Committee (4th Day) (Continued)
Clause 24 : Bringing business and commercial projects within Planning Act 2008 regime
77C: Clause 24, page 30, line 22, at end insert—
“(4A) In relation to development in Greater London, the Secretary of State may only give a direction under subsection (1) if an application for planning permission for the development would be an application of potential strategic importance for the purposes of section 2A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.”
My Lords, the amendment seeks to avoid a potential inconsistency in Greater London between the concept of what is of “strategic importance” for the purposes of the Mayor of London’s powers to intervene in the local planning process, and what is of “national significance” for the purposes of the Planning Inspectorate’s role under the new scheme. The potential inconsistency is set to arise in the City of London in particular because the Government’s proposals in the Bill do not reflect the recognition given in the existing system to the special circumstances of the City.
Greater London provides a useful yardstick for the Government’s proposals because regulations have already laid down in some detail what sort of development might, because of its implications for the regional economy, require a wider look than that taken by the local planning authority alone. It is in the interests of certainty and consistency that this careful demarcation is not undercut by the new proposals, which have a similar aim only with a national rather than a regional scope. Of course I am not suggesting that every development deemed to be of regional importance should be regarded as nationally significant as well but the converse seems to me compelling. I struggle to see how a development could be said to be of national significance when it is not treated as regionally significant.
Let me make it clear at once that the Government’s current proposals generally reflect this view. The consultation indicates a threshold of 40,000 square metres of floor space, above which a development might be considered nationally significant. Of course that comes from annexe A in the consultation document. This considerably exceeds the thresholds laid down for potential strategic importance in most of Greater London—namely 20,000 square metres in central London and 15,000 square metres in outer London. This was provided by the Town and Country Planning (Mayor of London) Order 2008, which was made under the powers introduced by the Greater London Authority Act 2007.
I suggest that this is the right way round. Powers to determine matters on a regional level should, if I can put it this way, kick in before powers to determine matters on a national level are involved. However, in the City of London—as opposed to Greater London as a whole—a higher threshold is provided for when a development might be regarded as of potential strategic importance within Greater London. The threshold in the City is 100,000 square metres of floor space. It may seem strange to some of your Lordships to single out a particular area in this way. It is, however, a recognition of the markedly different planning environment in the City from anywhere else in Greater London and, I might suggest, from anywhere else in the country.
The question of thresholds was discussed at some length in this House when the Bill for the Greater London Authority Act 2007 was considered in Parliament. It came to be accepted, I think on all sides of this House, that it was appropriate to recognise the special circumstances of the City in this way. I have reason to hope that the Minister may be receptive of this argument today. My noble friend Lady Hanham may well remember that she was on the Front Bench for the Opposition at the time of that Bill and she appeared to be very appreciative of the City’s case. I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Ahmad will be as well.
In terms of commercial development, what is significant in the City is not the same as what is significant elsewhere. The City is an area devoted to business in a manner unlike any other. Noble Lords who take an interest in these things will recall that it has fewer than 7,000 residents on the parliamentary roll, but more than 300,000 people work there. No global commercial centre can sustain itself without a substantial property stock capable of meeting the changing needs of international business. A principal objective of the planning system as it has been operated in the City is to ensure a plentiful supply of office buildings as one might say befits a world-leading business and financial district in the 21st century.
During the discussion about thresholds in 2007, I think that the House recognised that applying the same thresholds to the City as elsewhere would capture a whole raft of projects which, while of potential strategic importance in other London boroughs, were unexceptional so far as the City was concerned. This would have defeated the purpose of the new powers, which was to enable developments of special or unusual importance to receive the wider consideration that they merited, while leaving boroughs to perform tasks within their normal range of responsibility and expertise without undue disruption or uncertainty.
The application of this principle in the City led to the adaptation that I described. To apply the threshold of 40,000 square metres in the City would leave far more projects liable to be treated as nationally significant than would be treated as regionally significant for Greater London. This seems absurd. Of course the situation under this clause is not quite the same as that which exists with respect to the Mayor of London, because the exercise of the Planning Inspectorate’s powers will be triggered only on the application of the developer. However, this point of difference does not justify what seems to be a substantially different approach in respect of the City to the notion of what is of strategic importance.
The Government have been clear that they regard the new process as something to be used as an exceptional course. In the other place on 4 December, my honourable friend Nick Boles described it as a backstop where there were genuine reasons to bypass the normal role of local planning authorities. In my view, this requires thresholds for national significance that recognise the distinct position of the City, in the way that it is currently recognised in determining potential strategic importance at regional level. In that way, we would avoid the topsy-turvy situation where the City was the only part of Greater London where a development could fall within the nationally significant regime without being treated as of potential strategic importance at regional level. As I said, that would be absurd.
It may be that this should be dealt with in regulations rather than in the Bill. However, I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will give me some reassurance that the Government will be mindful of the need for a consistent approach. I beg to move.
My Lords, as ever I am grateful to my noble friend for the thoughtful remarks he made about why London is a special case and why we should have a different planning approach. To put it simply, we agree. That is why we set out in Clause 24 that new Section 35(4) should require the Mayor of London’s consent before business and commercial projects in Greater London can be directed into the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime. Therefore the amendment is not required.
I can reassure my noble friend on his final point about how best this can be taken forward. We will discuss with the mayor how the proposal will work in practice, to ensure that there is no conflict with the mayor’s responsibilities for projects of strategic importance.
My noble friend asked a few questions about the mayor’s role. I reiterate that we recognise that London has its own planning context, with the mayor taking responsibility for strategic planning across London. That is why we built into the legislation the requirement to obtain the mayor’s consent to issue a direction for any business and commercial project in Greater London that wants to use the nationally significant infrastructure regime. We also agree that it is hard to envisage a type of nationally significant scheme that the mayor did not have the ability to consider as being of strategic importance.
My noble friend Lord Jenkin referred also to the City of London—a place I know well—and to how different it is from other parts of London. He said that the threshold should be much higher to bring powers into line with those available to the mayor.
My noble friend alluded to the consultation. We are still considering the responses that we have received on the proposed thresholds; the intention behind them was to provide a gateway and give a clear indication that only schemes of national significance would be directed into the regime. Not every application above the thresholds will be directed into the regime and I come back to the point that the mayor’s consent will be central.
I will explain our position a little further. We do not think that the amendment will work from a technical standpoint, as the schedule to the Town and Country Planning (Mayor of London) Order 2008, which refers to projects of potential strategic importance, goes much wider than the Government have proposed in their consultation paper on extending the infrastructure planning regime and commercial projects. For example, the order includes retail as part of strategic development which may affect the mayor’s strategic policy. The Government have already indicated in the consultation paper on extending the regime to business and commercial projects that they do not propose to include retail development as a prescribed project of potential national significance.
The 2008 order also includes types of transport infrastructure as development of potential strategic importance. Under the 2008 Planning Act certain forms of transport infrastructure that meet specific thresholds must be considered under the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime. Transport projects that fall beneath the thresholds have to make a request to use the regime should they wish to do so.
The amendment would add to the complexity of the legal picture, confronted with issues around London. I come back to the point that I made at the outset. We have built into Clause 24 a simple requirement to obtain the mayor’s consent so that this complexity is not necessary. For its implementation we are working with the mayor’s office and will continue to have discussions with him about how this can best be taken forward. With that explanation, I hope that my noble friend is minded to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I will study my noble friend’s response carefully. I hope that I had made it clear that I was not considering the powers of the Mayor of London in this amendment but simply the question of the thresholds within the City area. My point was that a threshold of 40,000 square metres would be absurd within the City and for other purposes the threshold has been put at 100,000 square metres. Before I withdraw the amendment, can my noble friend confirm that his response takes into account what is seen by the City as an extremely important issue?
Specifically on the issue of the threshold, different thresholds for projects of strategic importance apply to different parts of London. I can confirm that the threshold includes development that comprises or includes the erection of buildings in the City of London with a total floor space of more than 100,000 square metres.
I am most grateful. I have no doubt that the discussions will continue. I was really more concerned about the Guildhall than City Hall. My noble friend, who said that he was familiar with the City, will understand that. With that assurance, I am happy to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 77C withdrawn.
Amendments 78 to 78ZA not moved.
78ZB: Clause 24, page 30, line 24, at end insert—
“(6) The Secretary of State must prepare and lay before Parliament a proposal for a national policy statement, setting out national policy in relation to this section.”
My Lords, as I said at Second Reading we are far from convinced that this Bill will do much to promote growth, or boost investment in infrastructure. The obstacle to infrastructure investment is not, largely, planning. It is funding, lack of clarity about government policy in key areas and the state of the economy. The National Infrastructure Plan does not meet this point, because it is simply a list of projects and not a blueprint for how they are to be funded, promoted and delivered.
My amendment in this group is simple. It attempts to provide greater policy certainty and impetus to taking projects forward. The Secretary of State should lay before Parliament a national policy statement to provide a framework for infrastructure decision-making, including in areas not addressed by the existing national policy statements, which cover energy, ports and waste water. As has been repeatedly noted in our debates today, there are still no national policy statements for airports, road, rail, water supply or hazardous waste. There is a big gap to be filled here and this amendment seeks to do that. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have Amendment 79 in this group. I was going to say how much I support Amendment 79A, which is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I do not think he spoke to it but I am happy to support him on it.
My amendment is similar to one that I moved when we were talking about Clause 1. Schedule 1 to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, among other things, provides that notification of planning applications is given to all town and parish councils within the area of the authority. This amendment would provide the same duty on the Secretary of State to notify town and parish councils when an application for development consent takes place within their area and when a significant amendment is made to it. It is as simple as that. I hope that the Government will be able to accept the amendment, which places in the Town and Country Planning Act the same duty as already applies to local authorities.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, quite rightly points out that I did not speak to my second amendment, which I thought was in the next group. The amendment is designed to request that the local plan would have primacy in the event that the Government refuse to publish a national policy statement. Since it is the only plan which applies in that event, it seems to be perfectly reasonable that it should be the one that has primacy.
My Lords, I stand briefly to support Amendments 78ZB and 79A. I will not re-rehearse the arguments that I made when talking about the previous group of amendments but will simply say that in my experience developers crave certainty. It is not always possible to give certainty, but if a firmer framework is put around the planning process, that would provide more certainty for developers. That is something they would welcome, and both these amendments would enhance that.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 78ZB and 79A first, before then speaking to Amendment 79. The Government cannot agree to Amendments 78ZB and 79A. The first of these amendments would require the Secretary of State to,
“prepare and lay before Parliament … a national policy statement”,
for any development which would be the subject of a direction under Section 35 of the Planning Act. Amendment 79A would then require the Secretary of State to make decisions on development consent orders for business and commercial developments, where there is no national policy statement in place, in accordance with the relevant local plan. I will set out my reasons for not being totally in favour of this.
As we set out in our recent consultation document on the new business and commercial category of development, the Government do not think the case for one or more national policy statements is strong for this category of development. The consultation closed in January and we are considering the responses that we have received, including on the subject of whether or not a national policy statement for business and commercial development should be prepared. I should stress that, unlike nationally significant forms of infrastructure, this clause does not provide for a mandatory planning route. Developers may, as we discussed on previous amendments, make a request to the Secretary of State to use the Planning Act regime or they may continue to submit their planning application to the local council. Although there is a worrying trend of large-scale major applications taking longer to determine, we recognise that many councils do determine important applications quickly and that the majority of business and commercial applications will probably remain with the local council for decision. We expect the numbers of business and commercial applications to be determined via this route to be very small.
Without a national policy statement, the Secretary of State will determine applications having regard to any local impact report, any prescribed matters and any other matters he considers both important and relevant. This could include the local plan and the National Planning Policy Framework, which of course itself places great importance on local plans. In those circumstances, Amendment 79A is clearly unnecessary. The effect of the amendment would be that the local plan potentially overrides other important considerations. For projects of national significance it is important that a wide range of matters are able to be given appropriate weight.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has, for example, issued decisions under the Planning Act regime without a national policy statement in place. In reaching his decision on the application for the north Doncaster rail chord, my right honourable friend agreed with the examining authority that the unitary development plan, the draft core strategy, key policies from the local plan, the National Planning Policy Framework and other policy documents were able to provide the necessary policy context.
What happens in rail transport is very different from what happens in a heterogeneous collection of commercial and business applications. The whole policy framework, if not explicit in terms of railway planning, has been established for many years and the plans and proposals for most of the railway authorities and operating companies are very visible and transparent. Using a railway example does not test out that issue.
My Lords, I sometimes think it is not a good idea to give examples so I will move on. The reason that I have said the national planning statement is not being looked at with favour for building commercial is simply because the expectation is that it will be of very little use and that there are other documents and evidence that will be good enough to help in this matter.
We support the intention behind Amendment 79 as we also believe in the important role that parish councils can and do play in the planning system but we are not happy to accept it for the following reasons. First and foremost, the Planning Act 2008 already places a requirement on the applicant to inform local authorities, communities and other prescribed bodies, which include relevant parish councils, about the proposed application and to engage them in pre-application consultation. In addition, should an application then be accepted for examination by the Secretary of State, the applicant must inform those bodies that the application has been accepted so they have an opportunity to make representations and register as interested parties for the purpose of the examination. Therefore, we cannot accept the amendment simply because it is not necessary. Parish councils are already defined as a statutory party in the regulations that accompany the primary legislation. This means that parish councils must be consulted about proposed applications for a development consent order and if they wish to make representations, they are able to do so. With those explanations, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s comments on my amendment. I am not sure I grasped all the details of the answer but I will read it carefully and if I have any further questions, I will come back. One question I have now relates to the pre-application consultations under the 2008 Act. Does that mean that an application for development consent for business and commercial purposes under the new provisions would not be accepted until those pre-application consultations by the applicants have taken place locally? Will that be the case in future?
My Lords, part of the whole system under the Localism Act in particular was that developers should carry out pre-application consultations on every application. The answer to the noble Lord’s question is yes, we would expect that pre-application consultation to take place with everybody who might be affected by the application. That, of course, might include parish councils.
I am not sure that the Minister has actually answered my question. I accept what the Minister has said that it is requested—as it is for ordinary planning applications. But in an ordinary planning application, if the pre-application consultations have not taken place, that is not a reason for refusing to accept and register an application. If I am wrong, I would be delighted to hear from the Minister but I do not think I am wrong. But in the case of an application for development consent that is to be dealt with nationally, is it actually a requirement and would the application not be accepted without it?
Amendment 78ZB withdrawn.
Amendments 78A to 79A not moved.
Clause 24 agreed.
Amendment 80 not moved.
81: After Clause 24, insert the following new Clause—
“Community Infrastructure Levy: Greater London
After section 222 of the Planning Act 2008 (regulations and orders: general) insert—“222A Greater London
CIL regulations may include provisions enabling the Mayor of London to ensure that charging authorities in Greater London have proper regard to the need to be consistent with the spatial development strategy prepared and published under Part VIII of the Greater London Authority Act 1999.””
My Lords, Amendment 81 stands in my name. We now return to the Mayor of London, as distinct from the lord mayor, and to Greater London, as distinct from the City of London. This amendment would enable the Secretary of State to include a requirement in the regulations for the community infrastructure levy—henceforth to be referred to as CIL—that in setting their CIL rates London boroughs should have regard to the policies of the London Plan. This simple addition to the mayor’s current powers to vet proposed CIL demands would give developers greater confidence in the CIL-setting process and that local and cross-London priorities are being effectively aligned. It would also ensure that the strategic priorities set out in the London Plan are the focus of localised spending for the good of the capital as a whole.
The mayor will continue to vet all local CIL charging schedules in London to ensure that they take the mayoral CIL rates into account. However, according to the mayor, many developers have expressed considerable concern about CIL, worried that substantial payments proposed by local planning authorities could make new and important developments unviable. According to the mayor, a handful of local CIL rates proposed by some London boroughs are now emerging that appear to be prohibitively high and could jeopardise London’s key developments coming forward, despite passing the regulatory tests of viability.
Therefore, the mayor strongly believes that it is vital that the risks to the delivery of strategic development objectives in London are minimised. He wants to ensure that he has strategic oversight over CIL payments that are being demanded from developers by boroughs and has the power to require amendments if payments would make an important strategic development potentially economically unviable. I beg to move.
My Lords, mention of the community infrastructure levy in this amendment gives me an opportunity—of which I have given my noble friends on the Front Bench notice—to raise an issue that was discussed with my noble friend Lady Hanham when she met the representatives of a very interesting small company called Pocket Living Ltd. This company aims to provide housing that is within the reach of people who can currently only afford to rent, and yet are above the level to qualify for social housing. Pocket Living Ltd has recently published a very splendid brochure, Pocket: Powered by the Mayor of London. This concerns the mayor’s housing covenant fund, but the company is very much a thriving one that fills a hugely important gap in housing provision, not just in London but potentially elsewhere as well.
The question is: what is the definition of affordable housing that would qualify for relief from a community infrastructure levy? When we debated Clause 6 we had a new definition of the affordable housing requirement, and I am told this is the first time that the words “affordable housing” have appeared in any statutory definition. The definition as it stands serves the limited purposes of that clause, but it adds to a plethora of overlapping definitions in this area that have grown up over the years for different purposes. Not only are these confusing, they can sometimes be downright contradictory. This is important because, as we have discussed, the need for genuinely affordable housing has never been greater.
I support the Bill’s objective of ensuring that the new housing developments we need are not held back by unreasonable and unviable demands for affordable housing. However, we must do everything we can to ensure that those who want to deliver genuinely affordable housing—of which I gave a brief outline at the beginning of my speech—have every incentive to do so, and are not held back by the unforeseen consequences of statutory definitions that may have been fit for purpose at the time, but in retrospect turned out to be too restrictive. I am afraid this is what has happened in the case of the regulations implementing the CIL. The regulations quite rightly recognise that we should not increase the burden on those with low or modest incomes, who are already struggling to find a home they can afford, by adding what would be a sizeable additional tax. However, the definitions of relief are so tightly drawn that we now find they do not cover some of the new and inventive models of affordable housing that are emerging.
I have mentioned that I was recently approached by a young company that found a very clever way to build smart new flats in central parts of London that young singles and couples can buy outright, even if they are on a modest income. The company wanted to build a small block of flats in Wandsworth for sale at around £200,000 each. The council wanted them, the Mayor of London wanted them, and they had a waiting list of 13,000 would-be buyers who desperately wanted them. However, as noble Lords may know, Wandsworth was one of the first London boroughs to implement the new levy, and when these people did their sums, they worked out that this would add some £10,000 to the cost of each flat. For a young couple on perhaps £30,000 or £40,000 a year, who have already been saving for perhaps seven or eight years for a deposit and have to pay London rents, £10,000 is an awful lot of money. The company reluctantly had to conclude that the scheme was unviable, and the plans were dropped.
These were genuinely affordable homes. They were available only to people who could prove that their salary was below the mayor’s limit for affordable housing. They were for sale at 20% below the open-market value, with a maximum price of £225,000. They could only ever be sold to other buyers who qualified for affordable homes. They would remain affordable homes, however many hands they went through. In fact, they satisfied every condition that my noble friend’s department sets out in the National Planning Policy Framework to qualify for affordable housing. Council planners say that they are affordable houses. The company had built five blocks of them already before the CIL came into effect. The Mayor of London agrees that they are affordable houses. DCLG says that they qualify for the affordable housing enhancement for the new homes bonus—so one part of the department seems to recognise this while the other does not. However, when it comes to the community infrastructure levy, they are treated in exactly the same way as if they were homes for millionaires. That really cannot be right. The only reason for it is that, when the regulations were drawn up in 2008, that type of home did not exist, so it was not included within the narrow definition for affordable housing.
As I have said, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend and my honourable friend Nick Boles who met with me and the representatives of this company. They listened very sympathetically as we put the problem to them. The company came away from that meeting encouraged by Ministers’ recognition of the problem. I know that Ministers have conceded that the CIL regulations are not perfect. One piece of sticking plaster was already applied just a couple of months ago, but I understand that a consultation paper will shortly be issued with some more proposals for change. Can my noble friend give the Committee some assurance that a priority will be to ensure that relief from CIL will be extended to cover all types of genuinely affordable housing, including the kind of housing scheme that was described to my noble friend and her honourable friend, and that the definition will be broad enough that we do not have to come back to it again within four or five years?
I was very struck by the story that this company told, and I think that Ministers were, too. I hope that we may get a sympathetic response to this plea.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in this short debate. I thank also my noble friend Lord Tope for tabling the amendment. I understand his desire to support the mayor in his efforts to secure London’s growth, but I remain to be convinced that the changes being proposed are necessary and I shall highlight why.
The mayor has sufficient powers under the existing legislation to achieve his objectives. He has powers to set a CIL charge in London. He introduced this charge in April 2012 to help fund Crossrail, an objective that the Government fully support.
The existing CIL regulations are clear that the London boroughs must take the mayoral CIL charge into account when setting their own CIL charges. They cannot set a CIL charge which, when combined with the mayoral charge, would make broad areas of development unviable.
We have recently reviewed the statutory guidance for CIL. It is now clearer about the relationship between the levy and the implementation of local plans. The mayor can use the statutory guidance to challenge councils if he feels that their rates could put implementation of the London Plan at risk. Perhaps I may dwell on this point a little further. The issues within the statutory guidance published in December 2012 make it clear that charging schedules should be consistent and support implementation of the London Plan. It is also clear that the ability to deliver viably the sites and scale of development identified in the local plan should not be threatened. I point the noble Lord specifically to paragraphs 32 and 33 of the guidance, which refer to charge-setting in London and confirm:
“The Government expects the Mayor and the Boroughs to work closely in setting and running the Community Infrastructure Levy in London, including through mutual co-operation and the sharing of relevant information”.
We have also encouraged charging authorities to consult for at least six weeks on their draft charging schedule. This also provides an opportunity for the mayor to review and challenge proposed rates if necessary. As I have already said, the challenge can be made, and the correct place for the challenge is at the consultation and examining stages, when the mayor can make representations on all borough CIL charges. An independent public examination stage is also key to CIL. Any representations can be made to an independent examiner, who must determine whether the proposed CIL charge is appropriate. We therefore strongly believe that the impartial role of the examiner is essential, and the mayor’s role should be to engage with the process rather than take on additional powers to direct. My noble friend talked specifically of several London boroughs that have raised concerns and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, also spoke specifically of where those matters have been raised. I am certainly not aware of which London boroughs have raised those issues but if that information is shared I am sure that can be looked at.
To pick up on a couple of points made by my noble friend Lord Jenkin, he referred to Pocket, which met with my noble friend and my honourable friend Nick Boles. It raised the issue of CIL payments and discount market sale housing. That case is being looked at and the issues raised have struck a note with Ministers. My noble friend Lady Hanham mentioned to me that she was very impressed by the issues raised. On the definition of affordable housing for CIL, the CIL Regulations 2010 give such a definition, which was quite tightly drawn. That said, if there are continuing concerns about the operation of the levy, they will be listened to. I am sure that as the levy comes more into play and practice, both in the mayor’s office and at a borough level, we will continue to look at how best it can be improved. However, turning back to the specific nature of the amendment, with the points I have made I hope that my noble friend Lord Tope will see fit to withdraw his amendment.
I am very grateful to the Minister for that helpful reply. I do not know what was in the mind of the mayor when he said that. It would probably be very interesting to know what was in the mind of the mayor. I do not know which London boroughs he had in mind. If I had known, I think I still would not have said so because inevitably we would then be discussing the examples and their merits, rather than the principle here. As the Minister knows, this is the last of a number of amendments that I have spoken to in Committee to consider the whole position of London in the context of the Bill. We have had some helpful replies and some less helpful replies to earlier amendments. I am grateful to the Minister for the reply to this particular amendment, which I hope will give some reassurance and save at least some of the mayor’s worries. I beg leave to withdraw it.
Amendment 81 withdrawn.
81A: After Clause 24, insert the following new Clause—
“Requirement on Secretary of State to consider climate change when drawing up a national policy statement
(1) After section 5 of the Planning Act 2008 insert—
“5A Climate change
A statement may only be designated under section 5 if the Secretary of State is satisfied that (taken as a whole) the policy in the statement contributes to the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change.”(2) After section 13 of the 2008 Act insert—
“13A Cumulative effects
(1) The Secretary of State shall publish on 6 April each year a report setting out the cumulative effect of development consents granted under this Act on the mitigation of and adaptation to, climate change.
(2) A statement designated under section 5 must contain a statement to the effect that it is the Secretary of State’s view that the requirement of subsection (1) is satisfied.””
I rise to move Amendment 81A and shall speak also to Amendments 81B and 81C, in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I hope to grasp the opportunity that the Bill provides to align the local planning regime and the national infrastructure planning regime with the objectives of the Climate Change Act to make sure that planning legislation plays a full part in taking us towards the very specific UK target of an 80% cut in CO2 by 2050 and to foster a climate-change-resilient nation.
I believe that this amendment is not at odds with the title of the Bill, as UNEP has recently described the greening of economies as a “new engine of growth”. This may well be one of the few proposals in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill that is about growth. Spatial planning can be a real contributor towards tackling climate change because it fosters development which reduces carbon emissions. It also can help to improve the resilience to impacts of climate change, such as floods or heat.
Amendment 81A concerns, “Requirement on Secretary of State to consider climate change where drawing up a national policy statement”. The increased scope for the Secretary of State under the Planning Act 2008 in relation to nationally significant infrastructure projects means that there is an increased responsibility on the Secretary of State in decision-making on applications and in the preparation of national policy statements.
Proposed new Section 5A, under Amendment 81A, places an obligation on the Secretary of State to ensure that the national policy statements are prepared in line with the Climate Change Act 2008. The current obligations in the Planning Act are inadequate because they require the Secretary of State only to explain how the policy set out in the national policy statements takes into account climate change. It is retrospective rather than prospective. Proposed new Section 13A would ensure that information about the cumulative impacts of development consents on climate change are gathered and published. Often, the cumulative impact is the most important.
Amendment 81B, “Requirement of Secretary of State to consider climate change when making decisions”, places an obligation on the Secretary of State to take into account cumulative impacts on climate change when he is granting development consent under the Act where a national policy statement does not apply. It goes hand in hand with proposed new Section 13A on the duty to publish a report on cumulative effects.
Amendment 81C brings together planning law and the Climate Change Act 2008 and gives the requirements laid on planning authorities some teeth. Section 182 of the Planning Act 2008 created a new duty on planning authorities to contribute to the mitigation and adaptation of climate change. This applied only to development plan preparation defined in Part 2 of the Act. There is no linkage with the Climate Change Act 2008, which does not apply directly in law to local authority planning functions. Joining the Planning Act to the provisions of the Climate Change Act in plan making gives some teeth to the local planning authority actions in this area.
I believe that this would be a move that the Committee on Climate Change would support. In its report last May, it highlighted:
“There is currently no requirement for local authorities to take action on climate change. This coupled with limited funding means there is a significant risk that local authorities will not develop and implement sufficiently ambitious low-carbon plans … The Committee recommends that a statutory duty … is needed to ensure local authorities have stronger incentives to act”.
The last amendment, at least in the planning sphere for local authorities, would give that statutory duty. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to these amendments. I had prepared something to say but it would substantially duplicate what the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, has said. Therefore, I will not say it, except to underline her amendments and what she has said. In the past few years, when we have been discussing planning matters, we have been around these arguments several times under both Governments. There has been continued resistance from government to put too much on the face of planning legislation about the need to tackle climate change. I have no doubt that we will get the same resistance today.
I shall ask the Minister some questions. First, do the Government still accept the requirements of the Climate Change Act 2008? Do they apply that to their decisions, not least within the planning sphere? Secondly, is climate change and the need to tackle climate change one of the factors—whether or not it is in planning legislation—that the Secretary of State takes into account and will take into account when making planning decisions, both in the sphere of planning guidance and in making decisions about such things as applications for development control? Thirdly, is climate change something which the Government expect local planning authorities to take account of when they are making their own plans and their decisions on planning applications?
My Lords, I start with the three questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. With regard to climate change, Section 10 of the Planning Act 2008 already requires the Secretary of State to,
“have regard to the desirability of … mitigating, and adapting to, climate change”,
when undertaking statutory functions in respect of national policy statements. I think and hope that that concludes that. Planning has an important role in tackling climate change and making the transition to a low-carbon economy. We want to ensure that new development is future-proofed against climate change as decisions are made. As far as I am aware, local authorities would have to take account of climate change where it is relevant under their planning guidance.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for moving her amendment. As I hope I have indicated, the Government remain committed to tackling climate change. We recognise that it is one of the great challenges facing the nation and the planning system has an important role to play, both in mitigation and adaptation. The planning regime can co-ordinate and galvanise community action on renewable energy and help to deal with the growing risks of flooding from severe weather and sea level rise. Many nationally significant infrastructure projects consented to under the Planning Act 2008, such as those that produce renewable or low-carbon energy, are in themselves major contributors to reducing the impacts of climate change.
I will now respond to the noble Baroness on her amendments to the Planning Act 2008. I hope to demonstrate to her that these changes are not needed, given the requirements that are already in place under that Act to ensure that the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change are properly taken into account both for individual projects and in terms of their cumulative effects.
Amendment 81A would introduce a new clause which would allow designation of a national policy statement under the Planning Act 2008 if the Secretary of State were satisfied that the policy in the statement contributed to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change. It is difficult to see how this adds anything to the existing Section 10 of the Planning Act. As I have already said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, this already requires the Secretary of State to have regard to the desirability of mitigating, and adapting to, climate change when undertaking statutory functions.
The amendment then proposes that a report should be produced annually setting out the cumulative effects of development consents. The noble Baroness’s Amendment 81B, would require the Secretary of State to have regard to the latest version of this report when taking decisions on nationally significant infrastructure projects where no relevant national policy statement had been designated. I suggest that such annual reports would add a new legislative requirement with no discernable benefits. It is important to remember that a key factor in taking decisions on nationally significant infrastructure projects is the framework set out in national policy statements. Where these statements are in place, the Secretary of State is generally required to make decisions on development consents in accordance with them. The statements include specific policies on the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change. National policy statements are also subject to a sustainability appraisal before they are designated, and this appraisal will include consideration of impacts and benefits in terms of climate change. The appraisal of sustainability is also accompanied by a monitoring strategy, which ensures that a strategic-level assessment of the effects of implementation of national policy statements is properly considered.
In addition, most nationally significant infrastructure projects must be subject to detailed environmental impact assessment, and cumulative impacts must be considered as part of those assessments. I know that a number of noble Lords have expressed concern about those situations where no national policy statement may be in place that relates to a development requiring consent under the Planning Act 2008. But, in such circumstances, the Secretary of State must take account of factors that are both important and relevant when reaching a decision on development consent for a project. Such factors are very likely to include planning policies as set out in the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework. A core planning principle of the framework is for planning to support the transition to a low-carbon future in a changing climate. In short, I would argue that we already have structures in place that meet what the noble Baroness is seeking to achieve through Amendments 81A and 81B.
On Amendment 81C, the National Planning Policy Framework already expects local councils to adopt proactive strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change, in line with the objectives and provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008. We have set out clear policies in the framework on how local authorities should support the move to a low-carbon future. They should do this by planning new development in locations and ways which reduce greenhouse gas emissions, by actively supporting energy efficiency improvements to existing buildings and by having a positive strategy to promote energy from renewable and low-carbon sources. We have also made it clear that local plans should take account of climate change over the longer term, including factors such as flood risk, coastal change, water supply, and changes to biodiversity and landscape. I am sure that all of this rings pretty hard with the noble Baroness, who has spent quite a lot of time on all these issues. I also recognise the work of the Planning and Climate Change Coalition in producing cross-sector guidance, which has already helped local authorities to deal with the detail of how to take action.
As local plans are already required by the framework to have climate change policies on mitigation and adaptation that are in line with the objectives and provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008, there is no need for this amendment. The framework achieves this in combination with the existing duty on local authorities: Section 19(1)(a) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, and the requirement in Section 19(2)(a) to have regard in preparing their plan to national policies and advice contained in guidance issued by the Secretary of State.
Furthermore, the amendment raises the possibility of legal challenge if the local circumstances mean strict application of every provision of the Climate Change Act 2008 is not appropriate. Additionally, any future changes to legislation on climate change can be readily reflected in updates to national planning policy, whereas a requirement in primary legislation, linked directly to the Climate Change Act 2008, could not be updated quickly. If the Act of 2008 were to be updated, this could confuse and hinder the production of up-to-date local plans.
In conclusion, the Government remain committed to tackling climate change. Existing provisions in legislation and policy already achieve what the noble Baroness seeks to do through her amendments. Given these reassurances about how we believe that this is all being dealt with, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendments.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her extensive response, which I shall have to pore over before I come to any conclusion. I have two issues in the mean time. The requirement of the Secretary of State to have regard to a general set of provisions about climate change is not the same as linking that clearly with the Climate Change Act and the suite of targets that flow from that. Getting that kind of numerical precision of the targets into the Secretary of State’s responsibilities is important. The Minister’s point about the importance of the national policy statements for setting the framework for decisions means that Amendment 81A becomes even more important in terms of making sure that the Secretary of State does have this duty when he draws up national policy statements.
I shall read very carefully the points made about local planning authorities, because they were extensive and I shall need to think about them. However, I was rather taken aback at the idea that some of these amendments would give rise to legal challenge, because they are couched in such a general way that they are pretty inoffensive, and are certainly not so explicit that they ought not to be in the Bill. I therefore look forward to reading Hansard and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 81A withdrawn.
Amendments 81B and 81C not moved.
81CA: After Clause 24, insert the following new Clause—
In the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, after section 54 insert—“54A Power for local planning authorities to require payment of a fixed monetary penalty for late or non-response to statutory consultations
(1) A local planning authority is required by statute to consult the statutory consultee before deciding whether to grant planning permission and where it appears to the local planning authority that—
(a) the local planning authority has not received representations concerning the application from the consultee within the timeframe specified in the consultation; or(b) the consultee fails to give notice within the timescale specified in the consultation that it does not intend to make representations.(2) The local planning authority may charge a penalty fee if they consider it expedient to do so (within that timeframe).
(3) A local planning authority which proposes to charge a penalty fee must—
(a) issue a document (a “statutory consultee penalty fee schedule”) setting the amount of the penalty charge payable, and other criteria, by reference to which the amount is chargeable in respect of planning applications.(b) be mindful of relevant advice issued by Secretary of State.””
My Lords, at this time of night I will try to deal with the amendment extremely briefly. As we discussed earlier, the problem with the planning system is that it involves more than one consent. In many planning applications there is an obligation to notify other statutory bodies of the application that has been made. One of the problems that has emerged from that is the time taken by those other bodies to respond. In the mean time, of course, until they have responded, the planning authority cannot get ahead, which is one of the reasons why planning decisions get delayed.
Amendment 81CA sets out a procedure by which in appropriate cases the local authority can charge the consultee for the delay. This, it is hoped, will never have to be used. Of course, if there is agreement with the authority that the consultee cannot reply within the 21 days or whatever is appropriate for that particular consultation, that is different. If they have agreed a different timetable, that is fine. However, in many cases they simply do not reply. A disincentive to delay of that sort, with the prospect of being fined, might in fact encourage the others.
One might ask the question, “Would it actually deliver?” The Killian Pretty review on planning applications, Planning applications: A faster and more responsive system, came to the conclusion that it has the potential considerably to reduce the delays due to consultation. It has been estimated that these delays cost the economy at least £35 million a year. This would therefore be a valuable extra piece of machinery that could encourage the acceleration of the decisions on planning applications.
We are also discussing Amendment 81CB. This is a rather more drastic amendment, which perhaps at this stage should be regarded as a probing amendment. Certain of the consultees, the statutory bodies, have the power to veto applications. Examples have been given—I will not quote them all—of where a highways authority has said, “You cannot possibly do that. We will veto it”, and it does so under a power that has been given by the Secretary of State. This amendment is intended to remove that power of the Secretary of State. It is not right that a highways authority or whoever should have the right to veto an application just like that. I can understand that there may have been a reason for it, but it is one of the reasons why planning applications run into difficulties and why applications then have to be turned down.
These are two ways in which we could achieve the Government’s objective of speeding up the planning system. I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench may be able to give me an encouraging reply. I beg to move.
My Lords, I understand the reasons behind these amendments but I am a little concerned about them. As regards the second amendment, there are very good reasons why a highways authority should be able to say no to a development in some circumstances if it considers that it would be unsafe and that to allow it to go ahead might cost lives or cause people to be injured. There are very good reasons for that power.
Of course, you can speed up the whole planning process very easily by abolishing it and letting people do what they want. The reason why the planning process exists and there are lots of obstructions in it to people doing exactly what they want as quickly as they want is because it is in the interests of society in general that planning should take place and that development should be controlled and organised in a way which is best for society. Nevertheless, it is perfectly proper to argue generally where the balance lies as regards the making of plans and individual applications.
The Environment Agency does not have a power of veto in relation to drainage but a lot of planning authorities will think very carefully indeed before going against the advice of that agency on matters relating to drainage. They will spend a lot of time talking to it to try to find an acceptable way through—a compromise—in a particular case.
I think that a lot of unintended consequences could flow from the first amendment in this group and that it has to be thought about very carefully indeed.
My Lords, we await the Minister’s response on these amendments. I am bound to say that I have some sympathy with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, about the second of the amendments and the need to have specific powers in some circumstances: for example, in the case of a highways authority. Presumably, that authority cannot exercise those powers in an arbitrary way. I should have thought that it had to be subject to a test of reasonableness.
The only point I would make on Amendment 81CA is that it seems to be a clear recognition of the fact that delays on the part of a local planning authority are not always or only the fault just of the local planning authority; it relies on others to play their part. That is why we will come back to Clause 1, which we wish to delete from the Bill.
My Lords, the proposed new clauses in Amendments 81CA and 81CB seek to improve the performance of statutory consultees in the planning system. I am very sympathetic to this objective but I am not sure that these proposed new clauses are the way to achieve it.
It is important to recognise that statutory consultees have an important role in the planning system. The key statutory agencies have valuable expertise on a range of specialist areas such as heritage, highways and nature conservation, and their input helps local authorities ensure that the impacts of new development are comprehensively understood in planning decisions.
Where statutory consultees are consulted on planning applications, they are required by law to reply to the local authority within 21 days. In doing so, they must provide a substantive response, enabling the local authority to proceed with the determination of the application in question. Any extension to the 21-day deadline would need to be agreed with the local authority. Therefore, boundaries are already in place.
Statutory consultees are required to report annually on their performance in meeting these targets. The five main statutory consultees achieve between 96% and 99%. Taking this into account, we do not think that a system of fines could significantly improve performance and would be difficult to devise. However, we are aware of the need to improve the way statutory consultees engage with both local authorities and developers to foster a more positive approach to facilitating development and delivering growth. I am bound to say that the reply within 21 days cannot be just a holding reply; it has to be a full response.
We have also taken action to ensure that statutory consultees are more accountable for the advice that they give and we have changed the award of costs circular so that if an inspector considers that a statutory consultee has acted unreasonably during the determination of a planning application the consultee can become liable for an award of costs. Although I support the intentions behind the amendment, I do not think it is necessary, considering the steps we are taking.
The second amendment would repeal the general power in primary legislation for the Secretary of State to give directions restricting the grant of planning permission by a local planning authority. The Planning Acts give the Secretary of State a wide range of default powers that can be used as a last resort in relation to both plan-making and decision-taking. The powers are there as a fall-back to protect the public interest. The powers set out in Section 74 of the Act are exercised through Article 25 of the Town and Country (Development Management Order) (England) 2010 and that provides that the Secretary of State may give directions restricting the grant of permission by a local authority either indefinitely or during such a period as may be specified.
Planning applications are called in only in exceptional circumstances and the ability to serve holding directions is essential to the smooth functioning of the call-in process. In the case of the power of direction exercised by the Highways Agency, this is exercised during the consultation period, where the agency considers that, were a local authority to approve a planning application, it could result in a dangerous increase in risk to users of motorways and strategic roads. I agree that the Highways Agency should be accountable for the way in which this power is used in order to ensure that it is used for the key purposes of facilitating growth, both in ensuring that proposed developments are not delayed without good reason and in ensuring that approved developments do not result in additional congestion on the strategic road network. If noble Lords agree, I will write with further details on the Department for Transport’s policy on the use of these directions and on any future plans it might have to review them.
I should like to reassure my noble friend and other noble Lords that we are also concerned that any direction is used in as open and transparent a way as possible. The Highways Agency is very keen to work with applicants in developing their schemes and welcomes pre-application discussions. It knows that early engagement with developers is vital to ensure that applications can progress without delay. The agency says that it responds to consultations within the prescribed limit in 99.9% of cases. In 2011-12, 9.4% of responses made by the agency were a holding direction. As already mentioned, the agency has published an improvement plan with actions to improve its performance, especially in reducing the time taken.
I have abbreviated slightly what I wanted to say and I hope that, having done so, my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful for the amount of trouble my noble friend has taken in responding to these two amendments. I recognise that the second one was pretty drastic and I described it as a probing amendment, but I am grateful for what she said about the need to improve the performance of the statutory consultees. With that, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 81CA withdrawn.
Amendment 81CB not moved.
81CC: After Clause 24, insert the following new Clause—
“General duties with respect to water industry
(1) The Water Industry Act 1991 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 2A(1) (guidance on social and environmental matters) after the words “in the guidance” insert “and about how in exercising its powers and duties, the Authority shall take into account aggregate population and housing growth projections relevant to water undertakers and sewerage undertakers”.
(3) After section 2A (general duties with respect to water industry) insert—
“2AA Duty on the Authority (Ofwat) to have regard to local population and housing growth projections in undertaking price reviews
In exercising and performing the powers and duties mentioned in subsection (1) above, the Authority (Ofwat) shall have regard to aggregate population and housing growth projections (which are agreed as part of an adopted local plan, relevant to the individual appointment area or areas of the water and sewerage undertaker).””
My Lords, I hope that Amendment 81CC will be seen by the Minister as a constructive one. It is supported by the Local Government Association, of which I am a vice-president but it is also supported by the water industry, specifically its trade body, Water UK. The purpose of the amendment is to place a requirement on Ofwat to have regard to future housing projections and demographic growth in adopted local plans. This would give greater certainty for water companies to invest in the essential infrastructure needed to support growth. The benefit for local communities would be more consistent planning such as investment in new reservoirs, more flexibility between water supply zones and upgrades to outdated existing infrastructure to cope with more extreme weather conditions and the increased incidence of drought and flooding.
It has become increasingly clear that accelerated development to support economic growth, which the Government are committed to delivering, will stretch the capacity of our infrastructure. We therefore need to mobilise large-scale, long-term investment in repair, replacement and renewal of critical infrastructure across the country to provide the supply that we need. Demand for water is rising, supplies are more problematic, and flooding is more prevalent—partly as a consequence of too many of our drainage systems being unable to cope with the volume of water. I think we would all agree that an improved water infrastructure is needed to deal with that increasingly volatile weather, with more reservoirs to fight drought and more efficient pipe repair and replacement to conserve supplies.
Significant parts of the UK’s water infrastructure are becoming outdated. The average age of sewers in England and Wales is 63 years, 40% of London’s water mains are more than 100 years old, and the latest available total leakage level for the water companies in England and Wales, which I take from the 2009-10 Ofwat Service and Delivery report, shows supply pipe leakage as being 787 megalitres per day, out of a total of 3,281 megalitres per day. That is a loss of 24%—enough to fill more than 300 Olympic-size swimming pools.
Another key issue is the five-yearly price reviews, which are unhelpful to water companies’ ability to plan for the long term. In England and Wales, water companies determine their need for investment in infrastructure through their resource management plans, which take into account a wide range of supply-demand factors, including housing projections, to ensure security of supply in the future. The Water Services Regulation Authority, Ofwat, is the water industry’s economic regulator for England and Wales. Currently, it reviews prices every five years and sets the prices that water companies can charge and the investments that they can make over the period. The next five-year period begins in 2015.
Economic regulation is recognised as an important enabler of infrastructure investment. However, given the greater investment in water infrastructure needed now, it is vital to consider whether the existing regime remains fit to respond to the future investment challenges. The Institution of Civil Engineers concluded in its 2010 State of the Nation report that water investments planned for 2010-15,
“don’t adequately take into account future population growth”,
because the current framework focuses on short-term costs in place of long-term sustainability. The report concluded that the price review framework,
“simply can’t cope with issues that require investment beyond the five-year regulatory cycle”.
Long-term investments require confidence over the life of the investment. The current system of price reviews does not give water companies sufficient certainty over charging, which they need in order to undertake longer-term investment schemes.
The amendment would therefore place a new duty on Ofwat to take explicit consideration of local housing and demographic change projections in its role as economic regulator, which would translate into more certainty for water companies to invest in essential infrastructure needed to support growth. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for moving the amendment, which has crept into our Bill. While the aims behind the amendment are laudable and understandable, we consider that the proposed amendment to Ofwat’s duties is probably unnecessary. It duplicates Ofwat’s existing duties, which is not in keeping with the Government’s principles for economic regulation. Ofwat already has statutory duties requiring it to protect the interests of existing and future customers. It is already required to ensure that water and sewerage companies are able to finance their functions, which include a statutory requirement to provide an adequate water and sewerage service to all premises.
The statutory water resource management planning process requires water companies to set up plans for managing the supply-demand balance over the next 25 years. This must be submitted to the Secretary of State at Defra and must take explicit account of projected population on housing growth. In making price determinations, Ofwat must take account of the published water resources management plans. Furthermore, Ofwat is already under a statutory duty to carry out its functions in a manner best calculated to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development.
The requirement to provide guidance on these matters also duplicates existing provisions. The Government have already published in draft their new statutory guidance to Ofwat—the strategic policy statement. This makes it clear that, in assessing the costs and benefits of supply-demand options, the focus should be on the best overall value in terms of long-term resilience rather than a least cost approach for the short term. This guidance also emphasises the central role of the water industry in enabling the development required to support economic growth and to meet the housing needs of the growing population.
All investment in water and sewerage services is ultimately paid for by the customer through their bills. Since privatisation in 1989, the stable regulatory framework for the water sector has enabled companies to attract more than £108 billion in low-cost investment. This investment is used to upgrade water and sewerage infrastructure, to improve customer service and to improve environmental standards. As the noble Lord has said, between 2010 and 2015, £22 billion will be invested, including ensuring that supplies are available for new and existing customers.
I hope that I have provided the reassurance that the noble Lord seeks in his amendment that there is proper investment and proper consideration of future housing growth, in particular, in the plans of Ofwat and the water bodies.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I shall read what she says very carefully. I am not sure that I agree that the current system works as well as she indicates—we have ended up with an excess of water in some places and not enough in other places. In the end, we do not seem to be dealing with the leakages, the availability and the flooding that is currently prevalent. I will, however, consult further and think further about the need for an amendment on Report. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 81CC withdrawn.
Clause 25 : Postponement of compilation of English rating lists to 2017
81CD: Clause 25, page 32, line 35, at end insert—
“(11) This section shall not come into force until the Secretary of State has—
(a) published detailed up to date comparative estimates of the total numbers of those ratepayers who would be liable to pay more or less as the case may be if this section were or alternatively were not brought into force, and(b) consulted formally with those likely to be affected by the bringing into force of this section, after publishing the information required under paragraph (a).”
My Lords, this is clearly not the time to go into great detail on a rather technical matter so I will be as brief as I can. I put down this amendment because I was dissatisfied with the explanations given by the department and dismayed somewhat at the claims made by Ministers.
Now, the noble Lords will realise that this amendment follows one moved in another place by the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich, Mr Nick Raynsford. I should probably declare some particular interest here in the sense that I am professionally involved with matters of rating. Of course, in a private capacity, I am both a landlord of commercial premises where rates are paid and, indeed, a commercial ratepayer myself in another capacity. I want to pay special tribute to the work done in connection with this and the whole question of the deferral of the rating revaluation by rating surveyors Gerald Eve. They have certainly been enormously helpful to me.
The fundamental point here is that businesses need to feel that they are being treated fairly in all this. I have mentioned before that, in my opinion, the rating system badly needs some attention. It has great unfairnesses and anomalies. The treatment of exemptions and relief needs looking at. The mounting number of appeals shows that there is a problem. Along with planning and compulsory purchase, this is another administrative system covered by the Bill that is under critical stress.
Frequent revaluations have long been known as necessary. For more than 20 years, we have had five-yearly revaluations. The Lyons report made it clear that where there are major shifts in values, more frequent revaluations might be necessary. If ever there was a seismic shift in property values, the time between 2008—the antecedent year for the 2010 year—and now was surely it.
It is hard to identify the precise reason for the decision to defer the revaluation. There does not appear to have been any consultation or compelling independent assessment, certainly not one that stood the test of hard scrutiny from the likes of surveyors Gerald Eve when they presented their evidence to the Public Bill Committee in another place. There does not appear to be any particular fiscal advantage because revaluations are tax neutral; the basket of values goes up and the non-domestic multiplier goes down, and vice versa. There does not appear to be any particular financial benefit to deferral.
Where was the quoted advantage? It was in the claim that 800,000 businesses would be better off. This simply was not correct. Even on a reworking of the Valuation Office Agency’s figures, one could not arrive at that figure; it just does not make sense. As I said, it was comprehensively demolished by the evidence submitted to the Public Bill Committee by Gerald Eve. The greater certainty claimed for the benefit of these businesses seemed to be the greater certainty of being saddled with, in many cases, an over-high base for the rating assessment.
Whatever the reasons, this has caused a considerable amount of dismay among many bodies associated with businesses, in particular the British Property Federation, the British Council of Shopping Centres and many others. Many of them have taken advice, and have in turn made representations, through rating surveyors. Today, two press releases were put out by a number of these bodies, many of them household names. They all know that the effect, based on the public statistics, will be that retailing in much of London and food superstores generally will gain by the process of deferral. However, almost everybody else will be a loser in all this. Of course, extending the revaluation from five years to seven, even on a one-off basis, will make the process of subsequent adjustment that much more difficult. It is in recognition of that that I tabled the amendment. One has to consider whether it is fair that this situation should be allowed to continue.
I noted in passing a comment that some of the Portas pilot towns in particular, about which we hear so much, are likely to suffer through this. The fact that they need the undivided attention of the likes of Mary Portas means that they have problems. Possibly there is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy here. However, one needs to recognise the message that is being sent to businesses. Perhaps because they do not have votes, they do not matter, and perhaps that is why the information fed back to me suggests that when the industry met Ministers and officials, the tone was entirely dismissive of the industry’s views.
The facts cannot be denied. Accounts abound of commercial ratepayers that are paying more in rates than in rent. Small business rate relief apart—which, of course, is financed by other ratepayers—the incidence of inflexibly high levels of rates stands in interesting comparison to the maligned upward-only commercial rent review. It is one of those areas where one simply cannot make progress, and something must be done about it.
A message that the voice of business ratepayers is being listened to and is important has to go out. It is not good enough for these toxic effects on retailing and investment and ultimately land-use decisions to be based on trying to avoid elements of excessive tax. They need fair treatment as much as consistency.
My amendment would not reverse the matter altogether but it would require proper review of the data and an impact assessment. It would require consultation with businesses in exactly the same way as consultations already take place, such as the consultation on transitional arrangements before the 2010 revaluation. It is interesting that this amendment is grouped with the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh. My amendment would not delete Clause 25, but I could be persuaded that wholesale removal is ultimately the only practical option. I beg to move.
My Lords, I added my name to this amendment, which, as the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, says, mirrors that moved by my honourable friend Nick Raynsford in another place. Like the noble Earl, I am grateful to those who have briefed us on this matter, particularly Gerald Eve, who has given us some compelling data.
As the noble Earl has explained, the amendment would prevent the postponement of the business rate revaluation scheduled for 2015 until the Government have produced detailed, up-to-date estimates of those likely to pay more and those likely to pay less, depending on whether the revaluation is deferred for two years and, crucially, until there has been a proper consultation with those likely to be affected. Requiring proper analysis and consultation is hardly revolutionary. It is the very least that should be expected if such a significant step as postponing a revaluation is to be taken.
This is a hotchpotch of a Bill, but Clause 25 sits particularly oddly with the rest of its provisions. The lack of prior consultation points to a last-minute decision that by all accounts does not generate unanimity within the ranks of the coalition Government. Our suspicions about this are reinforced by the fact that no mention was made of a possible postponement when we were discussing the Local Government Finance Bill just a few months ago. This is strange, given that we spent some time discussing the VOA and its role in the business rate retention scheme, prompted, as I recall, by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. Concerns were expressed about its capacity to cope, especially with the backlog of appeals from two prior revaluations, although they were brushed aside by the Minister.
Notwithstanding that, the impact assessment now states that postponement will,
“allow the Valuation Office Agency to focus more resources upon continuing to improve the valuation process and supporting local authorities with the rates retention system”.
In replying, perhaps the Minister will give us a clear update on the capacity of the VOA and the resources available to it, or we might be tempted to revert more directly to this matter when we reach Report.
We should be clear that the purpose of rating revaluations is to achieve fairness in the business rate system by ensuring that rateable values are based on up-to-date rental values. Given that aggregate business rates are kept whole in real terms, revaluation would redistribute resources to those areas and sectors that have fared relatively badly since the last revaluation from those that have fared relatively better. Clearly, the extent to which this fairness is maintained depends on how frequently rateable values are updated. Since 1990, this has been every five years, a period that is seen as the maximum interval between revaluations.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referred to the Michael Lyons report, which suggested that more frequent revaluations are justified, particularly during the economic turbulence and downturn that we have experienced since 2008. If the Government are to change the frequency of revaluations, especially to lengthen it, there is surely an obligation on them to provide a robust rationale for the change from the practice that has been maintained since 1990 free of political interference. This, I suggest, has not been done.
The Government are overwhelmingly basing their case on the VOA estimates of winners and losers should the revaluation proceed—supposedly, 800,000 facing a real-terms tax increase and only some 300,000 facing a fall. However, as the VOA makes clear—and the noble Earl has touched on this point—these are “high level” estimates, not forecasts, they are based on limited rental data, and neither the rental data nor judgments have been subjected to moderation and validation. Moreover, even on the VOA data given, experts have questioned whether the data can be used to justify the figures used by the Government. This has been set out in the briefings we have received, which have specifically drawn attention to the 528,000 hereditaments classified as “other”—not retail, office or industrial—which have been assumed to be the subject of an increase in rates, where some would clearly fall into the category of those that will benefit from a reduction.
The Government’s analysis is at best crude. It does not seek to address the likely level of increases and decreases, and their distribution; nor is there any consideration of what the likely position might be two years hence. The overwhelming suspicion is that this is a political decision taken to avoid a revaluation operating in 2015, at the time of the general election. It is accepted that revaluations bring a degree of turbulence, but transitional relief has hitherto dampened the effects. If the Government are to refute this challenge, they can do what this amendment asks—produce a proper analysis and then consult with those affected.
One clear consequence of postponement will be that those areas and sectors which have done comparatively poorly since 2008 will be denied for an extra two years the reduction in tax they might have expected. Those that have performed comparatively well will have a postponement of the increase in tax. Of course, a reduction in rental values and rateable values will not necessarily generate a reduction in business rates because the tax rate—the multiplier—will rise to keep the aggregate business rates steady. However, if rental values have fallen across England by 14%, those areas and sectors which have done worse than this are the likely losers from the postponement. The issue cannot be seen just in terms of regions or cities, but information provided by the Investment Property Databank highlights that, between March 2008 and September 2012, rentals have fallen in Leeds by 31%, Nottingham by 27%, Bristol by 25%, Sheffield by 21%, Liverpool by 21%, Manchester by 19% and Newcastle by 18%. In terms of the sectors, although retail has held up in some areas, the situation in many high streets is grim. As the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said, five out of six of the Portas pilot areas have seen rental falls greater than 14%, and news of major retail closures are all too familiar.
For those who are struggling and who had an expectation of some moderation in their business rates, the decision to postpone will prolong the agony. While “no change” may be good news for some, the undermining of a system for political ends is not conducive to building business confidence. This amendment asks for a proper analysis so the Government can justify the decision they are seeking to impose.
My Lords, I rise to speak to the question of whether the clause should stand part of the Bill and will try, at this time of night, to avoid repeating some of the comments made by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton. The significance of this clause is that it breaks the consensual approach to business rating that has been in place since the Local Government Finance Act 1988. Here we are, on the eve of the revaluation which would have taken place later this year, being asked to delay it. The process of revaluation seems to have been clearly explained in The Council Tax and Non-Domestic Rating (Demand Notices) (England) (Amendment) Regulations, which the Government issued in 2012 and which say:
“All rateable values are reassessed every five years at a general revaluation. The current rating list is based on the 2010 revaluation. Five-yearly revaluations make sure each ratepayer pays their fair contribution and no more, by ensuring that the share of the national rates bill paid by any one ratepayer reflects changes over time in the value of their property relative to others”.
That seems a very clear statement of intent. Now the Government are delaying that process so, despite what they said only earlier last year about a commitment to fair share, that commitment has, presumably, been broken.
Noble Lords mentioned the Government’s case about volatility, but volatility has always occurred whenever we have had a rating revaluation and we can cope with that. The data we have from the Valuation Office Agency are pretty sketchy. I will not repeat the comment about the rather suspicious addition of the 500,000 others who make the balance of the case. Before that the balance was that there were more winners than losers. The various revaluations that we have seen—I got a briefing from Colliers International—show that in all parts of the country rateable values in the retail sector seem to have fallen by at least 19%. For the individual centres they looked at, well over 80% had shown considerable falls, with a third of them over 25%. By contrast, the West End had shown an increase of 26%. These figures come from what Colliers calls its midsummer review, which happened last year. If the Government go ahead with this delay, the retail sector might well refer to this as a midsummer murder.
Both the noble Earl and my noble friend mentioned the Lyons review, which is the most recent authoritative report on local government finance. To further my noble friend’s point, I quote directly from Lyons about more frequent revaluation:
“This would make the tax more responsive to the actual state of the property market and could have economic advantages by reducing the burden of taxation on businesses in economic downturns”.
Goodness me—we are in an economic downturn. Lyons has suggested what should happen, but the Government have taken the opposite conclusion to this evidence. We need to understand why this has happened.
Both noble Lords mentioned the Portas review so I will not go into that again. One briefing I read also said that a further unintended consequence of the review could be its impact on property prices over the next couple of years. In areas of decline, this will put further downward pressure on prices so that property values fall much further than they might have if the review had taken place. In areas where property prices have risen, the effect may be the opposite—property prices would rise to soak up the impact of the lack of change. By the time we get to the proposed revaluation two years hence, the amount of turbulence will be significantly higher than it would have been if we had gone ahead with it now. Therefore, it is going to take a Government some degree of courage in 2015 to go ahead with that review if we are going to implement it. As noble Lords have said, this is a really important step. The Government need to give us a lot more information, if they have it, about how they can justify doing this, or we will need to come back to this on Report.
My Lords, I am rather surprised by the amendment and the tone with which it has been introduced by noble Lords. The reasons for introducing the postponements were quite clear; we are in the middle of one of the most difficult economic situations we have ever had and businesses are suffering from that as well. Therefore, what we can do to help is not to make major changes at this time. I remind noble Lords that the Michael Lyons review was carried out under the previous Government, who decided not to implement any of it, so I do not think we need Michael Lyons quoted to us at the moment.
As noble Lords have said, Clause 25 postpones the 2015 revaluation of business rates. The clause amends some of the most important parts of the business rates legislation so it may be useful if I say a bit about those provisions first.
As noble Lords have said, business rates bills are found from the rateable value for the property, which is assessed by the Valuation Office Agency, and the multiplier, which is set by the Government. Rental values are set out on a rating list and are updated every five years at a general revaluation. Local rating lists are held by local authorities and contain all rating assessments in their areas. The central rating list is held by the Secretary of State and contains network properties such as the National Grid. For both types of rating lists, since 1990 rateable values have been updated every five years to reflect changes in the property market, as noble Lords have said. That requirement to revalue every five years is contained in Sections 41 and 52 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988, which this clause amends.
We have had many debates on this over the past few weeks. As we have said, revaluations do not raise any extra revenue. Therefore, postponing the revaluation will have no impact on the total revenue raised from business rates—I think everybody understands that—but revaluations redistribute the total rates burden so that some ratepayers see increases in bills and some see reductions. We recognise that regular revaluations are an important part of the rating system but certainty for business is also important. Of course, if the revaluation is delayed, the current situation pertains.
The Valuation Office Agency’s best estimates of revaluation in 2015, which have been published in full, suggest there will be sharp changes in bills in 2015. The agency believes that 800,000 ratepayers may face increases, compared to only 300,000 seeing reductions. The Valuation Office Agency provides pretty detailed and good valuations, so I think it can be relied upon to produce these sorts of figures. Some sectors such as petrol stations, hotels and pubs would see very significant increases.
Postponing the revaluation for two years to 2017 will give businesses extra certainty to concentrate on delivering growth and maintaining their own business requirements, but we remain committed to regular revaluations so we will also ensure that the five-yearly cycle is reinstated after 2017.
We have provided for both these commitments in Clause 25. It inserts a new subsection (2A) into both Section 41 of the 1988 Act, which deals with local lists, and Section 52, which deals with the central list. The new subsection (2A) removes the requirement for a list to be compiled on 1 April 2015 and then sets a new five-yearly cycle to run from 1 April 2017. Clause 25 also contains consequential provisions to ensure that the current local and central rating lists remain valid until 2017, and that they continue to be maintained as usual throughout that time. This reform will support local economic growth by removing doubt about future rate bills and giving stability for businesses to plan and invest. I hope that noble Lords will agree that this clause should stand part of the Bill.
Amendment 81CD would require the Secretary of State to publish updated estimates of the effects of the 2015 revaluation and to consult formally with those affected before this clause is brought into force. The best available estimate of the number of ratepayers affected by this clause has already been published in full. As I have explained and the noble Lord, Lord Smith, has pointed out, the Valuation Office Agency has produced initial estimates of the 2015 revaluation, which it published on 12 November. Its work suggests that 800,000 premises would have seen a real-terms increase in their rates, compared to only 300,000 seeing a reduction. The Valuation Office Agency’s report remains the only analysis we have seen that looks across all sectors and areas of the country. It is the only credible analysis of the impacts of a revaluation in 2015.
The noble Lord has asked in his amendment that we publish detailed up-to-date analysis. I understand the wish to know as much as possible about what would have happened to business rates bills in 2015, but the fact of the matter is that the only way to accurately provide such information would be to prepare the valuations. That would cost about £43 million of taxpayers’ money, which does not seem a particularly useful way of spending it.
The Valuation Office Agency’s analysis covers all sectors and locations. It has been published in full and is available. We know from that analysis that some sectors would have faced big increases: petrol stations would have seen an increase of 28%; the self-catering industry, such as caravan parks, 29%; hotels, 6%; theatres, 25%; and pubs, 11%. Retail overall would have seen a tax rise of 1% above inflation at the 2015 revaluation, with food retail and convenience stores facing significant tax increases. Shops in some regions would have seen much greater tax increases.
I know there have been concerns—as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Smith—that 530,000 of the 800,000 losers at the 2015 revaluation fell within a single category of “other” in the Valuation Office Agency’s report. However, the fact is that the Valuation Office Agency has looked at some of the larger categories of property within the classes, and its evidence and professional judgment support the figure of 800,000 losers.
The amendment would also ensure that we consult those affected before the postponed revaluation. We recognise the importance of consultation with business rates payers. Both the Government and the Valuation Office Agency hold regular forums to discuss business rates, and in recent weeks the Department for Communities and Local Government held several meetings with representatives of those affected by the postponement. I do not know whether it is those meetings which are reported by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, to have been dismissive, but I find that quite surprising. The meetings have included the British Retail Consortium, Energy UK, the Association of Convenience Stores, the British Council of Shopping Centres, the Federation of Small Businesses, the TaxPayers’ Alliance, and the Retail Motor Industry Federation. There are more planned during the passage of the Bill, and the Standing Committee in the other place received evidence from some groups.
The reason for what we are doing is to give priority to businesses and give them extra certainty now, before the revaluation process starts to raise doubts about future rate bills. That is a revaluation as a statutory exercise. We need to take primary legislation to stop it, quickly, for 2015. That is why we have moved to include the measures in this Bill. By placing the date of the next revaluation in the Bill, as well as the requirement for five-yearly revaluations thereafter, we have also shown our commitment to keeping rateable values up to date. I hope that I have reassured noble Lords that we have spoken about this clause to representatives of rate payers, and will continue to do so.
My Lords, would the noble Baroness perhaps explain to us what stability this decision gives to businesses which have really been struggling? For these businesses, rental values and rateable values are sure to decline in any revaluation that took place when it should. What stability is there for those businesses that were looking forward to some relief from a reduction in business rates? Is it not traditionally the case that there is a period of transitional relief for businesses that might suffer or be subject to an increase, in order to spread and dampen it?
My Lords, we believe that stability will be provided by not having a revaluation at the present time. The economic situation is such to make a sureness and security about whatever position people are in very valuable. This is what is required at the moment to ensure that businesses know where they are. We appreciate that businesses are actually going through a very tough time; we have seen that on the high streets and we know that it is happening. So for businesses to have one problem fewer would be valuable.
Given that what seems to be at the heart of this is a dispute over the interpretation of the VOA figures, would the Minister be prepared to set up a meeting which noble Lords could attend together with the VOA and those who have put to us a different analysis of the VOA’s data?
My Lords, I am not sure that a combative meeting, which I think that that would be, would be very valuable. Perhaps I may think about that and see whether it would be helpful; I am not certain that it would be.
The measure is designed to give businesses security, to enable them to know where they are and to help them through what is a very difficult time.
I was asked also about the capacity of the Valuation Office Agency. We believe that it does not make any difference; it is up to it. It will have to do the same estimates again in a couple of years.
We have discussed the impact of appeals on several previous occasions. I have already told noble Lords that headroom is created in the local government financial settlement to ensure that rating appeals are taken into account and that local authorities do not lose out as a result. I hope that, with those explanations, noble Lords will decide not to press their amendments.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving such a detailed reply at this time of night. I thank the noble Lords, Lord McKenzie of Luton and Lord Smith of Leigh, for their contributions and for filling in a lot of the detail that it was not possible to give in my introduction.
My meeting with the Minister’s officials was entirely satisfactory, save for the fact that it did not give me the answer that I thought I should have derived from it—but that is par for the course; one accepts that. I understand that the particular meeting to which I referred took place last Wednesday. The Minister—it was not the noble Baroness but one of her colleagues from another place—who had originally been destined to be there for half an hour or so, was there for two minutes and 40 seconds. Just one of the representative bodies got a question in and was more or less told, “Well, it’s a done deal and that’s it”. That seemed to be the end of the conversation, which was not really satisfactory for people coming along and explaining the situation from a business standpoint.
It does not give businesses any comfort to know that the report by Sir Michael Lyons is to be left on the scrapheap because it was commissioned by a previous Government who did not implement it. These things are done with much fine intellect and great skill is applied to them, and they should be taken at face value. I say from these Benches that if businesses are just going to be subjected to the idea of the thing being of no consequence because it is politically inconvenient or political point-scoring, that does not do anything for growth or infrastructure. It does not do anything for businesses or business confidence because all this politicking switches businesses off; they do not operate on that basis.
The Valuation Office Agency’s data were fine in their own terms, but it was how they were interpreted thereafter and the claims made for them that were not substantiated. It would have been better if they had never been prayed in aid at all. The Gerald Eve analysis of the figures—produced by the Valuation Office Agency, not by Gerald Eve; it was a reworking of the Valuation Office Agency’s own figures—has to this day not been challenged or countermanded in any sense. The political overlay is a matter of dismay to many businesses.
The cost of occupation is directly related to jobs. If we are all in this together, and somebody in the Treasury or wherever in the Government is saying, “Well, we’re not going to have this thing, because, in fact, we don’t want any sort of wobbles on the transition to the Local Government Finance Act arrangements and the business rates retention scheme and all that sort of thing”, that is fine, but it would be just as well if that were said outright and then we would all know where we were.
There does not appear to be any other reason for that. With the greatest respect to what the noble Baroness said, I do not believe that the figures add up in the way that she said. I do not believe that there are 800,000 gainers. I do not see that in the figures there. It is an allocation of a large proportion of “don’t knows”, and that is not the same thing at all. Obviously the noble Baroness is entirely dependent in these things on the information that is provided by her department but there is a great deal of concern about the information, what it means and what is being claimed of it. Different interpretations are being attached to things that should have a straightforward meaning to everybody. This is a problem that we need to address.
The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, said that it breaks with convention. Yes, it sets a precedent. If this goes through in the Bill, it will be something that is variable according to the whim or fancy of any subsequent Administration for whatever reason. It will accelerate the number of appeals, it will increase the mutterings of dissatisfaction and pressure for much more radical change, and it is likely to increase pressures in relation to investment, particularly in areas that are really struggling and have been hit quite badly both in terms of the turnover that they can generate and the values of the premises. The downward spiral is never at all comfortable for occupiers, landlords or anybody else. That needs to be recognised because this will produce further changes in our high streets and further challenges that we have to deal with. The hour is late and, while I may well return to this at a future date, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 81CD withdrawn.
Debate on whether Clause 25 should stand part of the Bill.
If I might just comment on the Minister’s reply, I thank the Minister for that long reply at the end of what has been a very long day for her—I am sure she is looking forward to the conclusion of today’s debate—but I thought that reply was somewhat disappointing. As the noble Earl said, the Valuation Office report was interesting in part but the other section, if you look at the detail, seemed to say that there were no data on which it could really base that finding. The incredible thing was that all 500,000 of these others were placed as potential gainers from non-implementing. Not a single one was regarded as a loser. The credibility of that is open to suggestion.
If Ministers want a confrontational meeting, a meeting with the Valuation Office to really understand the basis of those figures might be helpful for your Lordships. If the Minister would agree to arrange that, it might be helpful. As I said, the quotation from the regulations from last year talked about the fair contribution based upon property values. The Minister is saying that to avoid turbulence we are actually going away from that principle. Lots of people would have gained by a revaluation, mainly in the retail sector but in other sectors, too. In a sense, they have the certainty that they will pay rateable values but higher than they should. But with that, I will not move that Clause 25 should not stand part.
Clause 25 agreed.
Clause 26 agreed.
House adjourned at 10.34 pm.