Lords amendments considered.
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that privilege is involved in Lords amendments Nos. 25, 65, 76, 100, 109 and 117 to 163. If the House agrees to any of these amendments, I shall ensure that the appropriate entry is made in the Journal.
After Clause 194
Lords amendment: No. 115.
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.
It is a pleasure to see Opposition Front Benchers back in their places for the debates on the Bill as it moves into its final stages. We are missing the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson), who is at home after the birth of his third child. He is hardly old enough to have three children, but we wish him well—I understand that all is well.
Their Lordships have sent us an amendment to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to ensure that those who exercise planning functions have special regard to the preservation of gardens, groups of gardens or urban green spaces. I hope that I can explain to the House not only why the amendment should be rejected, but the steps that we propose to take to ensure that we examine properly the concerns that have been raised.
As my noble Friend Baroness Andrews said in the other place last week, and as was pointed out when this House debated the issue a couple of years ago, both on an Opposition motion and in relation to a Bill that the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) introduced—it is good to see her in her place, as she has long had an interest in such issues—local authorities can already set out strong and specific local policies in their local development frameworks to protect gardens in particular areas, if that is desirable and appropriate. In our planning policy statement 3, on housing, which was published in November 2006, we strengthened local authorities’ hand in doing just that.
I am interested in what the Minister said about the regulations already being in place. When there are instances of garden grabbing in my constituency, Lichfield district council says that they are out of its hands. The council says that it is directed by regional policy and national policy guidance and has no choice but to allow gardens to be used for building, because they are regarded as brownfield sites. Is the Minister saying that the council and, more importantly, the National Association of Local Councils are wrong on that point?
I was in the middle of saying that if the hon. Gentleman encourages his local authority to look hard at PPS3—indeed, he might want to ask why the council has not seen it before—it will see that it can set individual brownfield targets that apply only to back gardens, effectively separating them from other derelict land and other forms of brownfield and vacant sites.
The Minister is being characteristically generous in giving way again. Notwithstanding PPS3 guidance, does he not acknowledge that many councils, including Castle Point, have given away far too many gardens in the dash for flats? We are seeing massive flat developments being built without any garden space at all, but these turn out to be unsaleable in the end, thereby destroying our urban communities.
I do not know in detail what the hon. Gentleman’s council in Castle Point has done, and cannot speak for it. However, he might want to ask his local authority why it is not taking full advantage of the planning system, as some are, by making back gardens a special feature of its policy, as part of its ability to make finely graded distinctions in the general category of brownfield land.
In case the planners in west Berkshire are watching this, let me give vent to their feelings by asking the Minister this. If the planners refuse applications, as they frequently do, to build high-density units on gardens when such developments would be inappropriate in certain areas, they are then overrruled on appeal, with the inspector citing national policy. That is the problem right up and down the country. Is the Minister saying that I, the planners in west Berkshire and everybody who is experiencing that are wrong?
No, I am not. However, if councils use the scope of their existing powers to make it clear in their planning and housing objectives that back gardens should be treated in a particular way, they should expect their approach to command support should an appeal arise. The starting point is the extent to which local authorities choose to use the scope of the powers that are currently available to them.
If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the situation in West Berkshire, perhaps he should have a word with the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), who leads the Conservative Front-Bench team, because Brentwood’s local plan is one of the best examples of a local authority taking advantage of the provisions and scope of the PPS3. It has specific policies that reflect local circumstances, such as that any new development should reflect the character and density of the surrounding area and should have minimum net plot sizes and minimum building-line frontages. So a council that recognises what it can do has set its policy framework accordingly. If concerns of this nature arise in that area, it should be able to deal with them much more effectively than other local authorities. The hon. Gentleman might suggest that West Berkshire take a leaf out of Brentwood council’s book.
My council has been attempting to strengthen its language under the unitary development plan. Is the Minister aware that it has been told that the language is already as strong as it could possibly be, and that if it does anything more it will be overturned by the inspectorate, and the UDP will have to be revised? None of that has stopped developers running a guerrilla war, constantly attempting to buy every house with a sizeable garden in order to put massive and complex developments on them. Applications are often turned down on appeal, but developers will persist three, four or five times until the wretched developments eventually go through.
I have no idea what the precise wording of the hon. Lady’s local planning policy framework is, and she has not quoted it, so I cannot give her a judgment on that. However, in a moment I shall come to the question in my mind about the nature of the evidence supporting the sort of concern that she has expressed. She has given an anecdotal example of a problem that she sees in her area. Let me make a little progress, and if she wants to come back to this point, I shall give way again.
On PPS3, does the Minister accept that it might be appropriate for councils to take case-by-case decisions on gardens, rather than to have blanket policies that cover the whole borough? Not every garden needs to be preserved in aspic. It might be appropriate to consider each application on its merits and to make decisions in that way. Nothing that the Minister has said allays our concerns as to whether any council that tried to do that would have its decisions overturned on appeal.
The principle and practice of the planning system are that each application is considered on its merits in the context and framework of planning policies set by the planning authority. Those policies are produced within the context of guidance that we give from the centre. There is already considerable scope within the system for local planning authorities to equip themselves, as part of their ambition in their planning policies, to deal with any concern about garden grabbing in their area, but most authorities are not fully using that scope. Local authorities have the power to turn down applications for inappropriate housing in back gardens. Provided that the supply of land is maintained and the proposed development is in line with a council’s planning for housing objectives, it can resist garden development and can expect support on appeal.
Let me return to the issue of evidence. Unless the House hears this afternoon about fresh evidence that I have not come across, there is no clear evidence of a problem that needs the proposed solution. In the other place, the Opposition spokesperson talked about a survey of six local authorities, and I have tried hard to find details of that survey. I am not sure whether it has been published, but if it has, I have not been able to get a copy of it. On the basis of that survey, it has been said that 72 per cent. of all brownfield site development has been on back gardens, but that figure is way out of line with our published, comprehensive and publicly scrutinised figures for that sort of development. Our published figures on the amount of development on previously developed land show that the percentage of all new housing built on back gardens across England is not 72 per cent. but just under 27 per cent. There is huge inconsistency between those figures, but I have been unable to take a close look at the results of that small survey, because I cannot find a published copy of it.
One half of the amendment puts forward proposals to define green space as being separate from other brownfield land. Would that classification not make it easier to assess the amount of development on gardens and elsewhere?
But does the hon. Lady not accept the general proposition that legislation should be based on good policy, which, in turn, needs to be based on sound evidence? At the moment, that evidence is not clear, so the case for a change in policy, let alone a change in legislation, has not been established.
Will the Minister help us with the evidence that he mentions? He will understand that, within regional and national totals, different authorities will be higher or lower than the average. In the past three years, I have tabled parliamentary questions asking for specific figures for each local authority for the previous year. In the first two years, my questions were answered, but this year his Department has declined to give me that information because it said that it would be misleading. Will he put the information in the Library so that we can have a consistent series of answers?
I suspect that the answers that the hon. Gentleman has received so far have not been in my name, but I shall look into whether there is an inconsistency or concern about data for the most recent year compared with those for the two previous years. Either my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing or I will write to him on that.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether I could help regarding the evidence. I am trying to be as helpful as possible to the House, and I do not have a closed mind on this, but the evidence on which to base policy decisions, let alone legislative changes, is not yet clear or available. Early in the new year, we will review the evidence on the extent of development on back gardens in order to establish whether there is a genuine problem. If there is, we will take action to remedy the situation.
I thank the Minister for taking the positive approach of reviewing the problem. Will he consider the issues not only at national and regional level but at local level, because constituencies such as mine, where land is very valuable because houses are highly priced, are a particular target of developers? Looking at broad areas of the country, one might not find the problem, but if one looked at the specifics of some of my communities, one would find that developers bid at almost every opportunity when a single house with any reasonable amount of garden is being sold. My great fear is that in the recession, when many people will not have cash but developers will, a set of locusts will be going after all those opportunities.
The hon. Lady’s question can be boiled down to asking whether our review will examine the evidence in local authority areas. Yes, of course it will.
I look forward to hearing from the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), because I am concerned that we too often see Tory councils and members of the Conservative party arguing about housing and housing numbers. That leads me to suspect, if I am honest with the House, that behind this amendment lies a serious rejection of our obligation to provide new housing for new generations. If the hon. Member for Beckenham can convince the House that that is not the case, I would welcome it, but too often the evidence from her own councils and her own colleagues has been to the contrary.
Before I leave the right hon. Gentleman to the tender mercies of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), can he help me on this matter? Given the Minister’s surprising and uncharacteristic degree of cynicism, how does he square what he said with the statement of his ministerial colleague Baroness Andrews, who said in the other place:
“We support the underlying aim of the amendment.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 12 November 2008; Vol. 705, c. 694.]?
If the Government support the underlying aim, it cannot be logical to suggest that it comes from some motive to prevent excessive development.
I think scepticism rather than cynicism is a proper description of my attitude. As I am trying to explain, the Government do not have closed minds on this issue, but we are first looking for firm evidence that there is a problem to which we need a solution in the form of change in policy; and secondly, in the light of what I just said, I am making it clear that we would be prepared to change our policy only if we were convinced that that would not also undermine our objectives on housing.
On the question of evidence, I welcome the announcement that the Government will review the impact, but will the Minister take important facts into consideration? The 27 per cent. average national figure he cites for building on previously developed land disguises the fact that during the last few years, because of a boom in house prices, there has been a significant increase in the number of houses built. It is a combination not just of the percentage, but of the sheer numbers built on backland. My own local authority has seen a doubling of the number of houses built, as well as an increase in the percentage of building on formerly developed land. Perversely, where gardens exist, that has led to meeting housing targets in areas of high land value ahead of schedule. Solihull metropolitan borough council met its target for 2011 by 2006.
The hon. Lady is right, and it is a record that we have been proud of in recent years. From a low in 2001, we have reversed what had been a year-on-year decline in house building for 15 years before that. We are pleased and proud to see more houses built; we need more houses in this country. My response to the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) is that if the contribution of development on brownfield sites, which could include back gardens in some areas, is relatively stable, I fail to see the strength of the argument for saying that this is an urgent and pressing problem, particularly in the absence of any firm evidence to the contrary.
I give way first to the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) because he has been in his place from the start of the debate. I will then give way to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who has just arrived. After that, I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell).
The Minister mentioned housing targets, and I think that he was a little cynical about them. The evidence from my region in the Thames corridor is that there is sufficient brown land—previously developed land—available to meet all the Government’s housing targets, but that it is has not stopped green land in my constituency coming under pressure. The reason for that is that developers can make a lot more money by developing back gardens and green land in my constituency. Will the Minister get the Government to focus on their target of protecting green belt, green land and back gardens by forcing development into the brown land in the Thames corridor?
I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point, so I invite him to submit evidence from his local area to the review that, as I have confirmed to the House, will start in the new year. That may or may not help to build up the evidence base on which consideration of any policy change could be considered.
As we have just heard a pre-Budget report that turned out to be a Budget with an urgent and big tax change, will the Minister give us guidance from the Treasury Bench on how soon we will be able to debate and vote on the huge VAT change? It is very unusual to have a Budget, yet not be able to proceed to a Division on it.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) none the less raises an important point on which I would like your guidance. We have effectively just had a massive Budget—bigger than many of the real Budgets through which I have sat over the past 25 years, all of which have been followed by five days’ debate. Have you received any indication, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there is to be a change in House business to allow us to debate that Budget, or is democracy at an end in this place?
Order. I can rule on the point of order, but bearing in mind that this is a time-limited debate, I am not sure that we would be well served by having an extensive series of points of order, which will only take out more of the time available to debate the important matter before the House.
Let me say this, which should be helpful to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning) and the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley): a point of order cannot be directed to the Minister. It can be directed only to the Chair, as I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman understands. He will know that the Chair cannot generally determine the House’s business. Mr. Speaker will always carefully consider any requests for consideration of an urgent question or for an emergency debate. Those are the procedures that right hon. and hon. Members may follow to establish whether what they want the House to debate can be debated in the immediate future.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to you, but the point raised in the debate was about the 2.5 per cent. reduction in VAT. The point of having a full debate on the pre-Budget statement is that when the Chancellor mentioned the change, he admitted that he had opted for the 2.5 per cent. VAT measure in preference to a general tax reduction because it was a quicker way of getting it through this House. Under those circumstances and given the importance of that very statement, surely Mr. Speaker could assist my two right hon. Friends who have suggested holding a proper debate on the pre-Budget statement.
I am not sure that I can say anything fresh to the hon. Lady on that. Indeed, Mr. Speaker would consider any requests for a debate according to the usual criteria, but we cannot allow the egg to be greater than the chicken in this particular instance in that we are debating what we are debating and we have to conduct that debate against whatever the background of other circumstances we know about. We can have a debate about the effects of what the Chancellor announced in strict relation to the matter before the House now, which is what we should be doing now, rather than raising points of order. I have dealt on the point of order with the question whether a general debate should be held and I have tried to suggest a way forward for hon. Members.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish to add only that as far as I am aware—I would be grateful for your assistance—no statement of this magnitude has ever been made in the House without being followed by a full debate. The pre-Budget statement was without doubt the most important financial statement that I have ever heard since joining the House in 1997. I know of no autumn statement that has not been followed by a debate, so I would be grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on how we can gain an opportunity to—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is expressing a point of view, which he is entitled to express. However, that does not alter my ruling on the point of order. I have tried to be helpful to hon. Members about how to proceed on the issue. We must now return to the debate.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and hope that we might gain some more time to debate planning. Does my right hon. Friend accept that the biggest problem is the unpredictability of decision making—by planning committees and inspectors at inquiries, for example? If he could issue guidance to ensure greater clarity of decision making, it could only help. The problem is that when a duff decision is made, precedent is everything; a whole series of other decisions are often taken subsequently that are grossly unfair to an area. I would be most grateful if my right hon. Friend looked further into that.
The purpose of local planning frameworks is precisely to impart more certainty and predictability to the decisions that a planning authority must make. As for the concerns about development in back gardens, the evidence suggests that most authorities are still not taking advantage of the scope of the powers that they have under the guidance that we have already issued. However, I note what my hon. Friend has said, and if in the light of the review there is evidence to suggest that steps of that kind may be needed, we will certainly consider them.
Given the apparently huge disparity between the experiences of Members throughout the House in their constituencies, and given the overall statistics that my right hon. Friend has cited, will he publish the methodology and definitions that he will employ in his review? Before that, will he provide more detailed guidance on how local authorities can address issues of garden grabbing in the way that he has described? For reasons best known to themselves, many are not doing so at present.
I urge my hon. Friend—as I have already urged Opposition Members—to encourage his local authority to pay much more attention to the scope that already exists in PPS3. In the new year we will make clear and public how the review is to be conducted, so that Members in all parts of the House have an opportunity to contribute evidence and experience from their constituencies and local authority areas. That will enable us to ascertain whether it is possible to secure a better evidence base on which to make policy judgments of this kind in the future.
The debate about the focus of the review has centred largely on garden grabbing. Will the Minister reassure me that he will consider not just back garden development but development on green spaces as defined in the amendment, including
“land laid out as a public garden”
“land used for the purposes of public recreation”?
We have not yet made up our minds about the terms of the review, but I will take into account what the hon. Lady has said. A number of Members are clearly very interested in this issue, and if they wish to make their own contributions to the debate, I look forward to hearing them. Meanwhile, let me conclude my own opening remarks.
Many Members who have spoken today have professed to believe in the proper power of elected local authorities. Imposing a blanket duty of this nature would take from elected local representatives the power to make proper, balanced judgments based on their knowledge of the overall needs of their areas. I believe that such decisions are best made by democratically elected councillors, working with local planners, who are much closer to the needs of local people and who will be better acquainted with the particular characteristics of any piece of land that may or may not be suitable for housing.
It is not right to tie the hands of local councils and planning authorities. It is not currently necessary for councils to protect gardens, and such action would distort planning decisions and the scope for appeals. Above all, there is as yet no systematic evidence that there is a problem in need of this solution. However, we have not closed our minds to the concerns that have been expressed, and we are prepared to review the evidence in the new year. If there is a clear problem, we will act. In the meantime, I hope that the House will accept that ours is a reasonable response which constitutes a sensible next step, and that until the review has been completed it makes no sense to pre-empt its findings and jump to policy conclusions, let alone amendments to legislation. I therefore hope that the House will support me in rejecting Lords amendment No. 115.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson). It is a pleasure to see the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy), but the hon. Gentleman is a stalwart of our proceedings on the Bill, and it would have been nice to see him here. Of course, he might have preferred to be present in a week or two, when the baby starts squalling!
I am grateful to Earl Cathcart for tabling the amendment, which follows a long tradition. Both my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) and my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) tried desperately, through the medium of private Members’ Bills, to persuade the Government to recognise that garden grabbing was an issue; and it is possible that I was the first person to raise the whole issue of overdevelopment, in a Westminster Hall debate. There is a long history of battling with the Government on this issue.
I fully acknowledge the hard work done by all Members, especially Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. I tabled a private Member’s Bill in 2005, six weeks after my election. I do not know whether that gives me precedence, but it certainly demonstrates that Members in all part of the House are deeply concerned about the issue.
The hon. Lady is right—and that concern is felt not just throughout the House, but throughout the country. The Minister mentioned a survey which, according to Earl Cathcart, refers to Bradford, Chelmsford and Tunbridge Wells. Those three towns, or cities, are very different, but they have similar problems. We in the outer-London boroughs have those problems too, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer).
I am glad that the Government have promised us a review after all these years. I shall keep my remarks relatively brief, although there is much in regard to the Lords amendments that I want to put on record because the Bill is so undemocratic and badly thought through.
There can be no substantive vote in Parliament for the national policy statements, which, in my view, means that they will go straight into the courts. That completely negates our basic reason for supporting them. The Infrastructure Planning Commission is equally undemocratic in removing Ministers’ responsibility for making final decisions. The right to be heard in planning inquiries is still substantive, and the whole issue of the community infrastructure levy—with which I hope we will deal today—is unlikely to be considered in full.
We want to discuss the subject of garden grabbing, even if we must do so relatively briefly. It is not just a case of the number of houses built on gardens, and it is not just a question of the number of planning applications for development in back gardens that succeed. According to the latest statistics, 21 per cent. of new dwellings in Bromley were built on former back gardens. The main point is that the nature of an area and a neighbourhood is changed by an increase in the density of housing. Areas are changed from—in my case—broad suburban streets with one house on a decent-sized garden to blocks of flats containing 48 people. That puts huge pressure on train services, health services, education services and roads, all because, sadly, the Planning Inspectorate has been bullied by the Government into making the decisions.
I do not disagree with what the hon. Lady has said about the Planning Inspectorate, but does she accept that part of the unfairness of the system is the way in which it differentiates within areas? Changes may not be contemplated in one part of a district or borough, but in another part, once agreement has been reached the process of gradual degradation continues.
The hon. Gentleman does not go far enough. I quite agree that as soon as a planning application is agreed in a street, there is a gradual change in that location, but there is nothing, even in conservation areas, to stop the Planning Inspectorate granting planning permission on appeal. That has happened on a very nice street in my constituency, where there has been appeal after appeal after appeal, and eventually the Planning Inspectorate gave permission. As a result, like a series of collapsing dominoes, the nature of that street will change. That is what everybody finds so objectionable.
The Government try hard to play the innocent in all this by saying that PPS3 is no different from what went before, but it is very different. As Baroness Andrews identified in the other place, this started in 1985 when there was a need to categorise land use. That was when the category “residential R” was used to include
“houses, flats and adjoining garages, gardens, estate roads and pathways. Sheltered accommodation where residences have separate front entrances.”
This was a convenient way of grouping statistical information, and nothing more than that.
Then, in 1992? Chris Patten issued a new version of planning policy guidance note 3, which did not include any such definition of gardens as brownfield, nor did it contain density targets. Indeed, the guidance discouraged residential infill where inappropriate and gave a broad discretion to councils to protect the character of their locality.
In 2000, there was a revised PPG3, and in 2006, the then Minister for Housing, the right hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), stated in a written answer that the PPG3 of 2000
“set out the definition of previously-developed land for the purposes for planning for housing, derived from urban land uses based on the Land Use Change Statistics classification introduced in 1985 but not previously articulated in planning guidance.”—[Official Report, 21 March 2006; Vol. 444, c. 296W.]
That is the difference—the Government introduced the change in the PPG3 of 2000. Although I welcome the Minister’s announcement today of a review, it would be helpful if he examined the history, recognised what happened in 2000 and accepted that it is the Government’s fault that we are where we are.
The excuses have changed as this debate has gone on, and the next excuse, which is relatively new and has been expressed today, relates to the local development frameworks. Those of us who have been watching the progress of LDFs have been astounded by how slowly they have come through, how often they have been sent back for revision and change, and how few have gained permission and agreement. It is, to say the least, disingenuous for the Government to claim that, under the LDF, councils have the right to set out their views on garden grabbing. Theoretically, the Planning Inspectorate has the final say on LDFs, of course, but if there is an instruction under the PPG3 of 2000 to include gardens, councils have very little chance of getting things through. Additionally, just recently we all thought the LDFs represented a binding decision in relation to the Planning Inspectorate, but they were recently challenged—in the High Court, I believe, in the case of the Crawley LDF—and the judge found against the inspectorate. So, the LDF is no longer binding, which decisively shoots any protection offered out of the water.
Much of what we are talking about—such as the difficulties involved in a local authority retaining control over the identity of its own area—has been challenged and changed by this Government. I suppose it is some comfort that, from a very quick reading, the Killian Pretty review seems to be suggesting that most of what the Government have introduced should be altered so that local authorities regain their ability to be much more in control of their own planning. We hope that the Government accept the review findings, and we will be looking out for what happens to that review. However, in order to ensure that as much pressure as possible remains on the Government to amend the Bill so we have an end to garden grabbing, I shall advise my hon. Friends to vote with the Lords and against the Government motion to disagree.
I will be sure to pass on the many congratulations from all parts of the House on the arrival of Elowen Ruby Rose Rogerson, and I can safely say that, although my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) has committed a huge amount of time to this Bill, he would prefer to be with his family and their new arrival at this very special time.
A series of important issues arise in connection with the groups of amendments that we are discussing, so I shall speak only briefly. The Liberal Democrats support Lords amendment No. 115, which is the culmination of concern from Members in all parts of the House. As the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) said, the hon. Members for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) and for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) introduced private Members’ Bills to protect back gardens and public open spaces, particularly in suburban areas, where there seems to be a greater problem than in other areas.
My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) first raised this issue just six weeks after being elected to Parliament, and the proposal in her excellent Local Government and Planning (Parkland and Windfall Development) Bill would have gone further than this amendment, by allowing for local referendums to decide when public open spaces can and cannot be sold off. That was an interesting and innovative proposal which would have handed real power back to communities, who are rightly concerned that the character of their areas is being adversely and irreparably affected by developments in gardens and open spaces.
It is a travesty that much-needed green space in urban areas is lumped into the category of brownfield land, and that the Government are insisting that there is not a problem when eminently developable, genuinely brownfield public sector land lies largely unused. Earlier this year, my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) received a ministerial response stating that 70 per cent. of the land owned by the Department of Health is not being used. Ministers cannot insist that communities accept unquestioningly new development on their public open spaces without at least putting their own houses, and the land on which houses could be built, in order. There is a large amount of brownfield land in my constituency, but it is highly contaminated by heavy metals from mining. Even in such areas, there is a hierarchy of brownfield sites, and often back gardens are the most attractive and most affordable to develop.
I hope that the review will look into such concerns and that it will be forward-looking in scope as well as backward-looking. There are great concerns in my constituency that the housing targets set by the regional spatial strategy can be fulfilled only by developing every available space in the entire constituency.
Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the attractions of garden grabbing is that developers are usually in a position to build a small development? They always build nine units in my constituency, because at 10 they would have to provide one social housing unit. If they take on much larger plots of brownfield land, they have to put in significant amounts of social housing. I have two local authorities that are desperately trying to increase social housing in our area, but they are finding that the whole interest of the development community is in using gardens for luxury housing.
In announcing his review today, the Minister is being very helpful. The Minister in the other place, whom my colleagues there have said was helpful and courteous throughout, has used the excuse that there has not been time to consult on the implications of this amendment. The review is very welcome, but I am not clear why there has been no opportunity to initiate such a review before today, given that the Bill has been going through the House for 11 months and the issue has been raised on numerous occasions by Back Benchers. I would appreciate some comment from the Minister on why a decision has now been taken to carry out that review, given that it would perhaps have been more timely to have made such a decision earlier. It is a little frustrating, because Ministers in another place have been constructive on a number of other issues, so it would perhaps have been more sensible for the Government to have tabled their own amendment to reflect the concerns that residents all over Britain have about this issue. Such a provision could have been inserted in the Bill and perhaps made subject to regulation. That would have given a lot of people more confidence that this issue was being directly addressed.
To pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer), should not the review closely examine whether the Government’s failure to define gardens correctly as gardens, rather than as brownfield land, has thwarted their endeavour to ensure that a significant percentage of the new homes that are being built are affordable? As she has pointed out, the failure to define gardens correctly has thwarted the Government in their own objective, and that should form part of the review.
The impact of the lack of classification should be considered in that review. In a way, the amendment would make it easier for the Department to conduct such a review, because a clear classification of green space and brownfield land would make it much easier to separate the differential impact of development in these different areas. The lack of such differentiation at present makes the review’s job more difficult.
The amendment involves a second principle that should be raised, and it places clear blue water between ourselves and the Government. The amendment says that guidance issued by the Secretary of State or the regional planning authorities cannot simply override local priorities, and we share that approach. The local authority and local views should take priority and precedence, yet this Government seem determined to subject communities to a litany of regional and national policies and targets that will necessarily trump local priorities in the pecking order and that, in many cases, will take a bulldozer not only to valued green spaces, but to local democracy. This is one example where the Government take that approach, but there are many others in the Bill. One need only look at the approach on national policy statements and on the Infrastructure Planning Commission to see that.
May I offer my hon. Friend another example? In Solihull, the Government have ignored our regional development plan and have commissioned another independent consultancy, Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners, which has come up with recommendations that treble the already agreed allocation of new housing for the borough of Solihull. Perhaps she might like to ask the Minister how that can be, and how it sits with the comments that he is making about putting decision making in the hands of the people who are elected in their local areas.
In too many cases, it seems that the wishes of the local community are being undermined by the Bill, yet it is an opportunity to promote them. The Minister is in denial about the scale of the assault on back gardens and on small, but often highly valued, open spaces in urban areas. I welcome the door opening a crack, through the chance to examine this issue in the review, but before we are fully reassured we will need to hear much more detail on its terms and implications.
All too often, particularly in the Department for Communities and Local Government, excellent reports are commissioned but then, unfortunately, gather dust on top shelves once they have been completed. Members across the House are acutely aware of the need to build more housing, particularly social housing and affordable housing. We have suggested innovative ways to increase our social housing stock after a decade of failure in that area. As ever, the aim surely must be not only to build houses but to foster and maintain living, vibrant communities. It is not just about plonking people in rows of boxes; we must create places in which people want to live, work and grow up. We need places that are not just environmentally friendly but a friendly environment in which to live. Back gardens and open spaces in which to meet and play are essential to achieving that aim, so for those reasons, my hon. Friends and I will support the amendment.
I welcome the opportunity to speak, given my long-standing interest in back garden development, and I wish to pay tribute to the work of many hon. Members present who have taken up this cause. An interesting feature of the debate on the definition of gardens and how best to protect them is that it has elicited so much interest from Members from all parts of this House, as well in another place. That has come in the guise of an early-day motion signed by 179 Members representing all parties—not those whom one might call the usual suspects, but Members whose constituencies have been badly afflicted by this problem of back garden development—and in the guise of ten-minute Bills and private Members’ Bills tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) and me. Those things, in themselves, indicate how seriously Members in the House of Commons take this issue.
I dispute the Minister’s view that the most recent changes to planning guidance provide adequate protection for gardens. Patently, they do not. I detect a degree of complacency in the attitude of a Government who are prepared to wait even until next year for a review to take place. Plenty of evidence is available to show that the existing guidance simply does not work. That is because of a deadly combination when these cases go to appeal: the definition of brownfield land extending to gardens, housing targets, and density targets. The combination of those three things takes precedence in the hierarchy of decision making when the planning inspector reviews a case where planning consent has been refused. There is plenty of evidence to show that since the introduction of that change to planning guidance in 2006, the defence that the Minister cites is simply not working. Local planning authorities know that, developers know that and communities know that—to their cost.
The fact that the change to planning guidance has now been in force for more than 18 months flies in the face of people’s experience. As recently as last week, I was contacted by a local action group called the Friends of Middleton Conservation Area. Its local council, Darlington borough council, had refused a controversial application for garden development, not least because the application related to a conservation area. The application went to appeal, and despite strong representations from the council, the decision was overturned.
I raise that example—there are many more such examples—not only because it crossed my desk last week, 18 months after the introduction of the change in guidance to which the Minister referred, but because the application was for development in a conservation area. If a local council is overruled when trying to prevent inappropriate development in a conservation area, surely something is drastically wrong with the planning system.
I urge hon. Members to think long and hard about the legacy of the prioritisation of brownfield land, including gardens. The legacy is significant in terms of the environment and infrastructure. I have seen at first hand the environmental legacy in areas where inappropriate garden development has been permitted. Neighbourhoods that were once a finely balanced mix of green spaces and homes have been changed beyond recognition. Family homes have been demolished, trees have been felled and hedges have been uprooted. Gardens that were a rich source of urban biodiversity have been stripped back and buried under concrete, with all the environmental implications that follow.
Not only is the natural environment under assault, but the architectural environment is too. In some cases, old family houses have been bulldozed to make way for high-density, multi-storey apartment blocks. Likewise, bungalows are in developers’ sights in a rush to create high-density housing.
Does the hon. Lady know that in one development on a suburban street in south-west London the developers have proposed—because there is no street parking—a subterranean garage with a hydraulic lift to take the cars down, as if it were in the middle of Manhattan?
I thank the hon. Lady for that example, and I am happy to trade another horrifying example from this past year—a year after the changes in planning guidance were made that were supposed to be the salvation of back gardens. Two bungalows in Marston Green in my constituency were proposed for demolition to make way for 71 apartments. And that was on a narrow, tree-lined lane with difficult access.
As politicians, we have to ask ourselves where we are going with this. We know that there is a shortage of family-sized homes, especially with gardens. That was acknowledged by the Chief Secretary, when she was Housing Minister. We know that our country has an ageing population. People are living longer and the evidence is that they will want to live longer in their own homes, which makes the rush to demolish bungalows—the very type of home that will be vital to many older people’s ability to sustain themselves at home for longer—such nonsense. We know that there is a chronic shortage of affordable homes, so it is perverse that developers are almost directed to build high-density housing on areas with a high land value, with the consequences that we have all seen: large numbers of luxury apartments while housing lists grow in our constituencies, and those who desperately need housing not able to attain the affordable housing that the Government set out to achieve.
We also know that flood risk will dominate over the coming years, so why on earth are we relying on a planning system that says it is a good idea to concrete over urban green spaces, thereby reducing the drainage capacity? I have seen a particularly bad case of that in Cheltenham, which is prone to flooding and severely affected by the phenomenon of garden grabbing. Sir Michael Pitt, who led the Government’s review of last summer’s floods, told the BBC that garden grabbing had increased the risk of further flooding. He said:
“If it was just one house and one garden, this would not be an issue. It’s the cumulative effect over time of many, many properties.”
It would be a mistake for the Government to ignore that advice.
If the Minister requires evidence of whether his planning guidance is working, he need look no further than GardenOrganic, a website set up by people who want to protect gardens. Every week, examples of garden grabbing are cited on that website, from Ballyrobert in Northern Ireland, from Cardiff in Wales—where it is proposed to develop a reservoir site for housing—and from Forest Hill in London. It is happening all over the country, which is why it excites the interest of so many Members, here and in the other place.
It was Members in the other place who voted in favour of this amendment. Clearly, they saw that the law is not strong enough to provide the necessary protection for gardens. It boils down to the fundamental question of whether Ministers in Whitehall know better about local planning applications than the communities that will be affected and the people whom those communities elect to represent them. Members of Parliament can argue about the rights and wrongs of various planning applications, but the basic question must surely be who is best placed to make the decisions—town hall or Whitehall? If we have really reached the stage where the Government do not even trust councils to determine which residential gardens are suitable for development and which are not, the lip service that the Government pay to decentralisation is risible.
I shall now turn my attention to the way in which the Government have changed their response to the issue of garden grabbing, which may help to explain why they object to the amendment. I cannot help but notice, because I have been campaigning on this issue for so long, that the Government’s various attempts to stonewall have been built on shifting sands. When garden grabbing was debated first, it came under the remit of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minster, and the objection from the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) was that the need for house building was such that gardens were a legitimate source of development. When the baton was passed to the right hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly), she moved the Government’s position and instead maintained that councils already had powers at their disposal to prevent garden grabbing. Now the issue rests with the current Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and I note that there has been another change of tack.
When this amendment was debated in the other place, the Government insisted that they could not support it because they needed to consult local government first. Far be it from me, or any other hon. Member, to second-guess the view of local government, but I think that it is safe to say that giving local councils more power over local planning decisions could only be welcomed by local government. Are Ministers honestly trying to tell us that giving councils the power to protect gardens where they think that appropriate will be controversial, and that for that reason we should oppose this amendment? If that is their last line of defence, the argument has certainly been won, even if the vote is not.
Sadly, the fact that we are debating an amendment to remove a clause to give councils the power to protect gardens shows how hostile to local communities this Government have now become. There is a stark contrast in how this issue has been approached. The Government have been inconsistent in their reasons for seeking to prevent gardens from having greater protection in planning law. They have gone from defending garden development to blaming local councils for not using what powers they do have. When it came to my own private Member’s Bill, Labour Members talked it out rather than pressing it to a Division, but hon. Members from both sides of the House who have campaigned for more protection for gardens have put forward a reasoned, consistent and common-sense case for tightening the loophole. Hon. Members who signed the early-day motion on the issue might wish to think long and hard about the consistency of that signature with how they vote on the issue tonight.
Clause 194 offers an historic opportunity for us to change planning law in a way that will strengthen local communities, and safeguard the environment and infrastructure that underpin where people live. Members in the other place have shown that they are willing to speak up for the growing body of people who want to see their neighbourhoods and communities protected. If at the end of today’s debate this clause is removed, the public will judge this Government very harshly.
I recognise and respect what the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) called the long track record of several hon. Members, on both sides of the House—not least the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman)—in raising concerns about garden grabbing, or development in back gardens. However, it is curious, given that long track record of campaigning, that the evidence is so thin and anecdotal—[Interruption.] Well, the hon. Member for Beckenham protests from a sedentary position, but the six towns study does not count. She cited some figures from her local authority area, but she did not cite any wider study, rigorous evidence or independent research that would provide good grounds for the Government to adjust their policy now or amend the legislation.
The Minister has agreed that Members have a long track record in raising these issues. Most of us do not raise such issues for trivial reasons. There is therefore a clear indication that there is great concern about this issue. Some 21 per cent. of all new houses built in Bromley are on back gardens, and that is one fifth of all planning applications. I cannot believe that the Minister thinks that one fifth of all planning applications are not important.
I heard what the hon. Lady said earlier, and I have just referred to what she said about Bromley. In a way, the point partly applies to the remarks of the hon. Member for Meriden, who seemed to be arguing that we should move away from not only the question of development in gardens but the priority of brownfield sites per se.
Let me pick up on the point about blanket directions at a national level. They are simply unlikely to suit all circumstances. The hon. Member for Beckenham cites figures that are apparently from Bromley. In 2005, for instance, Basildon council informed us that not 20-odd per cent.—as was the case in Bromley—but 72 per cent. of such developments were on previously developed or residential land. The reason for that was that during that period in Basildon there was, quite rightly, a large programme of demolitions, as the town had a lot of pressure on it for housing and a lot of previously developed land. There was a large programme of demolitions, in particular the demolition of the old Five Links estate, and of replacing the demolished areas with new housing and new estates with private gardens. In short, it involved the redevelopment of land that had previously been residential—the sort of areas that, in blanket terms, hon. Members are concerned about. It resulted in more houses with gardens for more families. That is exactly the sort of development the hon. Member for Meriden wants to see and that hon. Members are keen to encourage.
The hon. Member for Beckenham, as well as one or two other hon. Members in their many interventions, tried to argue that the Planning Inspectorate’s—PINS’s—decisions are one of the sources of the problems and the reasons for the increase in garden development. There is no serious evidence of PINS’s overturning local authority decisions on brownfield development just because the developments are on garden land. Figures that have been provided to us by the PINS service show that, in the couple of years up to the early autumn of 2007, 28.5 per cent. of appeals were granted on minor dwellings—on fewer than 10 dwellings. In other words, in more than 70 per cent. of the cases, PINS supported the local authority decision. I therefore think that it is an inconclusive argument, at best, to say that the problems are somehow created by the Planning Inspectorate and its series of decisions.
The sort of approach that we are confronted with, as a House, is not merely about pre-empting the sort of proper evidence base needed to make such decisions. It is worth stressing now a point that I touched on earlier but did not develop. Such an approach would prevent the Secretary of State from setting aside decisions made in accordance with the adopted local policies of a planning authority for the protection of gardens or green space, effectively removing the discretion to take account of other considerations, such as the design or suitability of transport links, in determining appeals.
If the Lords amendment is not rejected, and we do not have the opportunity to assemble the evidence, debate the policy options that might be appropriate or consult on any potential legal changes—as the Conservative-led Local Government Association made clear in a briefing on the Bill this afternoon that it would rightly wish to happen—we risk distorting the planning process and also the scope for appeals. Such a provision would place restrictions on the right of appeal of ordinary home and garden owners against the decision of a planning authority and could also touch on human rights issues.
I have confirmed that, in the new year, we will undertake a review of the evidence. The debate, I have to say, has not added to the evidence base. It has added to the list of individual examples and anecdotes and has reinforced the understandable sense of concern that hon. Members say that they have about what goes on in their area. I tell those Members who are concerned that one useful step that they might consider is that of asking their local authority what use it makes of the scope available under PPS3. Furthermore, although in general I am not one to promote the views of the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), they might want to consult him on the approach that his local authority has taken. In our experience, it is one of the few local authorities to have in place the sort of planning policies that make distinctions that are locally justified, locally rooted and locally determined within the category of brownfield land for priority development.
I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy) said that she regards the confirmation of a review that I announced today as helpful. I welcome the welcome that the hon. Member for Beckenham gave to that review. I hope that she considers it as a new step, which is sensible and reasonable in the circumstances. I hope that she and other hon. Members will reflect on the fact that jumping beyond that approach to a conclusion that the policy and the legislation require change is not sensible or reasonable. There is a proper order for such things. We intend to undertake that review and will then establish whether there is systematic evidence that would warrant the changes for which some have argued this afternoon.
I hope that the hon. Member for Beckenham will not press the amendment to a Division. If she does, I shall have to ask my hon. Friends to stick with the view that the House should disagree with the Lords on amendment No. 115.
Question put, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment:—
Lords amendment disagreed to.
CIL regulations: general
Lords amendment: No. 160.
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.
The amendment would provide for a 60-day period during which either House may debate or pass a resolution on the draft community infrastructure levy regulations or refer the draft regulations to any Committee for a report. The Secretary of State must then respond to any debate, resolution or report, including by the other place, before this House may give approval to the regulations. The amendment followed an earlier Opposition Back-Bench amendment tabled in the other place that proposed that all CIL regulations should be subject to affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament. That amendment was rightly defeated and fell.
The House will be aware that clause 207(2) provides that CIL regulations are made subject to the affirmative resolution of this House only. It is the Government’s view that that is appropriate since CIL is a financial matter. The House might like to note that the Bill has been in this form since it was published. It is also worth noting that this House did not at any stage seek to change that to give the other place a role. Not a single amendment was tabled in Committee in this House on this issue.
This is a financial matter. It is a matter for this elected House of Commons. For those reasons, I ask it to reject the amendment.
I acknowledge that we did not discuss this issue in Committee. However, the amendment goes to the heart of our disagreement with the Government on the community infrastructure levy. The Minister will remember that we tabled many amendments in Committee. In fact, we objected to this aspect of the Bill from Second Reading onwards. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles)—he was delighted to receive the Minister’s praise about his local development framework, although he says that it is not working in the way set out—and I made the accusation that CIL was akin to ship money, because it was taxation without parliamentary approval.
We have been suspicious all along about CIL because of the original references within the Bill to land values, and we will be able to thank the Government for accepting our recommendations and removing all references to land values should we reach that stage. However, the initial references to land value essentially meant that there was a taxation element to the community infrastructure levy. There was also a reluctance, to put it politely, on the part of the Government to repeal the Planning-gain Supplement (Preparations) Act 2007, which if it remains on the statute book will allow CIL to be set up to fail, which was always at the back of my mind with this policy. The Government have sort of conceded on that, and there is an agreement in one of the amendments that the Treasury may repeal the 2007 Act. The House might like to note that I have tabled an amendment that it must repeal it. Until the references to CIL as a tax are out of the Bill, no one will believe that it is anything other than another form of taxation.
Our problem with the Government’s disagreement with the Lords on Lord Jenkin’s amendment is that it reinstates the argument that CIL is a tax. One of the difficulties that we have had throughout our discussions on CIL is the sheer lack of information about what it would be, how it would constituted, what form it would take, and who would be the charging authority—the Secretary of State or someone else. Again, just in case we do not get to that bit, I acknowledge that the Government have removed references to the Secretary of State as the charging authority. The wording now relates only to local authorities, which is what we argued for all along.
The Government are denying the House of Lords the ability to consider and, if it wishes, to vote on the regulations on CIL. Although the House of Lords graphically said that CIL had moved from skeletal in its detail to anorexic, we still know little about it and it is not clear whether it is a tax or a levy collected by a local authority. We disagree with the Government because we wish to make it as clear as possible that CIL is a levy. It is not, and should not be, a tax.
Part of the debate in the Lords was about the fact that there is no clear precedent on what financial matters can and cannot be discussed there—other than, of course, the well-known exception of the Budget. Lord Jenkin cited the fact that both Houses have discussed national insurance, council tax, business rates, the business improvement district levy, the climate change levy, and other charges. One or two of those are collected centrally. The community infrastructure levy is allegedly not going to be collected centrally; it is going to be collected by local authorities. The crucial difference is that the money raised from the levy is not going into the Consolidated Fund. Therefore, it is not taxation; it is a levy agreed between a developer and a local authority. It is appropriate that the Lords, who are—dare I admit it?—much more expert than we are in many areas, should consider the regulations.
CIL is still not clear; there is much work still to be done between the Government, industry and the professions involved in development. It is crucial that the regulations be examined in great detail when they come before the Houses of Parliament. It is absolutely correct that the House of Lords should be invited—indeed, should expect—to scrutinise the regulations, which will benefit from its scrutiny. If the Government are not prepared to concede that their lordships have a real role in ensuring that CIL is as workable as possible, I will have to return to my original suspicion—that the Government regard CIL as another form of taxation, that the planning gain supplement has not gone away, that what the Government have said so far is merely warm words, and that the development industry is facing another tax in these difficult times when they are not able to do much, if anything, in the way of development.
If and when better times return, the industry will face another tax, and the implication of another tax is that it will take even longer to build the houses and development needed to get this country going, so that it can meet the challenges of the 21st century in very different circumstances. I therefore support the Lords in their amendment, and will be voting against the Government.
We Liberal Democrats welcome Lords amendment No. 160, which improves the Bill by seeking to reassert the role of the other place. It is a matter of great regret that the Government are attempting to freeze the second Chamber out of considering important regulations. The Minister argued that we are talking about a matter of financial privilege for this House. That sets a dangerous precedent for other regulations, and is not consistent with the consideration that the Lords give to other issues, such as council tax and business rates, which are both collected locally, and the business improvement district levy. Why should the CIL regulations be any different from regulations on those issues?
The Government have rightly removed the Secretary of State from the list of CIL charging authorities, so it is clear that we are talking about a matter for local determination, and not national taxation. The House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee accurately reported that the receipts from CIL are not to be paid into the Consolidated Fund, but will be spent by the receiving body. Crucially, it also reported that key clauses that the legislation will leave to regulations are not obviously financial. The regulations relate to liability for the charge, charity law, rights of appeal and compensation, all of which are issues of legislative principle, not financial privilege.
Baroness Hamwee, my colleague in another place, argued that the provisions are so ill thought out that clause 207 should be excised altogether and brought back in another Bill, when Ministers know what they want to do. Instead, the Government have tried to put the charge on the legislative express train, whose final stop will be a 90-minute debate in a tiny Committee of this House.
Unfortunately, this is not the first assault on the role of the other place; Ministers have had a go at doing the same thing before, with proposals to thwart the role of the House of Lords in deciding on secondary legislation. The Joint Committee on Conventions looked into the issues in detail in 2006, and comprehensively rejected the case for impeding the ability of peers to say no to regulations on occasion. Indeed, it found, quite specifically:
“There are situations in which it is consistent both with the Lords' role in Parliament as a revising chamber, and with Parliament's role in relation to delegated legislation, for the Lords to threaten to defeat an SI. For example…when the parent Act was a ‘skeleton Bill’, and the provisions of the SI are of the sort more normally found in primary legislation”.
Part 11 of the Bill is so skeletal as to be positively emaciated. That is why we tabled amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 160—to restore the basic right of a second Chamber in a bicameral Parliament to reject, in the last resort, a legislative proposal of which it does not approve. Ministers sometimes seem to forget that statutory instruments are legislation and should be treated as such. It is only right to treat them in that way, in terms of process, because we get better regulations as a result. The amendment is a welcome step forward.
No, not a veto. I just think it is appropriate that the treatment of regulations made under the Bill should be consistent with the treatment of other regulations. The House of Lords has a right to consider issues such as council tax, business improvement districts and the levies that I mentioned, but are not given financial privilege; I see no reason why the regulations that we are discussing should not be viewed in those terms.
Almost all the substantial improvements made to the Bill are the result of pressure in the other place. It seems inappropriate to exclude the Lords from the process of putting flesh on the bones of this legislation. Peers have succeeded in getting some detail in the Bill, which is an improvement on what we had in this place. The process has proved that they are well placed to make rational, reasonable improvements as a result of genuinely cross-party consensus. On climate change, commons and open spaces, national policy statements, cross-examination during planning hearings, and people’s right to avoid nuisance, the House of Lords has made a real difference to the Bill. It is better for their work on it, and the Minister should recognise that by withdrawing his opposition to a sensible amendment. He should allow another place to do its work, as we do ours. Those of us who believe in a bicameral Parliament should support the amendment.
Lords amendment No. 160 was introduced on Third Reading in another place. It would put in place a new procedure for the Lords’ role in secondary legislation. As such, it would create a precedent in the constitutional relations between this House and the other place. It is not appropriate to make such changes and precedents, which could affect other forms of secondary legislation, at the tail end of a Planning Bill.
I return to the principal point: the provision is on a financial issue that should rightly be a matter for this elected House of Commons. Since the Bill’s publication, the provision has been that there would be an affirmative procedure for the CIL regulations. That provision was not subject to any proposed amendment in any of its stages in this House. It is not appropriate to make the change now, and therefore if Opposition Members press Lords amendment No. 160 to a Division, I encourage my hon. Friends to reject it.
Question put, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment:—
Lords amendment disagreed to.
National policy statements
Lords amendment: No. 1.
With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 7, Lords amendment No. 8 and amendment (a) thereto, Lords amendments Nos. 9 to 64, Lords amendment No. 65 and amendments (a) to (c) thereto, Lords amendments Nos. 66 to 100, 164 to 170, 173 to 182, 184, 185, 187, 189, 191 to 212 and 214 to 217.
This large group of amendments relates to parts 1 to 8 and part 12, which are concerned with the creation of a new single consent regime for nationally significant infrastructure projects. At each stage of the Bill in both Houses, that issue has been subject to detailed parliamentary debate and scrutiny. However, even in the months since we first published the Bill, we have seen economic circumstances change dramatically. We have seen the effect of instability in the world energy markets, and it has never been so evident. That has concentrated minds still further on our national need for new investment in energy generation, and in particular on our need to replace one third of our electricity generation within the next 20 years or so.
In the nine months since we first debated the Bill, the world has become even more conscious of the threat of climate change. We have now pledged to move towards a carbon reduction of not 60 per cent. but 80 per cent. in this country by 2050. Doing that will require a tenfold increase in renewable generation over the next 12 years. Finally, the issues of pressure and competitiveness in the world economy, and competition for much needed investment in this country, are now even clearer.
Let us take, for example, Shell Haven port. That new development represents a £1.5 billion investment and will create in Britain the largest new logistics centre in Europe. The promoters estimate that it will generate 12,000 jobs, raise skills and bring huge regeneration benefits to the Thames Gateway. It will also reduce by 40 million km a year the distance travelled by heavy goods vehicles on UK roads. The UK needs such investment, but we must also create the right sort of environment for it, including a better planning system. That means implementing the reforms set out in the Bill.
There have been excellent debates throughout the Commons stages—not least in Committee—on the role of the infrastructure planning commission, its powers and accountability, the role of the national policy statements in providing a clear policy framework for IPC decisions, the type and size of projects that should be captured in the new regime and the accessibility of the new regime to the public. Those debates continued in the other place and the Bill has been much strengthened by amendments, many of them set out in this group.
Many of the amendments to these parts of the Bill are minor and technical. I shall concentrate on the most important amendments, which significantly strengthen the Bill.
Will my right hon. Friend put on the record the concerns that have been raised about clause 157? I speak as an honorary vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. Will he confirm that he will consult that body, and that what is being proposed will not undermine the whole issue in respect of statutory nuisance and the preventive measures that can be taken?
My hon. Friend has a long-standing interest in these questions and good working links with environmental health officers. I think that I can give her those reassurances, although she would probably find it more useful if I set them out in detail, to respond to her concern in the light of amendments that have been made. I undertake to do so.
I turn to the most significant issues, particularly in respect of the strengthening of the Bill in the other place. I shall start with parliamentary scrutiny. Through parliamentary scrutiny and especially through national policy statements, Ministers will continue to take the big decisions. Those will be visible and at the front of the process rather than at the back end, as is the case under the current system. Once the national policy statement is in place, it will set the principal framework for any IPC decisions on particular applications.
If the national policy statements are to function effectively, they must be authoritative and strong. That is why we are committed to ensuring that they are thoroughly tested through public consultation and through a new system of parliamentary scrutiny that we have developed in discussion with the Chairs of the relevant Select Committees. Lords amendment No. 7 will strengthen the role of the other place in the scrutiny of national policy statements. The amendment extends the requirement that the Secretary of State is required to lay before Parliament a statement setting out her response to a Committee of this House or of either House.
I turn now to climate change, a subject of strong debate throughout this House’s scrutiny of the Bill. A number of my hon. Friends have strongly championed a strengthening of the provisions—not least my hon. Friends the Members for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) and for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who are the principal advocates of an amendment to Lords amendment No. 8. If I explain to my hon. Friends how we have strengthened the Bill through amendments in the Lords, perhaps that will give the proper context and explain some of the problems that I envisage with their amendment (a).
Lords amendment No. 8 looks to alter the current duty in relation to sustainable development which requires the Secretary of State to draw up or review national policy statements with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development. Let me explain what is meant by that. The concept of sustainable development sits at the heart of planning. It catches the range of our economic, social and environment objectives and ensures that we focus on developing our country in a way that is sustainable in the long term and protects the needs of future generations as well as the current one.
Achieving such sustainable development will require Ministers to address climate change. We must also address issues such as landscape, biodiversity and natural resources and integrate them in a sensible and balanced way that allows at the same time consideration of certain social and economic concerns. In that way, the policy will bring those elements together. We have debated the concept of sustainable development a number of times during the passage of the Bill and we believe that it should be the guiding principle for Ministers as they prepare the national policy statements. That is why clause 10 attaches such importance to it.
We recognise, however, that as we have debated the various stages of the Bill, Members of this House and the other place have expressed a strong desire to put something more explicit in the Bill to reflect the importance of climate change. That argument has been strongly led by my hon. Friends the Members for Pudsey and for Stroud, as well as by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), who is not in his place at the moment. We therefore made amendments to the Bill in the other place. However, we have been conscious of the need not to unbalance the principle of sustainable development by elevating the consideration of climate change and design to such a degree that other considerations would be relatively marginalised—such as jobs and investment, health, a just society and other environmental factors such as the protection of biodiversity or the natural environment.
The formulation that we have set out in Lords amendment No. 8 requires the Secretary of State to have regard in particular to the desirability of adapting to and mitigating climate change. Making it a statutory requirement to have regard to something that is desirable is a recognised concept in planning, and it is an approach that has been the subject of several cases. It clarifies—I hope that this will give my hon. Friends some reassurance—the fact that requiring decision makers to have particular regard to the desirability of an objective works as a way of putting something first and foremost in the decision maker’s mind, while not preventing them from considering other important matters. Where a desirable objective is met by a particular proposal, that must be a major point in its favour, but it does not necessarily rule out having regard to other factors.
We now have in the Bill a clear three-stage process. First, Ministers must, as part of drawing up the national policy statements with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development, have particular regard to the desirability of mitigating and adapting to climate change. That is a strengthening of the Bill since this House last debated it. Secondly, Ministers will thoroughly assess what the impact of the policy is on carbon emissions and other factors affecting climate change and, where necessary, adjust the policy in light of this. Thirdly, Ministers must report on what they have done and why, in the context of wider climate change policy, including the Climate Change Bill.
My concerns about my hon. Friends’ proposition are twofold. First, particularly as we strengthen the Bill in the ways that I have described, their amendment could in practice elevate climate change and design considerations over all other considerations of sustainable development, and in doing so might pre-empt a decision about what in any particular case amounts to sustainable development. Secondly, the introduction of the phrase “due regard to the need to” raises a problem, because it is untested and it is not exactly clear what it means or what effect it would have in practice. That differs from the approach that we have taken in Lords amendment No. 8.
Let me turn to the issue of design. In the other place, there was a strong mood and move towards making amendments to ensure that the new regime gave sufficient weight to the need for infrastructure to be well designed. Lords amendment No. 1 therefore requires that every national policy statement will set out criteria for design that must be taken into account in the development to which the policy statement relates. That means that in every national policy statement Ministers should set out clear expectations that infrastructure projects would be well designed and provide a framework against which proposals could be assessed.
The third area of major concern, as at each stage of the Bill’s passage, was the reviewing of national policy statements. Lords amendment No. 3 provides clear criteria to determine when a national policy statement should be reviewed, requiring that the Secretary of State must consider whether there has been a significant change in any circumstances on which the policy is based since the last time it was reviewed. The Secretary of State must also consider whether the circumstances were already anticipated in the previous review and whether, if the change had been anticipated, any of the policy in the statement would be materially different. Lords amendments Nos. 3, 4, 9,10 and 11 provide that when the Secretary of State wishes to conduct a review of a national policy statement it could be a complete or a partial review. They add a measure of flexibility so that where appropriate the Secretary of State will need only to consider whether circumstances have changed significantly in respect of the part that is to be reviewed rather than for the policy statement as a whole.
Let me turn to statements of policy that pre-date the commencement of these provisions. This aspect is of particular concern to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). Lords amendments Nos. 12, 15, 16 and 17 amend clause 12 to provide that where the Secretary of State wishes to use existing statements of policy or work that was done for the purposes of existing statements of policy, the standards of the Bill will still apply.
I apologise for the fact that in four minutes’ time I am meant to be chairing a committee, so I will have to leave shortly. I just wanted to get explicitly on the record what the meaning of the clause, as amended, now is. I assume that it means that existing policy statements for example, the aviation White Paper would not stand up as a national policy statement for use by the new planning commission because it has not gone through the procedures set out in the Bill for a national policy statement, which means exhaustive consultation as well as parliamentary approval, and that on that basis an area such as aviation would require a new national policy statement before a major application was considered by the new planning commission.
Let me try to help my hon. Friend, as I did on Report and Third Reading. To be absolutely clear, the amendments mean that all national policy statements, including those designated under clause 12, must meet the standards for appraisal of sustainability, for public consultation and for the parliamentary scrutiny set out in the Bill. In other words, the Secretary of State will not simply be able to dust off an existing policy and designate it as a national policy statement for the purposes of the Bill without meeting the requirements that the Bill sets out.
I am not sure whether that is a threat or a promise from my hon. Friend, but if he does return we look forward to seeing him.
On guidance, the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) has raised several concerns about amendments Nos. 53, 54 and 56. I look forward to hearing what she says about that, but I do not understand the reason for the Opposition’s concern. Essentially, taken together the Lords amendments are part of strengthening the system in a way that allows the IPC and the Secretary of State not only, to issue guidance at specific points in the system as they did before, but to issue guidance covering any aspect of the pre-application requirements. They also strengthen the requirements for any promoter to have regard to that guidance.
Finally, I come to amendment No. 65, which some of my hon. Friends are concerned about. I understand the intentions behind the amendments that they have tabled, which is to ensure that interested parties have access to advice and assistance where appropriate, but I am not sure that the amendment they propose is necessary or the best way to achieve that aim. The provision of legal advice and assistance under Lords amendment No. 65 is for the examining authority, which would include carrying out on behalf of the examining authority—in other words, the IPC—oral questioning of any person making representations at a hearing. That latter potential function raises serious questions about whether that source of legal advice is appropriate as a source of legal advice and assistance to an interested party at a hearing.
Secondly, clause 49 already ensures that the commission can provide advice to interested parties about the application process or on how to make representations. If the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey is that interested parties and local groups might be priced out of being able to secure representation for themselves, he will be aware of our announcements to increase substantially this year, and in following years, provision for the Planning Aid system. That is designed exactly to provide advice to community groups and to ensure that individuals who might not otherwise get it can be represented.
I recognise and welcome the additional moneys that will be made available through Planning Aid, but just so that I can be clear, will the Minister tell me whether Planning Aid can represent third parties at an examination—the process by which the public can express their opinions? May I have it on the record that Planning Aid can do that and that it does not stop before we get to a formal examination?
The purpose of Planning Aid, as my hon. Friend knows, is to provide assistance to community groups so that they can develop their understanding of the planning system, allowing them to communicate and express their views or concerns better. It is also there to help individuals who, without assistance, would be excluded from the planning process. It is not necessarily there to fund legal advice and representation.
Several other significant areas have been previously covered in debate. First, we have something that was urged upon us, and was described as a safety valve for IPC decisions. This area, and a couple of others, relates to the final stage of the new process, which is the consideration of applications. One of the main concerns was that the Bill did not provide for a safety valve if the system was not working. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a commitment on Report, in response to concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts), that we would carry out a review of how the IPC was working two years after its establishment. We agreed to table amendments to the Bill in the other place allowing the grounds on which Ministers can intervene in applications made to the IPC, and take decisions, to be extended if the review reveals problems. Lords amendments Nos. 76, 77 and 174 meet that commitment.
The second concern about the final stage of the new process relates to opportunities for the public to participate. While the Bill enhances the right for the public to have a greater say at all three stages in the process rather than one, some have questioned the way in which it provides for the IPC to probe, test and assess evidence through direct questions rather than cross-examination. Our amendments strengthened the process and reassured people, making it clear to them that cross-examination was not ruled out in the new regime and that it would be allowed where the commission considered it necessary.
I hope that it has been useful to touch on the main points where there has been substantive strengthening of the Bill during its passage in the other place.
May I ask my right hon. Friend to reflect on one area that he has not mentioned? The Government have clearly given further scope to what should be a nationally significant infrastructure project. We discussed the matter in Committee, and we were concerned that the Department for Transport was extending the number of projects that would end up with the commission because any trunk road, or an alteration to one, would be caught. At the time, I thought that the Government would reflect on the matter and get back to us. The Local Government Association is concerned that fairly small alterations would be caught in the net even if they did not have any national significance.
My hon. Friend’s point is not about the provisions and what constitutes a nationally significant infrastructure project, which would be dealt with under the new regime, but about a Government commitment. This relates to examination by the Department for Transport of planning applications that it deals with which would not necessarily fall within the remit of the IPC, but which could nevertheless be properly and rightly devolved to local authorities as local planning authorities. That work continues, and my colleagues in the Department for Transport will be able to update my hon. Friend and the House when they have concluded their consideration of those questions.
I commend Lords amendment No. 1 to the House, and I ask that we deal with the other amendments in the way that I have indicated.
This enormous group of amendments covers a wide number of subjects, most of which we have discussed exhaustively in this House. Their lordships have also discussed them exhaustively, and the cumulative effect is that the Government have listened. However, some fundamental issues have not been addressed, and they are the basis of our objections to much of the Bill.
I begin, however, by congratulating the Government on taking into account concerns about climate change and design. That represents a great step forward from the original Bill, which talked about sustainable development. However, on close reading of the Lords amendment, one is slightly suspicious that it could turn into a box-ticking amendment. We are attracted to amendment (a) tabled by the hon. Members for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) and for Stroud (Mr. Drew) because it would toughen up the terms of Lords amendment No. 8 and ensure, one hopes, that it is not a box-ticking exercise. We have had enough of such box ticking in the past 10 years, and we now hope to get some action.
I know that a lot of people want to speak, but may I welcome briefly the Minister’s reassurances to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on the old policies? Aviation was the classic example that we all cited while trying to get the Minister to understand that the European directives on strategic environmental assessment had to be incorporated in legislation, and that the existing references to aviation in the Bill were not up to that standard.
Lords amendment No. 7 is at the core of our objection to the system that the Government are setting up. At the risk of repeating myself for the nth time, we believe that national policy statements that do not have Parliament’s approval through a substantive vote will not speed up the delivery of infrastructure projects, which we all agree are needed. Recent warnings were issued about possible shortfalls in the electricity supply this winter, let alone in 2015. I believe that the first new power stations could be on stream in 2020, so we have a genuine problem just with energy, let alone with the other infrastructure that needs updating. There is therefore no argument about the need for the national policy statements; the argument is about securing a democratic lock on those policy statements, through a substantive vote in Parliament.
I may be interpreting the Lords amendment incorrectly and I am happy to be told that I am wrong. However, under clause 9(4)(a),
“either House of Parliament makes a resolution with regard to the proposal”.
That implies a vote. Subsection 4(b) provides that
“a committee of the House of Commons makes recommendations with regard to the proposal.”
We believe that either House of Parliament should make those recommendations, and we therefore agree with Lords amendment No. 7. Without a substantive vote in Parliament, the national policy statements will be vulnerable to challenges in the courts, which means that as soon as they go to court, delay is built into the process. That would have the same impact on planning applications as what happened to the lengthy applications for terminal 5, Sizewell and all the examples that we have cited so often.
We recognise and accept that Ministers make decisions on the matter; we are discussing a ministerial recommendation to Parliament. If a Government have a majority, a substantive vote in Parliament should be deliverable. There will be inevitable controversy about national policy statements, but a vote should be deliverable. The statement would therefore go through the same process as any Bill that becomes an Act. Once the statement receives a substantive vote in Parliament, the Government’s basic argument for the Infrastructure Planning Commission falls because the national policy statement becomes a parliamentary statement, with Parliament’s approval, and the Secretary of State or a Minister can easily make a decision about the detailed planning application at the final stage, thereby providing another democratic lock on the planning system, which the IPC does not deliver.
I want to put it on record again that, should the IPC be set up, we would look to end its existence as fast as possible because we believe that the British people expect democratically accountable Ministers, who are elected by them, not an unaccountable quango, to be responsible for such decisions. If today’s announcement is to mean anything, many of those quangos should be abolished.
Many of us are intrinsically sympathetic to the view that there should be a vote in Parliament on matters such as national policy statements. However, as we discussed at length in Committee, the problem is that the other place would also have a vote and, given that the Parliament Act does not cover such votes, we would hand a veto to the other place over all national policy statements. That does not amount to much democratic accountability.
Indeed—I trust their lordships’ House. The hon. Gentleman is long enough in the tooth as a Member of Parliament to know that Conservative Governments have as much difficulty as Labour Governments with their lordships’ House. It is therefore a big thing for me to say that I would trust their lordships to ensure that national policy statements were treated exactly the same as Bills. Indeed, today we are debating a measure that has been heavily amended in the House of Lords. There is nothing to say that the House of Lords should not be able to recommend amendments to a national policy statement. It would then be up to the Government, with a majority, to assert their will.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way again. Is she saying that a future Conservative Government would commit themselves to putting national policy statements before both Houses, that they would be amendable, with full time for debating them, and that the Parliament Act should apply so that the will of this House would prevail in the end?
I am saying that I am sure that their lordships’ House would be sufficiently responsible to understand the Government’s will, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that.
The amendments clearly show our objections in principle to the measure. I do not want to take up too much more time because we are running short of it and several other hon. Members wish to comment.
We are pleased that the Government have acceded to our request about reviewing statements. The Minister asked me why I was unhappy about amendments Nos. 53 to 56. The original Bill mentioned “community involvement”, but the amendments delete that reference. If one factor is key to where our planning system currently goes wrong, it is that the community does not feel involved. The phrase “community involvement” is essentially replaced by, “There will be guidance.” The guidance may well include community involvement, but it is not as explicit as it was in the original measure. If the Minister cares to reassure me, even briefly, I will be happy.
We have argued about the right to be heard throughout the Bill’s passage. We believe that it is still not strong enough. We welcome the legal advice to the commission to which the Government have agreed, but we would like it to be strengthened so that the right to be heard is guaranteed. I was interested in the answer that the hon. Member for Stroud received about Planning Aid because that was my interpretation—and, indeed, Planning Aid’s interpretation—of what it can do. A difficulty remains with people’s ability to get legal representation.
I was interested in the Minister’s comments on amendment No. 76, which deals with the Secretary of State’s ability to call applications in. The Minister said that it covered only the review of the IPC. Again, I am prepared to be corrected—I am not a lawyer—but the amendment states:
“The Secretary of State may by order specify other circumstances in which section 108 is to apply in relation to an application for an order granting development consent.”
That suggests that the Secretary of State can call anything in. If that is the case, why establish an IPC? The power is too wide. I cannot believe that the drafting is so loose that my interpretation is correct, but I would be grateful for the Minister’s clarification so that we all know where we stand.
With apologies for taking so long, I commend our amendments to the Lords amendments.
I rise to speak to amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 8, which stands in my name and that of various hon. Members across the House. One of the reasons why my Back-Bench colleagues and I tabled the amendment was to give my right hon. Friend the Minister the opportunity to join the pantheon of our Front-Bench heroes, to which many of his colleagues have recently been elevated. [Laughter.] No, no, laugh you not—the roll-call is impressive. It includes our right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), who made significant and welcome changes to the Local Transport Bill; and our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and the Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, our hon. Friend the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), who accepted amendments to the Climate Change Bill and the Energy Bill. Indeed, I think that our hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) is still recovering from the shock.
My right hon. Friend the Minister has a reputation for being somewhat austere, which his earlier comments reinforced. He seems to believe that it is his solemn duty to prevent Back Benchers from becoming over-intoxicated by too much of a good thing and that he therefore cannot accede to our amendment (a). However, all the changes to the Bills that I have listed demonstrate a willingness to listen, reflect and then act. All those changes reflect a degree of joined-up thinking in the crusade, as it were, to tackle climate change. The signatories to my amendment (a) believe that it is necessary for the Bill to do exactly the same thing.
It is particularly vital in the context of the 80 per cent. emissions target that we achieve a radical change in new infrastructure, in order to move to a low-carbon economy. In that context, we welcome certain provisions in the Bill, such as the climate change duty associated with local and regional plans. However, the Government have placed no duty on the IPC to consider climate change, because they argue that national policy statements will deal with climate issues. However, that argument is compromised by the fact that the IPC can depart from NPSs in defined circumstances.
Even if we take the argument about national policy statements at face value, however, we still need to place a strong duty on the Secretary of State to consider climate change when drawing up NPSs. However, Lords amendment No. 8 to clause 10, which relates to sustainable development, is so weak as to make little difference to the actions of the Secretary of State when it comes to the crunch. As my right hon. Friend the Minister has said, Lords amendment No. 8 says that
“the Secretary of State must (in particular) have regard to the desirability of…mitigating, and adapting to, climate change”.
Despite my right hon. Friend’s protestations, that feels very weak indeed. “Desirability” smacks of the language of aspiration—merely an objective to have in mind, but not necessarily to be achieved. The obligation on the Secretary of State is couched in language that would make it difficult for a court or anyone else to put a strong construction on the provisions.
Even if that were not the case, there is an inherent problem with almost any conceivable clause relating to sustainable development, precisely because the language of sustainable development is imprecise. The phrase is not defined in the Bill—as far as I am aware, it is not defined in any legislation—and even non-statutory definitions are couched in open and vague terms. Amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 8 seeks to replace the word “desirability” with a stronger construction, which places a duty on the Secretary of State to have
“due regard to the need to…mitigate and adapt to climate change”.
I should add at this juncture that we took the liberty of lifting those words from other Government legislation, so one would hope that that legislation was subject to the sort of scrutiny that—
That is like the Schleswig-Holstein question. I have forgotten the answer, but I assure the hon. Lady that the wording was indeed lifted and that I will give her that information in due course.
The formulation that we propose strengthens the weak notion of “desirability”, replacing it with need or necessity. That would elevate climate change to an unavoidable consideration, even though it would be sufficiently flexible to leave room for argument. Lord Hunt suggested in the other place that the Climate Change Bill, and particularly the 80 per cent. emissions target, would deal with all those issues. He also asserted, if my reading of his words is right, that the Government could not be constrained by a duty to mitigate climate change, because that implied that all national policy statements would achieve that goal, when it was clear that they would not.
However, signing up to an 80 per cent. emissions reduction target has no direct impact on national policy statements, unless we create a direct link between the Climate Change Bill and the Planning Bill. For the reasons that I have just given, I submit that that link is weak to say the least. The Climate Change Bill makes no reference to the Planning Bill; indeed, it appears that we are being asked to take that relationship almost on trust. The reality is that achieving an 80 per cent. emissions reduction target will require radical new signals to industry. Much of that will have a positive economic impact, particularly in the field of renewable energy and other technologies, through research, design and manufacturing.
However, Lord Hunt seems to have suggested that a strong climate change duty might compromise energy policy, and that climate change has to be balanced by other priorities. That simply misunderstands both the opportunity for a low-carbon economy and the scale of the threat of climate change. In any event—I would be the first to admit this—our proposed amendment is not a straitjacket; it is a proposed subsection to an already quite weak clause setting out a sustainable development duty. In that context, our slightly more directive proposed subsection leaves, for better or worse, a considerable margin for discretion on the part of the Secretary of State. However, we believe that we have nudged that obligation in the right direction.
We cannot allow the Planning Bill to act as a massive bypass around the Climate Change Bill or climate change obligations. For that reason, I wish to push amendment (a) to the vote at the appropriate time.
To follow what the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) has said, Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 8 concede an important principle, concession on which we struggled to get in this place and had to go to the other end of the Palace for the Government finally to concede.
However, there is still value in pressing for that extra step forward. I, too, was disappointed by just how qualified is the phrase
“have regard to the desirability of”.
As the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) said, that smacks of a box-ticking exercise just to prove that regard has been given, rather than an effort to make a material impact on any decisions made. I urge the Minister to think again if he wants to send a clear signal, because amendment (a) would make it clear that the duty was categorical and not qualified.
There is also an important point about the need for good-quality design as well as environmental sustainability. Amendment No. 1 builds on that important principle in the Bill. On the environmental theme, it is good that under amendment No. 102 regional development agencies would have such an obligation.
The review of national policy statements is another significant area covered by this group of amendments. We welcome amendments Nos. 3, 9, 10 and 11, which set out more clearly the circumstances in which the statements can be reviewed. The Liberal Democrats hope for a rigorous scrutiny process for the statements, involving both Houses of Parliament. Although the amendments do not build in the level of scrutiny that we think desirable, it will none the less be important that work that has been done is not undermined by an errant Secretary of State reviewing and changing the statements at will. It must be welcome that there will have to be a significant change in circumstances, which was not anticipated at the time of the initial statement, for those changes to take place.
The amendment, along with amendments No. 4 and Nos. 70 to 72, allows for part of a statement to be reviewed, so it would prevent the baby from being thrown out with the bathwater. If a review is needed, only parts of the statement for which the circumstances have manifestly changed should be reviewed. We also welcome amendments Nos. 20 to 24, which make similar changes to the provisions relating to any legal challenges that may be brought against the NPS. In a similar vein, amendment No. 7 would give the House of Lords the right to report on statements in its Select Committees, and to expect a response. That is important, right and proper, but I would have preferred a greater role for both Houses, with voting on the statements themselves.
Amendments Nos. 12 to 19 on retrospection are welcome. They respond to concerns that were raised in another place, not least by our former colleague from North Cornwall, Lord Tyler, that clause 12 could introduce elements of retrospective legislation by allowing previous Government statements of policy to become designated national policy statements without proper scrutiny. The air transport White Paper was of particular concern in that regard. We are particularly pleased that clause 12(4) is to be excised from the Bill to ensure that the “Parliamentary requirements” in clause 9 will have to be met afresh when an old policy statement is to be designated as an NPS.
We also welcome amendment No. 63, which removes the word “exceptionally” from the provision about people being given oral hearings. I was disappointed by the Minister’s reluctance to give local people their say, but it is good that there has been some movement. However, amendments (a) to (c) to amendment No. 65 would strengthen the measure further, and it is absolutely right that the same rights should be extended to people who are cross-examined as are given to those making representations to the commission.
I pay tribute to my colleague Baroness Hamwee, who worked hard with the Minister in the Lords to have amendments Nos. 68 and 69 added to the Bill. We consider that to be a quiet, but significant, Liberal Democrat achievement. It is vital for local planning authorities’ policies to be considered along with national policy statements when the commission takes decisions. Amendment No. 69 ensures that the panel or council that takes the decision on an application may have regard to conditions for deciding applications that are outwith the NPS. That is certainly welcome.
I also welcome the Minister’s clarification of amendments Nos. 76 to 78, because it was not clear to me from reading them that they were the Government’s way of saying that the IPC’s functions will be reviewed in two years’ time. I am glad that that safety valve is there, but that could be made more explicit, as that seems a roundabout way of doing things. Some important issues have been raised, but I shall conclude now, as I want to give the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) time to speak to his important amendment.
I shall speak to amendment No. 215, which deals with section 10 of the Water (Scotland) Act 1980, which hon. Members will know is my bedtime reading. The amendment deals with the responsibility of factoring companies such as Greenbelt.
In the past 15 to 20 years, there has been a big change in the provision of factoring services in planning applications to local communities. That used to be the responsibility of local councils, which adopted common land and land that was provided for local communities, such as land for swing parks. That service was paid for by council tax, or poll tax under the Conservative Administration. However, that changed about 20 years ago as a result of the explosion in private house building throughout the UK. After that, councils no longer adopted such areas because of the work load involved.
Since then, there has been a growth of companies such as Greenbelt. During the planning process, we have seen private companies taking over the responsibility from councils; we have seen lawyers selling the houses and not advising their constituents or clients that they would have to pick up an additional payment of up to £400 a year; and we have seen sales departments failing to mention the additional burden.
Until recently, it was possible to vote out these land maintenance companies, but sadly, companies such as Greenbelt have changed the rules. Now such companies buy the common land in agreement with the contractor and the house purchasers. In practice that means that, regardless of the service provided by such companies, people cannot sack them. Quite frankly, it is a disgraceful situation. People now find themselves responsible not only for cutting grass and the maintenance of swing parks in their areas, but even for their drainage systems. If the drainage systems go wrong, they have to pick up the tab. A company actually has the right to charge people for that.
Let me provide an example. There are 11 estates in my constituency and I recall that an abandoned car was found in one of them. The company charged more than 100 houses 2p a quarter: it had to phone the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and claimed that that cost £2, so it charged each household 2p. As I said, the company charges up to £400 a year and it behaves in a quite unacceptable and bullying manner. Anyone who refuses to pay because of the lack of service very quickly receives a threatening letter from the company, telling them that they will be blacklisted.
When I first mentioned the company in this place, it wrote to Mr. Speaker and told me that I had no right to raise issues about it in this House and that it had every right to do whatever it wanted because it owned the common land and could charge what it wanted. If it did not provide a service, people still basically had to pay. This is Farepak for home owners, yet this company is operating from the highlands to Birmingham, in Wales and in Northern Ireland. Its behaviour is, quite frankly, outrageous.
One of my constituents, Paula Hoogerbrugge, set up a website to highlight the deficiencies of, and threats and intimidation from, the company. It then contacted her employers—she is a senior public relations manager with British Telecom—to tell them that she was mixing with extreme left-wingers, when all she was doing was standing up for the residents.
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend’s flow, but he is talking about extreme left-wingers and I am wondering who they were. My hon. Friend makes a very good case. Does he agree that companies such as this have to be answerable to somebody—and somebody in this regard should be the elected representative, who can take on constituents’ cases? If that is not allowed, we need to look seriously into the law and find out how to bring these people to book.
I will come back to the amendment, Madam Deputy Speaker, when I talk about the other services provided. Amendment No. 215 is relevant. My hon. Friend is right. Companies such as Greenbelt buy up common land and gain ownership of it so that they can provide little or no service. As he says, it is very difficult to get rid of them, so we should be looking into changing the law in order to rectify the problem.
One crucial area of responsibility—amendment No. 215 is relevant, Madam Deputy Speaker—is compensation for damage under section 10 of the Water (Scotland) Act 1980. In the past, it was the responsibility of councils to deal simply and purely with water drainage systems. That is no longer the case. People are now paying £400 a year to this company for the service. It was initially responsible for the management of common land and the swing parks, but it is now taking on the responsibility for water drainage systems. That affects my constituents and many others. Eleven estates in my constituency deal directly with this company.
In the past, under the Land Drainage Act 1991, the council would provide the necessary service. In the event of a flood, for instance, it would provide services to repair the damage caused by inadequate drainage. That duty has now fallen to Greenbelt and similar companies, and the charges are being passed on to my constituents.
My hon. Friend is speaking eloquently to Lords amendment No. 215. The amendment relates to schedule 12, which itself relates to Scotland. My hon. Friend has referred to the activities of such rip-off companies in other parts of the country, including my own in the west midlands. Do we need legislation in England, for example, similar to that which he is propounding for Scotland?
That is an interesting point. The problem is that some of the responsibility is devolved and some is reserved. I would argue that monopolies legislation is relevant. Why should my constituents, and literally hundreds throughout the United Kingdom, have absolutely no choice? Devolved issues include local government responsibilities, through planning legislation and the Water (Scotland) Act.
I want to raise another important point with my right hon. Friend the Minister. I consider it important that we have set up an all-party group on land maintenance—
I shall conclude my speech, Madam Deputy Speaker. I believe that the Lords amendment has major implications for land maintenance companies, and for the planning procedure as a whole. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will agree to meet us to discuss the issue.
This has been a useful debate, in which we have covered a good deal of ground.
I echo the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy) to Lady Hamwee. Let me add that Lord Dixon-Smith and Lady Andrews—representing the Government—together did a very good job in strengthening the Bill, and that, throughout the process, Lady Andrews and I have been supported very well by excellent officials, to whom I also pay tribute.
The other place—and this, Madam Deputy Speaker, relates to the content of the amendments that I wish the House to accept—has strengthened the Bill in a number of significant areas: the production of national policy statements, parliamentary scrutiny and debate on national policy statements, public consultation—
It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings, Madam deputy Speaker put the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [this day].
Lords amendment agreed to.
Madam deputy Speaker then proceeded to put the remaining Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that hour.
Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to [some with Special Entry].
The hon. Gentleman certainly did, but at that point we were dealing with Lords amendment No. 1. Had time allowed it, I would have called the hon. Gentleman to move his amendment formally. Unfortunately, we ran out of time.
Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments Nos. 115 and 160: Julia Goldsworthy, John Healey, Mrs. Jacqui Lait, Mr. Andrew Love and Mr. Dave Watts to be members of the Committee; John Healey to be the Chairman of the Committee; Three to be the quorum of the Committee.—[Mr. Watts.]
To withdraw immediately.
Reasons for disagreeing to certain Lords amendments reported, and agreed to; to be communicated to the Lords.