the international community. We are pushing our allies very hard to make sure that they are offering similar defensive support.”

North Wiltshire MP, James Gray, joined colleagues from all Parties for a short ceremony in Parliament this morning. Mr Gray, wearing blue and yellow to show support for Ukraine, signed the Book of Solidarity being sent to Ruslan Stefanchuk, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada (parliament of Ukraine).

Mr Gray stated:

“It is so important that we demonstrate our support for Ukraine during this time in any way that we can. I am sure that many, like myself, have watched the events of the past few days unfolding with horror. We must do all in our power to help those having to flee their country, providing refuge and aid wherever possible. We stand with Ukraine.”

During Oral Questions for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in the House of Commons on Monday, North Wiltshire MP James Gray highlighted how important it is to let local people decide how many new homes should be built in their area.

Before the debate, Mr Gray said:

“I recently attended a meeting with Malmesbury Town Council in my constituency, discussing local planning concerns and how strengthened neighbourhood planning would prevent opportunistic planning applications by developers. It is my sincerest hope that the upcoming housing White Paper will address this issue and reform the planning system to give a bigger voice to local residents”.

In the House of Commons Chamber, Mr Gray added:

“I am sure that the Minister would agree that by far the best people to decide how many homes we want and where they should be are local people. Would he therefore agree with me and the town of Malmesbury in my constituency, which raised the point that the neighbourhood plan, which this Conservative Government brought in, is currently being trumped by the so-called five-year housing land supply figures, which are handed down by central Government? Will he give me a hint as to whether greater importance will be given in the forthcoming housing White Paper to neighbourhood planning, thereby allowing local people to decide how many houses they want and where?”

​The Minister for Housing, Christopher Pincher MP, praised Mr Gray’s contribution, responding that:

“I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, because it gives me the opportunity to make it clear that it is for local communities to determine how many homes they want and need in their vicinity. Local housing need numbers are not an end point; they are a starting point. It is for local authorities to determine what constraints they may face to determine the numbers of homes that they need in their area. They then agree those numbers with the Planning Inspectorate to set a sound plan, and that is then the number that the local authorities build toward. Local authorities that fail to set an up-to-date plan leave their constituents at risk of speculative development, so it is for local authorities to set the numbers and make their plans.”