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National Planning Policy Framework

Volume 734: debated on Monday 23 January 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what safeguards are contained in the national planning policy framework to protect cultural institutions.

The Government recognise the valuable role cultural institutions, such as theatres, museums and libraries, play in people’s everyday lives. As part of the simplification of planning policies under the national planning policy framework, it was decided to include cultural development under the general heading of leisure and community facilities, rather than setting out a long list of specific categories. Our policies are intended to support local authorities that want to include cultural institutions as an integral part of the vision for their areas.

I thank the Minister for the Answer but she will know that there has been concern for some time that cultural interests are not specifically mentioned in the national planning policy framework; and that last December the local government Select Committee recommended that they should be included. With the Redgrave Theatre in Farnham threatened with demolition and the Greenwich Playhouse closing its doors, will the Minister put on record the Government’s specific resolve to protect cultural interests?

My Lords, the Government intend to see protection for all cultural interests but, as I have explained to the noble Baroness, under the draft national planning policy framework, cultural interests have been included under community facilities, rather than under a specific heading of “cultural institutions”. If that needs reinterpreting, it will come about as a result of the consultation on the national policy planning framework that has taken place over the past three months.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s statement in recognition of the important role that culture and cultural services play in the nation’s quality of life and well-being. Can she tell us when we will see the national planning policy framework in its final form so that we may judge the Government’s commitment to that?

My Lords, the Government are committed to producing the final version by the end of March. It is very much hoped that it will be ready before then. I am sure that the noble Lord will take a lively interest in it when it is.

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness agrees with me that cultural institutions in most areas represent rather more than just community facilities. In particular, they have been very important in the regeneration of certain key urban areas that have suffered from the loss of manufacturing industries or where other kinds of activity have gone into decline. In view of that, will she consider how the language of the national planning policy framework might be strengthened to give a little more than just a nod in the direction of cultural institutions, as is presently apparently the case?

My Lords, there have been representations about this in the course of the consultation and I know that consideration is being given to them. We will see what comes out of the final result.

My Lords, will the Minister explain how well assets of cultural, wildlife and landscape value will be protected in those non-designated areas that make up the greater part of the English countryside?

My Lords, it is not usual for me to be at a complete loss but I am afraid that I do not understand how the question relates to the Question. May I write to the right reverend Prelate?

My Lords, may I ask the Minister an easy question? This is meant to be the year of not just the Olympics but the Cultural Olympiad, with an enormous amount of energy being invested in the development of cultural opportunities across the country. Does it not therefore behove the Government to be somewhat more positive about this aspect with regard to planning?

My Lords, the Government are very positive about cultural aspects. At the moment we are discussing whether that is properly put forward within the national planning policy framework. I can assure the noble Lord that it is very much at the heart of what the Government believe to be an important aspect, particularly of the Olympics and of people’s lives. There should be proper access to the institutions of the arts, such as museums and leisure centres, which people in this country value.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many important cultural events are held in Clapham Library, which is now threatened with closure? What help do the Government propose to give to important, historic libraries that are the subjects of national preservation orders, and to the local communities who wish to take them over and look after them?

My Lords, the funding of libraries and museums is a matter for, first, the local authority and secondly, by and large, the Arts Council. We have kept the budget of the Arts Council and the grant in aid at a level, with a reduction of just 11 per cent, which is not as much of a reduction as there has been in many other areas, and we expect support to be given. I do not have an answer to the specific matter raised by the noble Lord but, if required, I will write to him.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the Live Music Bill of my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones successfully passed through the House of Commons last Friday, and will certainly go a long way to protecting musical cultural institutions?

My Lords, developing on the supplementary question of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, will the Minister take particular note of recommendation number 5 of the Communities and Local Government Committee’s report, which recommends that the framework adopt a more inclusive definition of sustainable development, particularly considering that culture has previously been defined in planning policy as one of the four main components of sustainable growth, alongside economics, social inclusion and environment,?

My Lords, the answer to that is yes, again. As I say, the Government are seized of the importance of culture and of its value within sustainable development. There are questions about the interpretation of sustainable development, and that issue is being looked at with regard to the result of the consultation that has just taken place.

My Lords, I recall that my noble friend rejected certain amendments to the Localism Bill which included culture and heritage in this context. Does she have a scintilla of sense—? I shall rephrase that. Does she have an inkling that this subject may be returned to quite frequently in the future?