If there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.
Two of the amendments on the supplementary list have been printed in the wrong order. Amendment No. 86B should have been printed above Amendment No. 87ZA. The numbers are correct but the order is wrong.
Clause 23 [The general power of the Authority: duty to have regard]:
68: Clause 23, page 25, line 43, at end insert—
“(5) After section 31(3) of the GLA Act 1999 (limits of general power) insert—
“(3A) The Authority shall not by virtue of section 30(1) above incur expenditure in promoting activities or relationships which are primarily the responsibility of Her Majesty’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the Department for International Development although this does not prevent the Authority incurring expenditure in co-operating with or facilitating good relations with other major capital cities.”.”
The noble Baroness said: This deals with a problem that we believe has occurred with the current Mayor, and although the Committee has not normally discussed the current office-holder, the issue would in principle affect any Mayor. The amendment would restrict the authority’s powers to incur expenditure on foreign affairs. We question how appropriate it is for the Mayor to conduct his own foreign policy, and aim to restrict his ability to do so.
In his seven years in office, the current Mayor has been on more visits to Latin America than to some of the boroughs in the city, which he is supposed to represent in its entirety. He likes to visit Cuba and Venezuela, at great and uninvited expense to the taxpayer. Quite apart from the huge cost, there is little obvious benefit to be gained by Londoners from the Mayor fraternising with Latin American countries. Why should taxpayers have to fork out for the Mayor to travel to Venezuela to visit a president who, we understand, did not particularly want to see him?
It is hard to see from where the Mayor believes he gets the mandate for these expeditions. They did not form part of the basis on which he was elected; nor is there any satisfactory way to scrutinise decisions to travel. Although he may make deals when he is there, they are not always appropriate for London.
Whatever the difficulties with the incumbent Mayor, there is also a risk that a precedent could be set for future Mayors. It is not part of the Mayor’s role to do this; in fact, it must stand hard on the feet of the Lord Mayor of the City of London. We believe that the Mayor of London’s expenditure should be confined to doing the job for which he was elected. He would be better dealing with London alone rather than dashing around the world. I beg to move.
This amendment has nothing to do with the extensive overseas work performed every year by successive Lord Mayors of the City of London. It is widely recognised that the Lord Mayor’s opportunities to visit countries all over the world and to entertain rulers and others at the Guildhall, in very fine style, do enormous credit to London and to the whole United Kingdom. It is not long since the late Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said at an Easter banquet in the City:
“Last year I said that the Lord Mayor was one of the greatest roving Ambassadors for Britain. I have to begin this year by admitting you [the Lord Mayor] have more than fully kept up that tradition”.
So, too, have his successors.
The present Lord Mayor, John Stuttard, has been to Germany, Kuwait, Ghana, Qatar, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan, Russia, Portugal and southern China. Later in the year he will go to India, Denmark, Finland, Poland, Brazil, South Africa, northern China, Hong Kong and the Republic of Korea.
My impression is that the present administration in the City and successive Lord Mayors have had little difficulty in drawing the attention of their hosts and guests to the difference. The Lord Mayor’s office has existed for 700 years. There is a great deal of pomp and ceremony, which is enormously appreciated by those who enjoy the Lord Mayor’s hospitality. It is an entirely different role from that of the elected Mayor of London, for whom statutory provisions were carefully spelt out in the 1999 Act that we are amending. I raise the matter as an opportunity to point out that the amendment has nothing to do with the Lord Mayor, whose foreign travels and hosting of foreign visitors here in London do enormous benefit to this country. I hope that that point may be taken on board.
I am not quite sure whether the speech that we have just heard was in support of the amendment. One difference between the Lord Mayor and the Mayor is 5 million voters; another is that the City of London provides most of its generous hospitality from its private funds rather than from the taxpayer.
I am surprised at the amendment, because both its supporters, the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, have worked extensively and for many years in the international field. I have sympathy with much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said. It is often said that the current Mayor visits Havana more often than he visits Havering—one might have some sympathy with him for that. However, the essential weakness in the amendment lies in what the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said in her opening sentence. The amendment deals with the office-holder and not with the office. We reminded ourselves at the start of this Committee that it may sometimes be difficult for us to remember that we are dealing with the office and not the office-holder, given that we have so far had only one office-holder, and it is important that we try to do so with this amendment.
London is by any definition—and there are many—a world city. Its population comes from pretty well every country in the world. It is right that the Mayor of London, whoever that may be, should seek to represent the communities in London with the countries from which they have come. That is quite an important role for the Mayor. One of the strong points of our winning bid for the Olympic Games was that we have many communities in London from virtually all the Olympic countries, and they will, to a greater or lesser extent, act as hosts.
London, particularly the Mayor of London, should play a role on the world and European stages. It is right that that person should have some international stature. We may well question—we certainly do so with the current office-holder—how that function is performed; we may well question the office-holder’s priorities in carrying it out. The proper place for that argument is the London Assembly and among the London electors. It is not our role to legislate to restrict the Mayor. If the amendment were to become law, there would be some difficulty in determining the primary responsibility of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as distinct from the role to be played by the Mayor and the GLA. I was concerned by the amendment’s reference to “other major capital cities”. I am sure that it is not the intention of its movers that London should have no relationship with New York, for example, which is not a capital city. Although I understand the purpose of the amendment and have some sympathy with what causes the movers to table it, I doubt its worth.
A final and extremely important point—in a way this bears on what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, was saying—is that London is a major business centre. Quite properly, in association with what the Lord Mayor does—I join in that tribute—London must have, and should have, a relationship with the business community and business links across the world. Recently, we learnt that the largest number of people who come to London now as visitors and on business come from the Indian subcontinent. That is enormously important. Were the amendment passed and interpreted in one of the possible ways, it would restrict enormously a very important role that the Mayor of London should play. The argument and debate about how that role is played and the priorities within it are best left to the devolved power set up to deal with that.
I hope that the Government will not be disposed to accept the amendment. I believe it is very restrictive. It is obvious that the present Mayor has aroused a certain amount of ire because of his visits to regimes perceived to be rather left wing. Visits to the United States, the involvement with New York and so on, do not seem to have aroused such opposition, particularly in the popular press. I hope that the amendment is not acceptable to the Government. The wording seems a little contradictory. At the end are the words,
“does not prevent the Authority incurring expenditure in co-operating with or facilitating good relations with other major capital cities”.
That seems in conflict with the first part of the amendment. How can one accept that part of the amendment while also talking about,
“expenditure in promoting activities or relationships which are primarily the responsibility of Her Majesty's Foreign and Commonwealth Office”?
Those two functions conflict with each other. Therefore, I do not believe the amendment is acceptable and I hope that the Government will not feel disposed to accept it.
I can reassure my noble friend that I am not disposed to accept the amendment. Perhaps I can add a few points to the very helpful exchange that we have had. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for his authoritative analysis of why it is important for the Mayor to have the capacity to promote London abroad. There has been a useful debate on the distinctions between the Mayor of London and the Lord Mayor of the City of London.
London is one of the most important financial, commercial and economic centres. It is a truly international city. Across the globe today, there is an enormous emphasis on urbanisation in the growth of cities, but there is also impoverishment and a growth of inequalities in cities. The Mayor of London has a particular interest in and a contribution to make to that. As the issue begins to dominate our international understanding and our global politics, it is extremely important that the Mayor is able to travel abroad, not just to promote London internationally but also to help to contribute to and to learn from the extremely difficult issues of urbanisation, climate change and so on. He needs that capacity. Since 2000, only 3 per cent of his time has been spent on foreign trips, which is not very much. I shall certainly not comment on any particular trip. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, made the point that he is accountable to the London Assembly for his actions and his expenditure. I know that the Assembly scrutinises those. Ultimately, he is accountable to Londoners through the ballot box.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked from where the Mayor’s mandate comes. The original White Paper on London governance in 1998 clearly envisaged that the Mayor would promote London at home and overseas, attracting inward investment and major sporting and cultural events. One of the three key principles of the GLA is promoting economic development and wealth creation in the Greater London area. That is a very strong mandate. Indeed, Section 400 of the GLA Act explicitly allows the GLA to provide advice and assistance on local government activities to bodies outside the UK in a similar way as it is allowed in regard to local authorities under the Local Government (Overseas Assistance) Act 1993.
The proposed new clause would not allow the Mayor to take his rightful role on the world stage or to develop closer links with the national leaders of the emerging world economies. The example of India is extremely well taken. The amendment would probably not even allow the Mayor to develop strong links with other world cities, such as New York or Barcelona, that are not capital cities but are major global players.
Another point regarding the economy is that one in six jobs in London—some 700,000—either results from foreign direct investment or depends on tourism. The GLA has estimated that some 200,000 jobs in the capital depend on newly emerging market economies, such as those of India, China and Russia. The Olympic Games have been mentioned already this afternoon, but these proposals might suggest that the leader of the world’s premier city—an Olympic city—would be breaking the law if he decided to visit the leader of another country. We would be in trouble internationally and would make ourselves a laughing stock.
The amendment draws attention to the role of the FCO, but if responsibility for promoting London were not given to the Mayor it would not be clear who would have that role. These are strong arguments. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
We are not saying that the Mayor should not travel. The last part of the amendment does not suggest that he should not do so, but that there should at least be some relationship between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and what the Mayor does. The Minister said that the Mayor was accountable to the Assembly for expenditure. If only—
It is anticipatory and attempts to sort out where the Mayor’s responsibilities, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s responsibilities and the Lord Mayor for the City of London’s responsibilities lie. We will not un-dig this matter with this amendment today. I thank my noble friend Lord Jenkin for referring to what the Lord Mayor of London does. We should be careful that he and the Mayor of London do not tread on each other’s toes. I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this matter and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 23 agreed to.
Clause 24 [General duties of the Mayor with respect to his strategies]:
[Amendments Nos. 69 to 71 not moved.]
Clause 24 agreed to.
Clause 25 [Membership]:
On Question, Whether Clause 25 shall stand part of the Bill?
We oppose the Questions whether Clauses 25, 26 and 27 shall stand part of the Bill.
We oppose the changes to the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) membership proposed in Part 5. The current composition has worked very effectively, almost entirely without complaint. The mix of borough representatives and Assembly Members is an appropriate model that we propose should be extended to include the Transport for London board. I do not intend to rehearse all the arguments from our previous debate on the make-up of Transport for London, but noble Lords will remember that the political diversity and, in particular, geographical range that the LFEPA model provides have clear advantages. Why do the Government believe that there should be mayoral appointments to the London fire board? The arguments in favour of allowing two appointees on the board to replace directly elected representatives seem superficial at best. We remain wholly unconvinced by those put forward by my honourable friends in another place.
Clause 27 will allow the Mayor the power to issue directions to LFEPA. Earlier, through Amendment No. 73, we proposed that the Assembly should be able to scrutinise these directions, but the Government would not accept that. It now appears that the Bill is further weakening the London fire authority’s independence from the Mayor by allowing the Mayor to make his own appointments. Can the Minister give an assurance that the Government have no plans again to extend mayoral patronage over the London fire authority at a later stage?
Clause 25 proposes a wholly unwelcome change in the composition of the London fire authority. It would damage democratic accountability, and London councils and the London fire authority oppose it. They have voiced understandable concerns about the motivation of the new non-elected members, as well as about their ability and about how scrupulous the process of their appointments can be. We oppose the Question whether these clauses should stand part of the Bill.
I have great sympathy with what has been said about Clause 25. I could sum it up by asking the Minister: if it ain’t broke, why fix it? There is common consent among London borough councils and the London Assembly that, of all the functional bodies, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority has worked best in terms of its governance. The balance between the Assembly and the borough membership works very well on the whole. Indeed, the Commission on London Governance, of which I was a member, suggested that it should be a model for other functional bodies, particularly the Metropolitan Police Authority, which is outside the remit of this clause.
I have not been convinced by any case to weaken by two members the elected representation on the authority and increase it by two unelected appointees, whoever they may be. There may well be a wish to increase the size of the authority, but reducing its elected membership would be very much a step in the wrong direction.
We are also debating whether Clause 26 shall stand part of the Bill. I support that clause. At the moment, we are in a rather strange position. If the chairman and deputy chairman of the fire authority were not Members of the London Assembly—in other words, if they came from the borough council—they would be entitled to an allowance but, as Members of the Assembly, by virtue of the GLA Act, they are not entitled to an allowance. Considerable work is involved, and it is right to correct that anomaly as we seek to do here.
Although I recognise that it is outside the scope of this clause, perhaps I may ask for clarification on a similar situation regarding the Metropolitan Police Authority, where the workload of the chair is even greater. Schedule 2 to the Police and Justice Act provides for allowances to be paid to the chair and deputy chair, subject to regulation by the Home Secretary. However, it does not make clear what would happen should the chair of the MPA be a Member of the Assembly, as has always been and is likely always to be the case. That may be clarified as and when the Home Office makes regulations, but, if not in the reply today—I recognise the difficulty there—it would be helpful, perhaps by letter later, to receive clarification that we are putting the two functional bodies on an equal footing, as I am sure is intended.
Perhaps I may ask a question supplementary to that. I recognise that I cannot be given an answer today but perhaps a letter could be sent to us. As my noble friend said, the question of an allowance for the chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority will be a matter for regulations made by the Home Secretary. It would be particularly invidious if those regulations were not made in time for the two posts to be treated in a similar fashion as regards allowances, so it would be helpful to know at some point whether that is planned. I recognise that some people take the view that it is invidious to make allowances at all, but that is not the point that we are making.
Perhaps I may make a point on the Question whether Clause 27 shall stand part of the Bill, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, indicates he will not speak separately. During the debate in the Commons on directions to the fire authority, reference was made to directions covering both management and operational matters. Similar to the point about membership in another clause, it would be helpful to understand why there is any need for this provision. Things seem to be working perfectly well. However, if there is to be provision for directions, are they expected to extend to operational matters? There is a considerable distinction between managing the authority and giving directions about how it should operate, which, traditionally and rightly, is a matter for the professionals.
These amendments would wipe out the whole of Part 5. I am not at all certain that that is a very good idea. I have a note from the Mayor to the effect that he supports the Bill. He points out that it will give the Mayor a greater say in the running of the London fire and emergency plan, including a power of direction over its activities and making two appointments to the board. He also points out that he has power of direction over Transport for London and the London Development Agency and that the Bill would bring the LFEPA into the mainstream of GLA companies. I do not think that a case has been made to wipe out Part 5 entirely as these amendments would.
I hope that I can reassure the Committee on the important points raised. I shall speak in support of the Questions that these clauses shall stand part of the Bill. Clause 25 gives the Mayor wider powers in the appointment of LFEPA members. At present the Mayor is accountable for the budget of LFEPA but, beyond that, has little influence over the work of the authority. This clause helps to redress that situation by enabling him to appoint two members to the 17-strong board through his own nomination. That will strengthen the effectiveness of the board in determining fire and rescue related issues.
I fully recognise the noble Lord’s point that in the past seven years LFEPA has been very effective in running the London Fire Brigade and driving forward the numerous and far-reaching modernisation changes required under the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 and the subsequent national frameworks. Indeed, the 2006-07 performance assessment results for the fire and rescue service, published by the Audit Commission at the beginning of April, assessed LFEPA as improving well upon its 2005 rating of “good”. It awarded LFEPA an overall service assessment score of level 3, which is defined as,
“Performing well—consistently above minimum requirements”.
I applaud LFEPA’s performance in that respect.
However, a good performance hitherto does not mean that there is not scope for making things even more effective. Allowing the Mayor to nominate two members of the board will not only provide him with a degree of influence that his budgetary responsibilities merit—in tandem with Clause 27, to which I shall refer—but will provide wider stakeholder membership of the authority.
To cover the point made by the noble Baroness, it is envisaged that the Mayor might nominate representatives of interests such as the business community, minority ethnic groups or people with relevant fire and resilience experience. Such appointments should enable even greater effectiveness in operational delivery and ensure a more robust governance structure for the implementation of the integrated risk management plan, known as the London safety plan, which determines the measures to be taken to protect London and its communities.
Clause 26 lifts the prohibition on Assembly Members who are also a chair or vice-chair of LFEPA from receiving allowances for carrying out their roles. We discussed the principle behind this amendment during our debate on Clause 19. We believe that this change is entirely justified given the heavy workloads that chairs and vice-chairs of the authority bear. It implements a recommendation made by the Senior Salaries Review Body in 2005. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, oppose this clause, but that would create inconsistency in the legislation. It would surely be inappropriate to remove the new arrangements for LFEPA while keeping them for the LDA and TfL.
Clause 27 provides power for the Mayor, under new Section 328A of the 1999 Act, to issue directions and guidance to LFEPA, consistent with the Fire and Rescue National Framework and subject to the Secretary of State’s reserve powers. The clause also includes a power for the Secretary of State, in new Section 328B of the 1999 Act, to direct the Mayor to revise or revoke guidance or directions given to LFEPA when he considers that they are inconsistent with the Fire and Rescue National Framework or fire safety enforcement guidance.
I have already referred to the Mayor’s position of responsibility for LFEPA’s budget while having little say in its strategic leadership. The new provisions will give the Mayor more influence over delivery while ensuring the arrangements for LFEPA remain broadly compatible with those for fire and rescue authorities elsewhere. They will enable the Mayor to exercise greater influence over the authority and, where necessary, direct it on operational and non-operational matters for greater efficiency. Such matters might include measures to ensure greater equality and diversity in its workforce or to have regard to the wider GLA environmental agenda, or the relocation of fire-fighting appliances to areas of greater risk in London, where it is supported by the risk management plan. The proposals will therefore reflect his mandate as an elected citywide Mayor.
The majority of LFEPA members will be elected. The clause provides the opportunity for the beneficial addition of relevant experience and expertise, and I do not accept that, given the injection of this wider representation, the loss of one borough member will have a negative effect on LFEPA’s community role. Furthermore, the London Assembly has the power of scrutiny over LFEPA, thus providing a further democratic safeguard.
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, referred to the Metropolitan Police Authority. Similar arrangements will be made for its chairs and deputy chairs who are Assembly Members by regulations made under the Police and Justice Act 2006. They will be made in 2008 in time for the Mayor’s powers of appointment to kick in.
In the light of our discussion, what worries me most—and it worries the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—is any Mayor having operational powers over fire authorities in London. Having been involved in fire authorities for some time and strikes in Essex over the years, I would be most concerned if the Mayor had powers to move or suggest the movement of fire appliances around London. Would that be possible against the Chief Fire Officer’s advice, for example? I am more concerned about the operational side than anything else. If there is any service whose professionals should be involved in operational decisions, it is the Fire Service.
I am concerned about other aspects of the clauses but mostly about that provision. Perhaps the Minister could clarify the reference to moving fire appliances around London. It would greatly concern me if the Mayor could do that.
That point concerns me greatly as well. As I understood it, we were being told that they would or could be moved by the Mayor in accordance with the risk management plan. However, I believe that that plan is a matter for LFEPA. Quite apart from the objection in principle to the Mayor having such a power, I do not understand the logic. Moreover, I know that LFEPA is doing a great deal of work to increase the number of its firefighters from black and minority ethnic communities and the number of women.
I reiterate the tribute I paid to the work of LFEPA. We need to be clear that the Mayor can make operational directions in accordance with the London risk management plan, and it must be in accordance with the national framework. If it is not, the Secretary of State also has the power to intervene.
I am grateful to the Minister for her reassurance on Clause 26, which I support—it is absolutely right. My concern was that it specifically amends the GLA Act to allow payments to Assembly Members. Schedule 2 to the Police and Justice Act 1996 makes no reference to the GLA Act. I hope that the regulations will enable payment to be made should an Assembly Member be chair of the MPA, which I suspect is likely.
On Clause 25, the Minister correctly paid tribute to the work of LFEPA over its seven years. I still do not understand why it is now necessary to make this change. Reference was made to the greater influence—
[Sitting suspended for a Division in the House from 4.07 to 4.17 pm.]
For each of the seven years of LFEPA’s existence the Mayor has had the power, which he has exercised, to appoint its chair. He appoints its members, a proportion of whom are members of his own political party. I do not understand how reducing the elected membership by two and appointing two members would increase the Mayor’s influence over the budget and how it is operated. I have attended every budget debate in the London Assembly since the creation of LFEPA and cannot recall any significant problem or difference between the Mayor and the Assembly or the Mayor and LFEPA. What problem are we trying to fix?
Reference was made to the two appointed members perhaps representing the business community or adding to the ethnic mix of LFEPA. Those are desirable objectives but they are not specified in the Bill. Any future Mayor of London may appoint any two people whom he or she wishes to appoint. The suspicion will inevitably be that the Mayor will appoint members of his or her party to obtain the majority that the electors have not given to the fire authority. That cannot be right either. So I return to the question: what is the problem that we are trying to fix? After seven years’ experience, I do not think that there is a problem and I do not think that this clause is right or necessary.
Perhaps we made a mistake in including in this group the Question whether Clause 26 shall stand part of the Bill, because we are obviously not opposed to people getting due recompense for their work. If we come back to this matter, we shall not talk about Clause 26 but about the other two clauses.
We have had an interesting debate. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, asked: if it ain’t broke, why fix it? That is the general message. This has worked well in London. If Londoners and all three political parties accept it, why do we want to change it?
If we want the body to include extra representatives from the business world or elsewhere, I do not understand why they could not be additional to the existing representation. Why do we have to reduce the number of democratically elected people? I am all for increasing the number of democratically elected people on bodies such as health authorities, police authorities, fire authorities or whatever, though in the past few years all Governments have been reducing that number. I strongly oppose removing elected people and introducing others. I agree with having other representatives but, I repeat, they should be added to the existing members. Representatives from business or ethnic minority groups could be added. Therefore, we continue to oppose Clause 25.
I am concerned by the operational part of Clause 27. I have just said that I agree with bodies having elected membership but I do not think that politicians should be involved in firefighting. That would be a big mistake. Again referring to my own experience, at one stage we decided that we would have more women in the fire authority. We set a target percentage but the required number could not be recruited, so we did not have as many firefighters as we wanted. You cannot interfere with that and operational matters such as moving fire engines around London for political reasons, so I very much oppose the Mayor having any operational input to the London fire authority.
Having said that, I shall not press my opposition to the clause today but we will return to Clauses 25 and 27.
Clause 25 agreed to.
Clauses 26 and 27 agreed to.
72: After Clause 27, insert the following new Clause—
“Greater London Authority to be police authority for London
(1) The Police Act 1996 (c. 16) is amended as follows.
(2) After section 5A (maintenance of metropolitan police force) insert—
“5AA Police authority for London
(1) The Greater London Authority shall be the police authority for the metropolitan police district.
(2) All executive functions in respect of the role of the Greater London Authority as a police authority shall be carried out by the Mayor of London.
(3) The London Assembly shall have power to scrutinise the exercise of the Mayor’s functions under subsection (2) above and carry out all scrutiny of the work of the police force as was previously carried out by the Metropolitan Police Authority.
(4) All references to the Metropolitan Police Authority in this and any other enactment shall be construed in accordance with this section.
The Mayor shall set the component part of the GLA budget previously set by the Metropolitan Police Authority.
5AC Assembly Police Committee
(1) The London Assembly shall establish a committee to carry out its functions under section 5AA(3) above.
(2) Four magistrates, appointed in the same manner as magistrate members of the Metropolitan Police Authority were, shall be co-opted members of this committee.”
(3) Leave out sections 5B and 5C and Schedule 2A.”
The noble Lord said: This group of amendments would give more powers to the Mayor. The new clauses they propose relate to the GLA’s role in policing in London. Amendment No. 72 would make the GLA the capital’s police authority, while Amendments Nos. 74 and 75 would give the Mayor and, to a lesser extent, the Assembly a say in the appointment of the commissioner and deputy commissioner of the metropolitan area.
The driving force behind each of these proposals is to increase accountability for policing in London. By accepting Amendment No. 72, the Government would place as the authority a body that was answerable to Londoners—the very people it is supposed to protect. It is not uncommon around the world to have some form of democratic accountability for police authorities, whether through the election of senior police figures or other means. Although the GLA would clearly be judged at the polls on many things other than its performance in policing, this would certainly provide an opportunity for the public to register any disapproval.
The proposals in Amendments Nos. 74 and 75 may prove more palatable. Amendment No. 74 provides for the appointment of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. It would compel the Secretary of State to have regard to any recommendations made to him by the Mayor, as well as any representations made by the London Assembly. Amendment No. 75 would also ensure a role for the Mayor in the appointment of the deputy commissioner. These powers would not extend beyond recommendations but would represent an improvement on the current system of patronage.
Just as we support the involvement of the boroughs in local matters for which they are largely responsible and where their reputation will be most affected, so we think it is right that the GLA should have some involvement in policing in the capital. I hope that the Government will no longer accuse us of indiscriminately attempting to strip the Mayor of powers at every possible opportunity. Where there is justification for increased involvement, we have always said that we will support it. I beg to move.
I have every sympathy with wanting to amend the current governance arrangements for the Metropolitan Police. Everyone would agree that we would not start from here if we had a blank sheet of paper. As I understand it, the commissioner is accountable to the Home Office, the MPA, the Mayor and the Assembly. On the other hand, he has national roles as well as those for London. I am confused about how those national roles would be dealt with under the amendment.
The existing structure, while certainly imperfect, seems to have allowed for an increase in community policing in London, which I think most Londoners support. Therefore, although imperfect, it may be delivering some of what we would like it to deliver.
What is most odd about the current structure is that there are 12 Assembly Members on the MPA. The roles of proposing, scrutinising and then implementing the budget do not sit well together; I would like to see a much clearer separation between the scrutiny role of the Assembly and the MPA. A solution, although it is probably also imperfect, is to look at the MPA more as an executive management board for the police rather than another tier offering semi-scrutiny, semi-budgetary responsibility and semi-accountability.
I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, on getting into bed with the Mayor of London on this issue. Of all the amendments tabled by Conservative Peers, this is the first and possibly the only one that has received the endorsement of the Mayor. For all those reasons, it is probably wrong.
The amendment demonstrates a lack of understanding of some of the principles that underpin policing more generally, not just in London. The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, highlighted how myths about the confused accountability of the Metropolitan Police have been allowed to grow; indeed, it has been quite happy, on occasion, to promote such myths. The reality is much simpler than suggested. There could be simplifications in the existing arrangement, but I question whether an abolition of the police authority is the best route to delivering an effective and efficient police service for London that best meets the needs of Londoners.
The amendment suggests that all executive functions in respect of the Greater London Authority’s role as a police authority shall be carried out by the Mayor of London. In practice, the Mayor of London would personally appoint all commanders, deputy assistant commissioners and assistant commissioners of the Metropolitan Police; he would be responsible for its senior police staff and, apart from responsibilities with regard to the budget, would also take personal responsibility for all its property transactions. I suspect that that is inconsistent with the general thrust of the views expressed by Members of this Committee about the Mayor taking action on his own, but that would be the effect of the amendment.
Amendment No. 72 would give powers of scrutiny to the London Assembly. There is, I accept, some duplication in that the Assembly seems occasionally to carry out functions that have been carried out exhaustively by the police authority. Some simplification might make sense. I have seen senior officers of the Metropolitan Police appearing and answering questions on a topic and then being asked exactly the same questions about exactly the same topic by exactly the same Members of the London Assembly at its budget committee. That seems a wasteful use of everybody’s time. I wonder what is going through the brain processes of London Assembly Members; when the same question is asked and answered on two separate occasions, in two different places, do they remember whether they have received the answers in the first place?
The question that has to be answered is whether these arrangements will deliver more effectively an efficient police service that meets the needs of Londoners. One consequence of having an authority dedicated to looking at the work of the Metropolitan Police has been a degree of focus that, I submit, would not be possible if it were done on an executive basis by the Mayor and by a scrutiny committee of the London Assembly.
I could burden the Committee with a series of examples from my four years as chair of the police authority but I shall not. The detailed work of individual police authority members, some of whom have been London Assembly Members but many of whom were not, has had a significant impact on how policing in London has operated. I fail to see how these arrangements would improve it.
There is also the interesting question of how the amendment would work in respect of the recent changes, involving crime and disorder reduction partnerships in London, following the Police and Justice Act 2006. If executive functions reposed with the Mayor of London, he would be required to be a member of all 32 crime and disorder reduction partnerships in London. Although the Mayor of London must have the capacity to walk on water, I rather suspect that that requirement would be very trying. In practice, police authority input to local crime and disorder reduction partnerships would not happen, which would damage the effectiveness of local policing.
The amendment suggests that the Assembly police committee be bolstered by the addition of four magistrates. That is an interesting concept, as the Police and Justice Act has just removed the separate category, rightly or wrongly, of magistrates sitting on police authorities. Although I believe that magistrates have made an enormous contribution to the work of the police authority in London, I am not sure why it is proposed that there be four magistrates and not other independents, as would be the case elsewhere.
On Amendments Nos. 74 and 75, the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said that his proposed approach would be better than the current system of patronage. Again, I suspect that that means the noble Lord has misread the legislation and misunderstood the process followed. The appointment of the present Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis involved an exhaustive process that could hardly be described as simple patronage. Initially it involved a panel, including the chair of the police authority, the Permanent Secretary of the Home Office and some fully paid-up member of the great and the good to act as an independent assessor, simply to screen the applications received. There was then an extensive panel interview—no doubt following all sorts of bizarre psychometric tests, but I am not sure—by members of the police authority, with Home Office representatives present, which made recommendations to the Home Secretary. The Mayor of London was also consulted at that stage. Then the Home Secretary, having considered the recommendations made and representations received, made a recommendation to the Queen. I will not repeat the even more tortuous arrangements for the appointment of the deputy commissioner, but you could hardly say that there was a system of patronage.
The amendment would limit the various possible stages. In its proposals for the deputy commissioner of police, it seems to have made no reference to the London Assembly, even though I had understood the amendment’s purpose as being to involve the London Assembly more in the workings of policing.
These amendments are seriously flawed technically and, more particularly, would have very bad consequences for effective and efficient policing in London.
As I said earlier, I too am a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority. I should also declare—or, perhaps, admit—that I have chaired its finance committee since the authority was set up.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred to the rare occasions when the Mayor is wholly in agreement with a Conservative amendment. This may be one of those almost-as-rare occasions when I am wholly in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Harris. He has made the case against all these amendments very well and described the situation fully and accurately. I will not repeat all that he said; I simply endorse it without reservation.
One of my concerns at the suggestion that the London Assembly scrutinise the exercise of the Mayor’s functions as a police authority is that there are only 25 Members of the Assembly compared to the 23 members of the police authority, nearly half of whom are not Assembly Members, and I simply do not believe that Assembly Members could—in terms of time, priority and workload—carry out that function as effectively as the police authority has done in the past seven years. It has not been perfect; we still have a long way to go and much to learn; but we have waited 170 years for London to have its own police authority, as distinct from the Home Secretary. It could work better but it has worked well, and this proposal would be a retrograde step.
I also have considerable concern about putting all the executive power for policing in London and beyond, as has rightly been said, in the hands of any one person, whoever that office-holder might be.
Primarily for the reasons eloquently expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, Amendment No. 72 fundamentally misunderstands the nature and work of the Metropolitan Police Authority. He explained accurately the extensive process, of which he and I were part, in appointing the current commissioner and deputy commissioner. It was very thorough and lengthy; the only part he did not mention was that we all watched the applicants’ professional media interviews, and scrutiny took place. The Mayor had a say in that; he made his views clear to the Home Secretary. Whether it is necessary to enshrine that in statute I am happy to leave others to judge, but it is entirely right and sensible that the Mayor of London should have a say.
Fine. The role of the Assembly, as intended, is carried out through its membership of the Metropolitan Police Authority. As it happens, for very good reasons, I think that I am right in saying that in seven years I have been the only Member of the London Assembly to chair a committee of the police authority. The chair of the authority is an Assembly Member and always has been, but I think that I am the only Member to chair a committee. There is a very good reason for that; it is not because the other Assembly Members are lazy or do not want to do it—not at all. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said, it is because they have other priorities and other things to do. Therefore, were we to move the scrutiny role to the Assembly, we would hugely weaken the accountability of the Metropolitan Police in London for which we waited 170 years and which is now starting to make a significant difference.
It is a disarming amendment, but it has been extremely well dealt with by my noble friend Lord Harris. It is hard to disagree with him, and we have had testimony to that fact from the noble Lord, Lord Tope.
The amendment raises some important questions, which I shall address briefly because we have had a thorough debate on the implications thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Harris. Essentially, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, implied, the amendment would bring about a major change in the governance of policing in the metropolitan district. It overlooks the effectiveness of current arrangements and would overturn a settlement that we reaffirmed last autumn. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, pointed out, it shows up some technical difficulties and pre-empts some of the work that the Government have commissioned in this area.
As noble Lords said in the previous debate on LFEPA, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Its not being broke is reflected in the remarkable improvement in investment in the police authority, in terms of falling crime. I do not want to weary the Committee, but I shall give a few figures. Since the first year of the Metropolitan Police Authority, it has received an additional £827 million in grants, an increase of 50.6 per cent. The number of police officers as of last September is over 5,600 higher, or 22 per cent more, than in March 2001. Every local government ward in the Metropolitan Police district, in addition to the usual response and specialist squads, has a safer neighbourhood team of one sergeant, two constables and three police community support officers. I could go on but I shall not, because the most important thing to say is that we are seeing the results in that investment in the fall in crime. Overall, crime fell in the Metropolitan Police district by 9 per cent between 2002-03 and 2005-06. The Metropolitan Police’s own figures for the past year include further falls in particular areas, such as gun crime and crime against the person. This is an opportunity to pay tribute to the MPA and the officers involved.
Amendment No. 72 amends the Police Act 1996 by inserting new Section 5AA, which would abolish the MPA and hand the role of police authority to the GLA. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, sought to accommodate the dual nature of the GLA by assigning executive functions to the Mayor and a power of scrutiny to the Assembly. We have heard how that would either become more complex or not be as effective as the present arrangements. New Section 5AB provides that the Mayor shall set the component budget in respect of policing, and new Section 5AC provides that the London Assembly in its role of scrutiny, both of the Mayor’s executive functions and of the Metropolitan Police service, shall establish a committee for that purpose to which four magistrates shall be co-opted.
That overturns what we sought to establish in the Greater London Authority Act 1999, a settlement that we modified only last year. The reason for the 1999 Act was to create a police authority for the Metropolitan Police district that was based on the model of police authorities elsewhere and integrated with the democratic governance of London, which was also being changed. The current model was introduced by the party opposite in the mid-1990s. It has a mix of individuals; the majority are elected and the others are magistrates and members of the public chosen for their skills. This model was a Conservative Government reform. The first members were appointed in 1995 to provide a greater skill base, which has led to greater diversity.
Noble Lords will know that a tripartite relationship governs policing in England and Wales. In practice, that means that the Home Secretary holds a strategic and national role, the chief officer has operational responsibility and the police authority is accountable for performance and setting local priorities. The police authority must have a policing plan that sets out local priorities following consultation. However, there is a distinct difference between the role of a police authority as a single-purpose authority and that of a local authority which is responsible for the delivery of a wide range of public services.
In addition to the arguments of my noble friend Lord Harris and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, there are two further arguments that I shall address briefly. I understand the argument for a greater role for the Greater London Authority, but we have already enhanced the role of the Mayor in respect of the MPA through the Police and Justice Act 2006, which only recently passed through this House. Its provisions include removing the bar on the Mayor being a member of the police authority and specifying that the Mayor of London is to be the chair of the authority, should he choose to be on the authority, or must appoint a chair from among the members of the authority—currently the members of the MPA elect their own chair. In addition, the Mayor may appoint one or more vice-chairs to the authority. These provisions, including those to give greater functions and flexibility in membership of police authorities, were debated as recently as last autumn. They are additional to the existing provisions on the role of the Mayor in choosing the Assembly Members on the police authority, setting the component budget and expressing a view in the appointment of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. We have tried and succeeded in enhancing the role of the Mayor without chucking out a tried-and-tested system, which this amendment would do.
My noble friend Lord Harris asked the critical question whether the amendment will lead to a more effective system. The answer is no because it overturns existing arrangements and has significant flaws. One of them is that it is not clear how the division of responsibility between Mayor and Assembly will work in this scheme. Amendment No. 72 inserts new Section 5AA into the Police Act 1996, assigning executive functions to the former and scrutiny to the latter. The problem is that nowhere in this amendment or existing legislation is there a definition of the executive functions of a police authority as distinct from scrutiny functions. If we are unclear about how they may be separated and have no knowledge or experience of it, how can that deliver greater clarity, transparency, accountability or effectiveness?
A key function of a police authority is to secure continuous improvement in policing services and regularly to monitor performance. The MPA undertakes direct oversight of the Metropolitan Police service through a range of committees which deal with matters such as professional standards, finance and performance. The police authority is the corporate budget-holder for policing the Metropolitan Police district. Corporately, it is responsible for the annual policing plan, priorities and consultation. In what sense are these executive or scrutiny functions?
The executive functions are further complicated because the chain of command exists within the force and not the police authority. The provision in proposed new Section 5AB for the Mayor to present the component budget for policing already rests with the Mayor in Schedule 6 to the Greater London Authority Act 1999. The co-option of magistrates and lay justices to the Assembly to form a police committee in proposed new Section 5AC would restore the precise position that the Police and Justice Act 2006 sought to correct. My noble friend Lord Harris dealt with the replication of the provision requiring four magistrate members as opposed to a reduction to one, for very good reason.
The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, spoke about layers of complexity, but we should again note that London is different, which explains much of that complexity. Nowhere else, for example, is the commissioner appointed by Her Majesty the Queen.
I hope that I have addressed the remaining arguments which make it difficult for us to accept the amendment. I shall answer the question whether there is a need for change, which raises important issues. There is cause for debating how we can continue to seek greater effectiveness and improvement. In the Government’s security, crime and justice policy review, Building on Progress, of 27 March, we acknowledged that, following the achievements of the past few years, there remains the challenge of,
“empowering local people and bringing together the police, local authorities and other agencies more effectively to pursue community safety in a visible and accountable way”.
That challenge is one of four key elements in the review of policing in England and Wales that we announced that day. The other three elements were: reducing bureaucracy, mainstreaming neighbourhood policing and making the best use of resources. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has appointed Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the former Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Police Service of Northern Ireland and currently Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, to lead this review of policing.
We have made it clear that that review will look at the experience of directly elected mayors such as we have in London. Obviously, I cannot prejudge the outcome, but it will allow us to reflect further on how we strengthen accountability. The noble Lord’s amendment pre-empts the outcome without, for example, addressing another key point identified by his party’s own interim report on police reform; namely, what it claims is the desire of Londoners for the Metropolitan Police service to be more accountable. A debate on improvements is therefore taking place between the parties.
Amendments Nos. 74 and 75 relate to the appointments process for the commissioner and the deputy commissioner of police. In the light of the forensic demolition job by my noble friend Lord Harris, I shall not pursue them because they are consequential on the proposal. The debate has illuminated important issues, but I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.
I thank the Minister for that answer, particularly for the last part, because it goes some way towards addressing our reasons for tabling the amendments. I fully respect the knowledge of the noble Lords, Lord Harris and Lord Tope, of the MPA and their involvement in it. They obviously know more about how it functions than me. I was a member of the Essex Police Authority for some years. Although it was much smaller and rather different, I know the differences that exist between the authority and the way the chief constable operates.
However, we tabled these amendments to dip our toes in the water. Clearly, neither the noble Lords, Lord Harris or Lord Tope, nor the Minister, have looked at how Conservative Party policy is developing in this area. The arguments today strengthen the whole idea of a directly elected MPA—as far as my party is concerned, if the workload proves too much for the GLA and so on, that should happen.
Returning to my comments on the previous amendment, there should be much greater elected elements in all such bodies. That is why we have proposed the amendments. Whatever we think of the GLA and the Mayor, at least they are elected. The amendments need rethinking and rewording and I accept some of the points made about them. We will rethink them before we bring back any similar amendments.
Regarding executive powers for the Mayor, I have a tremendous number of executive powers in Essex; I do not fulfil them all and I delegate them to other people. Whatever powers you give the Mayor on policing, he would obviously delegate many of them. He would not attend some 39 partnership meetings and so on—or is it 40? I shall return to these matters but beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
A Division has been called in the House and the Committee stands adjourned for 10 minutes.
[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 4.51 until 5.01 pm.]
[Amendments Nos. 73 to 75 not moved.]
Clause 28 [The London housing strategy]:
76: Clause 28, page 29, line 24, leave out from beginning to end of line 6 on page 30
The noble Lord said: We now come to the two most contentious areas of the Bill, housing and planning. Parts 6 and 7 have attracted the most controversy; it is not hard to fathom why. Throughout the passage of this legislation we have fought to devolve powers as far as possible. Therefore, it is extremely disappointing that, in a Bill that will affect London physically and permanently, there is the greatest shift of power away from the boroughs. All our amendments in this group affect the London housing strategy. As regards the extent of the remit, it is appropriate not to be unduly prescriptive and not to be too vulnerable to the individual whim or ideology of a solitary figure, however sage that figure might be.
The cohort of amendments led by Amendment No. 77 would delete all the references to “recommendations” or “expectations” and replace them with “guidance”. That would make it entirely clear that the housing strategy is intended only as an advisory document and will not affect the ability of local authorities or the Housing Corporation to deal with social housing grant in the usual established and trusted way.
Amendment No. 78 requires the Secretary of State to consult London Councils about the allocation of housing.
Amendment No. 87 is an important amendment to Clause 28. It would require the Mayor to consult a range of other bodies, the principal housing providers in the capital. We are opposed to the clause in its entirety. If there is to be an overall housing strategy, it is essential that there be an obligation to consult other bodies, not least the London boroughs. The Mayor should certainly have to take into account borough perspectives, both in drafting the London housing strategy and in making spending recommendations.
It may be argued that consultation should take place in any event. It is very important that that should be a statutory requirement. We also favour the change put forward by Amendment No. 89, which would make it clear that an individual London borough housing strategy should simply have regard to the London housing strategy. The obligation to be in general conformity with the overall strategy will allow very little room for manoeuvre for boroughs to adapt to the housing needs or character of their areas. It will also reduce the weight given to a strategy that is prepared by one individual alone. That is not a comment on the incumbent, as we have said several times today, but it would be the case regardless of who occupies the office. We have considerable concern about this area and I hope that others will support the amendment. I beg to move.
My amendments in this group are Amendments Nos. 87ZA, 86B and 89A—that is the order in which they appear on the supplementary Marshalled List. I apologise for tabling them late. In general, we support the Government’s proposals in this part of the Bill. Our amendments do not go as far as those of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and are tabled at the request of London Councils, the organisation, on the basis that they provide wording with which they would be more comfortable.
The amendments would ensure that the Mayor consults local housing authorities in London, has regard to the effect of his proposals on their housing functions and takes account of their statutory responsibilities. Many aspects of local housing authorities’ strategic roles are not intended to be within the scope of the London housing strategy. At Second Reading, the Minister referred to concerns expressed about how the Mayor's powers would impact on the role of the boroughs. She said:
“I reassure noble Lords that the boroughs will continue to lead on housing in their own areas. The mayor will not take over the boroughs’ legitimate lead role in housing, but boroughs’ local housing strategies will need to be in general conformity with the mayor’s strategy”.—[Official Report, 28/3/07; col. 1699.]
The amendments are intended to make it quite clear how the two roles fit together. Perhaps the Minister will be able to say something further on that, or possibly even accept the amendments—one never knows. Given that the local role deals with matters such as the landlord role, consultation with tenants and residents and wider links with employment, regeneration, health and welfare, where both the Mayor and local authorities have roles, which, although different, should be complementary, the local authorities should not be edged out by the Mayor's housing strategy.
Amendment No. 89A clarifies the requirement that housing strategies must, in general, conform. That is a concept with which we do not differ—it deals with disputes.
The opposition spokesman in the Commons described the amendments being moved again today as being as devolutionary as possible. I want to make it clear that, to the extent that powers are brought down from the Secretary of State, that is devolution that we would accept and support. Although in general we take the view that the boroughs should be left to deal with everything that is appropriate within their areas, on housing, some pan-London aspects need to be considered as well as the borough-level matters. I intend to ensure that that distinction is drawn and that no more local authority functions are taken over than is absolutely necessary.
On Amendment No. 87, how does the consultation that the Mayor should undertake in preparing the housing strategy—forgive me if I missed this in the introduction to the group—fit with Section 42 of the 1999 Act, where some of the players and others, including the functional bodies and the Assembly, would be consulted? That is in Section 42 of the 1999 Act. I entirely support extending consultation as in paragraphs (c) and (d) of Amendment No. 87 but I would not want to see a restriction, if they are minded to override Section 42.
I resist Amendment No. 76 and I encourage the Minister to resist Amendment No. 89. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, asked, in the context of another amendment, what question we are trying to address. I suggest the question here is homelessness in London. Two-thirds of all homeless households are in the capital; half of all overcrowded households are in the capital; and there are acute affordability issues for first-time buyers and growing families who need to move on. That is all at a time when, in the past fiscal year, at least four competent London boroughs that are in receipt of planning applications managed social housing units only in single figures. That is a disgrace.
I declare an interest as chairman of English Partnerships. Currently, I have a number of planning applications in the system in London—not our own applications. I wish to resist Amendment No. 89 because I am constantly asked to intercede by house builders who tell me that they accept the London plan; they have got used to the idea of 35 per cent social housing and 15 per cent intermediate housing—that no longer causes them a problem—they have got used to the idea that housing in the capital should include high environmental standards; and, compared with four or five years ago, they are fairly relaxed about some of the aspects of the Mayor’s plan. But they are frustrated because, when they put in an application that conforms to the London plan, frequently individual boroughs choose to dumb down the amount of social housing or try to dumb down the density and so on. That leads to many house builders spending four or five years in unarmed combat in the appeals system. Sadly, many house builders simply up sticks and are no longer prepared to do business in the capital.
When the pressure on housing for young people, homeless people and growing families is as acute as we can remember, it is misguided to suggest in Amendment No. 89 that boroughs ought to “have regard to” rather than “be in general conformity with” the London housing strategy. It would make the process of providing good quality, affordable housing and housing across the range of tenures much easier in London. I strongly urge my noble friend to resist the amendment.
I support the Bill rather than the amendments. As everyone now knows, there is a housing crisis in London. Affordable housing has become a bit of a joke for young people who seek to get on to the housing ladder. There is a shortage of affordable housing in London, which has enormous problems across the region, resulting in a situation in which the workers who support our public services cannot afford to live here. That really is not an acceptable situation.
I am a Londoner, which is my main interest in the Bill, as, unlike a number of my colleagues, I have no experience of local government. That is not my area of expertise. I am interested in the governance of London as a long-term Londoner. As an example of what is happening on the London market, 20 years ago my husband and I purchased our West Hampstead flat for £40,000; a similar flat was on sale recently for £600,000. The difference in those prices is absolutely fantastic. It does not fill me with pride or joy; it fills me with horror. It simply means that people cannot afford to live in reasonable comfort in London. That simply will not do.
The Bill will provide the authority for the Mayor to introduce a London-wide strategy. That is terribly important. The Mayor supports the provisions. Under the Bill he is required to consult local authorities and has no right to interfere with the powers that local authorities already have. It is simply a question of producing a London-wide strategy, and the funding will also be provided to go with that strategy. This is an important development, and I hope that it has the effect of providing, eventually, more affordable housing for the working population in London and making it affordable for young people starting out in life to have at least somewhere reasonable to be able to continue to live in London. I support the Bill.
On the whole, I support the line taken by London Councils. I have previously declared an interest as a joint president.
My two amendments in this group are Amendments Nos. 86A and 87A. This has been an omission—I was going to going to say a casus omissus, but one must not use Latin phrases. The reference is to special authorities. The amendments would require the Mayor to take account of the particular circumstances of any area within Greater London that is a special authority when preparing his strategy.
It may not be immediately apparent to all noble Lords what that means. “Special authority” is a term used in local government finance legislation to describe a local government area that is principally a business district. For the cognoscenti, the precise definition is to be found in Section 144 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988, which is referred to in Amendment No. 87A. A special authority is entitled to levy a local rate, reflecting the fact that the area is mainly covered by business. I should mention in parenthesis that the Lyons report recommended that this arrangement should continue.
The only special authority in local government is the City of London. As Members will not need to be told, the City is not like any other part of London; the number of residents is tiny—in fact, in the whole of the City it is less than in the smallest ward of the City of Westminster. There are only just over 9,000 people—although that is based on a fairly old census. The City is wholly atypical in having a business voting system that bears similarities to the voting system applied to the setting-up of business improvement districts, which the Government introduced. I cannot resist adding that in doing so they almost exactly copied a Bill that I introduced a couple of years before—but that is history.
The fact is that the voting system in the City is different. It is governed by a private Act from 2002, which I took through the Chamber. Because the City is mainly an environment for doing business and has a very small population, it follows that the amount of residential housing that can be provided inside the boundary is of necessity limited. I should add that the City Corporation has a long history of providing housing outside the boundaries; it still does so, and there is no issue about provision of housing that way.
Clause 28 inserts a new subsection 7(a) into new Section 333A of the Greater London Authority Act and requires the Mayor to take account of the effect of his strategy on areas adjoining Greater London. However, it does not require him to take account of the effect on areas inside Greater London, even where, as in the case of the City, the circumstances are so different from those of the London boroughs. I referred to the City’s importance as an international financial centre that brings great benefits to London and to the national economy. Therefore Amendment No. 86A is right and should be accepted because it asks the Mayor to take account of any effect on special authorities, which in this case would be the City. In commending this amendment to the Minister, I hope that she will look at it sympathetically.
I shall start by mentioning that I am chief executive of London First, which has house builders and property companies among its members. I support the Bill in the main. It is appropriate and necessary that the Mayor has a strategic role in housing and in planning, which we will come on to later. The population and economic growth challenges facing London make necessary a special response from the Greater London Authority to drive them forward.
I shall make a few specific points. The first is on consistency between housing and planning. The Mayor should decide the broad allocation of housing grant in the capital in line with his policies in the London plan and the housing strategy. It is appropriate that the Secretary of State should have the opportunity to issue a direction if the strategy is inconsistent with national policies or is detrimental to the interests of other areas, as with the London plan. However, proposed new Section 333A(5) in the Greater London Authority Act 1999 is broader than the planning equivalent and gives the Secretary of State powers to neuter the Mayor’s housing strategy, which might happen if he were of a different political persuasion, so it is important that it does not go that far.
I do not support Amendment No. 89, which provides that local authority housing strategies should “have regard to” rather than “be in general conformity”. That is the way the London plan is dealt with and is appropriate.
We have not objected much to the housing strategy. These amendments would apply to the strategy a lighter touch for the local authorities. However, I rise to speak because the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, briefly touched on the implications for resources, and we have not mentioned them. Under these provisions, the Secretary of State will become responsible for directing the housing grant to London boroughs and will decide how those resources are allocated. It is important that the London boroughs are consulted about how that grant is divided up. That is the purpose of Amendments Nos. 78 and 87, which provide that the boroughs are closely involved not only in how the money is allocated but in how much each of them will get to fulfil its housing role. This is an important part of the Bill, and I wish to make clear that that is what we are concerned about.
I should like to speak to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, partly because I am not sure that I fully understand its purpose. It would give special consideration to the Corporation of London, which I accept is different—it is essentially a trading estate and therefore behaves differently from the rest of the capital city. As I understand the amendment it would simply require the Mayor, in preparing or revising the housing strategy, to have regard to the effect of his proposals on the City of London. Given that the strategy is about London, that it relates to the distribution of resources to housing authorities and that the Government will presumably not allocate resources to a housing authority that does not have land or the facilities to provide more houses, I am not sure why it is necessary to have this exemption or special treatment of the Corporation of London.
I want to speak to the generality of the amendments where they refer specifically to the need to take guidance and not follow recommendations. My experience of these matters in Westminster, where I live—I stand here once again as a council tax payer—was to follow very closely developments over the Candy & Candy applications to build the Bowater House development in Knightsbridge. Under the freedom of information legislation, I secured from Westminster City Council all the background documents and reports that flowed between the Mayor’s office and Westminster and between the offices of the local authority and its members. I also gained access to the Section 106 agreement, which I have with me, and which was drawn up with the developer. It is quite clear to me, following that particular application, that there is resistance from some councillors within Westminster—I cannot speak for other boroughs—to social housing development within their wards. That is happening.
I first came across this in 1991; I was one of the original objectors to the housing scandal in Westminster which, Members of the Committee might recall, involved Lady Porter’s influence. I was actually the original objector to the cemeteries campaign, which was essentially about the misuse of power within Westminster. We did all the original work and I made the original submission to the district auditor; I submitted 44 objections, which led to the inquiry. So what happens in Westminster greatly interests me. I am now convinced that this is going on still in its treatment of social housing applications.
I have a massive document here and could spend all night reading on to the record the kind of material that has come my way. I hope that during this debate on housing, we are able to look at the way in which Section 106 agreements work. I am worried about the position—
No, I was not aware of that. However, I am aware that Westminster City Council is very good at presenting its case, and I hope that that is not a synthetic request to the noble Lord, Lord Best. I hope that if he comes up with some fairly radical recommendations, they will be followed up by Westminster City Council.
A young person in Westminster cannot afford to acquire a property unless they rent. If they rent, they get what is little more than a slum for £200 a week—that will be a studio flat. They might get a little more than a slum for £300 a week, with one bedroom. I know young people in London; lots of my son’s friends live here and they tell me about what is going on in the housing market. I have seen some places where living conditions are appalling. The reason rents are high is, first, the sale of housing association property—not helped, perhaps I may say, by our own government rules that force housing associations to sell some of their housing stock—and, secondly, the fact that people simply cannot manage in the present circumstances.
In London, local authorities simply do not have the stock and are not in a position to help. Thankfully, following the Prescott initiative that introduced measures to make it more difficult for tenants to buy their properties in London, we have managed to retain a greater number of properties within the public sector. However, until those changes in the discount regime were introduced only a year or two ago, we were still selling properties in London and denuding that part of the market that was available to people for reasonable rents. I desperately want to see more comparatively low-rent property made available within the public sector in London. That simply cannot happen in Westminster, given the way we are going.
It is impossible for young people to buy in London. A one-bedroom former council flat in Westminster will cost you £250,000, which will require a mortgage of around £1,550 to £1,600 a month—nearly £20,000 a year. If you want to buy a property in an owner-occupied estate, you could add 50 per cent to that. It is utterly impossible for people to purchase, out of post-tax income, a property in the Westminster area. The cost of property in Westminster is reflected right across central London. The only way around that is for someone to grab this issue, run with it and require local authorities to build, and require far more social housing in private housing planning applications.
Section 106 agreements do not work as they should and there should be far more enforcement of them. I have not looked at all the amendments tabled, but the Section 106 document in relation to Bowater House demonstrated a lack of proper enforcement powers to ensure that the developer fulfilled the requirements to provide social housing within the time specified in the agreement. The agreement was sloppily drawn up and we need a completely new regime to deal with this issue in London. I do not, frankly, give a damn who the Mayor is, so long as they take on that responsibility.
I understand that we modified our original proposals. Perhaps I may say to the Government that I would have given the Mayor far more substantial powers to deal with this issue because, to put it bluntly, I do not trust the boroughs that I know.
This good debate suddenly came to a stirring end with the call from my noble friend. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, invited me to go further in response to some of her questions. I will go further; I have a long speaking note, I am afraid, because this is a long list of amendments raising different issues on this topic. I hope that the Committee will bear with me. I will deal with them in some detail because it is important to be clear about what powers we are talking about, their limits and implications. Some noble Lords’ comments indicate a misunderstanding or misreading. I hope that I can provide reassurances on several points.
We have had an interesting encounter with some of the significant problems of London and what sets it apart as regards the scale of the housing challenge, both in terms of homelessness, overcrowding and the number of people in temporary accommodation. As my noble friends Lady Ford and Lord Campbell-Savours said, it is clear that London is in a class of its own in that respect. Whatever strategy we adopt for London will have to be different and very robust. One need only consider that, between 2006 and 2016, the number of households in London will increase by 40,000 a year. Noble Lords have given examples of the impact of house prices. People on the lowest incomes are hit very hard, because lower-quartile house prices were more than 8.5 times lower-quartile incomes across London. The situations that my noble friend Lady Turner described are hardly unique; we could all find similar examples.
The housing challenge in London is significantly different because it cannot be met on a London borough-by-borough basis. It is a cross-borough issue, if for no other reason than that the 2001 census recorded that more than 2 million London workers travel more than 5 kilometres to work. London boroughs already participate in cross-boundary nomination arrangements for the use of social housing. We have touched in this debate on the challenges of providing social and affordable housing, which will run through what I say.
Major developments in London, such as the Thames Gateway, Barking riverside, the Greenwich peninsula, or Barnet and Walthamstow, which connect with the Cambridge-London growth area, are designed to respond to needs across London and not simply within boroughs. Such developments have not only to span and integrate policies across the boroughs but also to integrate with wider policies across the south-east. That is what the Mayor has already developed in successive London plans, which is his job. He is uniquely placed to take a strategic view of housing needs and to make the most of synergies with transport, infrastructure and planning. A clearer and more strategic understanding of housing need and provision is crucial. My colleagues in DCLG have been working to develop a better notion of green planning, taking account of land and housing together, and to look at how we assess the needs of communities and plan for them, be it by age, condition or family size. We are all committed to developing better policies for providing affordable housing.
The Mayor can already provide a London housing strategy. The Bill will make it a statutory strategy. It simply strengthens the influence of the housing strategy and puts it on the same footing as other statutory strategies prepared by the Mayor. It does not create an exceptional power. The proposal that London boroughs’ housing strategies should be in general conformity with the Mayor’s strategy reinforces the impact of these provisions. The Mayor can already advise on housing spending priorities. The draft provisions in the Bill strengthen the impact of that advice by setting it out in primary legislation and requiring the Housing Corporation, which is the agency responsible for delivering affordable housing, for the first time to have regard to the Mayor’s recommendations. The Bill therefore achieves the right balance of powers between all the players in the housing field. It is not the whole story, but it is a vital part of what we have to do.
The provision of affordable housing in London is of national importance: it cannot even be contained within London. Planned investment of £1.5 billion in 2006-08 is equal to almost half the whole programme across England. Investment in London has an impact across the wider south-east and beyond. That is why it is right that the Bill contains reserve powers, particularly in new Section 333B, but also in new Sections 333A(6) and 333C, for the Secretary of State to safeguard both national interests and those of regions adjoining London.
I welcome the cross-party support for the Bill today. The noble Baroness spoke about the need for housing strategies, but what arguments have been made against the proposals? Concern has been expressed that the Bill will somehow make it possible for the Mayor to direct spending on housing in individual boroughs and therefore ride roughshod over local housing policies. Let me lay that to rest now. The clause does not provide any powers to direct the money to the boroughs. It enables the Mayor to give advice but the Secretary of State will make the final decisions. Frankly, whether we are talking about recommendations or anything else, it is still an advisory power. In order to make that clear, perhaps I may unpack what we are achieving in the nature of funding.
The funding affected by the proposals in the Bill falls within the regional housing pot. That pot is made up of three elements: first, funding for affordable housing that goes to the Housing Corporation; secondly, funding for decent homes that goes directly to local authorities, because their own stock and activities are affected; and, thirdly, funding primarily for decent homes and regeneration initiatives in the private sector. We have to distinguish between those three funding streams in the Bill.
In London, funding for both decent homes and private regeneration initiatives is already allocated directly to boroughs by the Secretary of State on advice from the Mayor. The Bill simply codifies the current arrangements. For the affordable housing funding that goes to the Housing Corporation, the proposed clause introduces a more influential role for the Mayor, which we believe is entirely appropriate. I hope that I can reassure noble Lords by explaining how those powers are contained.
The amendments set out two alternative approaches to the housing funding arrangements in London. Both would undermine the key strategy, especially affordable housing, because they would inhibit the Mayor’s ability to drive forward its implementation alongside the wider national priorities. I am sure that noble Lords do not want to do that.
Amendments Nos. 76 and 78 would remove the fundamental structure provided in the current draft clause for the Mayor to make recommendations, through the London housing strategy, about spending on housing in London. In its place, the amendment proposes the direct allocation of all funding to individual London boroughs following negotiations, which also involve London councils.
The problem is that that simply overturns any notion of a strategic housing policy and the need for one. As I said, supply and demand for housing is unequally spread across London. The boroughs with the available sites are not necessarily those with the highest housing need. Therefore, we need a strategic approach. The amendments would also give the Secretary of State direct responsibility. He or she would have to “have regard” to the London housing strategy.
That model falls a long way short of our proposals to give the Mayor a clearly defined role but, by abolishing the regional tier and replacing it with the Secretary of State, the policy would also become entirely regressive. It would contradict the notion on which regional housing policies are being successfully developed; that is, the regions know what they need and what local authorities informing the regions tell us they need. It would put in place arrangements in London which are entirely at odds with those in other regions. We do not think that negotiations led by central government—however brilliant we are—with individual boroughs are likely to deliver the sort of step-change needed, particularly in providing affordable housing. The Mayor has a key and clearly defined involvement. There is also the risk that boroughs with more resources to devote to negotiations will be able to influence the process unduly. I cannot think of any greater recipe for—perhaps the word is not “chaos”—battling between the boroughs.
For the reasons that I have given, that, in turn, would make it much more difficult for us to deliver against demanding targets for national affordable housing. Funding is currently passed to the Housing Corporation, which comes back within a framework set by Ministers on advice from the regions, including the Mayor. It allows the Housing Corporation the scope easily to move funding from one development to another on an in-year basis in response to delays, and that happens often in individual developments. Allowing for that flexibility maximises outputs. It means that you can move to where the need is; you can put the money there and keep moving.
Under the approach proposed in Amendment No. 78, affordable housing allocations would be owned territorially by London boroughs. It would be next to impossible to move funding between developments and would seriously inhibit what could be achieved.
The alternative approach in Amendments Nos. 77 and 79 to 86 presents another set of problems. They would leave in place the provisions removed by Amendment No. 76 and replaced by Amendment No. 78 but would weaken the impact of the existing provisions. They would require the Mayor to provide guidance rather than recommendations on housing funding in London. We do not think that guidance is right in that context. Let me explain why.
The use of the term “recommendations” codifies existing practice. As I have said, the Mayor can already offer advice and make recommendations to the Secretary of State on housing funding priorities for London. For decent homes and regeneration funding that goes directly to London boroughs, our proposals reinforce the existing position by putting the procedure in the Bill. The Secretary of State will continue to make allocations, on the advice of the Mayor. It will be for the Secretary of State to accept that advice—it can be rejected. She would consider the views of interested parties, which would obviously include individual boroughs.
The change would also apply to policies for affordable housing. In this critical area, the existing ability of the Mayor to make recommendations about the size, type and location of affordable housing in the capital will be strengthened by the requirement, which our proposals introduce, for the Housing Corporation to have regard to those recommendations. I hope that my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours will take some comfort from that important new requirement. It has been welcomed by the Housing Corporation as bringing together its work of delivery with the Mayor’s London plan and all that that implies. The plan to increase affordable housing in London, set out in that plan, is now linked more clearly and specifically with the Housing Corporation’s responsibilities. We welcome that; it reflects a very serious intent.
Substituting guidance for recommendations would weaken the link, the role and the delivery system. There is another problem with the notion of guidance: the funding on which the Mayor would be advising is, and remains, government funding. For any outside body or individual to offer guidance is simply not appropriate. It would be particularly problematic in the case of that part of the regional housing pot which is allocated straight to the London boroughs without being ring-fenced. It could be taken to mean that conditions had been set for the use of that funding where that was not intended.
I welcome the explanation given by my noble friend Lady Ford about why that would weaken a situation which is clearly quite progressive regarding where the developers find themselves in terms of policy-making. The amendment weakens the overall strategy by requiring the boroughs not to,
“be in general conformity with”,
the housing strategy but to have regard to it.
The London boroughs are key partners in helping to design and deliver the London housing strategy. It would be absurd if their strategies were to undermine or contradict that. The requirement to be in general conformity with the London housing strategy gives more assurance that the Mayor and the boroughs will work more closely together. That does not mean a slavish adherence to what is in the London plan. The boroughs do not have to mirror the detail of the plan. It is not intended to override the legitimate discretion of each housing authority to take into account its local circumstances. When they are not in general conformity with the strategy, that means that there is an inconsistency or omission in them which would cause significant harm to the implementation of the Mayor’s strategy. It is quite right that local housing strategies reflect the different make-up and needs of the individual borough.
Amendment No. 89A, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, envisages a situation in which the Mayor’s strategy would adversely impact on the ability of London boroughs to carry out housing functions which are their responsibility but fall outside the scope of the London housing strategy. I understand where the noble Baroness is coming from but it is difficult to think of something which would be impacted by the London housing strategy yet would fall outside its scope. Therefore, Amendments Nos. 86B and 87ZA are not necessary. If the noble Baroness would provide me with examples that we could think about, I would be happy to look at them. In any case, the amendments are covered by the existing requirement on the Mayor to consult the London boroughs and the Corporation of London on the London housing strategy and revisions to it. I have a more fundamental difficulty, because that is a very general requirement. Amendment No 89A would encourage the sort of nit-picking that we would hope to discourage. It would have the overall impact of undermining the ability of the Mayor to work constructively with London boroughs.
Amendments Nos. 86A and 87A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, would require the Mayor to “have regard” to the impact of his housing strategy on the Corporation of London. I was interested to hear the figure of 9,000 residents in the City, which I did not know. We entirely agree that it is important that the Mayor consults the corporation, alongside all London boroughs, on his housing strategy before it becomes a statutory document. The fact that that is not in the Bill is not an omission, because it already exists. Subsection (2) of draft Clause 28 already amends the GLA Act 1999 to ensure that the Mayor must consult the Common Council of the Corporation of London on his strategy before it is published. I would be happy to confirm in writing to the noble Lord that the amendments are covered by existing provisions.
Amendments Nos. 76, 88 and 90 take a different direction again. They seek to remove the Secretary of State’s powers of direction which ensure that national priorities are reflected in the housing strategy, that it responds swiftly to changes and that it is produced in a timely manner. Amendment No. 76 would remove her ability to specify what the London housing strategy should contain; Amendment No. 88 would remove the requirement that the London housing strategy should be submitted to the Secretary of State and remove her ability to require changes that she would feel necessary; and Amendment No. 90 would make it impossible to ensure that the strategy was produced in a timely fashion. I have explained the relationship between housing in London and national housing in general, and the fact that half of the Housing Corporation’s funding is invested in the capital. Therefore, a power to intervene, should proposals look likely to undermine national policy or adversely affect regions adjoining Greater London, is important. For those reasons, I cannot accept the amendments.
However, I have some good news, which I have left until last. Amendment No. 87 seeks to add specific consultees to the face of the Bill. It already contains provisions requiring the Mayor to consult on the London housing strategy in line with arrangements for other London strategies provided for in the GLA Act 1999. Amendment No. 87 adds specific references to the Housing Corporation and,
“the body representative of the views of registered social landlords”.
We have sympathy with that amendment. It makes sense to consult practitioners on the practicality and delivery of the contents of the London housing strategy. Indeed, it is difficult to see how the Mayor could develop such a strategy without advice of that sort. Without making a commitment to take these proposals on board and without prejudice to similar proposals for other parts of the Bill, we are prepared to consider this amendment.
With that good news, which I suspect may be outweighed by the less good news in the rest of my speaking note, I hope noble Lords will feel able to withdraw their other amendments.
I shall wish to study what the noble Baroness said on my two amendments. I should add an extenuating factor, which I have discussed with the House authorities: the loop does not work well in this Room and I do not always hear exactly what the Minister has said. We will study her words and it may well be that my amendments are already covered by the statute, in which case I would accept what she has said. Thank you.
I rise in the hope of strengthening the Minister’s determination to tackle the scandal of the housing situation in London. A number of the amendments provide what I call “wriggle room” for those authorities which are disinclined to be as full-hearted about their responsibilities as I would wish them to be. The Minister and her colleagues must take it on board that, where it is quite clear, both from the intelligence that they are able to glean from face-to-face meetings and from information gained in other ways, that there is within a borough not just a reluctance but a misordering of priorities in responding to what is required, they should not hesitate to apply strictures of one kind or another.
I mentioned by way of illustration at Second Reading the visit to Enfield of Bob Mellish and Evelyn Dennington in 1965. There was a zealousness about at the time. Circumstances now are, of course, completely different from then, but there is no difference in the problems faced by a young family which is condemned, by virtue of the sale of council houses and the depletion of affordable housing in their borough, to live with impossible financial demands or grotty living accommodation. The family turns to somebody for assistance. In the first instance, it will be the council or the housing association, but ultimately the Government will carry the can, because local authorities will ignore, twist or re-order their priorities in such a way as to wring their hands and say that there is not much that they can do. There may not be much that they can do; in which case, somebody else should have the power to do it.
I therefore say to the Minister “all power to your elbow”, because I and other former constituency MPs in the Room know the utter depression that one feels when one is unable to help people who come to you for assistance as a last resort. While I greatly respect and value London Councils, with which I have an association, the Minister must recognise that there has to be a renaissance in the Government’s determination to tackle the housing problem in London.
I know that my noble friend’s track record in pursuing housing provision as a social good is second to none. The Bill should be seen in combination with the Government’s other housing policies, which provide for responsible, sustainable growth, not least across the south-east, for increasing the proportion of social housing and for putting huge amounts of money into our housing stock so that it is decent and modern. The Bill provides for a strategic housing policy for London for the first time. It provides for general conformity with the London plan, with its explicit recognition of the needs of low-income people in London. It provides new powers and responsibilities for the Housing Corporation so that it is locked into the process. It maintains the integrity of the boroughs by allowing them to act responsibly, but keeps a close eye on what they do. As I have said, the balance is right. The Bill enables all the partners to understand, and inform each other of, the scale of housing needs and come nearer to meeting them in the future.
If a borough becomes awkward and decides that it wants to block affordable housing that the Mayor wants to introduce in it, what power will the Mayor have to make the borough comply? Will the Mayor be able to say, “Look, you’ve got to comply with this”? Or will the borough be able to raise two fingers and tell him where to get off?
As I have said, the general conformity powers would initially come into play. If a borough is omitting or contradicting the London plan, it is our understanding that the judicial review process will be open to the Mayor. However, we do not believe that we will get to that point, because the powers in the Bill and the responsibilities allocated are so much clearer and there will be a shared understanding. If we reached the point of addressing the matter in the context of the Government’s reform of planning through, for example, Planning Policy Statement 3, which relates to providing more family housing, looking at housing needs and providing more assistance for the boroughs to determine their needs, we would have failed.
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours—who obviously has an axe to grind at the moment about one borough council—will accept that there are many complications about housing in London. We accept that the housing strategy is required, but problems about the availability and price of land affect the provision of housing within London. Today, we have got rather lost on the provision of affordable housing. In my experience, councils are largely fulfilling the requirements laid down for them and the percentages that are required. My council certainly is. That is happening and people are taking care about that, but there is a big problem about the amount of land available in central London and its cost.
I shall quote from a letter from the Mayor’s office to Westminster City Council. Forget that it is Westminster; it could be any borough in London. It states:
“It is regretted however that the housing density is beneath the guidelines set out in the London plan as the site is very accessible and highly desirable”.
It goes on to the reasons why that is the case. If the Mayor regrets and is concerned about a particular application because it does not meet the density criteria that are laid down in a number of documents, what will he be able to do in these new conditions? As I understand it, he will be able to do very little. He will not be able to direct the local authority to comply with his housing density plan. If I am wrong, I can be corrected. It is critical because when we come to later amendments, I will be dealing with density, which is at the heart of the problem when it comes to affordable housing.
I cannot comment on individual cases. We are talking about planning rather than housing. We can have a discussion on densities later. My understanding is that the Mayor cannot impose certain densities. I think it would be better if we were to address that when we come to the planning debate, and I can then talk about it in its context.
On that note, we come back from the sublime to the gorblimey. When we were discussing Amendment No. 89A, the Minister asked for examples. I will look for them, and if it is appropriate to take the matter further, I shall do so.
However, I shall ask her now about Amendment No. 87ZA, which she said was unnecessary because there is a provision in the Bill for consultation. Paragraph (b) of that amendment is most relevant here because it requires that the Mayor has regard to the effect of his proposals on local functions. As I read the Bill, the Mayor has to have regard to the effect on other regions and to the Secretary of State’s guidance. I wonder whether I can ask her to comment on that rather narrow, but possibly important, point now, or later, if that is easier.
I thank the Minister for that answer because it contained a lot of valuable stuff that we will have to analyse. I was pleased that she accepted the principle of Amendment No. 87. I shall make a few comments on some of the things that have been said.
The noble Baroness mentioned that it is not just London that was affected, although it was discussed a lot. Members of the Committee know that I represent an area just outside London, in Essex. I must tell the Committee that all the boroughs and counties around London have formed a unit that, at the moment, I am likely to chair, which will deal with the problems of London housing, London itself, the M25 and all the other associated matters. Because of the increased powers of the Mayor and with all the authorities around London, we feel that an all-party group—it may not be quite so all-party after last week; I have not worked that out yet—will be working together to deal with some of the problems.
I was pleased to hear the noble Baroness say that not only London is affected. There is also the Thames Gateway, which stretches into Essex and Kent, and the M11 corridor—the Harlow expansion—which caters for London. People have talked about London house prices, but a one-bedroom flat in Chelmsford now costs £200,000. An estate has just been built in the village adjacent to mine where four-bedroom houses—admittedly they are on a nice bit of land—cost £1.5 million each. So London prices are applying not just in London but are spreading throughout the whole south-east.
Much of the problem is that too much bureaucracy is being built into the whole system. I would say that, wouldn’t I? The noble Baroness was not the Minister in charge when we dealt with the recent planning Bill, but we gather that there will be another such Bill. Planning permissions have virtually dried up because of local development frameworks and various other things. Generally, not many planning permissions are being given for housing anywhere. We are obviously resisting the number of houses that our area might be expected to take over the next 15 years, but building will dry up because not enough planning permissions are being given. Therefore, whether we are talking about London or the areas around London, in the next few years houses will become more expensive because, if the economy stays fairly strong, not enough will be built to meet demand due to the planning system. This situation desperately needs to be looked at.
I am afraid that I am going to be very critical here in relation to a local problem. We would have built some affordable housing in Basildon but I am afraid to tell the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, that English Partnerships has delayed it by five years because of the bureaucracy attached. I wrote to the Chancellor at the time that he was talking about affordable houses being built. I am all for affordable houses and will build as many as I can in Essex, provided we can reduce the amount of bureaucracy involved. That is what we are trying to do through some of these amendments. We believe that the Mayor must have a strategic plan and that boroughs should provide their share of affordable housing.
We are where we are after 10 years of a Labour Government, and, as a party, we are looking at how we can build more affordable houses in the future. This is an issue that concerns us all, whether we are talking about a London borough, the City of London, Greater London or all the areas around London. I was disappointed by some of the comments today because I think that we are more committed to building affordable housing than virtually anyone else. It is just a case of reducing the amount of bureaucracy, making the system simpler and getting the necessary planning permissions and the money. The road and school infrastructure costs are now around £20,000 per unit, and I am told that the costs of drainage and water and so on are also £20,000 a unit. So it costs £40,000 for one unit before the building starts, and getting the money for the infrastructure will become increasingly difficult.
As with a lot of the Thames Gateway, many of the houses that we are talking about will be built on the flood plain, and that will create difficult problems and issues that will have to be overcome. We all want to get on with this, so let us ensure that in the amendments and the legislation we create the framework for the Mayor to have the strategic plan and the boroughs to deliver on it. The boroughs will deliver more because they are the local groups, just as the towns were delivering in the areas around London.
I am sure that we will come back to this matter. We have a lot of comments to make and there will be further debate. I shall withdraw the amendment today but I am pleased that the Government are to accept Amendment No. 87. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 77 to 90 not moved.]
Clause 28 agreed to.
Clause 29 agreed to.
Clause 30 [Local development schemes]:
On Question, Whether Clause 30 shall stand part of the Bill?
The powers granted to the Mayor by Clause 30 would allow him to direct changes to local development schemes proposed by the London boroughs. As with most of the planning provisions in the Bill, we are opposed to this measure, which we see as taking power away from local communities.
The strength of local development schemes is the individuals and bodies from a particular area who are the architect of its overall development. Decisions are taken by those with comprehension of the character and history of the surroundings. It puts development largely in the hands of those who live and work locally and have a grasp of particular needs, both residential and commercial. It also takes account of the consultation and involvement of the local communities within them.
There is certainly a fairly widespread belief that the Mayor cannot possibly always be well enough apprised of the particular circumstances to make a valid judgment on a scheme. I hasten to add that while I do not accuse anybody of incompetence, it is an inevitable side effect of the vast number of planning, development and housing decisions the Mayor takes on. It is best that strategies are devised not by the Mayor but by representatives directly elected by the people and those who will be most affected by the development. I am talking specifically about the Mayor’s ability to deal with local development schemes.
There is already a check on this as the Secretary of State is able to direct changes to the plan. Clause 30 would simply be further centralisation of development powers by allowing the Mayor the opportunity to write in changes. If there is sensible justification for allowing the Secretary of State such a power, that is not necessarily the case with the Mayor as it is more likely that he will want to promote his overall planning strategy.
We therefore oppose this provision affecting local development schemes. We believe that it will make the process more complicated by adding a new level of intervention. Local authorities should have the right to ensure that their local development schemes are adopted.
The position of the noble Baroness undermines what I regard as a critical part of the Bill. I want to go back to the Candy & Candy development which was, in the end, based on decisions taken by councillors in Westminster. It provides us with a very good example of why the Mayor should have more responsibilities in this area—far more than the Government are giving him.
Under the policy of the London plan, I understand that in the central activity zone, the affordable housing component in development, depending on the size of the development, is to be 30 per cent and, outside those areas, 50 per cent. It is quite simple to get round that. The 30 per cent in the Candy & Candy development turned into 11.8 per cent within the CAZ. That was because the flats built in the private part of the development were huge while those built in the affordable housing section of the development were minuscule. Whereas people in London imagine that 30 per cent of the developer’s development is accorded to social housing, it was 11.8 per cent in that development. I understand that that is also the case in other developments within the Westminster area and I presume that it is the same in other London boroughs. Let me explain the figures which lead me to that conclusion.
The Bowater House development, where I want the Mayor to have more power—not less, which is the position of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, in this clause stand part debate—consisted of 82 flats in the private part and 70 flats in the social housing section. Of the 70 social housing flats, 41 were less than 600 square feet and the balance of 29 varied between 600 and just more than 1,000 square feet. In the private part of the development, 18 of the 82 flats were 900 square feet, 15 were 1,500 to 2,100 square feet and 52 flats were 3,300 to 16,500 square feet. Someone told me that those larger flats were selling for somewhere between £35 million and £80 million each. I find the figures unbelievable. Maybe the figure is the lower one of £35 million, but I am sure I shall be challenged by the Candy & Candy people when the proceedings of this Committee are drawn to their attention.
My point is that the social housing element is not 30 per cent or 50 per cent, but is based on the number of units. Ken Livingstone, as Mayor—I hope he has people here today—should look at that. That is the way developers get round the system. It means that developers such as Candy & Candy bully the local authority into minimising the amount of social housing and, at the same time, they offer the maximum number of units. In this case, 70 flats were for social housing, but that was only 11.8 per cent of the development. Then they interfere with the social mix of communities outside the areas where they want the development to take place. In this case, the Bowater House development was to take place in Knightsbridge—beautiful, expensive, exquisite Knightsbridge. They did not want to widen the social mix of people living in the Knightsbridge community, or indeed in any part of Belgravia, or any part of that part of Westminster. They conveniently lifted the social housing package and planted it in the middle, where there was already a good balance between social and private housing; it is roughly 50:50, which I think is an ideal balance.
I was always in favour of the sale of council houses outside London—against the policy of my own party—because I wanted to see balanced communities with a mix between private and social housing, but that is not the case here. With the agreement of the council and, on this occasion, with the agreement of the Mayor of London’s office—I understand it did not have the power to stop them doing what they did—they simply dropped the 70 units of social housing provision in a part of Westminster where there was already a balance, and it upset the local community. The Conservative councillors were brought in to argue with them, saying, “Why are you doing this?” Of course, they could not answer because it is unanswerable. The facts are that the policy, as far as Westminster was concerned, was to rarefy the social atmosphere even more within Westminster by concentrating the private part with the vastly expensive flats in Knightsbridge and ensuring that the social housing was simply placed in another area which destabilised the social dynamics of that area. That policy does not work.
The noble Baroness will make the matter worse. By deleting this clause, she wants to reinforce and strengthen the power of the local council—she calls it the local community—as she says it understands more. It does not. The Conservative councillors in the ward where the social housing was put in Westminster were not even aware of what had happened in their local authority. I know because I went to the meeting and I interviewed a chap. He did not know what had happened, and when he answered the questions that he was asked by people at the meeting he did not have enough knowledge to recognise what was happening in terms of the social engineering by the planning authority in Westminster.
I want to make a little recommendation for Ken and his successors, whoever they may be. When they consider big planning applications coming in under the new arrangements, they should ensure that the documentation relating to social and affordable housing is part of the application and not put with Section 106 agreements, such as the one that I have here that talks in general terms about the fact that some sort of social housing provision is going to be made. It does not say when that is going to happen. It sets down certain criteria, but when I tried to find out this morning whether they had actually been enforced, I was unable to do so. It sets out in the most general of terms the circumstances in the Section 106 agreement under Schedule 1, and that is not good enough.
The Mayor should see the detail of the affordable housing component running in tandem with the original private development application so that he can make a balanced judgment as to what that social housing component is and whether he can use his powers to influence the process in some way and maximise the number of units. We do not want those calculations based on the 11.8 per cent principle, as happened in this case. If we are talking 30 per cent, let us have 30 per cent of all the footage available in the development going to social housing. We do not even need 50 per cent in those conditions and can do with a lesser figure based on a real footage calculation, not simply on the basis of the number of units.
I shall address the clause in a more generalised fashion and shall resist the temptation to respond on the small parts of the Bowater House application of which I have knowledge because I do not have knowledge of very much of it. My personal view is that if boroughs have agreed a proportion of affordable housing, they need the confidence to stick to it, as well as everyone else involved.
Can the Minister explain the problem with Clause 30? I have some difficulty understanding the need for it. Local development documents must be in general conformity with the London plan. The boroughs can ask whether the Mayor thinks that a document is in general conformity and so on. The Mayor can give an opinion and, if he does so, the borough has an examination-in-public procedure to go through and will be able to adopt the documents only in accordance with an EIP report.
Generally, I support giving powers that are currently with the Secretary of State to the Mayor, but what has led to the need for Clause 30? Is it a need for tidying up? Is there some concern about the current process, including the examinations in public, or—which is, of course, what the fear will be—does the Mayor need the mechanism to have greater control? I hope that the Minister can flesh this out by giving the background to it.
We are dealing with Clause 30 stand part.
I was waiting for my noble friend Lord Jenkin. If the Minister will allow me to make a brief intervention, I should like to make it clear that I am not briefed by Westminster City Council. Indeed, I did not know that this matter was to be raised until I came back from the Scottish Parliament Statement a moment ago which, for those who did not have the privilege of hearing it, will be well worth reading in Hansard tomorrow. Therefore, I am speaking independently. I have views about affordable housing that are not dissimilar to those that I have already heard expressed. Mr Matthew Parris once devoted one of his parliamentary sketches to the fact that the Father of the House, Tam Dalyell, and I had both performed like dinosaurs and how very refreshing it was that there were still dinosaurs in the House of Commons.
When the Mayor took office, he invited a distinguished former director of Shelter to carry out just such a survey across the whole of London. I am sure there are people in this Room who will remember that survey. I was still a Member of Parliament and was invited to attend the Westminster City Council session lasting a couple of hours in which the former director of Shelter asked questions and Westminster presented a case. When I saw the overall recommendation of the director of Shelter about what the percentage of affordable housing should be in such planning applications, I could not see how Westminster would be able to achieve it. I knew the district valuer’s views on land values in Westminster and the implications that they would have for how much affordable housing could be afforded and where it would go. There is some danger in this debate, particularly when we take individual cases, of getting bogged down in the same state of unreality as attended the Scottish Parliament Statement a moment or two ago.
This has been an interesting debate, veering wildly from the general to the very specific. Clause 30 relates to local development schemes prepared by London boroughs. These are their work programmes which guide them when they are preparing their new-style development plans. The clause is needed because it is about improving the process. It is not concerned with the content of plans, which is why we will have difficulty addressing the specific issues raised by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. However, I will come to that later. The clause is essentially about process, which is why I will have to give a brief account of the process and why the clause is relevant to it.
We have a plan-led system of planning in this country, meaning that decisions on planning applications are taken in accordance with the policies in development plans unless there are sensible reasons to do otherwise. Within this system is a hierarchy of plans, with national policies setting the context for regional plan policies, which in London’s case is the Mayor’s London plan, and local development frameworks having to be in general conformity with the regional plan policies. As the plans go through, they are accompanied by rigorous consultation and are independently examined.
However, for the system to work effectively, it is crucial to ensure that borough development plans are up to date and are amended to reflect changes in policies at the regional and national level. Boroughs cannot always respond very quickly—London is generally in a better position than the rest of the country—but some borough-level plans have not been formally updated since the mid-1990s; they do not even reflect the first iteration of the London plan.
The Government first sought to address the problem through the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 by introducing a requirement for local planning authorities to prepare a local development scheme setting out the documents that they will prepare as part of their local development framework—a suite of documents that address different parts of the process—their subject matter and the timetable for preparing the documents. The 2004 Act gave a power for the Secretary of State to direct changes to the scheme.
Clause 30 takes this further simply to reflect the unique governance arrangements in London. It makes provision for the Mayor to be able to direct amendments to the boroughs’ schemes or to require the boroughs to prepare a revision to their LDS without having to ask the Secretary of State to do so on his behalf. To achieve that, Clause 30 amends the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to require boroughs to send a copy of their draft LDSs to the Mayor at a time to be prescribed in regulations or when directed to do so by the Mayor. The power must be exercised personally by the Mayor and cannot be delegated to others, but it does not extend to the Mayor being able to direct the content of a borough’s development plan. It is simply about allowing the Mayor to ensure that policies dealing with the key policy areas in his London plan are brought forward by the boroughs in a timely manner. For example, if a borough is slow in developing an affordable housing policy, the Mayor can gee it up by using the power as a way of saying, “We want that plan and we want it as fast as possible”. It is a question of keeping a watch on matters. The power applies to the sort of plans that the Mayor has a legitimate interest in being furthered.
With regard to the circumstances under which the Mayor might make a direction to bring forward a plan that is slow or missing, our intention is that he may do so to ensure that a borough brings forward policies that reflect the London plan’s priorities for, say, regeneration of a particular area. However, the clause also requires the Mayor to have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State when considering whether to issue a direction, and it requires any direction to contain the Mayor’s reasons for making it. He will have to take account of the resource implications for the boroughs and local priorities in carrying out that work. It requires a reality check. We expect directions to be used as a last resort, with discussion resolving differences wherever possible.
The borough concerned must comply with the direction, subject to a power for the Secretary of State to direct the borough to disregard the direction or to give effect to it, subject to modifications. To allow the Secretary of State to decide whether to issue a direction, the clause requires the Mayor to copy his direction to the Secretary of State and it prevents the borough bringing the LDS into effect until a prescribed time. The clause requires any direction from the Secretary of State to contain the reasons for giving it and it must be copied to the Mayor. The Secretary of State’s continued involvement is intended as a safeguard to be used if, for example, national policy priorities are not reflected in borough work programmes or where it is proposed that key policies that should be set out in a development plan document and undergo independent examination are, instead, to be set out in a supplementary planning document.
This clause is more technical and more restrictive than it appears. The issues regarding densities are important, although I cannot comment on the case raised by my noble friend and it is difficult to have any meaningful debate on such issues. There are many ways in which space standards for housing are controlled and enforced; for example, the Housing Corporation has minimum space standards for dwellings, but they are more generous than those in the private sector. Our new Planning Policy Statement 3 sets a minimum housing density standard of 30 dwellings per hectare. The London plan sets different densities for different parts of London. My noble friend said that we should look at floor space rather than units. We can argue that point; indeed, different methods are being discussed. Developments of very low density would in any case be caught by minimum density requirements. I cannot have that debate with my noble friend today in the context of this clause but, given his concerns, I suggest that we have a private conversation with relevant officials in the department and that we pursue the issues that he has raised in that way. I hope that noble Lords will feel able to withdraw their opposition to the clause.
I inform my noble friend that Westminster City Council is about to deal with a very controversial application for Chelsea Barracks, which will raise precisely the same problems. It is another Candy & Candy development, and the rumour in Pimlico is that once again the council is trying to offload in some way its affordable social housing responsibilities.
Whatever we do, the system will be tested by the legislation, depending on when the application comes in—and, if it is not tested by the legislation, it will be tested by the arrangements that are in place. I want to know whether the Mayor of London and his office will use his and its teeth on this occasion to ensure that we get the maximum amount of affordable housing into that development.
I am sure the Minister will say that it is extremely difficult to discuss one particular case and one particular borough against the background of planning law, as well as the role of the Mayor, in development issues. I have no intention of commenting on the Westminster situation, except to say that the issues relating to the development of land in London are very special. It is largely to do with the price and lack of availability of land. One aspect of my amendment to Clause 30 related to local development plans.
I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation about the technical nature of the provisions. I shall consider the matter further before bringing anything back, but I am bound to say that the bureaucracy engulfing local development plans is completely counterproductive. I believe I am right in saying that there are still only two local development plans in the country that have been passed and are operating. The rest are still operating on the unitary development plans, because the system is taking so long to wind its way through that it is just not achieving what it set out to achieve. We all saw that coming when we discussed the planning Bill. This simply puts another impediment into the process: the plan has to go to the Mayor and the Secretary of State, the Mayor has to advise the Secretary of State on what he thinks, then it has to come back again to the borough. I do not know how long that will take, but it will probably not be days or weeks—it could be months—and it is another problem in getting these development plans up and running.
I am grateful to the Minister for describing exactly what is going to happen, but it has made me a little more nervous about the process. It is now absolutely engrained in the whole local development plan system that there is far too much bureaucracy and far too many steps. The plans are useless as they stand because they do not advise anyone on anything very much. However, for today’s purposes, I shall not oppose Clause 30.
Clause 30 agreed to.
91: Before Clause 31, insert the following new Clause—
“Determination of applications for planning permission
(1) Section 70 of TCPA 1990 (determination of applications: general considerations) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (2) insert—
“(2A) In respect of applications which are to be determined by the Mayor of London in accordance with a direction under section 2A of this Act, the Secretary of State may by regulations make provision about—
(a) how the Mayor should take into consideration those aspects of the application which are not relevant to the spatial development strategy but are relevant to other development plans;(b) how the Mayor should deal with cases which require him to have regard to the spatial development strategy and another development plan, but where there are conflicts between the two.”.”
The noble Baroness said: I rise to move us firmly into the planning process. In moving the amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 93 and 95, which relate to the planning applications over which it is proposed the Mayor should have powers.
The planning part of the Bill has exercised us greatly. It is the area in which the Mayor is being given more power than any other part of the Bill and it could potentially leave Londoners open to planning applications being considered away from them. As the Minister knows, we favour more freedom for the boroughs, increased co-operation between them and more flexibility in the market.
However, the extension of powers given by Part 7 is alarming, not least because, as my honourable friend Michael Gove pointed out in the other place, the Mayor has already expressed an opinion about 12,000 planning applications since he took office. His powers are barely restrained by legislation. There may have been persuasive oratory about the approach that the Mayor is likely to take in exercising his powers, but unless his role is clearly defined and controlled, that will matter little. This is part of the motivation for Amendment No. 91.
The principle behind Amendment No. 93 and some of the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding is important. It is clearly to define and restrict at an appropriate level what constitutes an application of strategic importance. I have read the draft town and country planning order, which purports to define “strategic importance”, and I think we will be in a court of law trying to define what that is. It is not clear, and it is not clear in the regulations either. I hope that by the time we get there somebody will have had a better effort at it. My amendment clearly defines and restricts at an appropriate level what constitutes an application of strategic importance. There is real concern about how often the Mayor can intervene in applications that are not genuinely of strategic or citywide importance. There are nearly 200 targets in the London plan that applications are expected to meet. It is inconceivable that an application could meet all of them. There is consequential concern that the Mayor could use failure to reach certain targets as an excuse to intervene. Amendment No. 95 is included because there is no reason for the Mayor to have to add officers concerned with planning enforcement to his employees.
The Mayor’s proposed planning powers are too wide ranging and poorly defined. The areas in which he can intervene under these provisions will cause great difficulties to local authorities. We have had more correspondence on the subject of these planning provisions than on any other part of the Bill, and it behoves us to ensure that we have them detailed and sorted out before we finish with this Bill. I beg to move.
I begin with an apology for jumping ahead of the game a few moments ago. As I explained earlier, it was partly because I am not sure how much of what is going on I can hear accurately, but I do my best.
I have five amendments in this group and I hope that the Committee will bear with me if I spend a few moments explaining what they are about. They are all of enormous importance to the planning regime in the City of London. I shall start with a quotation from a very interesting article in today’s Financial Times by Sir Stuart Lipton, who has perhaps contributed more to the development of the City—a greatly praised contribution—than almost anyone else. He writes:
“The City of London's planning regime has played a vital role. It is the only local planning authority whose elected members have a direct representative link with the business community. They understand that the City needs to grow and adapt in a rapidly changing business environment, with a planning regime and a decision-making process that provides certainty and speed”.
I imagine that most Members of this Committee would endorse every word of that.
I shall first address Amendment No. 92A to Clause 31(2), which inserts a new Section 2A into the Town and Country Planning Act. Subsection (2) of that new section provides that a direction by the Mayor that he should take over the role of local planning authorities in deciding planning applications must include the reasons why the Mayor is giving the direction. However, the Bill does not say anything about the nature of the reasons and, in particular, about how convincing they need to be.
I acknowledge that some guidance is to be found in Article 3 of the draft Town and Country Planning (Mayor of London) Order and some of the discussion we will have may be more relevant to the order than to the Bill. However, the Bill is the only opportunity we have to say anything about it. The order states that in deciding whether to give a direction, the Mayor is to take account of the extent to which the local planning authority is complying with the targets set out in his spatial development strategy for the capital, the so-called London plan. Although that is welcome, it is only one reason and neither the Bill nor the draft order state that it will be the only one. If the Major is to give a direction that he is going to take over an application falling within any of the categories of application listed in the draft order, it needs to be really clear why he is doing so. Article 8(1) of the draft order states that the Mayor may take over a planning application from a local planning authority,
“if he considers that any of the issues raised by the development to which the application relates is of such a nature or scale that there would be a significant impact on the implementation of the spatial development strategy”.
Those are very broad words indeed and they could be stretched to cover a multitude of circumstances. I am not at all clear how that could be translated into reasons for taking over an application in any given case.
To reduce the extent of the elastic and to provide greater definition, Subsection (1) of Amendment No. 92A makes clear that there should be sound planning reasons for taking an application away from the local planning authority and subsection (2) enables those reasons to be clarified through the order. It may be that the Minister is proposing that this sort of issue should be dealt with through planning guidance and that may well be a perfectly acceptable way of doing it. It would be helpful if, in her reply, the Minister could give us some indication of her plans in that regard.
I turn to Amendment No. 92B, which deals with timeliness. This amendment and others in this group arise from the terms of the draft order. It proposes that if the local planning authority has not determined a planning application within 16 weeks, the applicant can ask the Mayor to take the application over. That is under Article 8(5)(a) of the order. My amendment extends that period to 20 weeks. The provision in the draft order appears to want to make sure that planning authorities process applications efficiently, and we would all support that. However, the time limit for processing applications before the ability of the Mayor to take them over is triggered is not understandable. The order proposes 16 weeks, which is simply too short a period for the kind of complex planning application of strategic importance with which the Mayor would be concerned. It may be perfectly all right for the general run of planning applications, but here, particularly with regard to developments in the City, we are, by definition, dealing with what could be complex and time-consuming processes for the City’s council to deal with.
The Government’s own targets recognise that there has to be some flexibility about this because their performance target for local planning authorities requires only 60 per cent of major planning applications to be determined within the 13 weeks that apply to them. For the remaining 40 per cent, there is clearly some recognition that the time may be extended. It is a reasonable assumption that the Mayor will be dealing, by definition, with the more complex and therefore time-consuming applications. A suspicious mind might wonder whether, as the order is currently written, that is an indirect method of getting the local planning authority bypassed. However, I do not believe that that is the case, because I believe that the Ministers involved in this recognised the importance of the City’s planning regime, both as a planning authority in London and for the country as a whole. Therefore, to impose an unreasonably short time limit in this will lead to greater uncertainty and, therefore, inefficiency in the planning system.
Perhaps I may mention one or two figures. In the City of London over the past 20 years, 4.4 million square metres of office floor space has been constructed. That is three times the amount that has been built at Canary Wharf and, of course, it is in an infinitely more challenging environment. There have been hardly any appeals on planning applications on grounds of non-determination. On the basis of that experience, the City is entitled to be of the view that a more reasonable period would enable the planning authority to process a major application before mayoral involvement. The period that I have suggested in the amendment is 20 weeks, which I hope will be acceptable.
Amendments Nos. 93A and 94A are intended to take up the points that noble Lords will remember I raised in my Second Reading speech—the question of the thresholds that should be met before a planning application is regarded as being of potential strategic importance. The order which governs the Mayor’s current limited power to intervene in planning applications by directing a refusal already differentiates the City from the rest of London in terms of the size and height of the buildings. For the City, the height threshold is 75 metres and the size threshold is 30,000 square metres of floor space. By comparison, for central London outside the City, the threshold is 30 metres and 20,000 square metres. Outside central London, it is 25 metres and 15,000 square metres. Therefore, Parliament already recognises the distinctiveness of the situation in the City.
Amendment No. 93A increases the thresholds for the City triggering mayoral involvement to a height of 150 metres or 100,000 square metres of additional floor space. Of course, that will not apply right across the City. One amendment in this group seeks to protect the Thames-side environment, which has always been recognised as having to be maintained. It is also right to point out that there are many other restrictions on development in the City and I need mention only one, which I think noble Lords will recognise—the question of being able to maintain the views of St Paul’s. Whatever the size of the building, I remember the cry of horror that went up when those buildings were erected on the north side of Fleet Street many years ago and obscured St Paul’s from a long distance.
I think that the restrictions that now apply within the City of London are much more effective, and they will go. Indeed, I am told that something like 60 per cent of the City is already covered by these other restrictions. Here I am looking for something comparatively limited in relation to that part of the City where there are already very tall buildings. I listed some of those buildings when I spoke at Second Reading. In that sort of area, the existing limits on height and floor space are totally inappropriate. We are seeking to increase the limits to 150 metres and 100,000 square metres, as set out in the amendment. At Second Reading, I listed a number of the buildings. I certainly would not dream of taking time to list them again as they are all on the record. Then, the Minister was kind enough to say that she recognised that the Government were committed to getting the thresholds right and that they were considering whether changes were justified. I hope that she will be able to share with us her latest thinking on that. As I said, this is a matter for the order and not for the Bill, but we can raise the issue only by amending the Bill.
Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 93B. When the order was published with the Bill in another place, it had what has come to be called a catch-all provision, and has given rise to a great deal of anxiety. It proposes that a development of more than 2,500 square metres—that is smaller than some of the apartments listed a few moments ago by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours—which does not accord with one or more of the provisions of the development plan for the area, should trigger the mayoral reference process because it is of potential strategic importance. It should not be regarded as of potential strategic importance at that low level and certainly not because it happens to contravene one of the very many planning policies that the City may have.
At Second Reading, the Minister indicated that changes will be made to the draft order. She said that,
“the new power should not apply to the vast majority of thresholds set out in parts 3 and 4 of the schedule”.—[Official Report, 28/3/07; col. 1701.]
Although we have yet to see the new draft order, I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that this provision will be within what she called the “vast majority”. That catch-all provision is giving rise to wide anxiety.
I offer the Committee two more quotes. One is from Ed Balls, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, who said last April at the London Development Agency conference,
“we … face the challenge of implementing the GLA Bill, now moving to the Lords, and ensuring that the devolution of powers to the city level works to the benefit of London’s economy”.
If that catch-all provision were to be operated as drafted, I do not think that Mr Balls’s hopes will be realised. My last quotation is from Sir Stuart Lipton in the Financial Times. He said:
“The priority must be to ensure that the City’s planning system remains quick and certain, with schemes only referred to the mayor in exceptional circumstances because of their strategic importance to the capital. The mayor has indicated that this is the approach he will take, but this is not reflected in the proposed legislation”.
Therefore, if that is the intention of Ministers and of the Mayor, we must have amendments.
My name is down to oppose the question that Clause 31 stand part. It may be convenient to speak fairly broadly, as noble Lords have done within the detail of their amendments. I have approached the matter this way because I find it hard to see how this and subsequent clauses can be amended satisfactorily. To a large extent, the clause hangs on the statutory instrument. I am aware that the Minister wants to hear what is said by Members of the Committee about the draft before publishing an amended order. I am grateful for that because it is hard for Government within the current rules to consult on an order such as this. It points up the difficulty of dealing with secondary legislation which we cannot amend.
I suppose the Government might say that I have seen in some of the lobbying we have received that it is good to deal with these matters in secondary legislation because that is more easily dealt with and amended at a future date than primary legislation. That is not a view that I support.
Perhaps I can ask a similar question to that which I asked on Clause 30. What is the problem and what research and assessment has there been about the current system, which has not been in place for so very long? There is quite a lot of anecdote, but I am not aware of any rigorous assessment having taken place. The Mayor has the policy powers. As I understand it, the Government think that there is a problem in relying on the boroughs for implementation of his policy, but is that any different from the relationship between national planning policies of central government and other local planning authorities? What is the problem that the clause seeks to address?
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, referred to paragraph 8 of the draft order. I shall not spend time talking about confusing size of development and its strategic importance. Mr Raynsford, who is the architect of the original arrangements in London, dealt with that extremely effectively in the Commons—as I listen to myself, I sound patronising. The new policy test is in paragraph 8. It seems that if the Mayor considers that any of the issues are of such a nature or scale that there would be a significant impact on the implementation of the spatial development strategy, the test, as it is expressed, opens up the possibility of a subjective judgment on the part of the Mayor. It does not meet the test of clarity—we have heard that said already. If we were to end up with an order in these terms, would the Wednesbury test of reasonableness apply to the Mayor’s judgment under paragraph 8(1)?
Noises from the wings.
I wonder whether, in bringing forward this order and these clauses, the Government are indicating that there is some failure in the London plan process. We have a hierarchy of documents, about which we have heard in the context of the previous clause. Does it reflect some failure in the process or a determination to allow the Mayor to intervene to a far greater extent than Parliament envisaged when it put the primary legislation in place?
Paragraph 8(1) of the draft order uses the phrase,
“significant impact on implementation of the spatial development strategy”.
Paragraph 8(3) refers to consideration of the targets in the spatial development strategy. I have considerable doubts whether the referral of planning applications, which is envisaged, should be the mechanism for implementing the London plan. If the hierarchy is working properly, the appropriate method is negotiations with the boroughs on their suite of documents.
I know that the Mayor has provided many of your Lordships with briefing on this and other parts of the Bill. I do not dispute that he has dealt with a number of important matters in that briefing, but I doubt whether the Bill can address them. He refers to the low rate of planning approvals at 75 per cent—and here I say that I doubt whether the Bill should address them. What are we to understand from that comment other than that the Mayor would approve applications that the boroughs would not approve? They are, after all, working to development plans that conform to the spatial development strategy, so there is confusion there.
The Mayor refers to lack of speed. Many noble Lords who have been in local government will be accustomed to the argument about speed versus quality, and it has been said that the proposed new arrangements will add to the procedures and the time that is taken. He refers, too, to affordable housing, and I agree that there is a desperate need. However, he refers to the number of completions, which, if noble Lords will forgive the pun, I do not think is a complete issue. I do not think that the number of completions can be said to show that a borough is failing. The picture is no doubt very complex.
To take a position that I do not much like to admit to, developers could decide not to proceed with a scheme because of the social housing content. These things are complicated. There is an argument that the Mayor will intervene in a small number of cases, and I dare say that that is so. The process will mean—as I think it already does—that developers know what the Mayor can do; they know what is in his mind and take that into account before an application is ever made. They take steps to preclude their application reaching that stage. In part that is a good thing, but I am not sure that the logic stacks up. The Mayor also says that the system is clear—and I have written an exclamation mark against that.
The vast majority of planning applications will remain with the boroughs, we are told. Well, yes, of course they will—because most applications are really very tiny. He says that the London Assembly has the power to scrutinise his decisions. That is true, but it is after the event—and, in any event, is scrutiny the appropriate tool with which to deal with a quasi-judicial decision? He also says that if the Mayor took over a large number of applications, there would be resource implications that would have to be agreed by the Assembly, suggesting that the Assembly can stop that happening. We have already debated the inadequacy of the Assembly’s powers to limit the Mayor’s budget.
To sum up, along with London Councils the majority of the Assembly—and here I take off my Liberal Democrat hat or at least add to it my Assembly hat—does not support the exemption of planning powers. It says that if they are to be extended, the Bill should be amended to ensure that intervention is limited to genuinely strategic planning matters. That point of view was expressed nem con.
I shall give a tiny bit of context, which we already know. London needs to respond to huge population and economic growth and we need an increased rate of residential and commercial development to respond to that. The planning system is clearly crucial to that. London First was very concerned about the proposal to give the Mayor positive planning powers—indeed, originally it was against those proposals. There was no desire to give the Mayor in spirit strategic direction, but there were deep concerns about how that would work in practice. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, touched on some of the bureaucracy concerns.
London First is deeply concerned about how the measures will work in practice and has spent a great deal of time over the past six months or so discussing with all parties—developers, the national Government, London government and the boroughs—the detail of the draft Mayor of London order and the Bill itself.
In that context, I want to comment on one amendment in particular but also on some of the others. We have been working very hard to create a simple system which leaves as much as possible of the planning process with the boroughs and gives as much clarity as possible to the developers about how the process will work. They have the obvious concerns about the ping-pong effect between London government and the boroughs. As the Bill stands, we feel broadly that the consensus has been reached and that it is extremely dangerous to tweak bits because certain parts of it will break off.
Amendment No. 93, which would add a geographic test, causes me great concern. It would simply add complexity. Various words are recommended—“substantial”, “sound”, and so on— but they simply obfuscate the process. The simpler and fewer the words in the relevant section, the better. I support the provision as it stands.
I believe that what Amendment No. 91 is seeking is sufficiently covered in current legislation, guidance and case law and that it is not necessary. On Amendment No. 95, if the Mayor is to be the planning authority, I should have thought he would need the right to enforce, although I hope that that would in most circumstances be delegated to the borough.
I am deeply concerned about the second half of Amendment No. 93. As I said about proposed subsection (4A), I fear that it will add to the complexity of the matter. I agree with proposed subsection (4B), which covers the change in the thresholds for the City of London. The City is a special case—it is certainly one of the better planning authorities in London—and these proposals seem appropriate.
I had been planning to make my remarks on the planning provisions in the Bill on the next group of amendments until the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, addressed her remarks to this group. I will not burden the Committee with the same remarks twice.
I declare an interest in that I managed to serve 24 years on a London borough council without ever sitting on a planning committee, and I approach planning issues with that degree of detail. This section of the Bill and this group of amendments get to the heart of what having a strategic authority in London is all about. The very principle of arguing for the creation of a London-wide elected strategic authority in the run-up to 2000 was to enable some of those big strategic development issues that face the capital city to be addressed, and addressed decisively and effectively.
It follows that the Mayor must have strategic powers which enable whoever the office-holder is to ensure that whatever the vision that that Mayor brings to the capital city, it can be taken forward. It has always seemed anomalous that the Mayor had the power to direct refusal for strategic planning applications but not approval.
I can understand the concerns that planning decisions are effectively taken by one person, although when matters are appealed to the Secretary of State, essentially the same thing happens. I can understand the concerns that this would effectively create a situation in which one person would have the final say on a proposal. But the essential principle is that the Mayor should be able to set a strategic direction for the capital. That is where this part of the Bill is so important.
I recall my time on a London borough council, when there were plenty of instances where the local authority had to make decisions that, in the interests of the borough, meant that some immediate local concerns had to be overridden. The analogy is circumstances when a local borough planning committee said that matters could not be determined when the local ward councillors objected. That demonstrates why there should be certain circumstances regarding matters of strategic importance whereby the Mayor of London should have power to direct approval to the London boroughs.
This debate about what constitutes “strategic” as regards the amendments is important, and there has been an enormous amount of discussion with London Councils, individual London local authorities, the Mayor’s office and other interested parties as to how that should be achieved. The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, mentioned that. There will be developments to which there is local opposition, but in the greater interest of London as a whole, it will be important that they go ahead. It is essential that the Mayor should have the power to determine those applications.
I declare a hereditary interest in relation to what my noble friend Lord Jenkin said about the sight line to St Paul’s, in that my late noble kinsman was the Minister of Housing and Local Government—then equivalent to a Secretary of State—when the application was received as regards the buildings around St Paul’s. He instructed his civil servants to go to the Whitestone Pond on top of Hampstead Heath to discover whether St Paul’s could be seen from there. The answer was that it could not be seen and that had a profound effect on sight-line legislation thereafter.
I am conscious that the charge might be made against me that I am making a Second Reading point, to which I plead that I did not take part at Second Reading, because, first, as the Minister may recall, I was preoccupied with Part 4 of another London local Bill—a Private Bill. Secondly, no one then seemed to make my point in the way that I shall do now. I am drawing on my experience as a Member of Parliament for central London and—this affects my observations—in the first edition of Pevsner, not the second, the first volume on the buildings of London was devoted only to my constituency, with a small addition on Holborn. The second volume was devoted to all the other constituencies and local authorities in London.
London is a city that has developed as a series of villages and we have been spared what Baron Hausmann did in terms of Paris, which has perhaps made London a more attractive city. Perhaps I may list the villages in my former constituency. I shall not dwell on the City of London, to which my noble friend Lord Jenkin referred, but there was a moment when it was the fastest-growing area in London. The villages included Belgravia, Millbank, Victoria, Knightsbridge, St James’s and Mayfair. Mayfair was turned into offices in 1941, after being a residential area. An opportunity was provided for it to come back in 1991—and quite a lot of it did, but not all. It is now, despite hedge funds, substantially going back to being residential as a result of straightforward market forces. There is also Bayswater, the Hyde Park estates, St Marylebone and Covent Garden. For reasons to which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, drew attention, I said in the general debate on Kate Barker’s housing review in the Chamber a year or so ago that Soho and Pimlico were the ideal inner-city communities. They were ideal for two reasons: Soho was a marvellous mix of commercial and residential; and, in Pimlico, dukes lived next door to dustmen.
If the Mayor is going to intervene in every decision that he believes to be strategic, without that being defined, the hazard is that we will get a citywide uniformity rather than the individualist flavour that has made London what it is. If we are to preserve that individualism, it is extremely important that the powers should not all be held in one pair of hands.
I think that I have enough time to answer most of the points that have been raised. I will proceed fairly quickly and deal with the amendments in my own order, if I may, so that I can address them slightly more logically.
Much of what we have been debating is about how we can determine the new powers for the Mayor in relation to the potential strategic importance of applications. We have discussed higher thresholds in the City and whether the Mayor should have any role in the enforcement of planning control. Those issues relate to the powers in Clause 31 for the Mayor to take jurisdiction over certain planning applications.
Let me briefly set the scene, although the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, has more or less done it for me. London is growing and changing at an incredible pace. That brings massive challenges. The need to address those challenges is reflected in the London plan, which sets out our shared vision. We have to meet the future without shrinking from it. That is why, as we have discussed, we are through the new power in Clause 30 enabling the Mayor to ensure that local development plans are taken forward positively.
Let me stress that whether or not the crucial development envisaged in these policies, such as for regeneration, takes place depends on individual decisions on planning applications, which are, rightly, primarily the responsibility of the boroughs as local planning authorities. I very much take the point that the noble Lord has just made about the way in which London has developed. Nothing in this Bill changes that.
The first GLA Bill provided a power for the Mayor to see planning applications of potential strategic importance and, if they were contrary to the London plan or would otherwise prejudice the strategic planning of London, to direct the borough to refuse them. The Mayor has exercised this power with great restraint. In six years, he has carried through 18 directions—an average of three a year. That has not been a heavy-handed use of power at all.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked why we need these powers now. Have the boroughs failed? This is not about failure. As my noble friend Lord Harris said, it is about enabling the Mayor at this point in the development of London to deliver a positive vision for London as set out in the London plan. His powers so far have been negative ones. We think that this is the right time—indeed, the essential time—to ensure that he can implement his policies in a positive manner.
Clause 31 gives effect to this important change of approach by amending the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to give the Mayor power to direct that certain of those planning applications that are referred to him as being of potential strategic importance should be determined by him in place of the local planning authority. That also applies to the connected applications relating to, for example, listed building approval. There is an additional safeguard. The Mayor will have to have regard to the guidance issued by the Secretary of State and, where a direction is made, to give his reasons for making it.
Clause 31 also provides for secondary legislation to be made enabling the Mayor to exercise enforcement functions. The draft order that we have published to inform the Committee’s consideration sets out the detail of the matters to be considered. I listened to what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, but let me make our position clear. The detail of how applications of potential strategic importance are defined and how the Mayor should go about this should not be set out in the Bill. Instead of having an unwieldy and inflexible set of arrangements, we believe that that should be placed in secondary legislation. The key elements will be in primary legislation, but practical operation needs to be flexible, which is why the new powers will be set out in secondary legislation.
We need to bear in mind that the process is in two stages. How we define an application as strategically important has been slightly misunderstood. As I said at Second Reading, it is important to recognise that we propose a two-stage process. First, we have set a series of thresholds in the draft Mayor of London order, which will identify applications as being of potential strategic importance by virtue of issues such as size or height. If an application meets a threshold it must be referred to the Mayor by the borough that received it.
These thresholds for referral are based on those already used to trigger referral under the Mayor’s current power. They are well understood by developers and boroughs. On average, the thresholds capture around 300 out of 90,000 applications a year, so we are not talking about a wholesale redistribution of power. Examples of development proposals that would be caught by the thresholds are an application that proposes 500 homes or more or one that proposes a waste management facility with a throughput of more than 50,000 tonnes of waste.
However, it is fair to say that some of the existing thresholds were designed around the Mayor’s power to direct refusal, whereas we want the new power to focus on the developments of most importance for the implementation of the London plan, whether by virtue of the implications of size or because of the critical need for certain types of development in London, such as affordable housing and waste management.
I announced at Second Reading that we recognised that some of the existing thresholds captured smaller proposals because of the harm they could cause strategic policies such as protection of the green belt rather than on the basis of their contribution to the delivery of the London plan. These are set out in parts 3 and 4 of the order. As such, the Mayor does not need a power to approve such schemes; what is relevant is his power to direct their refusal. Therefore, we announced that the Mayor’s new power will not apply to the majority of the thresholds set out in parts 3 and 4 of the order.
Amendment No. 93A would go further and place an additional limitation on when an application could be judged to be of potential strategic importance by inserting a provision that this could not be the case solely because the application failed to accord with the development plan. I hope that the noble Lord was reassured to some extent by the fact that we will not apply the Mayor’s new power to the majority of parts 3 and 4 of the draft order; the Mayor will not be able to take over any applications just because they depart from the development plan.
However, the fact that an application does not accord with the development plan may itself increase the likelihood of it having damaging impacts at local or regional level. It is legitimate for the Mayor to be able to express a view on some of these applications and, if necessary, direct a borough to refuse it. This has been the situation for the past six years, and there is no evidence, in the City or elsewhere, that it has caused unnecessary problems.
Looking more widely, we have also considered whether new thresholds are needed in certain areas to reflect types of development of particular importance to London, such as on waste. Therefore, we included additional thresholds to allow the Mayor to be consulted on large waste management proposals.
I hope that my comments will reassure the Committee that we have listened very closely to the argument and will continue to listen. Meeting one of the thresholds only identifies an application as being of potential importance; it does not mean that the Mayor will take it over. Whether the application is really of strategic importance will be determined by the second-stage policy test in Article 8 of the draft Mayor of London order, which the Mayor would apply only after the borough has made a draft decision on an application which met the thresholds. Up to this point, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, the policy test we have proposed has been whether the Mayor considers that any of the issues raised by the development to which the application relates is of such a nature and scale that there would be a significant impact on the implementation of the London plan. To be of strategic importance, the application would have to meet the threshold and then satisfy the policy test.
Amendment No. 93 deals with the content of the policy test and the definition. I do not accept that it is necessary to have the provision in the Bill, but what the amendment proposes is very important.
First, the amendment would introduce a geographic element into the policy test such that an application would need to raise issues that have a substantial effect beyond the borough boundary. As my colleague the Minister for Housing and Planning made clear in the other place, there are strongly held arguments for and against the inclusion of a geographic element—we have heard the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, describe the reaction of London First.
The amendment would have profound implications. The matter therefore needs very careful consideration, and the debate today will form part of that. I cannot say more at this point, but I am sure that we will return to the issue on Report.
Secondly, the amendment would test the impact of the proposal on the London plan. Article 8(1) of the draft Mayor of London order already requires the Mayor clearly to show that a development is of such a nature and scale that there would be a significant impact on the implementation of his London plan. Proposed subsection 4A(b) of the amendment is therefore redundant and is simply an alternative way of expressing what we already propose. Our wording is broader, not least because the amendment would relate to situations only in which the local planning authority intended to grant planning permission. It is equally important for the Mayor to be able to intervene in situations in which refusal of planning permission could have a major impact on the implementation of the London plan.
Thirdly, the amendment, along with Amendment No. 92A, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, seeks the inclusion of a requirement of sound planning reasons for treating an application as being of potential strategic importance. In another place we agreed to consider whether that could be included in the policy test. I am pleased to confirm to the Committee that we accept the principle behind this change and will include in the policy test in Article 8(1) a requirement that the Mayor should demonstrate that there are sound planning reasons for intervening in an application. That means that the Mayor must take account of the decision that the borough proposes to take in relation to the application and be able to demonstrate why the borough’s draft decision to approve or refuse the planning application is deficient in planning terms such that he would be justified in taking over jurisdiction of the application.
This also means that a Mayor could not intervene in a case for purely political reasons. Planning reasons are those based on the statute-based, plan-led system. To summarise our position, to be of genuine strategic importance an application must first trigger one or more of the thresholds in the Mayor of London order and must demonstrably raise issues that would significantly impact on the implementation of the London plan—there must be sound planning reasons for the Mayor to intervene.
The draft order makes clear that, in applying the policy test, the Mayor must take account of the borough’s performance against relevant London plan targets. Currently they relate principally to new housing or affordable housing provision, which should be an important factor in the Mayor’s decision whether to intervene in an application. Given the critical importance of achieving more affordable housing, we are looking at whether there are ways to strengthen this requirement.
Amendments Nos. 93, 93A and 94A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, relate to thresholds for the referral of applications from the City of London. I have previously said we have had helpful meetings on this matter with City leaders and can say that we recognise the unique position of the corporation and the importance of its continued success to the local, regional and national economy and the unique characteristics of the City. I can announce today that we can respond positively to the amendments and will amend the thresholds along the lines sought. This will mean that we are minded to raise the height threshold for buildings in the City to 150 metres, and the floor-space threshold set out in category 1B will be 100,000 square metres.
For the avoidance of doubt, let me be clear: as Amendments Nos. 93 and 93A recognise, it would not be appropriate to apply these new higher thresholds to buildings adjacent to the Thames—I have to disappoint the noble Lord in that respect—given the river’s wider contribution to the character and views of the city. To reflect the unique situation of the Thames, it is not necessary for us to agree to Amendment No. 94A, which introduces an express power for an order under Section 2A to make provision in relation to applications for the erection of buildings adjacent to the Thames, because that power is already encompassed by the wider order-making powers in new Section 2C(1)(a), and the draft Mayor of London Order already sets a specific height threshold of 25 metres for these buildings. That threshold, set out in category 1C of the draft order, will remain for such development proposals.
The only other issue on which I cannot agree with the Opposition is that the new 100,000 square-metre floor space threshold should be in addition to the floor space of any building already on the site. If we were to agree with that and if a 100,000 square-metre building were already on a site, the replacement building would need to be doubled to 200,000 square metres in order to be referable to the Mayor. That would be a step too far.
Amendment No. 93B would have us go further and, in the case of the City, also exclude any applications which depart from the development plan and which propose developments over 2,500 square metres if they are for financial and professional, business or non-residential institutional use. These matters are currently set out in category 3E of the draft order. I cannot accept this change. We believe that we have moved a long way to meet the City’s concerns. We previously announced that the Mayor’s new power would not apply to the majority of applications in Part 3 of the order, including these, and therefore only the existing power for the Mayor to direct refusal will remain. This provision has operated for the past seven years and we think that we should leave it.
Amendment No. 91 deals with how the Mayor will make decisions. I understand why the noble Baroness has introduced it but I reassure her that it is unnecessary. The position that she wishes to achieve is already a feature of planning legislation. Where any decision-maker, be it a London borough or the Mayor, determines a planning application, they are acting as the local planning authority. As such, they must comply with the requirements of the planning Acts. In relation to the noble Baroness’s concern, Section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 requires the decision-maker to determine the application in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.
Section 38(2) of the 2004 Act made the London plan part of the development plan alongside the borough’s plan. Therefore the decision-maker must take proper account of the policies in both the borough’s development plan and the Mayor’s London plan. Where there is a conflict, there is a clear mechanism in Section 38(5) of the 2004 Act to resolve it in favour of the policy contained in the last document to be adopted. That seems most sensible.
Amendment No. 92B, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, would prevent an order made under Section 2A making provision for an applicant to ask the Mayor to intervene in an application unless the borough had had at least 20 weeks to consider that application. We think it is important that decisions on planning applications are made within a reasonable timescale and we have already set targets in that respect. For major applications of the type referable to the Mayor, the target is that 60 per cent should be determined within 13 weeks. That recognises that some applications will take longer than 13 weeks, and many of the applications that will be subject to the new power will be of this type. Applicants often recognise this and may agree a longer period for the local planning authority to consider an application. However, there are occasions when that does not happen, and there is a case for saying that the applicant should be able to move matters on in these circumstances.
Under existing planning law—Section 78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990—an applicant has a right of appeal to the Secretary of State if a local planning authority has not made a decision on an application after the requisite period of 13 weeks. Our proposal provides for the applicant to choose after 13 weeks whether to allow the borough more time to consider the application, to appeal to the Secretary of State or to request the Mayor to intervene, if justified. However, I recognise that there may be scope for an applicant to play the borough off against the Mayor. Providing up-front for an additional period may be a possible way out, and I will consider that further. However, it is important to remember that the Mayor will have to demonstrate that the policy test is satisfied in order to take jurisdiction over the application.
My bout of generosity has come to an end, and I am glad to say that I have almost done so too. However, I am afraid that I am unable to accept Amendment No. 95 because it would open the door to the risk of planning conditions attached to planning permissions granted by the Mayor not being enforced, resulting in development that causes harm to the local environment or the wider planning interests of the capital. That would not be in the interests of the borough, the Mayor or Londoners. It would limit all enforcement powers to the borough and would cause a problem.
The clause does not seek necessarily to substitute the Mayor for the borough in applications decided by the Mayor; rather, it provides for the Mayor to have enforcement functions parallel to the borough. That is a sensible safeguard to ensure development takes place under the terms in which permission was granted.
I know that mayoral involvement in planning applications is not always popular with the boroughs. We want to encourage constructive working arrangements between the Mayor and boroughs. Both have legitimate interests in the planning of London. The powers in Clause 31 provide a balanced approach. I hope that noble Lords who have not been satisfied by my remarks will still feel able not to press their amendments.
Given the rate at which the Minister has spoken, it has been very difficult to gather all that has been said. I am grateful for the concessions she made in certain areas. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, will be glad of them as well.
I am very conscious of the time, as I think was the Minister in her response. These are extremely important clauses. They matter a lot to the boroughs in terms of how their planning processes are developed, where the Mayor will intervene and the nature of developments of strategic importance.
I was not certain whether the Minister was suggesting that yet another draft order exists—the draft Mayor of London Order is the one that has appeared. As I suggested, it is not very clear what developments will fall under it. Once that is cleared up, and if we are satisfied that the Mayor ought to be involved, the order will be easier to put forward.
I shall return to these clauses. The amendments will change in the light of the Minister’s response that there are areas on which she can relax. We will definitely come back to this debate again.
On Amendment No. 95, I said that to provide enforcement in major developments, the Mayor will have to employ his own enforcement officers. The Minister has just said that that can be done in co-operation with London boroughs, but we will want to be clear whether it is essential that another workforce of enforcement officers is wandering around London or whether there could be better co-operation.
I see everybody looking at the clock. I am conscious that others may wish to comment on their amendments.
Before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may ask the Minister to clarify what will happen to what is currently a draft order. Can she say when an order in its final form, subject to affirmative or negative resolution and incorporating the points that she mentioned, will be published?