The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: † Sir Mark Hendrick, Mr Philip Hollobone, Mrs Sheryll Murray, Ian Paisley
† Atherton, Sarah (Wrexham) (Con)
Benton, Scott (Blackpool South) (Con)
† Farron, Tim (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
† Fletcher, Colleen (Coventry North East) (Lab)
Gibson, Patricia (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
† Henry, Darren (Broxtowe) (Con)
† Johnson, Gareth (Dartford) (Con)
† Jones, Mr Marcus (Minister of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)
Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma (South Shields) (Lab)
† Maskell, Rachael (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
† Moore, Robbie (Keighley) (Con)
Mortimer, Jill (Hartlepool) (Con)
† Nici, Lia (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)
† Norris, Alex (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
† Pennycook, Matthew (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)
† Smith, Greg (Buckingham) (Con)
† Vickers, Matt (Stockton South) (Con)
Bethan Harding, Adam Mellows-Facer, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 19 July 2022
[Sir Mark Hendrick in the Chair]
Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill
Before we begin, I have a few preliminary reminders for the Committee: please switch your electronic devices to silent; no food or drinks are allowed, other than the water provided; and Hansard colleagues would be grateful if Members emailed their speaking notes to email@example.com.
Regard to certain heritage assets in exercise of planning functions
I beg to move amendment 64, in clause 92, page 97, line 31, leave out “desirability” and insert “duty”.
This amendment would clarify that the planning authority has a duty to have special regard in planning permission decisions for preserving or enhancing heritage assets or their settings.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Sir Mark. We have now reached chapter 3 of part 3 of the Bill, which relates to heritage. Britain’s incredible heritage is one of our best assets, and is loved universally by our constituents. The debate is well-timed, as this year the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of the UNESCO world heritage convention, the most significant feature of which is the linking together in one place of the concepts of nature, conservation and the preservation of cultural properties. This is the international convention under which sites of outstanding universal value to all people are inscribed as world heritage sites. Parliament ratified the convention in 1984, so I think it is widely believed by the public that our 30 sites in Britain that are inscribed on the world heritage list have strong statutory protection, meaning they cannot be harmed and that there must be engagement to actively conserve them so that they can be better enjoyed and understood. However, this is not quite so.
It is a shame that the draft Heritage Protection Bill in 2010 never got further than it did; its progress was impeded and it was never replaced, leaving gaps and weaknesses in the preservation of world heritage sites. As a result, the historic environment has remained a subsidiary consideration in the planning rules and regulations that govern development work, which can so often impinge on our irreplaceable cultural heritage sites. The protection of archaeological sites with no current designation continues to hang in the balance, not to mention the buried historic environment, which has no designation and includes the vast majority of prehistoric to early medieval archaeology in this country.
While it is mainly professional archaeologists who are aware of and interested in the irretrievable loss of such buried heritage, the consequences of the lack of specific heritage protection for standing buildings and monuments is immediately visible to all. We have some relatable and understandable examples in this country: UNESCO has made clear that the Stonehenge, Avebury and associated sites, which were originally inscribed in 1986, could face delisting in the face of the plans for development around that site; and we have seen in Liverpool that when development is not sympathetic to a heritage site it can lead to delisting. Local authorities need the tools to make sure they develop their areas sympathetically.
Having engaged with the heritage profession, I know it welcomes the enhanced protection that clause 92 will introduce, although thinks that the categories could be wider, as we will discuss in subsequent amendments. However, there is concern among heritage professionals, such as those on the RESCUE Council at the British Archaeological Trust, that the use of the word “desirability” in clause 92 does not sufficiently reflect a duty on planning decision makers to have special regard to preserving or enhancing heritage sites and monuments, or their settings. The word “desirability” suggests that that duty would be a conditional or subjective judgment based on balances of other features of development. This could lead to a situation where developers argue that conservation is inconvenient or too challenging, and that their own interests ought to take precedence, as they do under current legal arrangements. That is what has happened in the case of the Liverpool site.
I am keen to test this with the Minister. I am largely aiming to probe with this amendment, but it is arguable that the current wording would not give protection to, for example, Stonehenge, whose delisting would be a real problem for all of us. I hope to hear from the Minister that the fear is misplaced and that the Government’s understanding is that the language in the Bill will have the same effect as I am seeking. Amendment 64 is simple: it swaps the word “desirability” to “duty” to strengthen the wording in the Bill and to take away some ambiguity. I hope that the Minister can establish that and is minded to agree on at least the substance, if not on the granular point.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Sir Mark.
The purpose of clause 92 is to introduce a similar legislative duty for other types of heritage asset to the one that already exists for listed buildings and conservation areas. Amendment 64 would replace “desirability” with “duty”. The specific wording used in the clause is not new; it is taken directly from the existing duties for listed buildings and conservation areas in sections 66(1) and 72(1) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.
Those duties have been in place for many years, and are well established and well understood. The courts have confirmed that those duties to have special regard provide important protections. They require decision makers to give considerable importance and weight to the desirability of preserving or enhancing heritage assets. The intention behind clause 92 is to put other types of heritage asset in a similar position. I hope that the hon. Member takes that into account. In my considered view, the amendment is not required and we do not need to change the duty that has worked well to date. I hope I have provided sufficient reassurance for him to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I am slightly uncomfortable that he relies on the 1990 Act, because that clearly was not sufficient in Liverpool, and there is a real and current risk around Stonehenge. On his point about case law and strong consideration, again that has not always been effective in cases where we might have wanted it to be. We then rely on the courts to test the edge cases; maybe that is inevitable, but we could eradicate some of that with slightly stronger language. At this point, I do not think it is beneficial to labour this any further, because the Minister made a clear statement about his intent, which was welcome. We may wish to return to this at a later stage, but if colleagues are content then I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move amendment 128, in clause 92, page 97, line 31, after “enhancing” insert “the significance of”.
This amendment adds to the description of the purpose of sensitive management of heritage assets.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Sir Mark. This amendment looks at not just an asset, but the significance of an asset. Preserving or enhancing an asset may not be possible, but preserving its importance and significance could be.
In York, there is much to determine the social history of our city. Of course, assets are often thought about in terms of bricks and architecture, rather than their social significance and the way that has fed into the wider architecture of a place. In York, there is a process that prevents anything from obliterating the view of the Minster, for instance, and thus its significance as a centre and a beacon across not only York, but North Yorkshire. It can be seen from miles away, so the building of flats as is happening currently, or the plans proposed on the site of the gasworks, would remove the significance of that asset. Preserving it is really important. Likewise, the centre for heritage arts that is currently being developed to go to planning is causing concern about the way it could detract from the view of the Minster. Although it is not directly impeding on the material asset, its development could have significance.
Another example many will know of is Bootham Crescent, the former home of York City Football Club. It was built in 1932 and has only just closed. The stands were something to behold. Maintaining the spirit of Bootham is important. It is where many people have laid ashes to rest. There are significant tunnels under the ground, which have important graffiti on them—fans would cross the stadium through them mid-match and fights would break out. Maintaining these assets is about the working-class population of York and the significance of football to them.
York Central—here we go again—was the home of the British Rail carriage works, and has real significance for the blue-collar workers of our city, who made a tremendous contribution to the railways. Yet this could well be wiped out by the York Central development, so none of its significance to the building of the railways over 100 years would remain. Therefore, it is not just about the asset itself and how important it is, but is about the social story that can be told by it. That is why I believe that my amendment is important for looking at how heritage assets are preserved.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for York Central on amendment 128. It is very thoughtful, as was the case that she made for it. In the next group we are going to talk a bit more about the importance of social history, so I will save a few points for later, but I do want to reflect on the point about significance and developing significance.
We know, as I said on opening in the previous group, that our constituents and people in this country generally feel strongly about their culture and their heritage assets. They want our generation and all subsequent generations to be custodians of those assets. We have a duty to bring them to the fore, develop them and to have them in the way that they can be best enjoyed because they are a core part of our identity, our culture and our history—both the easy and the less easy bits to talk about. They are such an integral part of our story that people feel strongly about them. There is a duty to enhance the significance of a particular asset, so that those jewels—diamonds in the rough, perhaps—are not laid there and just ignored for generations and generations, getting harder to bring to the fore. It would only be a good thing to put that in the Bill.
Clause 92 introduces a new statutory duty for
“the local planning authority or (as the case may be) the Secretary of State”
“have special regard to the desirability of preserving or enhancing”
scheduled monuments, protected wreck sites, registered parks and gardens, registered battlefields, world heritage sites, and their settings when considering whether to grant planning permission or permission in principle for the development of land in England which affects them. Clause 92 provides that
“preserving or enhancing a relevant asset or its setting includes preserving or enhancing any feature, quality or characteristic of the asset or setting that contributes to the significance of the asset.”
The significance of each asset is set out in the Bill, so the hon. Member for York Central should be reassured that the consideration of the significance of our heritage assets forms part of this new duty.
While I appreciate that the concept of significance is crucial to the protection of designated heritage assets within the national planning policy framework, the amendment is not necessary, as the issue of significance is already addressed in the legislation. For those reasons, we cannot accept the amendment, and I hope that on the basis of my explanation the hon. Member will withdraw it.
I beg to move amendment 136, in clause 92, page 98, line 34, at end insert—
“a site of significant social history relevant to the heritage of a place some asset or setting which has significant impact on the social history of a place”.
“a site of significant social history relevant to the heritage of a place
some asset or setting which has significant impact on the social history of a place”.
This amendment is designed to protect areas where significant social history of a place was established.
With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 138, in clause 92, page 98, line 34, at end insert—
“a National Park the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage, and the opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the area by the public, under section 5 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the area, under section 82 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000”.
“a National Park
the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage, and the opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the area by the public, under section 5 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949
an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the area, under section 82 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000”.
This amendment would protect as heritage assets National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Romans, Vikings and medieval Britain are often on people’s minds as they visit and walk the walls of our city, yet the social history of York has a far more powerful application to our city’s development. The amendment highlights the importance of that. I think of Bootham Park Hospital, built in 1772, and the history that it made in managing mental health in our country and really advancing mental health treatment; only in 1796 did the Retreat open and improve mental health provision. Those assets have been disposed of to the private sector, which just wants to turn them into commercial outlets. Of course, that does not take on board their significant contribution to mental health in our country, and how it changed the way mental health was dealt with across the world. We are losing the significance of those assets because there is simply not enough protection in law to preserve that amazing history.
I can give other examples—for instance, the Castle Gateway project in York. Clifford’s Tower is very significant to our nation’s history, particularly Jewish history in our country. It is also a site of justice. It is where Lascelles fought Wilberforce to come to this place to fight slavery. A significant debate took place there, yet the Castle Gateway project would turn it into parkland. There would be no reference whatsoever to the significance of that major piece of British history. It is therefore really important that we look at how we can build in such assets, and recognise the incredible fabric of social history.
Amendment 136 is therefore really important, as is amendment 138. I hope that the Government will understand the significance of it too, given the felling of ancient woodlands—bulldozing our cathedrals of nature. Our natural heritage must also be preserved.
It is a pleasure to serve under your guidance, Sir Mark. I support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for York Central, but will speak to my own, amendment 138.
Clause 92 is important. What is in it is not a problem. I propose to add to it national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, which are defined areas within the country, as heritage assets that would require consideration in planning.
We mentioned world heritage site status. The Bill defines a world heritage site as
“a property appearing on the World Heritage List”.
The Lake district is not a property; it is an area, which is a different classification. In any event, not all national parks, and certainly not all areas of outstanding natural beauty, are world heritage sites. It is five years to the month since the Lake district obtained world heritage site status, which we are very proud of.
It is worth saying that the document that UNESCO presented on the day that world heritage site status was given to the Lake district gave as much credit to the farmers as to the glaciers for how the landscape was formed and maintained. It is important to recognise that the things that count as our heritage that are part of our landscape need preserving. There are many threats that we need to guard against, one or two of which I will come on to in a moment, and that is why it would be helpful for the amendment to be included in the Bill.
It is worth bearing in mind that features such as dry stone walls, barns, and the general look, appeal and aesthetics of the landscape do not happen by accident. They happen because they are farmed, and because they are maintained by people who, alongside their farming, maintain the infrastructure and the structures of the landscape in the Yorkshire dales, the Lake district, the Arnside and Silverdale area of outstanding natural beauty in my own constituency, and many more areas besides.
Of course, our written heritage—our heritage of literature, poetry and art of all different kinds—is massively inspired by the natural landscape. The work of the likes of Wordsworth, Ruskin, Potter more recently, Alfred Wainwright and even Kurt Schwitters was very much inspired by the environment where they were.
However, if we look at the transformation in recent years of the Langdale valleys, Troutbeck valley, Kentmere valley in the Lake district, Dentdale and Garsdale in the Yorkshire dales, and many more besides, we see an evolution—and not in a good way. There has been a human de-stocking of those valleys, which it is not the focus of this Committee to look at; nevertheless, because of the change in the way the farm payments are being operated, there are incentives for people to become landowners, including big finance houses. There is a very clear incentive to buy up huge tracts of land—land that currently comprises dozens of tenanted farms—and apply through landscape recovery for funding from the Government, clearing the tenant farmers off the land. That is what we will see.
Now that in itself is an appalling thing and will have an impact on our heritage, but it will often lead to planning proposals that could end up being very relevant to the Bill. Take the example of a hedge fund that buys up two or three valleys in the hope of taking free cash from the Government by clearing off its tenants to allow the place to go wild. In doing that, it will potentially have to apply for planning permission to change houses into holiday accommodation of different kinds, and the hedge fund might seek to do a whole range of things with the buildings that it takes on once it has cleared the tenants out of them. This is all gruesome stuff, by the way, but it is absolutely possible given the Government’s trajectory at the moment.
If the amendment is included in the Bill, we will at least have given our planning authorities some power to push back against that terrible abuse of the Government’s current trajectory, which allows those who have the power to buy up huge tracts of land in our countryside and eject farmers from places that they have often farmed for generations. It is sometimes very hard to specify what aesthetics is—how do we measure aesthetics? Well, UNESCO has managed it: it has given world heritage site status to the Lake district, and—as has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Nottingham North—Liverpool proves that that status can be lost. It would be terrible if that were to be the case, so let us put into the Bill measures that will protect our environment, our landscape and all those huge cultural benefits that are at risk, both from features that are beyond the Government’s control and some that are well within their control.
It is a pleasure to speak to these two thoughtful and very good amendments. I do not think anywhere has a richer social history than Nottingham, so amendment 136 feels very close to home.
In 1642, at the beginning of the civil war, Charles I raised his standard in Nottingham, at what is now called Standard hill. That was not met with an awful lot of enthusiasm from the people of Nottingham, so when the civil war had finished the castle that he had sought to make his base was torn down. It was rebuilt a little later, and was then burned down 200 years after that during the riots relating to the second Reform Bill and the failure of Parliament to pass legislation that extended the franchise. Now we are about 200 years later than that, so I hope we are not due for that castle to once again meet an untimely demise, because we have put an awful lot of money into it through a heritage lottery fund bid.
That tells a big story about our city, as do the cheese riots, which took place because people were upset about the price of cheese—the Lord Mayor was bowled over by a big rolling cheese, according to legend. The luddite movement has its roots in Nottingham, and the first Chartist MP came from our city. Those rich and rebellious streaks are characteristic of our city’s community and social history, and they are an important part of the fabric of our memories about ourselves and those who came before us.
The point is true across the country, particularly in relation to the industrial revolution, which birthed the trade union movement and women’s movements. Those collective acts of thousands and thousands of ordinary people may not have big buildings, palaces or castles as obvious monuments and heritage, but they had sites that are just as important: the meeting rooms above taverns, houses, public spaces and parks where those events took place.
It is important that we understand that those places are as much a part of Britain and Britishness as the really huge and obvious monuments. The Bill should prioritise such places because they are more easily lost—it is much easier to lose the meeting room above a pub as part of a development than it is to lose a palace. We would not wish to lose either one more than the other, so including a sort of equivalence in the Bill would be a good thing.
Amendment 138 is a good idea. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale is in good company because, as he said, UNESCO has already designated the Lake district a world heritage site. Putting the Bill on the same footing would give it strength and send a clear signal to developers, planners and all those interested in heritage that we consider such places to be clear and obvious assets. They may not be as obvious as a single building in a single place, but they ought to be treated just as well. I commend the amendments and the Members who tabled them.
Clause 92 provides additional legislative protection in the planning system to the list of designated heritage assets that have previously been afforded protection through the national planning policy framework.
Sites of significant social history are important to our nation’s history. Many of them are already afforded protections in the planning process, either as designated or non-designated heritage assets. Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, for example, is a site of significant social history due to its role in the repealing of the corn laws, and it is a listed building.
The heritage assets set out in the table in the clause are all recognised historic environment designations. Amendment 136 would add a new category that is not clearly recognised as a heritage designation. There is no national list of sites of significant social history, which would, in practice, lead to arguments and legal challenges if the status of a site—whether it falls within the definition and should benefit from protection—is disputed.
Amendment 138 would add national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty to the clause. Although I agree that those are a vital part of our nation’s environment and landscapes, the amendment would result in environmental designations that are already protected elsewhere being added to the list of protected heritage assets. They are already well protected under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, and as environmental designations in the planning system. Different regimes with conflicting protections relating to the same assets would cause confusion.
We also already have a strong set of environmental protections in the national planning policy framework. It sets out that areas of outstanding national beauty, national parks and the broads have the highest status of protection. Under our broader reforms to the planning system, the conservation and enhancement of wildlife and cultural heritage should be given great weight in development plans and planning decisions. Major development should be refused other than in exceptional circumstances. Areas of outstanding national beauty are also exempt from the presumption in favour of sustainable development.
In response to the landscapes review, the Government set out their intention to strengthen the statutory purposes of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty to create a clear objective to ensure that those areas deliver more for nature and are accessible to everyone. We propose to create a single set of statutory purposes for areas of outstanding natural beauty teams and national park authorities, providing a more consistent and unified statutory framework for all protected landscapes.
We also propose to strengthen the associated statutory duties towards national park and areas of outstanding natural beauty purposes and management plans so that they are given greater weight by the relevant bodies when exercising public functions.
Natural England is also producing new guidance on national park and areas of outstanding natural beauty management plans, with the intention that management plans should set out clear actions, aligned with local management plans and national priorities such as those within the 25-year environment plan, including on beauty, heritage and engagement. For those reasons we do not accept amendments 136 and 138. I hope I have provided sufficient reassurances to the hon. Members for York Central and for Westmorland and Lonsdale to enable them to withdraw their amendments.
I listened carefully to the Minister’s response. First, I want to thank the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale for setting out the implications of his amendment for natural and rural heritage; we can see how that can rapidly disappear into a developer’s dream and a local community’s nightmare. A highland clearance in the modern era is something that we have to take stock of. The protections clearly are not there, in the same way that protections are not there currently under the NPPF, because we are seeing significant sites of social history also having a diminution of their significance through the developments being brought forward. Although the Minister is right to say that there is legislation that can address the issues, there is clearly a mismatch in what happens in practice. As a result, I still have significant concerns.
The Minister talked about the fact that sites of social significance are not currently recognised in the legislative framework, and I will certainly take that back to archaeologists because they would want to see significant change—perhaps even a Bill in its own right—to address that. Because of the way that many developers are currently behaving, I fear we will lose much of our significant past, so we need to find mechanisms to protect us. On the basis of exploring further legislation, I am happy to withdraw my amendment now, but we will return to it. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for his detailed response to the amendments.
The landscape review does give potential for there to be additional protections for areas of outstanding beauty such as the north Pennines and Arnside and Silverdale in Cumbria and across north Lancashire. It is worth bearing in mind that landscape heritage is lost quickly and subtly and not often as a result of a direct planning proposal. It is not that developers come in and decide to build several hundred properties in Longsleddale; it is that Longsleddale changes because farmers cease to be farmers and the area ceases to be farmed.
We therefore see—moving away from Lonsdale to other parts of the lakes and dales—the dry stone walls crumbling, with the loss of that vital part of our heritage going. We see the barns crumbling. The historic heritage species disappear, and access to the fells and dales disappears as well. The subtle but perceptible feel and aesthetics of those places—not just those that we have grown up with, but that have been the feature of a lived experience over hundreds and hundreds of years—begins to change.
Landscape heritage is lost quickly and subtly, and partly in response to Government action or inaction, whether accidental or deliberate. We have a food strategy, or an approach to farm funding, that is almost deliberately written to reduce the amount of food that we produce in this country. As a result, it will be a less-farmed environment, and it will look different. Given that the tourism economy of the Lake district, Yorkshire dales and Cumbria is worth £3.5 billion a year, that will have a huge impact monetarily and economically, as well as aesthetically.
I am happy not to press my amendment to a vote. We will keep a close eye on what the Government intend in terms of safeguards for our landscape heritage and culture, and we will wait to see whether greater protections are provided as the Bill progresses.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move amendment 69, in clause 92, page 99, line 29, at end insert—
“(5) The Secretary of State must, within one year of the day on which this section comes into force, publish a report of a review of the efficacy of Local Heritage Lists and the resources local authorities have to produce them.
(6) The Secretary of State must, on the day on which this section comes into force, publish the results of the 2018 review of the non-statutory guidance on Assets of Community Value.”
The amendment proposes two new subsections to the clause, which I will deal with in turn. First, proposed new subsection (5) concerns local heritage lists, which identify heritage assets that are not protected by statutory listing designation but are of local interest. They provide a consistent and accountable way of highlighting the existence of those important assets and affording them a layer of extra protection against unwanted development. Those sites may not be the sort that bring someone from one place to visit another, but for those who live in the community, they are an integral part of the fabric of their daily lives: community centres, libraries, old town halls or pubs.
At the moment, local planning authorities have discretion on whether to develop local heritage lists, although they have very much been encouraged to do so by the Government and by bodies such as Historic England and Civic Voice. More recently, the national planning policy framework stated that local listing should be taken into account in the consideration of relevant planning applications. Additionally, some planning authorities include in their local plans policies that recognise the importance of non-designated heritage assets, so that status will be a material consideration if and when planning applications are lodged. On the face of it, the lists are a really powerful and important way of balancing the planning system and protecting the assets that communities know and love.
We welcome the fact that, in February last year, the Government announced funding of £1.5 million to support local authorities in improving, extending or updating their local heritage lists or preparing their first lists. Twenty-two areas put in successful bids. We are pleased for those areas, but this comes back to what we discussed in relation to previous clauses: another beauty parade where some authorities succeed and others do not, and in the end all are worse off because of cuts to council budgets. Given the universal importance of the local heritage lists, we want them to be put on a properly funded basis.
There is a lot in that to be optimistic about. However—and herein lies the rub, and the purpose of this element of my amendment—it is believed that only around 50% of planning authorities have a local heritage list. That means that citizens in neighbouring boroughs and districts can experience very different standards of recognition and protection of their local heritage assets. Amendment 69 would require the Government to research the extent to which local heritage lists have been developed, the quality and effectiveness of the lists, the reasons for any disparities between local authorities and some of the resource issues that underlie heritage list production.
The provision is relatively basic. It requires the Government to understand what practical effect previous legislation has had, and what practical effect the funding that they put in place is having. It would ensure a proper evaluation of local heritage lists, so that—and this is my goal—they are promoted and properly used by local communities to protect important assets, and that all people have the protection of those heritage lists in law, as they ought to. It is a problem that we do not know how many local heritage lists there are, their quality or how well they are used. This is supposed to be an important provision—where used properly, it has been—but we do not have a good sense of it. The amendment would make that much better, so I hope that the Minister is minded to agree to it.
Proposed new subsection (6) relates to assets of community value. The Localism Act 2011 enables community groups to ask local authorities to register properties of local importance as assets of community value. Many valued premises—the subsection has pubs in mind—have been successfully nominated. That is in no small part thanks to the work and activism of members of the Campaign for Real Ale who, around the country, have made great efforts to ensure that important assets have been registered as assets of community value, because that gives a distinct importance and protection to local communities.
If the owner of an ACV listed property wishes to sell it, in normal circumstances the community group can lodge a bid, triggering a six-month moratorium during which no other sale can take place. That gives them a right to bid and has no doubt been a factor in the growth of community-owned pubs, up from 56 in 2017 to 179 today and rising. We can do much better than that. Colleagues may have seen announcements in recent days from the Opposition about how we will do that in future, although we are likely to need a general election rather than pass primary legislation to make that the case.
The 2011 Act was accompanied by non-statutory guidance from the then Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government to local authorities on the implementation of the ACV process, in particular how they should deal with nominations. It soon became apparent that parts of that guidance were unclear or ambiguous, which has led to significant disparities in the way in which authorities consider nominations. In many areas, local groups find it difficult to get their nominations accepted because of the restricted ways or lack of focus with which their local authority interprets the Act and the guidance.
The Government recognised that, because in 2018 they instituted a review of the guidance and invited interested parties to make suggestions for improving or clarifying the content. The Government have not said how many responses they received, but I know that the Campaign for Real Ale made a detailed submission highlighting some of the pitfalls. It has a good view because it works with local authorities all over the country, so were able to tell the Government the different ways in which the process operated with regards to definitions, the nomination process and the procedure for appeals.
All that is very good, but the problem is the resounding silence in the four years since. There is no indication if or when there will be action on improving the guidance and whether it will be made public. Subsection (6) is a relatively minimal ask. It just says that on the day that the measure comes into force, the Government ought to publish the results of the review. They have had them for four years. It is hard to believe that they are not ready to go. I am not sure whether the Minister was in the Department at that point, but he may recall that.
If the Minister is not minded to accept that provision in the Bill, would he give a commitment on whether the consultation is coming out or whether too much has elapsed over the last four years and it is no longer active? People put a lot of effort into the submissions to the consultation, and they deserve the finality of knowing one way or the other.
If the answer is no, the Government should want to find a way to establish assets of community value in a similar way to the local heritage list: why the system works in the way that it does, with a sober and honest assessment of whether it reflects what they were minded to do in the 2011 Act. I argue that it does not at the moment, and has created disparities, not in the form that is genuine localism, which we support, but in the form where some communities have the protection of local heritage lists and assets of community value registers and others do not. We should want to get to the bottom of that, if such provisions are to be effective.
The Government recognise the need to protect historic buildings and other assets that are valued by local communities, but the national listed buildings regime protects our most special buildings. We recognise that there are many other buildings and assets which local people cherish. Planning practice guidance already encourages local planning authorities to prepare local lists of non-designated heritage assets. Those assets are protected through national planning policy, which states that the effect of an application on the significance of a non-designated heritage asset should be taken into account when determining the application.
As the hon. Member for Nottingham North mentioned, we have given £1.5 million to 22 areas across England to support local planning authorities and their communities to develop new and updated local heritage lists. The intention is to see what lessons are learned from that work. Those lessons will then be shared with other local authorities so that they can benefit from the good practice that has been built up. We will also develop new proposals for statutory national development management policies, including to protect local heritage sites, alongside the development of the new national planning policy framework. Such proposals will be subject to future consultation, as we have discussed a number of times in Committee.
Turning to assets of community value, we recognise that community ownership of assets is a proven way of ensuring that important local assets and amenities remain under local control for the benefit of current and future generations. Our approach will therefore provide both the policy framework to support community ownership and the practical resources to achieve it. In the levelling-up White Paper, we committed to strengthening the frameworks around community ownership of assets, including assets of community value schemes, and we will continue to make funds available to groups through the community ownership fund.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, I was involved in the review of assets of community value in its embryonic stage in 2017, as I recall. It was completed in 2018, when I was no longer in the Department. The review was not published; however, the findings were used to inform policy decisions and direct further work, such as the commissioning of the report by Power to Change on the contribution of ACVs to local economies, as well as the communities framework, which was published in 2019. In the levelling-up White Paper, we made the following clear commitment:
“As part of the strategy for community spaces and relationships, the UK Government will consider how the existing Community Asset Transfer and Asset of Community Value Schemes can be enhanced, and consult on options to go further to support community ownership.”
That supersedes the original 2015 manifesto commitment.
We are currently scoping out plans for that strategy in the Department. Once we have taken that further, no doubt we will be able to provide further information to the hon. Gentleman and to Members across the House. On that basis, I hope that I have provided him with enough reassurance to withdraw the amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for that very full answer, which addressed both points of substance very clearly. I heard what he said about money having been given to 22 areas for local heritage lists on a test and learn basis, which will clearly be part of the rest of the Bill. I will not labour the point any further, but I hope that that could be operated quite quickly, because there are lots of people in the sector who could tell Ministers very clearly where best practice is, and perhaps where it is not. I do not think that it ought to take a very long time to roll that out beyond the 22 areas to all local authorities, although I was pleased to hear the Minister’s commitment to doing so. We will be keeping a close eye on the resourcing of that.
On assets of community value, the legislation is supposed to be the White Paper made real—the White Paper brought to life in statute. If we take the Government’s commitment in the White Paper at face value, it is a shame that the moment has been missed to do that now, instead of leaving it to consideration of how it might be developed, as the Minister said. This would have been the perfect moment to act on that commitment, but clearly the Government are not minded to do that.
I am grateful again to the Minister for directly addressing the point of the 2018 review. It is good to hear that the findings were used. It is clear that there was value in the exercise, although I would say gently that there should have been some completion. I have talked about this to a number of people in the sector who are still awaiting a response. From the Minister’s response today, they will understand that that will not be forthcoming in a formal way. At least they now know that, and I am grateful for that.
The amendment was designed to provoke a conversation and I am grateful for the Minister’s response. We will very much hold these issues at the forefront of our mind—particularly to move at greater speed on local heritage lists, but also to ensure that that the consideration of assets of community value actually leads to some sort of action. I very much hope that it will. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
With this it will be convenient to discuss clauses 93 to 95 stand part.
We are committed to protecting and enhancing our historic environment, which is an irreplaceable asset. Any planning decisions that impact on it should be given the utmost consideration. Generally, we consider the current planning framework for the historic environment to work well. However, through our work with stakeholders, we have identified areas in which it can be improved.
One such issue is the lack of statutory underpinning for key designated heritage assets within the planning system. The national planning policy framework defines designated heritage assets and sets policies related to their conservation and enhancement. However, planning legislation currently stipulates only that decision makers shall have special regard to the desirability of preserving listed buildings and preserving or enhancing conservation areas when exercising the planning functions specified. Clause 92 creates a similar legislative planning duty to have special regard to the preservation or enhancement of scheduled monuments, registered parks and gardens, protected wrecks, registered battlefields and world heritage sites when granting planning permissions or permission in principle.
Additionally, the existing legislation provides only for special regard to be given to the desirability of preserving listed buildings when granting planning permission or permission in principle. Clause 92 extends that to include the desirability of preserving or enhancing a listed building. Creating a statutory duty to have special regard to the desirability of preserving or enhancing these heritage assets aims to streamline the decision-making process and provide consistency between the legislative heritage planning framework and national planning policy framework.
On clause 93, under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, local planning authorities have the power to issue temporary stop notices. The notices are a powerful tool that can be used by authorities to require that development or an activity is stopped if the planning authority thinks that there has been a breach of planning control and that it is expedient for that activity to be stopped immediately. They can use the time to investigate the suspected breach and decide what, if any, further enforcement action to take.
However, there is not an equivalent provision in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 for unauthorised works to listed buildings in England. That means that where there are suspected unauthorised works to a listed building in England the local planning authority’s only options are to issue an enforcement notice—which will not immediately stop the works—or apply to the court for an injunction to stop the works, which is often costly. The clause creates a new power for local planning authorities to issue temporary stop notices in relation to unauthorised works to listed buildings in England if, having regard to the effect of the works on the character of the buildings as one of special architectural or historic interest, they consider it expedient that the works, or part of them, be stopped immediately. That power will allow works to be paused for up to 56 days while the facts of the case are established and the local authority decides what, if any, further action to take.
Failure to comply with a notice will be an offence with a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine. There are circumstances where compensation may be payable for any loss or damage directly attributable to the effect of the notice. Addressing the gap in local authorities’ enforcement powers in relation to listed buildings will help to protect irreplaceable assets for generations to come. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.
I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the clauses that complete the heritage part of the Bill. It is clear from the amendments and the debates that we have had about them that this is something that interests hon. Members and their constituents, and I believe there is broad support for this part of the Bill—the entirety of part 3 up to chapter 3. However, I want to ask the Minister a couple of questions. I will not make any further points about clause 92 because we have covered them in a previous debate.
On clause 93, we support the idea of stop notices, which would allow work to be paused for up to 56 days in order for an investigation to take place. I wonder why the Minister chose that duration. Why 56 days? What would be the effect of that? Has he or his officials spoken to the Local Government Association about whether it feels that that would be effective? The developer is entitled to compensation for delay, which will be interesting when we get to clause 95. Will the Minister tell us how that will work in practice and what local government colleagues have said about that?
On clause 94 and empty dwellings, we were not able to persuade the Minister to adopt the Welsh Government’s approach, but we are delighted to see in the clause that that is exactly what the Government have done. It will allow urgent works take place where a building is at risk from the weather, vandalism or any other neglect. That will be a good thing. It is welcome that that measure has been replicated here in England.
Finally, clause 95 governs building preservation notices. Currently, a council can add a BPN to an unlisted building that is at risk of demolition or alteration and which a council considers of special architectural or historic interest. The notices last for six months and must be accompanied by an application to Historic England for listing. The Secretary of State then has six months to decide whether to accept that, and the building is essentially listed during that period to protect it. It is a very good provision. Can the Minister say how frequently that has been used to give us a sense of the scale of the challenge ?
The clause removes compensation, but in clause 93 that is not the case. The conversation continues there. There has certainly been some interesting written evidence and direct contact with members of the Committee from different organisations from both sides, both the preservation side and the development side, saying that it is unfair that that is not the case. We can read that argument either way. I am comfortable either way, but I am interested that the Government have chosen different ways in different parts of the Bill. They are different things, so I can understand it to an extent, but they are not so different that that lack of consistency will not raise a few eyebrows. I am interested in why the Minister chose that approach.
I thank the hon. Member for Nottingham North for his questions. I will first address his question on the serving of notices. As he knows, building preservation notices protect a building for up to six months while it is being considered for designation as a listed building. BPNs achieve targeted and time-limited intervention to protect buildings of such interest that are under threat, rather than the blanket protection placed on all buildings being considered for listing during that interim period, regardless of whether they are under threat. BPNs are considered an appropriate stopgap mechanism for the interim period before longer-term protections are applied, while balancing the rights of owners and property rights.
As I have mentioned, interested parties currently have a right to claim compensation for loss or damage incurred during that period if, at the end of it, the building in question is not listed by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Clause 95 removes the possibility that a local planning authority will be obliged to pay compensation should it decide to make use of its power to serve a building preservation notice.
That right to claim compensation often deters local planning authorities from serving building preservation notices—some do not even consider a BPN because of the risk of compensation—which occasionally results in the demolition or alteration of buildings that are potentially of listable quality before they can be considered by the Secretary of State. Removal of the right to compensation for building preservation notices will strengthen the range of enforcement tools available to local planning authorities.
The 56-day period that the hon. Gentleman mentioned is basically to ensure consistency in the provisions for when local authorities have the opportunity to take such action.
As I read it, clause 93 requires the works to stop for up to 56 days, which demonstrates consistency across both clauses. On that basis, I commend the clauses to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 92 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 93 to 95 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Clause 96 is a placeholder clause. The Government’s intention is to replace it with substantive provisions later in the Bill’s passage.
New development is commonly met with hesitance from local residents—it is often perceived as a threat to the beauty of the area or as an unwanted disruption—usually because residents see it as imposed upon them and bearing little relationship to the character of the area. Fundamentally, people are more likely to support development that they feel they can control.
Street votes will provide a new way of consenting to development that will enable residents to come together and bring forward the development they want to see on their streets. A group of residents will be able to develop proposals to extend or replace properties on their street. They will have the option either to provide a detailed development specification, or to prepare a design code that any development they permit must comply with. Development proposals put forward by residents will be independently examined against a set of development and design rules set out in legislation to ensure that they meet high design standards and do not lead to adverse impacts on the local environment and the wider community. Planning permission will be granted only when an examining body is satisfied that the proposal has met these and other statutory requirements, and when the proposal is endorsed by a large majority of residents at referendum.
The use of street votes will be restricted in sensitive locations, such as the green belt. Street votes will encourage residents to consider the potential for new development on their streets. Where residents choose to take up the opportunity, street votes will help to deliver new or more spacious homes in places where they are most needed and in a way that is supported by the people who are most affected by that development. I commend the clause to the Committee.
As the Minister has made clear, clause 96 is a placeholder clause. All it specifies is that the Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for a system that permits residents of a street to propose development on it and to determine, by means of a vote, whether that form of development is given planning permission. At the outset, I have to put on the record that we are instinctively uncomfortable with placeholder clauses of this kind. They are an implicit admission that a piece of legislation is incomplete and that policy in a given area has not been finalised. The absence of any detail about what substantive provisions might replace such placeholder clauses in future is an impediment to effective legislative scrutiny.
Furthermore, the increased use of placeholder clauses in recent legislation, as well as the general upward trend in the number of amendments that add new policies to a Bill part way through its passage or following completion, should be a cause of concern to any hon. Member who values good lawmaking. Nor are we satisfied with the reassurances set out in the explanatory notes to the Bill that any new system introduced by means of the clause will receive appropriate scrutiny—we are all familiar with the limitations of an affirmative procedure in that respect. We therefore seek from the Minister some sense—further to what he has just said—of what the new system will look like, how it will operate in practice and what its wider implications might be.
The basic concept of street votes is easy to grasp. We certainly appreciate that, at least in theory, democratically approved codes that permit development, or the extension or redevelopment of all the properties on any given street, may be a way to facilitate the gentle densification of inner suburbs—an outcome that would undoubtedly have a range of benefits, not least boosting productivity. The issue is whether and how such a system would work in practice. My strong suspicion is that any new street votes system introduced will likely be something of a damp squib and, ultimately, we will not see any significant uptake, which is largely why I struggle to get too worked up about the prospect of its introduction.
However, given the powers that the Government are seeking for themselves by means of the clause, we do need some answers from the Minister, and I ask that he provides them on six distinct areas. First, we deserve to know why the Government believe that an entirely new system for the hyper-local devolution of planning powers is required or, to put it another way, what problem are the clause and the substantive provisions to follow attempting to address.
I ask because the Minister will know that the Localism Act 2011 gives neighbourhood forums the power to create and vote on neighbourhood development orders. Such orders grant planning permission for specific types of development in a particular area following a referendum, thus enabling greater control over development, densification and design. That is essentially the same principle that lies behind the street votes concept. As such, is it not simply the case that for all the hype around the clause, it does little more than adjust the electorate for neighbourhood development orders from the neighbourhood level to the street? If that is the case, should we view the intention to introduce a new street votes system as an admission that NDOs have failed to achieve the objectives that the Government set for them, and what makes the Government think that street votes will be any more successful as an initiative?
Secondly, we should be told why the Government believe that a street is the appropriate spatial area for the powers. The Minister mentioned that it might give residents a greater sense of control but, further to the question I just put to him on neighbourhood development orders, is the choice of a street as the appropriate spatial area related to evidence that the size of the electorate involved in approving NDOs is the reason that initiative has not been taken up more extensively? Do the Government have any reason to think that street-level democratically approved codes will be utilised more extensively than NDOs?
Thirdly, we need to know what the Government believe the impact of street votes will be on housing supply and affordability. It stands to reason that successful street votes are likely to lead to substantial value uplifts for those properties that use the planning permission secured as a result. If a street votes to permit mansard roof storeys to be added to existing terraces, the homeowners who take advantage of that will increase the space within, and value of, their properties. However, I struggle to see how the benefit that those homeowners will gain from the new system will be shared in any way by those who do not already own their own home.
Street votes are unlikely to contribute much, if anything, to new housing supply. In practice, how many residents are likely to organise themselves to secure new powers to provide for infill development on their street? I suggest not very much. If, as seems more likely, street votes are largely used to add space and value to existing properties, the system could end up making it harder for first-time buyers to get on the housing ladder. Can the Minister therefore tell us whether the Department has modelled the likely impact of a street votes system on housing supply and affordability, and whether it is likely to exacerbate existing housing inequality? If not, why not, and will they do so before we get to Report and Third Reading?
Fourthly, local planning authorities deserve an indication of how the Department will assist them financially to carry out the new demands that will be placed on them as a result of the introduction of a new street votes system. We have already debated in previous clauses the parlous state of local planning authorities when it comes to capacity and resources. We have considered the new burdens placed on them as a result of numerous measures included in the Bill. If a street votes system is introduced, the Government must ensure that councils are given sufficient resources to oversee it.
We cannot have a situation, as we do at present with neighbourhood plans, where the cost of sending a plan to referendum nearly always outstrips the amount that local authorities can claim from central Government to hold them. The Government must also ensure that we do not replicate the problems experienced in the uptake of neighbourhood plans, with only affluent communities able to take advantage of them. What resourcing can local authorities expect to run a new street votes system? What steps will the Government take to ensure that less affluent communities are able to take advantage of it?
Fifthly, given the concerns expressed that street votes could prove to be an extremely divisive measure to relations between neighbours on a street, we deserve some sense of how the process might work. Will there be a minimum number of residents in any given street required to bring forward proposals to extend or redevelop properties on it, or can a single resident do so? If it is the case that a single resident can submit a proposal, what safeguards are in place to ensure that local authorities do not constantly have to put different proposals to a referendum of residents on a street?
Surely a vote should not pass if a significant minority of residents on a street are opposed to it. I think the Minister mentioned a large majority, but what does that mean? What threshold will apply to a street referendum? Are the Government minded to adopt the recommendation, made by Create Streets, that it be at least two thirds of residents on the electoral register, or Policy Exchange’s suggestion of at least 60% of votes cast? We all know that nothing gets as bitter as a dispute between neighbours, so I would like the Minister to respond to my questions and tell the Committee that the Government’s thinking when it comes to the process by which planning permission via this new system will be secured.
Finally, we need to know how a new street votes system will interact with local development plans and the Government’s wider housing and planning policy objectives. It is an obvious question, but could the Minister confirm that any street votes proposal will have to be in conformity with a local development plan in order to proceed to a vote? I think he mentioned that the new proposals must be examined: does that mean they need to be compliant with a local development plan in order to move to a vote?
How will a street votes system work in an area with a neighbourhood development order already in place, or a design code adopted as part of it? Again, will any proposals need to be found to be in accordance with an existing NDO or design code before it can go forward? Will the new provisions that the Bill puts in place for neighbourhood plans to ensure that they consider climate change mitigation and adaptation apply to street vote proposals, and will similar safeguards be put in place as those that clause 89 provides for in relation to neighbourhood plans, ensuring that street votes cannot be used to block development from taking place?
The sheer volume of questions provoked by this placeholder clause not only illustrates how absurd it is that we are being asked to approve it, but highlights the very real risk that a badly designed system could have a detrimental impact on local authorities, communities and those struggling to rent or buy a home of their own. We do not intend to vote against the clause, partly because we are not opposed to the principle of trialling a new street votes system, and because we believe, as I said, that one is unlikely to be utilised to any significant degree. However, while I appreciate that the Minister will not be able to set out the full details of the system that the Government wish to introduce using the powers in the clause, we expect answers to the basic questions that I have put to him, as it is not reasonable to ask that we simply nod through an expansive placeholder clause of this kind without them.
This short placeholder clause has all the hallmarks of a post-it note stuck on the A board by the boss on an away day that nobody had the courage to say was silly. The boss has gone now, so we could just take it off the whiteboard. The Government are trying to think about democracy and involving people in a hyper-local way in planning. Let us be generous and say that that is commendable. I will not vote against the clause either, but to have a placeholder clause, with a total absence of detail, seems very peculiar. The Conservative-led Local Government Association talks of its fears about the risk of
“stifling the production and implementation of local plans.”
That will need to be answered very clearly in any further work on the clause.
There needs to be some clarity on the specific requirements that will need to be met in order for a street to vote in favour of or against a proposal. If we are to go ahead with this, surely it is right to do some learning via a pilot process before we roll it out everywhere. Not only do I understand but I am ahead of the Government when it comes to desiring to involve local people in a genuine democratic way. Other members of the Committee are as well. We have given the Government, through the Committee, opportunities to do just that. The hon. Member for York Central tabled amendments on a deliberative planning process, and this morning I sought to give the Government the opportunity to give communities power over their own housing stock, to ensure that they preserved an appropriate amount for permanent dwellings. Those were rejected, but we will have a referendum on Terry and June’s new garage.
As the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich indicated, we are all seriously in favour of local democracy, but I am concerned that the proposal will potentially be very divisive, and that we have not thought it through. We reject genuine local control and go for this instead. It feels like a triumph of the trivial over the useful. There are other questions that we could ask. How do we define a street? Does the 6-mile-long Kentmere valley count as a street? If we were serious about this, we would not have a post-it note on the whiteboard. Either fill it in or take it off, but I am sceptical.
I will add my scepticism to the comments that have already been made. I have so many questions about the clause. When a clause throws up the number of questions that this one does, the Government should withdraw it. I understand that they want to involve communities, but there are many ways of doing that far more comprehensively. I do not know whether the Minister’s constituency is like mine, but people are saying that they want involvement and consultation; they are certainly not hammering at my door in order to have a referendum, vote or whatever we want to call it over a particular commodity. They want good planning put in place.
We have been discussing the opportunity for people to have a real voice in things, as in the situation that we have, with whole swathes of my city bought up by people trying to turn it over to Airbnbs. If they buy a number of properties on a street and have a monopoly on that street, could they push through developments? That would mean they are exploiting the opportunity being set out by the Minister in the legislation. Indeed, people in the surrounding area would have no say whatever. That is open to abuse without tighter controls in the legislation.
This measure is a way of democracy-washing the Bill: we are taking away significant powers through the national proposal from the Minister, under which the Secretary of State could impose planning decisions on communities, but then saying, “By the way, you can have a vote on an extension on your street.” That democracy-washing approach does not wash with those on the Labour Benches. We want something more enduring that involves more debate, listening and engagement to get an outcome that is right for communities. The Minister must answer these questions.
This feels very much like the Minister is saying, “Children, you can vote on something on your street, while we grown-ups get on with the big development plans.” It is those plans that will affect whole swathes of the community, perhaps through national development management strategies taking over the big decisions, while people can only vote on an extension—or not—on their street.
We need to think about the context in which we want communities involved in planning—which we absolutely do—and decisions made. But this democracy-washing simply does not wash with me or my Labour colleagues.
I call the Minister to respond on Terry and June’s new garage.
I am pleased that you know who Terry and June are, Sir Mark, because I fear that even some members of the Committee do not remember “Terry and June”. [Interruption.] The Government Whip is professing not to know who Terry and June are, although that might not absolutely be the case.
I thank hon. Members for their comments and views on street votes. As I said at the outset, this is a placeholder clause, and I have heard their views. The overriding idea is to provide further tools to local communities in the spirit of trying to help local people shape their communities and to have flexibility at a very local level.
On the particular questions asked in Committee, it would be right for me to write to hon. Members, because their questions were specific and detailed. Clearly, it is important to consider them more carefully to provide that level of detail, given the stage in the process we are at with the clause.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 96 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
With this it will be convenient to consider that schedule 9 be the Ninth schedule to the Bill.
For a long time, Crown development was not subject to planning permission. In 2006, that changed, and a new route to seek permission for nationally important and urgent Crown development was introduced under section 293A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Crown development includes development on land owned by the Government and carried out by the Government, as well as land owned by Her Majesty and by the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall. It also includes works to prisons and the military estate.
However, since its introduction this route has never been used. It takes too long to deal with truly urgent Crown developments—it can take months—and when responding to crises Government Departments have used other measures in the planning process, such as permitted development rights and special development orders. Those may be appropriate in some instances, but they take time to get in place and may not be suitable, in particular for a one-off special development that is urgently needed within weeks.
Clause 97 seeks to update this urgent route using two new faster, more proportionate routes to obtain permission for Crown land development. The objective of these reforms is to ensure that planning permission can be granted in a timely and proportionate way for the delivery of nationally important Crown development. The Government believe that, given the national importance of these developments and the unique nature of Crown land, the Secretary of State, who is democratically accountable to Parliament, is best placed to grant planning permission for these developments, rather than individual local planning authorities.
The first route, set out in proposed new sections 293B and 293C, is tailored for exceptional development. It is a new streamlined process to secure planning permission for development that is of national importance and required urgently. For these cases, the application would be submitted to the Secretary of State, but there will be limited statutory procedural requirements, to allow decisions on truly urgent and nationally important development to be made in a matter of days, rather than months, as is the case now.
This route would be used only in the most exceptional circumstances, where development is needed urgently in response to, or in preparation for, a crisis. For example, it could be used for development needed on Crown land to accommodate an influx of refugees or to develop medical centres in the event of a pandemic, or for biosecurity measures such as processing or checking imports entering the country, in circumstances where food or other essential goods are in short supply.
We recognise that that might cut across greater community engagement and local decision taking, which is why this route will be used sparingly and only where it is clear that there is an urgent need for an accelerated decision in the wider public interest, and where development cannot be delivered through other planning routes.
Government Departments proposing such development will have to demonstrate that it is needed urgently and is of national importance, and we will set out guidance on these matters. We would also strongly encourage early and meaningful engagement between all parties before any applications are submitted. Only if the Secretary of State agrees that a proposal meets this high bar will it be able to be considered. Local authorities and other bodies, such as service providers and statutory bodies required to inform a quick decision, will be consulted, and local communities will be notified when applications are submitted.
The second route to permission, covered in proposed new sections 293D to 293J, is intended for development on Crown land where the development is considered to be of national importance but is not urgent. For example, this may include a new prison facility or substantive defence-related development. For these cases, the application would be directly submitted to the Secretary of State, and an independent planning inspector would first consider whether it was of national importance.
Where such a development is not considered of national importance, it can be rejected and directed to the relevant local planning authority to consider. Where it is considered of national importance, it can be considered by the independent inspector, who would consider it in the same way as a conventional planning application. The inspector would consider the application on its planning merits, and decisions would be made in line with the new plan-led approach set out elsewhere in the Bill. As with a conventional planning application, there will also be public consultation and engagement with local communities, and their views will be considered. This process should provide more certainty and should be quicker than if the application was subject to a local planning authority and then to appeal or was called in for determination by the Secretary of State.
Given the national importance of these developments and the unique nature of Crown land, the Government believe that the Secretary of State, who is democratically accountable to Parliament, is best placed to grant planning permission, rather than individual planning authorities. These routes to permission are crucial to enable nationally important development to be considered in a timely and proportionate manner and to enable quick decisions on exceptional developments that are needed to respond to moments of crisis. As I said, since its introduction, this route has never been used, as it takes too long to deal with truly urgent Crown developments. We could not use it during covid to secure one-off temporary permissions for vaccination centres, and nor can we use it to secure permission to respond to other crises that we may face in the future. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.
As the Minister outlined, clause 97 of the Bill inserts new sections into the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to provide for two new routes to apply for planning permission in respect of the development of Crown land in England—that is, land in which there is a Crown or Duchy interest. In the case of either route, the provisions in the clause will allow the appropriate authorities to apply for planning permission direct to the Secretary of State, rather than being subject to the same requirements and the same application processes as any other person undertaking development.
In such circumstances, the Secretary of State must notify the local planning authority whether or not they intend to decide the application. If they opt to determine it themselves, they can approve it conditionally or unconditionally or refuse it. They have to consult the local planning authority to which the application would otherwise have been made, but the authority would have no right to veto it.
The policy paper accompanying the Bill portrays the clause as a means simply to
“provide a faster and more effective route for urgent and nationally important Crown development”,
but we are concerned that, in practice, its effect is likely to be far less benign. Specifically, we are concerned about the implications of introducing such an open-ended measure, in terms of both removing appropriate and necessary limits on the exercise of Executive power and denying communities a chance to express views about development in their area and to signal their consent or opposition.
We appreciate fully that there are emergency situations where it is necessary to expedite the planning application process to facilitate essential development, and the construction of the seven Nightingale hospitals during the pandemic to provide critical and step-down care for patients is probably the best recent example—the process exists by which they could come forward, and they did. However, the broad scope of the provisions in the clause, which do not provide for any limit on the type of development that can be approved directly by the Secretary of State or in what circumstances, means that it could be used for a much wider range of proposals.
Let us take the system of large-scale accommodation centres that the Government have announced they intend to establish to house people seeking asylum while they await a decision on their claim. The system includes the “new, bespoke, reception centre” the Government plan to open on an ex-RAF base in Linton-on-Ouse in North Yorkshire for up to 1,500 people—a development that the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) has raised serious concerns about on a number of occasions.
The Committee will know that the Government have variously opened, or signalled their intention to open, centres accommodating—I use the term “accommodating” very loosely—asylum seekers in Penally in Pembrokeshire, Napier in Folkestone, Barton Stacey in Hampshire and in the shadow of Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire. All the sites were either on, or proposed for construction on, Crown land. All have been subject to controversy and, in the case of Penally and Napier, legal challenge—not least because of the lack of consultation with local communities in the areas where they have been, or were proposed to be, situated.
I have very much been involved with the community around Linton-on-Ouse. The fact that there has not been any proper consultation on transportation issues or on the impact on the local community has caused real concern that the Government will just press ahead with these developments without considering those issues. Does my hon. Friend agree that a more thorough, thoughtful process needs to be put in place? Also, should we really be offering refugees this type of accommodation? They are clearly in a desperate situation and need community to be wrapped around them, not to be isolated away from people and services.
My hon. Friend gets to the heart of the matter. Our concern is that the powers provided for by the clause will facilitate precisely what she suggests: the driving through of centres such as the one in Linton-on-Ouse, regardless of their impact on the people placed in them or the local communities in which they are situated.
My understanding—the Minister is welcome to correct me—is that in establishing Penally and Napier, the Government sought to rely on schedule 2 to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015, which relates to permitted development rights. In the case of Napier, the Home Secretary granted herself permission to extend the life of the facility for a further five years, without any public consultation, by using a special development order provided for by delegated legislation. In a judgment handed down on 24 June 2022, the High Court ruled that decision unlawful.
Why have I explained that history at length? Because it is difficult to be aware of that history and not assume that the powers in clause 97 are being introduced to provide a more definitive way of securing planning consent for development on Crown land, such as for asylum centres, irrespective of the harm that such centres might cause for those placed in them, or their impact on local communities, who under the clause will be denied any right to influence a decision taken by the Secretary of State without public consultation.
I listened carefully to the Minister, who was quite clear that the powers will be used only in “moments of crisis” and in “exceptional circumstances” when there is a clear and urgent need to do so in the wider public interest. The Minister can correct me, but I see nothing in the Bill defining “exceptional circumstances”, “issues of national importance” or a “clear and urgent need”. Labour feels strongly that it is essential to insert appropriate safeguards into the clause to ensure that there are limits to the use of these powers and that minimum requirements are in place to secure some measure of consent from affected local communities. Without a firm commitment that such safeguards will be introduced at a later stage, we believe that the clause needs to be removed from the Bill. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I agree that the clause is too much of a blank cheque for the Government. The Minister said in support of the clause that the powers are for emergency use only, but if that is the case, he needs to set out far more specifically the terms for their deployment.
Members have spoken about asylum centres and the powers being a potential route to securing such sites. My concern is for those who are seeking asylum and going through that process. Having visited Napier barracks, I can tell the Committee that those who work there are good people who do their best to provide for the people staying there, many of whom have suffered huge trauma as a result of unimaginable experiences that we have never been through ourselves. There is no doubt, however, that that kind of camp-style site is no place for people who have escaped dreadful things and sought asylum. They are dealing with trauma and mental health issues, and have experienced appalling things. We are seeking to help them—I hope, given that the majority of people who make claims are genuine refugees and will, in time, be given the right to settle here—but how do these places help them to immerse and integrate themselves into society? That is just an aside on one of the potential uses of the clause and why it is particularly dangerous for those people, who are the most vulnerable in our society.
If we care about democracy—we are talking about levelling up and giving communities power—the Bill should not contain such an open-ended clause that seeks to undermine that power. I can understand why a Government would need emergency powers in some circumstances, but they should specify them, because otherwise the clause looks like overreach.
It is clear that the current route for urgent Crown development is not fit for purpose. Since its introduction in 2006, it has never been used, as it does not allow for quick decision making when a truly urgent decision is required.
When responding to crises, Government Departments have used other measures in the planning process, as we have discussed. Those include permitted development rights and special development orders, which may be appropriate in certain circumstances, but which take time to get in place and may not be suitable, particularly for a one-off special development that is urgently needed within weeks. We have discussed issues relating to the pandemic that may well have been better tackled had we had such provisions.
Clearly, the situation is different for non urgent development, which will go through a new procedure that will follow all the public consultation requirements. The Government have been clear that the new powers will be taken only in exceptional circumstances. On that basis, I commend the clause to the Committee.
Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Clause 97 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 9 agreed to.
Minor variations in planning permission
With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 115, in clause 98, page 115, line 20, at end insert—
“(12A) In relation to an application for planning permission that is made to, or is to be determined by, the Mayor of London, a reference in this section to the local planning authority is to be read as a reference to the Mayor of London.”
Clause 98 is relatively straightforward, in that it simply makes provision concerning minor variations to planning permission, allowing for greater flexibility to make non-substantial changes that would not be possible at present without the submission of multiple applications by various different routes. We broadly welcome it: the change it will give effect to is long overdue, and it will simplify arrangements currently in place that were only ever intended as a short-term holding position. However, we believe that amendments 114 and 115 are necessary to ensure that the clause works as intended by resolving two issues of concern.
First, current arrangements ensure that if a variation to planning permission is sought, whether prior to completion or post completion, the circumstances of the day are taken into account when determining the section 73 application. That includes the policies in place at the time and any other material considerations. As drafted, clause 98(7) suggests to us that the circumstances at the time of the original grant of permission would be the framework for determining applications in future. We are concerned that this would mean, for example, that if a new local plan had been adopted since the original permission, that plan—which might, for example, include more stretching environmental standards—could not be applied in deciding whether or not to grant the section 73 application.
Similarly, many section 73 applications relate to the number of residential units or to floor space. As drafted, we are concerned that the decision maker would not be able to revisit the viability information or amount of affordable housing provided by the scheme, potentially creating a significant loophole that enables the avoidance of key policy requirements. We believe local planning authorities should be able to consider up-to-date planning policy and/or guidance when determining such applications to guard against adverse consequences, such as the prevention of increases in affordable housing or the application of more ambitious sustainability policies. Amendment 114 therefore proposes the removal of subsection (7) from the clause.
The second issue of concern relates to those powers devolved to the Mayor of London concerning strategic planning applications. As the Minister knows, the Mayor has powers to become the decision maker for strategic planning applications subject to certain provisions. However, we are concerned that the Bill as drafted only provides for the Secretary of State’s call-in powers, leaving a vacuum in relation to the mayoral powers. Amendment 115 therefore inserts new language after clause 98(12) to ensure that the powers of the Mayor of London to call in applications in accordance with the terms of the Town and Country Planning (Mayor of London) Order 2008 are taken into account. I hope the Minister will consider accepting both amendments.
First, I want to thank the hon. Gentleman for his proposal in amendment 114, which seeks to remove subsection (7) of proposed new section 73B under clause 98. The effect of the amendment would be to broaden the scope of planning assessment and allow local planning authorities to reconsider the principle of development established under the existing permission to which the variation is sought under proposed new section 73B.
The purpose of the reform is to provide a clearer process for enabling sensible and practical changes to be made to planning permissions that are not possible under the existing framework without the submission of multiple applications under different routes. I am sure we can agree about the importance of ensuring that the planning system is flexible, responsive and proportionate to changes of circumstances to facilitate the delivery of appropriate development.
We are resisting the amendment because it goes against the overarching objective of allowing permitted schemes to evolve where changes are required without having to start the planning application process again. If we were to agree to the amendment, local planning authorities would be empowered to look again at the principle of development for the proposal and refuse it, even though the application may only be for a minor variation. That would undermine the new process and make it more difficult for developers to manage minor change through the planning system.
The ability to amend an existing grant of planning permission is an important flexibility afforded by the planning system. Clause 98 seeks to improve the current framework for varying a planning permission by providing a clearer, more certain and proportionate process for planning authorities, communities and applicants.
Post-permission changes to respond to, among other things, specific design matters and external factors is a common and critical part of the development process. Enabling flexibility for minor changes to development can support delivery in changing circumstances. In the majority of cases it is not proportionate or reasonable to require a new planning application or revisit the principle of development.
Under clause 98, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich can be assured that the new power has been drafted to ensure that planning permission under the new power will be permitted only where the local planning authority is satisfied that its effect will not be substantially different from that of the existing permission. Local planning authorities have the power to determine whether changes would constitute a substantial difference from the existing permission on a case-by-case basis. That allows for consideration of local and development-specific context.
The “substantially different” test would be assessed against the existing planning permission to ensure that the cumulative impacts of changes to a permission are acceptable in planning terms. In addition to consideration of the existing permission, the planning merits of the proposed change may include consideration of any previous changes made to the existing permission.
I can also assure the hon. Gentleman that the process for applications made under proposed new section 73B will be set out in secondary legislation. We will consult on the details of publicity and consultation for the applications following the passage of the Bill, but I want to emphasise that we will seek to engage widely with the sector to ensure that the new route works. I therefore hope that the hon. Member will withdraw amendment 114.
Amendment 115 would clarify that section 73B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 applies to the Mayor of London, in his capacity as local planning authority, when determining applications of potential strategic importance. It is similar to the provision under subsection (12) of that Act for the Secretary of State when he is determining applications under that section.
Although I agree with the principle behind the amendment, it is more appropriately addressed by a consequential amendment to section 2A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. That Act provides that if the Mayor is determining applications of potential strategic importance, he is the local planning authority, and the references to local planning authorities in new section 73B should apply to him.
It is likely that a number of consequential technical amendments will need to be made to provisions in the Town and Country Planning Act as a result of the introduction of section 73 provisions to vary permissions. We propose to use the powers set out in clause 191 to do that. This specific example is one such amendment that we could consider. In view of my explanation, I respectfully ask the hon. Member to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 114 raises an extremely technical matter. I listened carefully to the Minister and I will revisit what he said. I hope he understood that I mean that planning applications must evolve when changes are required. The amendment does not seek to ensure that the principle of development is ever revisited, just that when minor variations are applied for, that updated planning policy and guidance are taken into account. We think that is important. I will go away and study carefully what he said.
On amendment 115, I am grateful for the clarification about where these matters might best be dealt with. I am grateful that the Minister will go away and give that further consideration. We think that the Mayor’s powers need to be formally taken into account when making the changes that the clause makes. On that basis, I am happy not to press either amendment, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Adjourned till Tuesday 6 September at twenty-five minutes past Nine o’clock.
Written evidence reported to the House
LRB27 David Jackson, Head of Planning at Savills, on behalf of Savills UK Ltd (supplementary submission)
LRB28 National Housing Federation