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Volume 692: debated on Monday 21 May 2007

My Lords, with permission, I should like to repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State on the planning system. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the planning system.

“This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, one of the great civilising reforms of Attlee’s Government. That Act laid the framework for a planning system that has helped to create thriving towns, protect our most beautiful countryside, and ensure green spaces around our cities. Its adaptability has been key to years of success: further reform will help ensure its success for the future.

“Today, we face significant and growing challenges that could not have been imagined 60 years ago: from climate change and globalisation to energy security in an uncertain world. If we are to meet these challenges successfully, planning must be part of the solution. In its current form, it is simply not up to the task.

“Both Kate Barker, in her review of land use planning, and Sir Rod Eddington, in his review of transport infrastructure, have highlighted the shortcomings of the planning system. First, an inaccessible and sometimes baffling system makes it hard for people to have their say on issues which can have a big impact on their quality of life. Too often it favours the well resourced over the less well-off.

“Secondly, decision-making can be painfully slow, causing costs and prolonged uncertainty that are in no one’s interests—not those of individuals, communities or developers. Thirdly, where good and necessary development is held up, it can mean society missing out on the reliable transport, secure energy, clean water or public amenities that we all need.

“The costs of not acting are clear, and will only grow more acute in future: energy shortages, mounting congestion, loss of jobs and a worse quality of life. Indeed, an effective planning system is vital for delivering government policy across a wide range of areas.

“The White Paper that I am publishing today sets out a series of proposals to meet the challenges of the future and continue to reform the town and country planning system. The White Paper represents the result of close working across Government. I am presenting it to Parliament today together with my right honourable friends the Trade and Industry Secretary, the Transport Secretary and the Environment Secretary.

“Let me first address the proposals on how we take decisions about major infrastructure, such as transport, environmental, waste or energy projects—everything from roads to reservoirs, to power plants and wind farms.

“The system for taking these decisions has grown up piecemeal over decades, with complex, unwieldy and overlapping rules. Some developments have to get approval under a number of different pieces of legislation, and make numerous separate applications. We need a simpler system to respond to the challenges that we face. The White Paper will ensure that decisions are taken in a way that is transparent and timely, and that achieves the right balance of interests.

“There are three key elements to our proposed new procedures for national infrastructure projects. First, Ministers will issue national policy statements about the infrastructure that the country needs for the next 10 to 25 years. Those statements will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and intense public debate, making sure that people have early input into the formulation of the policy, rather than rehearsing the same arguments over and over in different local inquiries.

“Secondly, we are replacing the numerous and sometimes overlapping ‘consent regimes’ for major infrastructure projects with a single system. This will provide a far clearer and more accessible application process than at present.

“Thirdly, we propose to create a new, independent infrastructure planning commission. This will bring together experts from key sectors, including planners, lawyers, environmentalists and communities. Guided by the national policy statements, the commission will oversee the planning inquiry process on specific major developments and take the final decisions on whether they should go ahead. It will listen closely to local concerns, and where it approves an application, it will be able to specify measures to mitigate the impact on a local area. It will be accountable to Ministers and to Parliament for its performance. We believe it will bring greater objectivity, transparency and accountability to the decision-making process.

“Some interest groups promote a false choice between speed and public engagement. Our reforms will achieve both, providing opportunities for better public engagement at every step in the process. There will be public engagement in the formulation of the national policy statements, at the scheme development stage, and during the inquiry process. We are backing this up with a new legal duty for developers to consult the public. Consultation must not be a box-ticking process, but a genuine opportunity for local people to have their say in shaping the places where they live. In addition to this, we are increasing resources for bodies such as Planning Aid, helping more communities and individuals to get access to free professional planning advice.

“As well as new procedures for major infrastructure projects, the White Paper outlines measures to improve the town and country planning system. Kate Barker’s report recognised the progress that had been made in recent years to speed up the system and make it more effective. But it also stressed the need to reform further for greater flexibility, responsiveness and efficiency. Our White Paper responds to these recommendations.

“Our aim is to create a level playing field that better integrates economic, social and environmental objectives. We will do this by building on the success of the plan-led system, with sustainability at its heart. New planning policy statements on economic development and climate change will clarify the national policy on these vital issues. We will also streamline our planning policy documents to devolve where appropriate to local decision-makers.

“We will continue to promote prosperous and thriving town centres. Our ‘town centre first’ policy has been a real success, with over two-fifths of retail development now in town centres, compared with just a quarter in 1994. It will remain in place, but there is scope for it to be more effective still. The current ‘needs test’ can sometimes be a blunt instrument. In future, we will require a better assessment of how new developments will affect town centres, including the impact on high streets and local shops. Development outside the town centre should not go ahead where it will have a detrimental impact on the town centre. We are also reaffirming our commitment to the fundamentals of green belt policy. It has served us well for 60 years, and will continue to do so in the future.

“It is vital that planning plays its part in tackling climate change. We will make it easier for householders to reduce their fuel bills and carbon footprint by installing small-scale renewable technologies such as solar panels. In addition, building on the progress made on new homes, my honourable friend the Minister for Housing will work with industry to deliver a significant reduction in carbon emissions from new offices and shops.

“We are strengthening the role of local government in planning. We want to enable local authorities to use planning increasingly effectively as a tool to achieve their vision for their area. We will continue to work with partners, including the Local Government Association and the planning profession, to improve performance. With this growing local expertise we aim to devolve further decision-making to local communities and to reduce the number of town and country planning cases called in by the Secretary of State.

“Our reforms will make town and country planning applications more efficient. We will make it easier for people to make minor improvements to their homes, such as building conservatories or small extensions, while continuing to protect the interests of neighbours and local communities. This will enable councils to focus resources on the genuinely difficult cases. We will both simplify planning applications and speed up the appeals system.

“Our reforms will be good for citizens, who will have greater opportunities to have their say at every stage in the process, and the chance to make minor improvements to their homes more easily. Our reforms will be good for communities—supporting sustainable and vibrant town centres, and helping to create safe and healthy places to live.

“Our reforms will be good for business, with greater certainty about the national policy framework to encourage investment and faster decisions on developments. Our reforms will be good for the country, with better access to reliable transport, secure energy, clean water supplies and better local amenities. Finally, our reforms will put climate change and sustainable development where they belong—right at the heart of the planning system.

“Our proposals build on Attlee’s legacy and give us a planning system fit for the 21st century. I commend this White Paper to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for making the Statement. I would have found it easier to respond if I had had sight of it more than a quarter of an hour before I came into the Chamber. None the less, it is clearly important. It builds on the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, part of which was left in abeyance. Most of the Statement is about major planning infrastructure and involvement with that.

Local planning authorities will find it quite difficult to cope with yet another planning White Paper; they are still struggling with the local development frameworks in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act. As I have said to the Minister previously, local development frameworks were meant to be in place by now, but most authorities are still using their unitary development plans because they have been unable to get the frameworks up and running. This will just add to the fairly substantial burdens on planning in recent years.

I believe that we all would accept that the Heathrow terminal 5 consultation was barely a process and caused enormous difficulty. It certainly let people have their say, but I think we would all agree that the development was held up for a long time. However, do we want to move from that situation to the new commission in this planning White Paper? It is another of the Government’s quangos. People who probably have planning at the centre of their profession will be chosen from among the wise and the good to put together commissions for major infrastructure developments.

Exactly how will this commission go about its business? What consultation will take place? The infrastructure projects will have a big impact on quite wide parts of the country, not necessarily on local communities as was the case in, for example, Stansted, where the new runway was given permission. What will be the structure for consultation? The White Paper also suggests that the commission will be able to grant powers and change legislation. What does that mean? How can a commission grant powers or change legislation, which is in the hands of Parliament—or will those powers be devolved from Parliament to the commission? Perhaps the Minister can explain exactly how that will be carried out.

Much is made in the Statement about how local people will be involved, but what will affect local areas more is the increase in permitted development powers. People in towns and cities can be badly affected by small-scale developments. Extensions encroach on people’s properties because they can be overlooked and so forth. Here I declare my interest as a member of a planning committee, and I can tell noble Lords that practically the most contested applications are those which might be described as being on the smallest scale. What protection will be given to those living next door, who are nearby or whose gardens will be affected by a small-scale decision? How will a planning committee be able to call it in or ensure that the right people are consulted?

On out-of-town shopping developments, when my right honourable friend John Gummer was Secretary of State for the Environment he introduced PPG6 to protect town centres. The Statement says that the Government have protected town centres, but in many areas where there have been out-of-town developments of large retail stores, town shopping centres have been badly affected. If shopping developments on the outskirts of towns are to be allowed, what protection will be offered to ensure that local small shops are not just driven out of existence if PPG6 is not kept?

Green belts have been protected for generations. We all know that there is a great need for housing and that in the future pressure will be put on green belts. The Minister has said that they have been protected until now, but if greater latitude is given to development and less control is exerted by local planning authorities, how will green belts continue to be safeguarded?

I have seen the White Paper, which is, again, a very large tome covering planning regulation that will require more justice than I can give it today. However, if the Minister can start by answering the questions I have asked, we might make a dent in what I think will be longer discussions.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and reiterate my concern that these Benches received a copy of it only at a very late stage, which makes it difficult to respond in a meaningful way. However, very helpfully the Secretary of State in another place has spent the whole weekend briefing the media, so we had a fairly good idea of what was to come. Before we start, it is worth reflecting that, although it is 60 years old, the existing planning regime has served us very well. Anyone who has seen development sprawl in countries where planning policies are not so rigorous would attest to the fact that our planning regime has done well. So I begin by cautioning the Minister on moving towards something that looks like a general presumption in favour of development. That would have very serious effects on how our neighbourhoods look. Indeed, sometimes the cumulative effect of lots of small changes can be to fundamentally alter the character of a neighbourhood, especially in historic towns and villages. So I would caution care in this area.

Any planning system has to mediate between competing and often contradictory influences. There will always be a number of people who are unhappy with the outcome, and the tendency will be for them to say, “The system is at fault”. The job of government and of Parliament is to rise above that and to look more strategically, not at the competing interest groups but at the balance between economic, social and environmental regeneration, a process in which the trade-offs are understood, debated and taken into account. That is how we on these Benches will judge the Government’s moves in planning.

There are two aspects to our planning system, the strategic and the site specific—development control, in other words. The majority of site-specific planning applications are fairly small and dealt with expeditiously. Some planning departments are better than others but the answer is to raise the standards of the poorly performing ones. Progress has been made since 2004, and I urge the Government to continue supporting, in particular, the small district councils where capacity clearly is an issue.

We remain concerned, as do many local authorities, about retaining the needs test when taking into account edge-of-town and out-of-town developments. In his report, Michael Lyons referred to his vision of councils as place shapers. If local shops become boarded up as a result of an out-of-town development, it may be a victory for market forces but it would be difficult for a council to then go to a community and say, “We had no choice”. If place shaping is to mean anything, that kind of choice must be retained.

I think it is agreed that the strategic side of our planning system performs less well. I have said several times in your Lordships’ House that the most significant problem has been the lack of a meaningful national framework, whether for housing, energy or transport. Therefore, in principle at least, a new decision-making process which clarifies and separates out policy and decision making is to be welcomed. Up until now, individual applications tend to be considered in isolation from each other and planning inquiries get bogged down for years because they are often the only forum for debating the overall context. Terminal 5 and Sizewell C, for example, are classic examples of where the inquiries ground on for years because they were not only discussing national aviation and national energy policy but also considering proposals for bus stops and junction layouts. We would welcome national policy frameworks for different kinds of infrastructure.

I am most concerned about the independent planning commission, on which I have questions. I hope that the Minister will respond to at least some of them today. Because of the short time that has been available to me, I am still not clear whether the decisions of the planning commission will be executive: whether it will make the final decision or whether it will simply advise the Minister. If it is to make the final decision, it is important to know whether it can be challenged, whether its meetings will be held in public and whether its documentation will be subject to the Freedom of Information Act—in other words, whether its decisions can be scrutinised by the public.

The document contains a list of thresholds of the size of project that will fall under the scope of the planning commission. To my eyes, there is an unusually large number. Can the Minister tell the House approximately how many of these projects it is envisaged the planning commission will look at each year? The proposal is for a body made up of three to five members. Clearly its capacity for dealing with these complex issues is important. I was slightly shocked and alarmed to see a proposal, at least for consultation, that some decisions could be taken by one member. We might agree that the current public inquiry system is cumbersome and lengthy, but to move from that to a system where one person makes a decision requires a leap of faith that I am not sure we on these Benches are ready to make. What changes are being made for schemes which may be large enough to be of regional significance but fall outside the framework of the new planning commission?

We can read the document, study it with great interest and look forward to further debate when we have had an opportunity to hear what the stakeholders think, but on these Benches the test will be whether any new system achieves a balance between economic development and environmental and social considerations, and still retains a feeling of genuine community engagement in the decisions which affect it. We welcome, at least, the start of the debate and what appears to be a genuinely consultative approach.

My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome that the noble Baronesses have given to the White Paper. I apologise that your Lordships have had such short notice for the Statement on the planning White Paper, and I shall explore why that was the case. I appreciate that the document is long and complicated, and I look forward to debating it in this House at greater length.

I shall start with some of the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. She is quite right that there have been many changes to the planning system in recent years; she knows that all too well. We have kept a watching brief on what has been happening with the local government frameworks and we will learn from experience. That is why we make it clear in this White Paper, just as we did in the local government White Paper, that we are looking to simplify some of the processes—for example, in the options and appraisals stage, so that it becomes proportionate and optimal when it is needed.

I and other Members of the Government have been pleased about the warm welcome that has been given to the White Paper by the Local Government Association today. In fact, it has been well received in general. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Lockhart, who sadly is not in his place, said:

“The White Paper offers a real opportunity to bring in a planning system which promotes economic growth and attractive environments, rewards innovation and vision and gives democratically elected local councillors the ability to create places where people can thrive”.

I think that that is an important step forward.

On the questions asked by both noble Baronesses about the structural changes involving the new commission, the point is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, said, that we need national frameworks for policy-making under which decisions are made about where things are locationally proper. With the White Paper, we have for the first time an opportunity to construct a framework where the broad policies, whether on waste, water, energy or transport, can be made in full public view and challenged in the same way by public consultation. We will then go on to determine the reasons why we need the sort of infrastructure that we do.

The role of the independent planning commission will be to apply those principles of sustainability and economic viability to the specific applications that come to it. It will take these decisions itself, independently. Its task will be to ensure that the national criteria are met, particularly where they impact locally. Some aspects of planning will be locationally more specific than others and there will be an opportunity for local consultees to be involved at a very early stage with the national policy framework decision. When the application is reviewed, the process will not be as it is at present, when the policy itself is often under scrutiny and there is endless debate about why this is happening. That will have been cleared out of the way and agreed, not least because these policy statements will have to go through Parliament, so there will be a mechanism for dealing with that.

I shall speed on and discuss the consultation process. Running through the whole White Paper is a strong commitment to getting consultation right. It is essentially a three-stage process. There will be thorough consultation on the national policy statements and the sector-specific policy statements, but for the first time, when it gets to the point where the developers are being scrutinised, there will be a legal requirement on them to demonstrate that they have consulted adequately, and there will be a list of statutory consultees who will advise. Finally, the independent commission will run the inquiry as part of its process; again, there will be a rigorous opportunity for people to be involved, including an open-stage process, which we do not have at the moment. The commission will take its decisions but it will of course be subject to legal challenge in court. The Secretary of State will not have the current ministerial role—the accountable role—in making the decisions.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked me whether the commission will be able to grant powers and change legislation. We want any applications for major infrastructure as far as possible to have been made under a single consent. That is one of the ways of speeding things up, instead of these multiple regimes that people have to consult at the moment. The present mix of eight regimes includes, for example, compulsory purchase and changing private legislation. We will have to look at how we deal with that multiplicity of issues.

We think that there will be roughly 10 to 25 projects a year, but if only one member were to take the inquiry, the decision would be made by the board of the commission and not by a single person.

As I said in the Statement, town-centre policy has been very successful and has certainly led to a revival of our town centres. Town-centre development increased from 25 per cent in 1994 to 41 per cent in 2004. Sometimes, the needs test has had a perverse effect and deterred competition. We therefore want a better test, building on what works. I confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, that we are not changing green-belt policies, but local authorities are not ruled out from reviewing them.

Important questions about protection were raised, but the present system is perverse. It allows unattractive developments because they simply fulfil the volume requirements. It is spelt out in the consultation paper that we want to move to a system based on height, size and distance from boundary. It sets down clear rules, but in a way that makes it clear to people whether they have to apply for planning permission. We hope to take about 85,000 schemes from an annual number of 325,000 out of the system. That will certainly help to simplify matters.

I am conscious that I have been unable to answer all the questions that were asked. I shall make sure that I do so in writing. I look forward to a continuing debate on this topic.

My Lords, if there is to be a free-for-all, or something like it, in home extensions and alterations, does the Minister accept that there is a danger, even a likelihood, that the cumulative damage to the quality of the built environment will be significant? Will the Government at the very least make sure that advice on good design in such developments and models of good practice from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and English Heritage are made extensively available? Where conservation areas and listed buildings are in question, will the Government ensure that conservation and planning officers in local authorities are trained, advised, empowered and under a duty to ensure the appropriateness of physical change in these sensitive cases and to sustain the quality of our historic environment?

My Lords, those are important questions. One of the reasons for making these changes is to allow planning officers to consider what is important. It is extremely important that we have tighter controls on conservation areas—listed building consents will stay in place—but that we clear away some of those things that can safely be cleared. As the White Paper is a consultation document, I am sure that design issues will be raised and that we will find ways of strengthening the advisory system, particularly in relation to the statutory consultees. However, we have already said that we will look to match materials. At the moment, there is no requirement for the same materials to be used in extensions. We could certainly improve the appearance of buildings if we ensured integrity in the materials being used. We are building on the consultative process in that and a number of different ways. I shall make sure that what my noble friend said is fed into that process.

My Lords, the White Paper is comprehensive in certain areas. It responds especially to those who have been lobbying on microgeneration. Chapter 7.11 answers one of the main points by referring not just to small on-site renewable energy schemes, but also to decentralised renewables schemes, which is a great step forward. Will the Minister confirm that, as it is set out in legislation, microgeneration includes schemes generating up to 50 kilowatts of power rather than just very small, 1-kilowatt schemes? On large microgeneration schemes, will she also say whether guidelines will be set on issues such as whether climate change should be taken into account or whether wind turbines work? It is important that when a microgeneration scheme goes to appeal, as happened when I took a scheme for a small turbine to appeal, one should not have to argue, as I did, about whether climate change was happening or not. That should be taken as read by the planning authorities.

My Lords, I think that I can confirm what the noble Lord has asked about, although he is much more expert than I am on these matters. The general point is that the whole paper will make it possible in different ways for microgeneration to get a more secure hold, whether in the domestic appeals system and permitted development or in encouraging local authorities to go for the renewables option. We believe that it is important to do that. In the debate on the nature of energy through the White Paper, renewables will play a very important role. A 50-kilowatt limit for the IPC will make it possible for local authorities to deal with the smaller generation issues. However, I shall write to the noble Lord about the specific point that he raised about Chapter 7.11 of the White Paper, because I would not want to mislead him.

My Lords, like the noble Lord on the Liberal Democrat Benches, I wish to address a particular subject. It will not surprise the Minister that my point is about energy, too. I have not yet grasped the distinction between the role of the Government in setting the policy, the role of the commission in deciding how that policy will be implemented and what is then left to the local planning authority. In tomorrow’s energy White Paper, we expect the Government clearly to express their support for a programme of major investment in new generating capacity, which may include nuclear. Is the commission the body that will decide where the major developments are to take place? If it is, at that point local communities will want to have their say. I have listened extremely carefully to what the Minister said in response to earlier questions, but I have not yet gathered how that is going to be done and I would find it very helpful if the Minister would explain it.

My Lords, I am happy to try to explain the matter even more clearly. National policy statements, such as an energy policy statement, will set out the principles on what should govern where the infrastructure goes and what infrastructure we need. Some of our papers on energy, transport, waste or water will be more locationally specific because there will be fewer choices. However, with other papers, there will be wider choices to be made and they will be more general in their description of some of those choices. The national policy frameworks will do just that: the statements will set out what the policy is and why we need the infrastructure—and in some cases they will be able to say where we need it more.

The independent commission will be the body that receives the application from the developer, so it will act as a planning commission does at the moment, looking at the merits of the locationally specific application. Local people will be able to have their say about how they will be affected not only at the stage of the national debate—and we are thinking about how we can make that happen most effectively and what mechanisms we need to ensure that people have their say at the right time and place. That is a consultation issue. It may be that for some policies it will be at the national level as well as at the level of the individual application.

On individual applications, local people will again have a legal right, whatever site is involved; that is, the developer has to show that he has consulted local people. If the commission is not satisfied, it will be able to reject the application at that point. The independent commission can, of course, reject any application. That is the relationship between the statement of policy and the role of the commission. The local authority responds to the commission but continues to act as a local planning authority for everything else, including, we hope, in developing renewable energy in the way that I suggested.

My Lords, right at the end of the Statement, my noble friend included a sentence that I thought was remarkable and very welcome. She said that our reforms will put climate change and sustainable development where they belong, right at the heart of the planning system. Can she confirm that that objective takes precedence over other planning objectives? The achievement of faster planning permission could directly contradict that objective. Given the contribution that the unrestrained growth of aviation is making to climate change and CO2 emissions, it would surely be wholly inconsistent if the Government were committed to putting climate change and sustainable development at the heart of the planning system if at the same time they agreed to a third runway at Heathrow or a second at Stansted.

My Lords, the foundation of our current planning system is governed by Planning Policy Statement 1, at the heart of which is sustainable development. That remains the most important statement we have of the need to make that a paramount consideration. For the first time, the national policy statement will integrate the range of issues that we need to address. Certainly, sustainability is primary to that. For the first time, we will have a mechanism for weighing up the benefits across the range of considerations, including economic sustainability in terms of the environment. As I say, we shall have, for the first time, a mechanism for doing that. However, sustainability remains at the heart of everything that we plan to do.

My Lords, following on from the question of my noble friend Lord Faulkner, in view of the speed with which the evidence in relation to climate change is evolving and developing, will the Government apply a more precautionary principle in respect of development where climate change may be an issue when determining whether that development should go forward, because past evidence has tended to demonstrate that that principle has not been applied? I am not aware that it has at any time, but certainly climate change was still being debated very recently.

My Lords, the national policy statements are intended to be living documents that can be updated as and when appropriate. My noble friend is right that the science is moving fast and we need to be on top of it. A whole range of things in the paper makes it possible to take climate change into account more quickly. We have a draft climate change planning policy statement, which is a new tool in our armoury of how we plan to cope with climate change. The process that we shall put in place will be speedier because the national debate on the role of renewables will have taken place. That means that, by the time a matter reaches the independent planning commission, it can be dealt with faster. That will make it easier to put renewables in place, if that is what is decided. A whole range of things is contained in the paper and applies in the context in which we are working, which will make us able to respond more quickly and more effectively.

My Lords, we understand the advantages of speed in this process, but can the noble Baroness clarify whether there will be a right of appeal against a refusal from the independent planning commission?

My Lords, there will in the sense that the independent planning commission will be able to be challenged in the courts, but this planning system will have an integrity of its own. That is how I understand it. If I am wrong, I shall certainly write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, retuning to the free-for-all to which my noble friend Lord Howarth referred earlier, a considerable number of people live in listed buildings in conservation areas, as the Minister will be aware. Will the free-for-all extend as far as them, or will they continue to be bound by what are sometimes tedious and unnecessary restrictions?

My Lords, there are many defenders of the listed building system who are as vociferous in their defence of it as the noble Lord is critical. When it comes to looking at household development consent, we will have to have different regimes for different types of properties, because clearly we want to preserve the quality and integrity of our communities. We will be looking in our consultation document at how to deal with all types of properties.

My Lords, I am still not clear about what will happen if the Government come forward with a new nuclear power programme and how that will fit in with the new national planning permission. Nuclear power stations are completely different; they have more implications for areas than normal power stations that are powered by gas or even coal. Bearing in mind that Sizewell B had a planning inquiry of about 10 years before it was agreed, I would be interested to know exactly who would be making the decisions. How long would they be likely to take? In particular, would all representations be properly heard by the commission?

My Lords, we will have a Statement on energy on Wednesday. Planning is a major issue for all energy sector investments. The noble Lord will also know that we have not taken a decision on whether to allow the private sector to invest in new nuclear power stations, so we will consult on that alongside the White Paper. In response to his question, the policy will be set by the Government, and their decision will be discussed and laid out in the national policy statement. That is where objections to the policy will be heard and challenged and, at some point, if an application from a developer comes forward to build, the process involving the independent planning commission starts. Essentially, it is in the national policy statement that the debate and the challenge will be heard.