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Housing and Planning Bill

Volume 769: debated on Thursday 17 March 2016

Committee (7th Day) (Continued)

Amendment 84D not moved.

Amendment 84E

Moved by

84E: After Clause 124, insert the following new Clause—

“Sinking funds for repairs: leaseholds

(1) The buyer of a leasehold in a shared residential building with common parts is required to make periodic deposits of sums into a fund to be maintained and used for the purpose of making repairs to the building in which the leasehold property is situated.(2) The fund shall be held and administered by the person designated to fulfil that role by the leaseholders.(3) The sums to be deposited and the timetable for their deposit shall be determined by those holding rights in the shared building, and the collection of those sums may be incorporated into the building’s service charge arrangements.(4) The requirement provided for by subsection (1) applies to any buyer of a leasehold who completes the purchase of that leasehold at any point after the day on which this section is brought into effect.”

My Lords, this amendment is self-explanatory, and people in this House have heard me speak before on the issue of sinking funds. It was drawn to my attention particularly by people who bought their council flats in the days of Margaret Thatcher. No sinking funds were set aside at all and, if you are a tenant in a local authority block, you do not have to pay for sudden repairs. However, the case I quote to the House is of a woman who has an income of £10,000 a year and received a bill, this year, for £12,000 for her part of the roof repairs. When I followed this up with the housing association that owns the property, it said the problem is that there are 26 people in exactly the same position. To avoid this, from the day that you own a leasehold, you should really be part of a sinking fund so that you do not suddenly find yourself threatened with losing your home altogether because you cannot find the money. What happens if she does lose her home? The local authority has to pick it up again, so it seems that the fund is necessary.

It is also very necessary and important that a sinking fund exists in private blocks. We do not have one in the block that I own a flat in and, some years ago, someone suggested that we have a voluntary scheme. The scheme came into force and we all put our money in, and it was great because it paid for all the repairs for the year—some minor and some less minor. Then, a new tenant bought a leasehold in the block and said, “I don’t want to pay a sinking fund; there is nothing in the lease about it”. They had to give us all back our money, whereupon, years later, we will be faced with another giant bill for a new boiler system or new central heating or something.

It really is so much better if people have a sinking fund for repairs, and it is important that this should be a possibility for people in local authority housing and people who have a right to manage, even if their lease does not have provision for a sinking fund. My aim is to put in a clause that would enable people to decide that by a majority. If a majority want it, it should come into force, and it should not be the case that it can be withdrawn at a later date, which was what threw our system into complete chaos, it having been done on a voluntary basis. I beg to move.

My Lords, I sometimes think that the noble Baroness’s title is not really adequate: “Baroness Gardner of Leaseholds” would have been better than Baroness Gardner of Parks. She is an expert in these matters and deeply committed to improving the situation of leaseholders, and on that she is to be congratulated. It is fair to say that the aspirations in these amendments are to be welcomed. However, I have some difficulties with the drafting.

In Amendment 84E there is a reference to:

“The buyer of a leasehold in a shared residential building”.

However, not every owner is a buyer—they may inherit or be given the property, and so “buyer” is not the right term. That also applies to subsection (4) of the amendment’s proposed new clause. It is also not clear in proposed new subsection (1) how the requirement is to be made. Normally, of course, provision is made within the lease. The implication here is that, somehow, legislation should overtake the provisions in an existing lease, which I think is a somewhat difficult concept. Furthermore, proposed new subsection (3) says that:

“The sums to be deposited and the timetable for their deposit shall be determined by those holding rights in the shared building”,

but it does not indicate how many of the leaseholders would be required—I suspect that a majority is what is intended, as it is in subsection (1) of the new clause proposed in Amendment 84F. That needs to be tidied up.

Having said that, there will be a chance, if I may say so respectfully, to improve the wording of the amendment before we get to Report. I hope that the Government will be sympathetic to this and possibly work with the noble Baroness in coming to an agreed position. She has highlighted a significant issue that is having adverse consequences for many occupiers of leasehold properties; at any rate, those with common parts. Perhaps the Minister will undertake to look at that with her and others to see whether the Government might bring forward an amendment to meet the objectives set out here but, as I said, unfortunately with drafting that may not achieve them.

My Lords, I do not like either of these amendments. I want to make it quite clear that I think they are wrong in principle. For a start, Amendment 84E states that the buyer of a leasehold “is required”—in other words, it would be mandatory. There are blocks of flats—particularly where there is self-management, as in the case of my arrangement in Maidenhead—where resident committees agree that a sinking fund is not needed. We simply agree to turn up the money when a large expenditure is required. A couple of years ago, we had to spend £80,000 on a roof repair, but we agreed in advance that we would not levy for it until the expenditure needed to be incurred. It should be left to people in blocks of flats to decide whether there is a sinking fund, because there are varying views. Therefore, I am against that provision.

I am also opposed to Amendment 84F, and I will explain why. It is being suggested here that a majority—51%—of leaseholders could change the terms of the lease. If the terms of a lease were changed in such a way whereby a minority objected, and that objection was so strong that they just become awkward, which is what happens, they would simply default on the payment of their service charges. You cannot divide leaseholders in that way. In the case of the block in Maidenhead, where we have shared freehold interest, every time we enter into major works—indeed, any works—we agree in the resident committee. Because we are also the management company running the organisation, in which I take a very active part, we make sure that everybody agrees. Indeed, we get letters or emails from them confirming that they agree to any change that we wish to make. The reason is very simple. We have people that live both within and without the United Kingdom. In the event that we were to take an action which in any way they found unacceptable, I know that people would say, “Well, I’m sorry. I just do not agree with what you’ve done. I know I was invited. I know it said that in the event that I was unable to be there I would be deemed to be in favour of the proposal”, but irrespective of that they would feel that they were being manipulated into taking a decision to which they object.

Anything that suggests that you could in any circumstance compromise the decision of all the leaseholders in any particular building would be totally counterproductive. It will lead to objections, as I say, by leaseholders and in many cases a refusal to pay. I can tell you that if you are in a small development and someone refuses to pay, it triggers all kinds of arguments, all kinds of concerns, and sometimes they end up in the courts. That is the reality of the world we live in. Therefore, I am totally opposed to both these amendments.

I would like to respond to the point made. I think it is very interesting.

First, I should have spoken to Amendment 84F as well as Amendment 84E, because the two are linked on the groupings list, which I had not realised. The situation as described sounds entirely different from my own personal experience. My experience is that people who do not live in these places at all—except maybe for a few weeks in the summer when they come from somewhere overseas—do not respond to any attempt to contact them whatever. If you end up with a sufficient majority of those people, you cannot get anything done. There is no money to put forward even for emergency repairs. In each case you are asked to pay your money in advance, before the work can go ahead. Often legal action has to be taken against someone who says, “No, I’m not paying until I’m sure you’re doing the work”. An instance in hand was that, as the building was old, we wanted to have all new windows at the front. We all paid our money for them. People came and put up the scaffolding and the windows were delivered. The council arrived and said, “Have you got permission for that?” “Oh no, we phoned up and they said you don’t need it.” “Oh yes, you do. This is a conservation area”—the building itself is not worth conserving, but it is a conservation area. So the windows were all taken down, taken away and thrown away. We paid for them but we never got them, which was pretty disastrous for everyone.

Other times when someone needs emergency work done on the boiler or heating systems, again the money is needed up front—and people often have to be taken to court to get it. They might claim that they had not been justifiably contacted, but with the right to manage there could be a contact address or a proxy for every single resident or owner in the block.

I went to a meeting with Peter Bottomley, who is in the other place, and someone stood up from the department there. They said that the department was seriously considering the idea that if you fail to respond in any way you would be deemed to be not opposed to whatever was suggested. I then came back to this House and tabled a Question on that and I was told, no, that was not being thought about. Now again I am told that maybe it is being thought about. I find it extremely confusing, but I am looking for some way whereby you can deal with non-resident, uninterested parties who would allow places to fall apart.

The answer is actually in the original deed. If on acquisition of the property and purchase, the original deed specified that a suitable majority was sufficient to take a decision and the purchasers signed up to that, they are bound by that. The resident association, or the management company if it is run by the resident association, would have that in mind when it took decisions. Both these amendments could be dealt with in terms of the original lease. In the event that a lease change is required, then you would need—to be fair, in my view—a 100% majority turnout, or proxy or whatever, of all the residents to take that decision to introduce these provisions into the lease. If that is done then it is fair, but to impose it on people who may be reluctant to accept it is quite wrong.

The second to last point the noble Lord made was that you have to have 100%. The problem is getting the 100%. I have asked Questions in this House—I had the Library look them up and there must be at least six—and each time the Government have answered that it is impossible to get 100%, or that it is very easy to avoid getting 100%. All you need is a landlord who has a different interest to pay one person or own one flat in the block himself and he can prevent any action of any sort to improve or maintain it.

When the noble Baroness purchased her apartment, she would have done well to ask her lawyer to read the lease and explain to her what was in that lease; it would have precluded her doing what she is suggesting now.

We have gone into this legally in great detail over many years, but the answer is no, you cannot amend anyone’s lease unless everyone agrees to that. That is why I would be quite happy with the 100% if one could be sure of replies from 100%. However, if the replies do not come one way or another, it is very fair that the action should be deemed to be not opposed. They would be given ample time. They would be able to produce—this happens in Australia and everywhere; it is very simple management—a contact or someone who could attend any meeting as a proxy. They can authorise a party. There is no reason why they should not be able to reply in some way. They either deliberately wish to be obstructive or they are uninterested. Either way, it can have a disastrous effect on everyone else in the block. You need only one person to be obstructive.

In the description I gave, the landlord himself—the head lessee—has now bought one. He is happy to take on every flat that comes up if anyone wants to leave. He is always offering to buy mine. The point is that to get that 100% is acknowledged to be impossible. Certainly it is very difficult. Even when you agree on the works to be done and everyone is prepared to pay their money, there are always a few who have to be taken to court and works never start until all the money is available to pay the contractor. This means that terrible deterioration can happen during that period. Of all the points that are in these two amendments, to me, that concerning the leaseholder who fails to participate in the vote is the most important. In that instance you are being deliberately manipulated or controlled by people who do not have enough interest to bother expressing their views.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Gardner for her amendments. I agree that, as indicated in Amendment 84E, it is important to ensure that sufficient funds are available for the repair and maintenance of leasehold blocks, and that sinking funds built up over time can indeed play an important role in mitigating large one-off service charge demands. However, while well-intentioned, the amendment is unnecessary. It would cause conflict and confusion with the existing requirements and responsibilities under the terms of the lease, and does not address a range of important issues covered by the existing legislation. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, with his great knowledge, for being helpful in this regard.

The existing legal contract between the freeholder and leaseholder, which, as we all know, is called the lease, already provides for the collection of service charges for the upkeep and maintenance of a block. In a growing number of cases, provision is also made for an amount to be collected called a sinking fund. Importantly, where a lease does not already provide for a sinking fund, legislation makes it possible to seek a variation of the lease to do so.

It is sensible, clear and workable for the person responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the building to also be the person responsible for any sinking fund. To require the creation of a separately held and managed sinking fund administered by someone other than the person with legal responsibility for maintaining the block would create conflict and confusion with the existing lease, as would trying to dovetail it with the existing arrangements. For instance, if major work were required to the roof of the block, how would responsibility for the work be determined and how would any shortfall in the funds needed to carry out the work be dealt with? Who would be responsible for arranging the repairs? The current arrangements keep responsibilities and accountabilities clear, and do not fall foul of any legal obligations and responsibilities.

Importantly, legislation enables the freeholder to be held to account on service charges, including any sinking fund. Leaseholders have the right to challenge the reasonableness of service charge amounts being sought, whether for day-to-day use or towards a sinking fund. Existing legislation governing service charges also provides for a wide range of important issues, including the protection for service charges by deeming them to be held in a statutory trust, and that the money may be deposited only at a financial institution specified by the regulations. Under the amendment, it is unclear how the leaseholders would determine who held and administered the sinking fund, or how contributions would be determined and spent. The existing arrangements, in contrast, provide protection and a route to challenge the freeholder.

I say again that I recognise the important role that sinking funds can play, and that where the lease does not already provide for a sinking fund it is possible for either leaseholders or the freeholder to seek a variation of the lease to do so. This is the most appropriate route for creating sinking funds, avoiding unnecessary confusion and ensuring that appropriate protections remain in place. I hope that with this explanation my noble friend will agree to withdraw her amendment.

I turn to Amendment 84F. The leasehold right to manage is a right for leaseholders to take on specific responsibility for the management of their individual block from the landlord, by which I mean the freeholder, where they meet the qualifying criteria. That right can be exercised where a majority of qualifying tenants agree. It does not require or allow variations to leases. I understand my noble friend’s concern that once a right-to-manage company has been set up, the company needs 100% agreement from the members of the right-to-manage company before anything can be done. However, I am pleased to reassure her that this is not the case. In taking over responsibility from the freeholder for the management of the block, the right-to-manage company is required to carry out the repairing obligations under the lease, for the benefit of the leaseholders and the freeholder. This is the same as the freeholder would be required to do where they are responsible. Failing to do so could result in a breach of the lease. There is a requirement to consult on major works, but there are no particular restrictions that require 100% agreement before the right-to-manage company can carry out their obligations.

On top of this, the company is subject to company law in general, and the decision-making process, voting arrangements and appointment or termination of directors are set out in the prescribed articles of association. These are the RTM Companies (Model Articles) (England) Regulations 2009, which set out the objects of the Company. These generally require a quorum and a majority, but certainly do not require 100% agreement. I hope that this somewhat protracted explanation allays my noble friend’s concerns.

Despite the provision that the Minister has referred to, unless you secure the agreement of everyone involved, people often go into arrears and default. That creates problems within an association.

My Lords, I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, that the wording might be defective. The purpose of Committee stage, however, is that it is the topic that you are really discussing and you can always go back and correct the wording. So that is not really the issue but I appreciate his point, though I thought the Public Bill Office had done jolly well even to get it as clear as it is, because I found it impossible.

The Minister has not looked at the entire situation. He keeps talking about the freeholder and the leaseholder, but what about the head lessee—the person between the freeholder and the leaseholder? This is where most of the problems come in. The head lessee should not even exist because the head lease should have been offered to all the people in the block, but because of that company law loophole it was not. That therefore creates an extra intermediate tier. Where that happens, you are in quite a degree of difficulty. Our freeholder seems quite benign and willing to go along with things, except where he evidently agreed to set up this sister company and floated it off to an outsider as a leaseholder —the head lessee. It becomes very complicated when you get these extra layers in management, and it means that each process has to go to each person.

I cannot remember the detail, but something meant that until we got to the door of the court the head lessee would agree to nothing. We were applying to the court to deal with it without his consent because he refused to respond to any correspondence, making it very difficult for everyone. Right at the last moment, there was a message from his solicitors saying, “We agree”. What was at issue was nothing terribly major, but it was hard to believe that we had to go through those legal procedures to get a simple agreement about something.

May I make a suggestion to the Minister? There is a reform that would be helpful. Some freeholders require 50% of the residents to agree to the formation of a residents’ association that they are prepared to recognise, but unless they get 50% the freeholder will not recognise it. I would like to see, in law, some requirement for a lesser percentage. Particularly in blocks of flats in London, where you have large numbers of residents living abroad—despite the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham—the fact is that you cannot get their addresses and therefore you are often limited in the number of people you have access to in order to meet that 50% threshold. Perhaps the Minister might ask officials to look at that. A nice little amendment to that effect on Report would be very helpful.

That sounds like a good and constructive suggestion. Perhaps we can work on that idea. Certainly we are looking for some answer to this. I went this week to a meeting on the private rented sector at which the person speaking was the present Housing Minister. The one thing on which he agreed with me was that we need a property consolidation Act. I have been involved in Act after Act since 1981, when I took my seat in this House, and the way that each law amends the previous one and goes on to change something else is such a hotchpotch. We really should have a comprehensive consolidation Act. The problem is that the Law Commission does not do these any more, but if the Government were prepared to pay then it certainly would. That would save a huge amount of bother for ordinary people. If ordinary people cannot understand the law, it is very difficult to implement it and for people to feel satisfied with it. That is why I am all for a consolidation Act.

Meanwhile, I think that we have aired this subject fairly well. I am grateful for the comments from those who have made them, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 84E withdrawn.

Amendments 84F and 84G not moved.

Clause 125: Designation of neighbourhood areas

Amendment 85

Moved by

85: Clause 125, page 59, line 12, leave out “Regulations under subsection (11) may provide that”

My Lords, we move at last to Part 6 of the Bill, headed “Planning in England”. Some of us thought we might never get here—but here we are. First, I thank the government time managers for giving us some extra time at the end of this Committee stage, so that we can have a bash at dealing with Part 6 properly. I understand that a lot of the housing stuff that has gone before is extremely important. Nevertheless, we had feared that it would take over completely, and we would not be able to deal with planning in any sensible way. So I thank the Government for providing the time—even if that time will not, by and large, be conveniently arranged for a lot of us. Never mind.

As well as moving Amendment 85 I will speak to the other amendments in the group that are in my name. The planning clauses as a whole raise some important principles, and I am sure that we shall have some clashes of views on those principles as we go through Part 6. They also raise a series of the kind of issues that that House of Lords is, at least in part, here to look at—to try to understand what the legislation actually means, how it might work, and whether it will work. It is important that we look particularly at some of the clauses in Part 6 that were put into the Bill right at the end of its progress through the Commons, and have not been properly scrutinised at all. So I hope that we shall do that.

There are a lot of concerned people working in the planning system around the country who, on the basis both of my experience and of information provided by colleagues, do not understand how this is going to work either. The Government have been organising meetings, seminars and so on, but many people believe that the legislation needs looking at thoroughly before it leaves your Lordships’ House.

The amendments in the group are about neighbourhood planning. We are starting off in a fairly benign way on this subject, because there is probably more agreement on what is proposed in this part of Part 6 than there is on some other areas. The amendments relate to Clause 125, which is called “Designation of neighbourhood areas”, and Clause 126, which is called “Timetable in relation to neighbourhood development orders and plans”.

I have no doubt that all noble Lords in the Committee are fully up to speed on neighbourhood planning and what all this means, but it may be helpful to put on record at the beginning the fact that neighbourhood planning is one of the success stories from the Localism Act, which some of us here spent a lot of time working on five years ago. Neighbourhood plans are the main part of neighbourhood planning, and about 1,800 of them are at some stage from the initial inquiry through to adoption. That is a lot: the system is a success. We should be looking to build on that success, and where successful neighbourhood planning has taken place, to move it to other parts of England where so far it has not taken hold.

This is a complicated process. Five years ago some of us spent a lot of time trying to understand how it, and the legislation, were going to work. It is not easy to understand, because the legislation appears in a number of different planning Acts. Basically, the process has to start with a relevant body, which is either a parish council or, if there is no parish council, a neighbourhood forum. If there is no parish council, the neighbourhood forum has to be approved by the local planning authority—the main council. There must be a neighbourhood area, which the parish council or neighbourhood forum operates in, which is the basis for the local neighbourhood plan. In many cases, obviously, that is the parish, but if there is no parish, that is a source of discussion and delay.

Then, within that neighbourhood area, a neighbourhood plan is put together. This is the part of it that is very interesting, and sometimes quite exciting, involving residents and the local groups. The body that is responsible for the neighbourhood plan is the parish council or the neighbourhood forum. According to the rules, the plan must be submitted to the local planning authority for approval. Then there has to be a referendum involving everybody who lives in the neighbourhood area. That, again, is organised by the main local authority. Then, if the referendum vote is to approve—so far, in almost all cases it has been—the local authority has to adopt the neighbourhood plan as part of its overall local development plan.

If that sounds complicated, it is actually quite complicated, so there are within the system a number of points at which the local planning authority can, if it wishes—or just if it is not all that efficient—slow the whole process down. As I understand it, the purpose of these two clauses is to remove those impediments, or at least to speed up the process.

I drafted these amendments some time ago. I did it for two reasons. The first was a natural protest against the degree of prescription in the two clauses: effectively, they say that, in different ways and at different times, with all the usual specifications, the Secretary of State can do whatever he or she wants to do. That seems to me unnecessary. If the Government know what they want to do in changing the system, they should simply put that on the face of the Bill. Then, at least, it would be less complicated for people trying to understand it.

The second reason, of course, was to probe what the Government are intending to do—what time limits they propose, and so on. So I put some of that in the amendments. Since then I have seen a more recent document called Technical Consultation on Implementation of Planning Changes. It is an extremely interesting document, which has been circulated to local planning authorities and elsewhere, and it contains the proposed timetables for neighbourhood planning. I do not agree with everything in it—as the Committee will discover in due course over the next day or so—but the proposed timetables for neighbourhood planning are fine. Indeed, they are rather better than those I put in my probing amendments. The Government are doing better than me on this one, so good for them.

I hope that this afternoon the Minister will be able to put that timetable on the public record in the Committee. We understand that it is subject to the consultation process, so there might be changes, but it would be helpful to set it out so that at least it is there in Hansard and people can see what it is.

The reason why I raised the question of whether Clause 127 should stand part of the Bill was to protest against what seem to many of us to be two pages of unnecessary intervention powers for the Secretary of State. I know that there have been some problems over neighbourhood planning with some local planning authorities, but I do not think that the way to deal with them is to have two pages of detailed legislation setting out what will become umpteen pages of even more detailed legislation when the regulations provided for in almost every other line in these two pages are agreed. That is just a statement of opposition to doing it in that way. The important thing is: we need to get a better and clearer timetable for the neighbourhood plan-making process, set out and agreed in legislation, and then let us all get behind the whole neighbourhood planning process wherever any of us has any influence. I beg to move.

My Lords, I have tabled Amendment 87A in this group. Since I have been silent a great deal throughout this Committee—I must say that such silence, unlike at a wedding, does not always indicate assent, but it certainly does indicate consent—I should remind the Committee that I am leader of a London borough council which is a planning authority. It wishes to remain a planning authority and it maintains vigorously that local authorities, as the arbiters of local communities, should be respected fully at every level as legitimate public authorities. One does not always hear that language, sadly, from whatever Government are in power.

I well remember the lengthy debates that we had on the Localism Act, in which my then noble friend Lord Greaves was a very active participant. I also played a part. I am a very strong believer in localism and I did play a part in that Act. One of the points that I made repeatedly at that time, often unavailingly, I fear, was that localism can be delivered in many forms. My own council was a pioneer in 2010 in inviting local people to define their own communities—a process in which about 13,000 people took part—rather than simply following ward or parish boundaries. Since then we have established with local people 14 village and town areas within our borough, with very active community engagement in discussing and setting local priorities. It so happens that only one neighbourhood forum has been set up because that has been the will of local people. They appear to have been satisfied with the process that we have taken forward.

We have now begun incorporating and adopting detailed supplementary planning documents—we call them village plans—within our local plan, which reflect that dialogue with the local community following question times, walkabouts, open meetings, post-its, as well as formal consultations. It has been a successful and popular process in which thousands of people have been involved. Indeed, I had to leave your Lordships’ Committee last Thursday early to go to a public meeting in one part of my borough, which was launching the latest village plan. Some 150 to 200 people attended the meeting in a public hall; that is unusual, as I think anybody involved in local politics would say. So, there is enthusiasm.

I was very grateful to have the opportunity to discuss my amendment with my noble friend Lady Williams on the Front Bench. I entirely except her from the many strictures that I may have made at the start of my speech about Ministers over the last 20 to 30 years, since I have been involved in local politics. My main concern and reason for tabling the amendment is that the Bill, and specifically the intervention powers of the Secretary of State, are locked in to this existing single body of statute which is about a neighbourhood forum and a neighbourhood plan, as enacted under the Localism Act. That is one method of getting people involved—a very good and successful method, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, rightly said—which is what we want to do. However, it is not necessarily the only method or in every circumstance the best method.

I freely admit that my amendment is not necessarily the best way. It may not be in the right form or in the right place. However, before statute and practice totally ossify and case law proliferates, establishing that there is just this one way of doing it—as laid down by departmental officials and enforced by the Secretary of State from above—and that everything else is inferior, I would like to see some protection for local authorities, and there are many. I do not claim any exceptional skill on behalf of my own, although I think it is been a principle applied by both Liberal Democrat and Conservative Administrations in my authority. Where local authorities have local planning documents in full, after full consultation, they should not find themselves snagged up on artificial challenge as a result of not complying with the specifics of statute in relation to neighbourhood planning envisaged in this single way.

All I am really asking for is some reassurance. Ideally, I would like to have it in law because ultimately, these things will be tested and challenged in law—I suspect by people who perhaps want to make mischief and do not have the overall interests of local people in mind. If it cannot be made clear in law, we need some assurance that this Government, at least—we cannot bind future Governments—recognise that there may be under heaven ways of doing good local planning and involving the public other than as laid out in the Bill before your Lordships’ House.

My Lords, I very much welcome the opportunity raised by this group of amendments to discuss this business of neighbourhood plans. Perhaps I should declare an immediate past interest as the previous president of the National Association of Local Councils, now occupied very ably by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Goss Moor.

The noble Lord, Lord True, rightly pointed to the primacy of what I, as a private sector operator, know as the principal authority for planning purposes. We should never forget that, fundamentally, that principal authority is the one that ultimately has to make the decision. It is informed by a series of neighbourhood plans where those have been prepared.

Localism is a great thing, but it has come in with something of a great rush into a world in which the neighbourhood construct—by that I particularly mean parish, town and community councils—has for a very long time been neglected in terms of resources, powers, authority and ability to do things. Here, we come to the issue of neighbourhood plans. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, pointed out, their administration is quite complex, as are the philosophical constructs behind them. Too often, I still meet people who say, “We have tried to do this neighbourhood plan but really what everybody’s concentrating on is making sure that we don’t get too many housing developments in our area”, so it is seen as a defensive strategy, which is perhaps regrettable. Because it comes with so much of the baggage of what is known as development control, which is essentially a rather negative turn of phrase, that is the inherent direction of travel and it is seen as the received wisdom.

It is not a quick process to turn this round so that people see this as an opportunity to take things forward and to generate a resource they could not otherwise have. This question of resources is one that troubles both the neighbourhood sector—if I can call it that—and the principal authorities. One thing that the noble Lord, Lord True, did not mention is that as soon as you try to step in and make good efficiencies at neighbourhood level, that has resource implications. It also requires officers’ time, which would otherwise be devoted to other things, and almost certainly requires cash outlay on things like mailing, drawing up and making documents available and so on.

The test that needs to be applied was in a question I put to one of the heads of our rural community council. I asked what he thought the main ingredient of a good local plan was. He said that first, people must be properly canvassed: rather than teasing out what they do not want, we must ask what really turns them on and gives them a buzz about their area. At that stage, you can start to peel back the skin of the onion in order to get at the truth. Unfortunately, because of what might be called the inherited philosophical direction of travel, that question is often not asked properly. As a result, we do not candidly canvass the views of the old, young, shopkeepers and businesspeople, and—maybe—the farmers, mums with children and all who would otherwise remain silent. One of the main problems with neighbourhood plans being declared unsound is that it cannot be demonstrated that that process has been gone through with rigour and care. This is an important set of amendments enabling us to discuss this principle.

I am in favour of communities determining their own situation, but if in a particular area they say the equivalent of what I believe is the current acronym— BANANA: ban anything near anyone anywhere—then the principal authority’s executive is going to have to come with a red pen and make themselves deeply unpopular, because there are certain Government imperatives. While these are particularly to do with housebuilding, they also concern the associated infrastructure such as schools, clinics, road improvements —never mind fire services and things like that.

These things are complicated and a community often does not have the voluntary resources. How many would have a private sector town planner, for instance, who had time to attend meetings and guide that process? How many would have people available to deal with the financial mechanics, so that the community can clearly state what benefits it expects and set this out in a constructive manner? These are highly complicated issues, which often require expensive professionals—I stand guilty as charged in that respect. Parishes and town councils do not have those sorts of resources.

It is all very well having a provision whereby the principal authority steps in, but there are still the issues of covering resource implications and achieving a candid representation of the community’s views to take the process forward. Those seem to be sticking points whatever is done. I hope the Minister will be able to throw some light on that.

I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, neighbourhood planning has been a success since its introduction in 2011. For the first time, communities have been able to prepare plans that have real statutory weight: neighbourhood plans have the same weight in law as the local authority’s local plan, and must be the starting point for decisions on planning applications. As the noble Lord also said, more than 1,800 communities have started neighbourhood planning, representing more than 9 million people, and planning applications are being approved and refused according to neighbourhood plans. The Government made a manifesto commitment to support communities who have embarked on the process and to encourage more to start.

Under Clause 125, the Secretary of State would be able to use regulations to prescribe the circumstances in which local planning authorities must designate the neighbourhood area applied for. In the prescribed circumstances, the authority would no longer need to advertise, and consult on, the proposed neighbourhood planning areas. This will allow communities to start planning more quickly and will significantly reduce the burdens on local authorities.

We have recently set out in our consultation document the two circumstances that we intend to prescribe. The first is where the whole of a parish council area is applied for. This is because a parish council is the only body responsible for neighbourhood planning within their boundary. Some 90% of applications are from parish councils, and 90% of them are applying for the whole of their parish to be designated. In nearly all cases we are aware of, the whole of the parish has been designated, but the amount of time that this has taken has varied hugely, from around six to 19 weeks. Specifying that all applications for the whole of a parish must be designated without delay would therefore remove a significant administrative burden from the system for the majority of local planning authorities.

The second circumstance where we consider a local planning authority must designate the area applied for is where it has failed to come to a decision after existing time periods have expired. These time periods are either 13 or 20 weeks depending on whether the proposed area straddles local authority planning boundaries. But local planning authorities will not be required to amend existing designations—except to enlarge an existing designation of part of a parish to cover the whole parish—and will be given time to consider competing applications to designate all or part of the same area.

I turn now to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who has expressed concerns that the proposed circumstances which I have described are not set out in the Bill. I would like to reassure the Committee that there are sound reasons why we believe that the detail is best left in regulations. First, we believe that circumstances could change over time as a greater number of areas are designated, and we wish to retain the flexibility to alter the prescribed circumstances if required. A power to do this through secondary legislation allows far greater flexibility. Secondly, we want to allow the opportunity for public consultation on our proposals and we are open to comments on the details.

The noble Lord asked about the proposed timetable for decisions. We are consulting on the following, which we propose would be included in the regulations. There will be five weeks for the local planning authority to decide whether to send a plan to a referendum, 10 weeks from the decision to send a plan to referendum until the date of the referendum, and eight weeks from a successful referendum until the plan is brought into force. Indeed, as the noble Lord acknowledged, these timeframes are shorter than he has proposed in his amendments.

Clause 126 inserts new paragraph 13A into Schedule 4B to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and amends Section 61 of that Act, as well as Section 38A of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. Together, these changes will allow the Secretary of State to set the time periods in regulations for key local planning authority decisions at the final stages of the neighbourhood planning process. This will ensure the timely progress of plans and orders that have passed an examination to ensure that they are taken swiftly to the local referendum and brought into force as soon as possible. I have just set out those time periods.

While some authorities are already doing this, there is considerable variation and no indication in regulations of expected performance. We estimate that if areas currently failing to complete regulated stages on time were to meet the maximum of the proposed timescales, on average an area would complete the process 17 weeks earlier. The time periods I have set out will ensure that groups have certainty that their plan or order will progress in a timely manner. They will also ensure that momentum and enthusiasm is maintained as the plan or order moves towards being brought into legal force.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for Amendments 87ZA, 87ZB and 87ZC to set three-month time periods for neighbourhood planning decisions. However, as I will set out, I do not believe that they are appropriate. I can assure the noble Lord that there are sound reasons why the prescribed time periods are set out in regulations and subject to public consultation. First, there is a clear precedent for setting time periods through regulations, such as the current time periods for designating a neighbourhood area. Experience may show that over time it would be sensible for the Government to look again at the prescribed time periods, and regulations will provide much more flexibility.

Secondly, as I have said previously, we want to allow the opportunity for public consultation on our proposals as we believe that local people and planning authorities should have an opportunity to have their say on this important issue as they are neighbourhood planning on a daily basis. All the proposed time periods we are currently consulting on are based on current averages and evidence.

Clause 127 inserts new paragraphs 13B and 13C into Schedule 4B to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. This gives the Secretary of State the ability to take over a local planning authority’s responsibilities to decide whether to send a neighbourhood plan or order proposal to referendum. I stress that this will apply only in the rare cases when a proposal is blocked by the local planning authority and intervention is requested by the neighbourhood planning group.

My Lords, I am sorry to intervene, but surely the noble Baroness is moving on to other groups. She seems to be responding to the ninth group. Perhaps I am making a mistake. If it is the right group, I beg noble Lords’ pardon.

I apologise if I repeat myself as I find my place again.

As I have said, this would apply only in rare cases. These cases would be when a local planning authority has failed to decide what action to take in response to the recommendations of the independent examiner or where the authority disagrees with an examiner’s recommendations and wants to modify the plan or order proposal against the wishes of the neighbourhood planning group, unless the modifications are to ensure compliance with EU or human rights obligations, or to correct errors. We anticipate that this power would be used only in exceptional circumstances. We have been very clear that communities and local planning authorities should be working very closely on the neighbourhood plan or order proposal throughout the process. However, we are aware, as the noble Lord suggested, that in a small number of cases there have been disagreements between groups and authorities. There is currently no mechanism to resolve these disagreements. In extreme cases those disagreements have blocked the progress of a proposal by more than a year, even though it is supported by the community and has been approved by an independent examiner. We do not believe that that is an acceptable situation. Regulations would set out the procedure to be followed when a request to intervene is made and the proposals for these are also the subject of public consultation. While this power to intervene would remove some responsibility from the local level, we believe that it is necessary in the rare cases that I have outlined.

Although I fully understand the good intentions behind my noble friend Lord True’s amendment, unfortunately we believe that it would diminish the ability of the Government to meet their manifesto commitment of speeding up and simplifying the neighbourhood planning process. The amendment would unnecessarily restrict and potentially even nullify the proposed power and would mean that some plans or orders could be indefinitely blocked by an authority or amended without the support of the community. However, I can assure my noble friend that we very much support and encourage local planning authorities such as Richmond-upon-Thames, which works proactively with communities to prepare other types of community plans. Indeed I congratulate Richmond-upon-Thames on taking such a comprehensive approach to delivering community-led planning through its series of village plans.

Neighbourhood plans are a powerful tool, because they become part of the statutory development plan, which is the starting point for planning decisions. They are subject to two consultations and must pass an independent examination and a local referendum before becoming part of the development plan. We believe that every community that passes the independent examination stage should have the right to request that the Secretary of State intervenes if that plan is blocked by a local planning authority, or amended in a way that the examiner did not recommend. It would not be right to restrict this power where an authority has adopted in the past, or says it will be adopting in the future, other kinds of supplementary planning document, and there is no guarantee that other types of documents are up to date or have the same level of genuine support as a neighbourhood plan.

We have learned from the experience of communities undertaking neighbourhood planning and believe that the proposed new power in the Bill is already limited to the right set of very specific circumstances. Indeed, the Government have further explained, in our recently published consultation document, that the Secretary of State will, in considering a request, consider the plan or order plans positively for local development needs, taking account of the latest evidence. Let me reassure my noble friend that the proposed power does not affect a local planning authority’s ability to progress other types of planning document where it is already working with its communities. I also assure the noble Lord that the proposed power does not enable the Secretary of State to intervene in any other stage of the neighbourhood planning process. For these reasons, I hope that noble Lords will withdraw or not move their amendments, and ask that Clauses 125, 126 and 127 stand part of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, will probably get the final say, because he heads the group. Having heard such kind words, however, it would be extremely churlish of me not to say how grateful I am to my noble friend on the Front Bench. I will make sure that the officers who have been involved in that process see what she has said. I am of course slightly disappointed, because as time goes by circumstances could arise whereby diversity gets snagged on legalism, and a single approach is in the end fraught with difficulty.

My only other comment—I do not expect a reply, although it would be interesting to get a comment in writing—is that a number of things that have been said relate to parishes and areas where there are clearly defined communities. For me, the really interesting challenge in neighbourhood planning—one which we are seeking to address—is in local urban communities, where it is much more important to get people involved and engaged. In urban communities boundaries overlap.

I will not detain the House long but I have an interesting example of this which I urge the Government and Committee to reflect on. There is a stretch of river in my borough—the only one which lies on both sides of the Thames—that has a lovely green area in it. We would like the many institutions in this area to work together in what we call a river park concept; that is part of our local plan approach. One part of that area, the Ham community, wishes to become a neighbourhood forum. There was a nascent dispute—I had no interest in disputing a neighbourhood forum—over where the boundaries were. In those green lands, not only did Ham have an interest but so did Petersham, Richmond and Twickenham. Yet the Ham neighbourhood forum was effectively saying, “We want exclusive control of this territory”. In the end, we agreed to the boundaries. One of the problems, however, with the legislation as explained in the Explanatory Notes, is that if the Secretary of State says that wherever there is a designation —particularly in an urban area—the whole area asked for must be designated, there may well be overlapping interests. Parallel communities, different villages and communities may have an interest in the same land. That is why sometimes it may be legitimate for the principal planning authority to say that they might withhold that land from the neighbourhood plan because there are communities and neighbourhoods that have an interest in it. As I say, I do not expect a response. It is quite a detailed point but a fundamental one, because real human communities do not have red lines around them: they have fuzzy lines.

My Lords, I am grateful for the care and detail that the Minister has put into her reply. In most cases, when I read it in Hansard it will turn out to be satisfactory.

One issue that the Minister might respond to now, or perhaps afterwards, is that of designation. For which kinds of areas will there not be automatic designation? I understand that in most cases, particularly parishes—most cases are parishes at the moment—the application is for the whole parish, and that is very clear. What will the position be if the application is for only part of the parish, and not the rest of it? What will the position be if more than one parish applies together for designation as a neighbourhood area? What will the position be if—the obvious further complication—one whole parish is part of the neighbourhood area together with part of another parish? I should say that that is exactly the position in the area where I live. Anyway, that is a straightforward question and I will move on from it.

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for his comments. I will pick up on one thing that he said: that development control decisions and other planning decisions, presumably by the local planning authority, will be informed by neighbourhood plans. They will, in exactly the same way as they are informed by the local plan because the neighbourhood plans form a full part of the local development plan. I am fairly sure that that is correct, until or unless somebody says that I am wrong. The neighbourhood plan is therefore a fully fledged planning document alongside the core strategy, the allocations and the other things in the principal authority’s local development plan.

The noble Earl said that neighbourhood plans are often seen as a defensive strategy. In my experience of looking at quite a few around the country, my observation is that in many cases that is how they start—by people saying, “We don’t like this planning application”, or, “We don’t like the decision on all this new housing. What can we do to stop it? Let’s have a neighbourhood plan”. As the process of putting together a local plan develops, and as discussions among the local people who put it together take place, it seems that there is often a change of emphasis. People come to understand that they cannot change the overriding policies in the National Planning Policy Framework and the local development plan, but that they can change the impact of those policies to a degree on their community. They can have new housing in one place instead of another, for example, or perhaps a different sort of new housing or different access altogether.

Whatever it may be, while the people could then go back and say, “We’d rather not have it at all”, the process of getting involved in putting it together nevertheless results in a much higher local understanding of the problems, and of the situation that they are in. This appears the case from the fact that, so far anyhow, almost all these plans have been passed in a referendum, so that they have a local buy-in to what is there. In an ideal world, they might prefer to be on Mars or the moon or somewhere, but they are not. It forces people to accept the reality of what they are doing and where they are.

Listening to the noble Lord, Lord True, who is not here at the moment, I was thinking that I heard the same speech from him several times during debate on the then Localism Bill. I say to the Government that he is putting forward a very good case in relation to a small minority of local authorities. I think the Minister said that the Government do not want a lot of exceptions in the legislation that would stop people going through the neighbourhood planning process in the future. They could just block it because they do not like the concept of neighbourhood planning. The position in Richmond, and perhaps in some other authorities, is that what they do differently they have already done. There ought to be a way of exempting them from going through the whole system again, with all the expense and everybody having the same discussions with the same people and all the rest of it, when they already have a system which has local support and local acceptability. In other words, although the system may not fit the detailed rules and regulations of neighbourhood planning as set out, nevertheless the process and the involvement of the people has been similar, and the outcome is the same, so there ought to be a process by which authorities can apply to say, “We accept that in the future all new authorities will have to go through the neighbourhood system. But look at us as we are now and tell us, ‘Yes, there is a way for you not to have to go through that alternative system all over again’”. That is a common-sense way of dealing with it which will stop the noble Lord, Lord True, having to make the same speech on the next planning Bill in three or four years’ time. Apart from that, if the Minister can answer my questions, I will then withdraw the amendment.

The questions raised by the noble Lord are subject to the consultation and bring up a number of issues. I will certainly write to him with the detail, if that would be helpful.

Amendment 85 withdrawn.

Amendments 86 to 86B not moved.

Clause 125 agreed.

Amendment 87

Moved by

87: After Clause 125, insert the following new Clause—

“Promotion of neighbourhood planning in unparished areas

(1) A local planning authority which includes unparished areas which have not been designated as neighbourhood areas must, from time to time and by such means as it considers appropriate, take active steps to bring to the attention of persons living or working in those areas the opportunities for neighbourhood planning (a “neighbourhood planning promotion”).(2) A neighbourhood planning promotion must include appropriate means to promote and explain neighbourhood planning on a range of local media, including the authority’s website. (3) The authority must carry out a neighbourhood planning promotion if it has not done so within the previous three years.(4) In addition to the steps required by subsections (1) to (3), the authority must maintain at all times a section on its website explaining neighbourhood planning and in particular how to identify or set up a relevant body in order to make an application for the designation of a neighbourhood area.(5) In this section “unparished area” has the same meaning as in section 87(3) of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 (constitution of new parish).”

My Lords, this little group of amendments—in moving Amendment 87, I shall also speak to Amendments 88 and 88B—is about the promotion of neighbourhood planning in unparished areas and a general duty on local authorities and particularly the Government to promote neighbourhood planning.

Amendment 88 is a way of sneaking on to the agenda, with the assistance of the Public Bill Office, which was extremely helpful as usual when it rejected my first efforts, the question of setting up new parish councils in unparished areas. We are talking about urban areas more than any others. Most rural areas, villages and a lot of small towns now have parish councils or town councils, whatever they call them. However, huge swathes of urban England do not have any form of parish council. The amendments are based on the view that parish councils ought to be pushed and promoted more rigorously in those areas.

The link to neighbourhood plans is that, although neighbourhood plans can be put through by two different kinds of qualifying bodies—a parish council or a neighbourhood forum, which has been set up and approved by the local planning authority in an unparished area for the purpose—almost all the neighbourhood plans which have been adopted are in parished areas. I am not sure exactly how many are not, but I think they can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Of the 1,800 which are under way, the great majority are in parished areas.

The reason for this is quite clear. Parish councils exist. They are a body of people with links, networks and systems of knowing what is happening in the world outside. They have understood that neighbourhood planning is possible and, as an existing body, they have taken it on board. If there is no such body in an area, or if there are only community groups or community associations which are not linked to these sorts of systems, it is going to take a lot longer. However, it is fairly clear that neighbourhood planning can be as beneficial in unparished areas as in parished areas. In many of them, where development is being proposed in urban areas, neighbourhood planning could be very valuable.

The amendments raise the issue of what the Government are doing, first, to promote neighbourhood planning in unparished areas and, secondly, to get parish councils going in unparished areas. Do the Government know how many of the 1,800 are in parished areas and how many in unparished areas? Is there a way of finding out? As I say, I think there is a handful of adopted plans in unparished areas.

Since tabling these amendments, I was asked to attend a meeting with many of the civil servants involved in this part of the Bill—who I think were a bit curious to find out what all these amendments put down by Lord Greaves were all about—and I was certainly curious to find out what they had to tell me. A great deal of it was extremely helpful and I thank them very much for that meeting.

Since then, I have had a letter from, I think, the head of neighbourhood planning at the Department for Communities and Local Government. The letter has some very interesting and extremely helpful information which I did not previously know, particularly about neighbourhood planning in deprived areas and the efforts which the department and the Government are making to promote this. I will not read it all out, as it would take too long—and perhaps the Minister is going to tell me some of it anyway—but it refers to,

“Building capacity and take up in deprived urban areas by training community organisations to be able to lead neighbourhood planning in their neighbourhoods … Working with Community Organisers to use neighbourhood planning to tackle issues faced by communities in deprived urban areas”,

and so on. This all looks very good. I have not had time to look into it any further since receiving the letter this morning, but I shall be doing so.

The letter also talks about having,

“More powers for neighbourhood forums to become parish councils”.

It also sets out the legislative changes which have already been made—which are, in my view, not sufficient but are welcome—and talks about, in particular, speeding up the process by shortening the amount of time a local authority can take to complete a governance review. A local governance review happens when the authority receives a petition from the necessary number of electors and has to conduct a review as to whether to set up a parish council, more parish councils or whatever it may be.

The letter then goes on to the encouraging part:

“The next phase of work on making it easier to set up new parish councils will be to publish the updated DCLG Local Government and Boundary Commission … Guidance on Community Governance Reviews. This will set out the new legislation and establish the working principles to ensure the guidance becomes a living document reflecting the evolving devolution landscape”.

That sounds good, but does the Minister know when that guidance will be issued? This is taking us a little bit away from the heart of the Bill, so I will not say anything more about it, but I thank the department for this information.

Some of us will be urging the Government on in the hope that they will proceed with all due speed on this. Local democracy is extremely important and local neighbourhood planning is a way of developing genuine grass-roots local democracy and they will have our support in everything they do and we will continue urging them to do more. I beg to move.

My Lords, this is my first chance to speak on the planning aspects of the Bill today, so I declare again my vice-presidency of the Local Government Association.

Like, I think, noble Lords across all parts of the House, we are strongly supportive of the concept of neighbourhood planning. We had many discussions around it as part of the Localism Bill, and I have been deeply impressed by the commitment of so many communities to get involved in the process. This has been a success story from the last Government.

My noble friend Lord Greaves said earlier that there have been some 1,800 neighbourhood plans at some stage of development. Of course, many fewer have actually held referendums, and it is quite a task to move from initial expressions of interest through to actually having a neighbourhood plan in place. We want to encourage the process, and this group of amendments is about how we can do that.

Amendments 87 and 88 do just that, and Amendment 88B asks the Government to do a little bit more by looking at ways in which they might provide an additional contribution to the work of communities in developing their neighbourhood plans, because not having the necessary resources is clearly an impediment.

I understand—and the Minister might comment on this—that DCLG published some figures about three months ago on neighbourhood planning delivery. Apparently, more new homes have been delivered—some 10% higher—in the first areas that had a neighbourhood plan than there would have been under the council’s own local plan. That is very strong evidence that there is something to be gained in terms of building more homes if you have a neighbourhood plan, as the community will have discussed it. It may also derive, as my noble friend Lord Greaves said, from there being a disagreement locally about housing proposals, but there is then a gain as people get together and see that their neighbourhoods might actually be improved if there were to be additional housing in the area. That is the evidence of it.

The overall point—and I hope the Minister will understand why this group of amendments is important —is that unparished areas seem to have many fewer neighbourhood plans than parished areas. Thus, this is not just an issue about encouraging neighbourhood planning; it is actually an issue about encouraging the creation of parish councils. In urban areas, there are many fewer parish councils and town councils than there are in rural areas. There are good historical reasons for that, but there is another step to take now to encourage the formation of more town councils; I have been, and am, a very strong advocate of that because it builds citizen involvement in local democracy. That, for me, is an extremely important aspect of this.

I hope that the Government will understand that these probing amendments are actually meant to enhance the process of neighbourhood planning, not to get in the way of what is, in other respects, a very good Bill in relation to neighbourhood planning.

My Lords, I follow a very great deal of what has been said by noble Lords opposite. It is absolutely fundamental that it must be right that you get more development and housing by a process of consent than by a process from outside. That is one of my objections to some of the other policies that are around and appear to be more developer-led than development-led, so I agree with that. I think that I should quit while I am ahead in this part of the Bill because, with my authority having been praised by my noble friend on the Front Bench, the kind words of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and even some from the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, I might risk getting some kind words from the Front Bench opposite.

I have a slight difficulty with the amendment, because it gets into the prescriptive area and slightly snags on the point that I was making on the previous amendment on the Government’s one-club approach. If we put this in statute, it will relate just to the process under the existing legislation. All local authorities should have a duty to involve communities, to put out publicity and to get engagement. My slight worry with these amendments is that, if they fall into the hands of a department of state, we will get regulations that say, “Just publish what we want to do, not what you want to do”. So I support the spirit of the amendments, but I think that it is a duty on local authorities. In our case, we might find ourselves running two parallel publicity arrangements, although we obviously publicise the opportunity to have a neighbourhood forum. For that reason, I could not go along with it, but I fully support the spirit of where the noble Lords opposite are coming from.

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord in what he said, and I hope that in my very brief remarks about neighbourhood planning I can reassure him that in this area there is so much enthusiasm at the local level that central government prescription is not really going to hold sway. That is what is so exciting about what happened with the Localism Act. It really has liberated local communities in so many different ways to take on and run local assets, to take on and run local services and, of course—as we have heard—to introduce neighbourhood planning. I intervene merely to express my huge enthusiasm for neighbourhood planning, to share a couple of experiences and then to ask one simple question of the Minister, which may help provide information to the House that may help us move forward on these issues.

It is worth recording, notwithstanding what my noble friend said a few minutes ago, that we have already seen 126 successful referendums; interestingly, in every single referendum that has taken place the plan has always been passed, which is huge testimony to the work that local communities have done to engage the local community before the plan is finalised and brought to the referendum stage. I acknowledge of course the 10% figure we have heard which relates to the way in which those plans have often led to developments of housing, for instance, far greater than they were in the local plan. I have had the opportunity to see first-hand a number of examples where, as a result of local involvement, things that were perhaps initially not very acceptable to the local community have suddenly been embraced because the community has been involved and engaged in the detailed decision-making process.

In one case there was a plan to have a supermarket in a relatively small town. There was huge opposition to it and a neighbourhood planning group was brought together. Residents discussed what they wanted in the neighbourhood plan and eventually decided that it might be a good idea to have a supermarket after all if they could determine its location, the routes people would use to get to it, the parking arrangements, and so on. Eventually, a supermarket was included in the neighbourhood plan. It has been to a referendum and been accepted, and the supermarket is being built.

Back in February 2013, when I had the opportunity to engage with neighbourhood planning, I and the other Minister involved, Mr Nick Boles, went to a windswept Upper Eden in Cumbria a few days before the first referendum on the first neighbourhood plan was due to take place, when we had an opportunity to talk to councillors and members of the local community. We were under strict instructions from the civil servants that in no way were we to express a view on whether we were for or against the neighbourhood plan, which proved rather difficult for two Ministers who are passionately supportive of the principle. But we more or less stuck by that, although we both left wearing “Yes” badges on our lapels on the way out. It was exciting to see the first plan going through.

The crucial bit, which relates to Amendment 88B, was that only a few weeks following that visit I was able to announce a £9.5 million fund for a two-year period to provide more financial support to communities that wanted to develop a neighbourhood plan. To reflect the point in my noble friend Lord Greaves’s amendment, further money was then made available to give local councils financial support for their work in supporting and dealing with various aspects of neighbourhood planning.

We were also able to announce the establishment of the My Community website, which has subsequently been a very good source of information for people looking to develop their own neighbourhood plan, and after that there was also a scheme to introduce 40 neighbourhood planning champions, many of whom operate up and down the country; they are people who have led their own neighbourhood plan, local councillors, planning officers and so on. Members of your Lordships’ House who are interested in this matter may like to have a look at the recently established website, where these neighbourhood planning champions now share their own experiences and so on.

The reason I intervened, apart from perhaps to show my enthusiasm for neighbourhood planning, was to ask the Minister a very specific question in regard to my noble friend’s Amendment 88. As various pots of money have been made available—initially, for instance, £7,000, now £8,000, potentially with a further addition of £6,000 in difficult areas to support neighbourhood planning development—the Government announced an additional pot of money for pilots for councils to look at best ways of helping to promote neighbourhood planning in their areas. They made £600,000 available and various bids were sought.

Since then, I have been unable to find any further information as to what has happened to that particular pilot scheme. It was designed to help us identify the best way of moving forward in promoting and supporting neighbourhood planning, which is the thrust of my noble friend’s amendment. So I think that the House would be delighted to hear from the Minister details of how the money has been spent, what sort of projects have been brought forward and what lessons have been learned from which we can all benefit.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming the concept of neighbourhood planning, particularly where it takes a positive attitude to development in the area. I acknowledge that there is real potential both in urban and in rural areas. The noble Lord, Lord True, is right that we need to be a little cautious about the implications within urban areas. I can best illustrate that from the ward that I represent in Newcastle. It has 18 or 19 discernible communities within it and I think now nine residents associations, each with its own particular perspective on what is going on.

It is not just a question of planning; it is a question of involving the community in a whole range of issues, be it social care, policing or other matters. It is important to involve local people, but your Lordships must bear in mind the constraint these days on the capacity of planning departments to cope with their ordinary business. It is well known that the number of planning officers is being reduced substantially as a function of the cutbacks that are being suffered. That does not make it any easier, to put it no higher, to support the valuable process of neighbourhood planning. In this context, I recall the words of one of our most famous poets, John Donne:

“No man is an island, entire of itself”.

In my judgment, no neighbourhood is an island entire unto itself unless it happens to be physically remote from others.

The experience of planning generally is that often planning applications evoke a negative response rather than a positive engagement. I recall particularly some occasions of that close to my heart. One was over 20 years ago when the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and I were opposing one another. I was leader of the council and he was the leader of the opposition. He will recall that there was a proposal for building on greenfield rather than green-belt land towards the north of the city. This was part of a major plan that we were bringing forward as a council. It was opposed by the noble Lord and some of his more vociferous colleagues, as he will recall, on the grounds that it was unnecessary and so on. In fairness to them, they were reflecting the views of at any rate some of the people living in private housing estates which themselves had been built on green fields perhaps 20 to 30 years beforehand. These people would not contemplate the possibility of housing on the green fields that were in the vicinity of their estate.

More recently I encountered a similar and disturbing attitude while canvassing in a ward—not my ward—on the edge of the city. Again there were proposals about potentially building on greenfield sites. Here the houses from which we were somewhat vainly endeavouring to elicit support were part of a housing estate built within the last few years. I felt almost constrained to nominate myself for the Nobel Prize for self-restraint when one woman on whose door I knocked said that it was bad enough having any sort of housing built on the fields behind her, which of course a few years before would have encompassed her house, but at least there was not going to be social housing there. We have to take cognisance of the fact that there will be tensions and priorities to be assessed by local authorities which will perhaps transcend the immediate interests or concerns of local communities expressed through their neighbourhood planning or otherwise.

I hope that we promote the sensible involvement of people in their communities in a way that encourages them to look beyond what might be their immediate concerns towards the position of the larger area of which they are a part and the position of communities in other parts of their area which need development in order to enhance their standard of life, perhaps to a level similar to that enjoyed by people in some of these neighbourhoods. Of course, that is not a universal position. We are talking not just about neighbourhoods on the edge of green fields or on the perimeter of towns but about all manner of communities.

Therefore, while we generally support the thrust of the amendments, we have to be a little more realistic about the mechanisms, given the pressures on local authorities generally and on their planning departments in particular, and encourage people to feel that they are not just part of their physical community but part of a wider community whose interests also need to be taken into account in a process that is positive and not just negative. That seems to me the potential downside of a strictly neighbourhood approach. We certainly sympathise with the intention behind the amendment and look forward to the Government practically supporting the kind of approach outlined in it and in what noble Lords have said.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that he has in fact made a very good case for the neighbourhood planning process? It is a process that engages people in decision-making rather than huge numbers of houses being proposed from a centralised planning function in a civic centre and not commanding the support of local people because it has not been discussed with them. Does he further agree that the concept of permission in principle could well make things worse rather than better?

I think that we will shortly be spending a good deal of time on permission in principle and, judging by what the noble Lord has just said, there may be a degree of agreement. I repeat that people have to look beyond their immediate circumstances and geography. They have to acknowledge that there are needs beyond that immediate locality which have to be reflected in an overall plan. There needs to be a significant contribution from localities to the overall plan but not one that is limited purely by locality in the narrower sense; otherwise, particularly in the present circumstances, we will not get, for example, the required number of houses, although that is not the only issue that needs to be considered in terms of development.

However, there are housing shortages and physical constraints in some areas. One immediately thinks of London in that context, but other areas also have restrictions. My noble friend Lady Hollis may well say that Norwich, for example, is tightly constrained, and other urban authorities would say the same about their areas. One thinks of Stevenage, for example, which is built to its limits and has no option but to seek—unavailingly, as it turns out—collaboration on development from its neighbouring authorities. There is a balance to be struck, so up to a point I agree with the noble Lord. However, I notice that the noble Lord’s former colleagues are effectively trying to resurrect Gosforth Urban District Council, promoting the concept of the parish council there, which, of course, is entirely unrelated to the fact that they may feel a little under pressure politically.

My Lords, the noble Lord is very keen to talk about a place other than your Lordships’ House. It would be part and parcel of successful neighbourhood planning. It is very difficult to organise neighbourhood planning without a formal structure to enable it to happen. Therefore, I entirely subscribe to promoting town councils in the north of Newcastle upon Tyne and I sincerely hope that he will too.

My Lords, I was not proposing to speak on this, but I want to support strongly the point made by my noble friend Lord Beecham and, to some extent, by the noble Lord, Lord True.

My home city is Norwich, which has tight boundaries. It is not parished. It has wards—obviously—and a strong network of community groups, such as housing associations, residents associations and so on. Part of that is because all the people of Norwich own the city centre as well as the community in which they live. That is fine, but in over 25 years in local government I had, I think, three ombudsman’s rulings against me and possibly one or two JRs. I won the JRs. All of them involved planning. All the cases—certainly those involving the ombudsman, which was why I was aggrieved—were seen as an issue of the individual in their own home being against the nasty local authority stopping them doing something.

Actually, it was the local authority wearing a planning hat trying to hold the ring permanently between the local particularised interest and the wider city interest. Sometimes it might be elderly folk against having a children’s play area near them which would produce noise and possibly ball games. It might be that residents wanted a road closure, nice culs-de-sac or chicanes in the road to keep traffic out or slow it down, against the need to have through roads, otherwise the roads down which the traffic went became intolerable for other residents—it just pushed the problem along.

I remember being involved in building a site for Travellers and the outrage associated with that. I put it down near an allotments area because it was in an outer area of the city, but all the allotments were raided and that produced quite a lot of problems for me. The biggest problem was trying to get social housing, particularly sheltered housing for the elderly, in owner-occupied areas where owner-occupiers believed that they had bought not only an owner-occupied house but an owner-occupied street, park, church and school.

On another occasion I was trying to put halfway houses across the city. I reckoned that no street could take more than about two halfway houses. Some of the houses were for people who were overcrowded or were desperate or suffering from domestic violence; some were for people coming out of Nacro homes and care homes. There was one home for anorexic young women and the residents fought it tooth and nail and would go to the ombudsman if they could. I was having to say that there was a wider community interest involved. I would meet them, talk to them and try to persuade them. On other occasions we were having to demolish something—whether for city widening or because the housing was unfit—and the residents, owners, perfectly reasonably did not want this to happen in their area.

While I hope that I have never gone ahead bulldozing my way through, in a mental sense, none the less you cannot always expect people to have the wider community interest at heart when their own personal interest will be affected by a decision. I probably would not. I am not trying to be superior about it. That is how it is. We had three ombudsman decisions. I think that we won two and lost one and in all cases the ombudsman was wrong in that they saw it as a bipartite city council versus the individual issue, rather than the city council trying to be the umpire in planning disputes.

I just hope that we do not believe in neighbourhood planning without this understanding that the whole city owns the city centre, the city’s traffic network and the city’s housing development and that the whole city owns the community pressures for halfway houses for disadvantaged and vulnerable people and that you must try to scatter them fairly across the community and so on. If we accept that there is always going to be tension, the one thing that I would not want, at any stage, is to devolve decision-making to a body that, by virtue of being a parish with formal electoral position, had extra leverage in this over and beyond that of appropriate, proper and decent discussion, debate, communication and consultation. I have seen in rural Norfolk the implications of nimbyism. I fought that off in my city and I do not want to see nimbyism come in through the back door due to any proposals like this.

My Lords, a number of amendments have been proposed to give additional rights and powers to neighbourhood planning groups and communities, and requiring the promotion of neighbourhood planning. I support the intention of the two amendments from the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Shipley, aimed at increasing the promotion of and support for neighbourhood planning, particularly in urban areas. In relation to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, about how many of the 1,800 communities are not parishes, we do not have exact figures but estimate that around 90% are and, therefore, that about 10% are unparished. That 10% is rising, but obviously it reinforces the points that have been made.

A legal duty to promote neighbourhood planning, either on local authorities or the Secretary of State, is unnecessary and can be achieved by other means—we need to maintain a balance. We recently launched a £1.5 million mobilisation programme to promote neighbourhood planning nationally. This includes capacity-building projects to train community organisations and community organisers in urban and deprived areas. These organisations and individuals will lead and promote neighbourhood planning in areas of lower take-up. This summer we will launch our first-ever national advertising campaign to raise awareness of neighbourhood planning and its benefits through local newspapers, posters and social media. These activities are in addition to our £22 million My Community support programme for neighbourhood planning.

This three-year programme confirms that the Government are financially committed to supporting neighbourhood planning and also recognises that urban or unparished communities face additional challenges in producing a plan and provides additional support to them. Forums in unparished areas can apply for up to £15,000 in grant, compared to the £9,000 available to parishes, as well as specialist technical support from planning consultants. It is up to the community how they use the grant to progress their neighbourhood plan, and we have seen lots of innovative community engagement as a result. Online resources, examples and case studies are also available on the support programme website that highlight the benefits of community planning to help inspire further communities and equip them with the necessary information and skills.

It is important, however, that we do not compel local authorities to duplicate existing work or bind them into promoting neighbourhood planning in perpetuity where members of a community may have decided that it is not for them. Furthermore, local authorities already have a legal duty to give such advice or assistance as they consider appropriate to facilitate neighbourhood planning. Our planning guidance underlines:

“A local planning authority should … be proactive in providing information to communities about neighbourhood planning”.

Therefore, Amendment 87 would duplicate this existing legal requirement.

It should also be recognised that a number of other organisations also promote neighbourhood planning and are well placed to provide advice and information to communities, such as the Royal Town Planning Institute and Planning Aid, the Prince’s Foundation, the CPRE, the NALC and ACRE. Plus, as the noble Lord, Lord Foster, said, we have established a network of over 120 neighbourhood planning champions who voluntarily promote and support neighbourhood planning across the country. These are enthusiastic and experienced individuals, and we are supporting them with resources and training in order for them to share their expertise widely. A statutory duty, either on local authorities or on the Secretary of State, to promote, inform and finance neighbourhood planning is therefore unnecessary as it is already our policy and practice.

The noble Lord, Lord Foster, asked about the 23 pilots. They are currently under way and are due to completer this summer. They include Horsham Council, which is exploring opportunities for the devolution of planning functions to town and parish councils; Cotswold Council, which is piloting an approach to involving communities in setting infrastructure requirements; and Milton Keynes Council, which is pioneering an approach to involving communities in strategic housing land assessments. We will be sharing the learning from these pilots when they complete later in the year. I hope that with these reassurances the noble Lord will be content to withdraw his amendment.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for raising the issue of making it easier for neighbourhood forums to become parish councils through Amendment 88. We are keen to enable more forums to become parish councils where they wish, so that local people can play an even stronger role in serving the community. However, we do not feel that the amendment is necessary. As he will know, last March the then Government introduced new measures that made it easier for communities to set up new town and parish councils. We believe that it is important for these measures to bed in before any further review is considered.

These changes followed two public consultations.

The Minister explained that resources were needed for these welcome developments. She gave examples of consultants and communities—which is fine—but where is the support for local authority planning departments? This is a very big additional load for them. Will there be more resources? The resources for planning departments are going down. One sees this all across the UK. These planning issues are not getting adequate support. The expertise in the departments is going down and this will make it more difficult for departments in future.

I think I have an answer, but I just need to check it, so if I could carry on I will try to come back to the noble Lord before I finish on this group.

These changes followed two public consultations which found that the legislation required in setting up a parish or town council was too burdensome and bureaucratic —and that it discouraged local campaigners from establishing one. The subsequent amendments made a number of important changes. The threshold of signatures required to trigger a review of governance was lowered from 10% to 7.5% of residents. The amount of time the local authority can take to complete a governance review was shortened to 12 months from receipt of a valid petition. This is speeding up the process and creating greater certainty for local campaigners. Importantly, the changes allow neighbourhood forums, which have a neighbourhood plan passed at referendum to trigger a community governance review for a new parish council without requiring them to submit a petition. The next phase of work will be to publish guidance on community governance reviews to establish the working principles and to reflect the evolving devolution landscape.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, was correct in his figures. Early evidence indeed shows that the first neighbourhood plans are proposing around 10% more houses than the local plans. Applications are coming forward more quickly. Also, neighbourhood plans are helping to improve the acceptability of housebuilding among the public, which has also doubled.

In relation to the noble Lord’s question, the Government have provided £12 million to local authorities to support neighbourhood planning. I hope that with these reassurances noble Lords will withdraw or not move their amendments.

To avoid anyone who may be listening to our debate being put off neighbourhood planning by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, could the Minister just confirm that a neighbourhood plan must conform to the thrust of a local authority’s strategic plan, such as its core strategy? Therefore, some of the concerns the noble Baroness has raised are not a reality. Indeed, if the noble Baroness would go to Exeter and see the excellent work between the community of St James and Exeter Council—a similar-sized authority—she would see that such problems simply did not exist because the two work together.

Just to be clear, my Lords, I have no problems at all where a city has a tradition or a history of having parish councils and wants to use those as the vehicles for neighbourhood planning. All I am saying is that where this is not part of that authentic, organic texture of a city, but where there is a network of other forms of civic groups, community groups and so on—particularly where you have cities with very tight boundaries and very constrained lines—there can be tensions. If Exeter has overcome those, that is great. All I can say from my experience of 25 years of local government is that some of the most difficult decisions concerned precisely those tensions. Obviously one would work with them, and I agree that the neighbourhood planning councils would have to have planning proposals that conformed to the city-wide ones. I accept that, but one should not underestimate the locality—ward councillors and so on, as many of us have been—when it comes to how those tensions can occur. All I am saying is: by all means encourage local authorities to go down this road where there is already a history of parishes of this sort, but do not assume that this is the answer to the deeper problems of keeping a city alive, vibrant and able to respond confidently to new challenges. That is why I have some reservations about trying to suggest that it should apply across the board and that we should be actively encouraging it where people do not want it.

I am a councillor in Lewisham and Crofton Park. At the moment we are in the process of setting up our own neighbourhood plan, which is very good and I welcome it. Equally, though, it has not answered all the problems. We have some challenges in our area, such as ensuring that there is proper retail provision. We have sites of multiple occupation with no building taking place, and so on. So the plan is all very good and I am supportive of it, but my noble friend has raised some genuine points.

My Lords, I am trying to think what on earth has ever existed or exists now that is the answer to all the problems. There are people in the world who think they have an answer to all the problems but they are usually—I am trying to think of a word I can use in your Lordships’ House—on the extremist fringe of ideas.

I thank everyone who has taken part in this debate, which has been extremely interesting. I particularly thank my noble friend Lord Foster of Bath for all the work he did in getting some oomph behind neighbourhood planning when he was a Minister in the DCLG. I also thank my noble friend Lord Stunell, who is in his place but has not spoken today, who was closely involved in the promotion of the Localism Act in the first place. I am not saying that it was all their work and no one else’s, but from these Benches it is quite stimulating and daunting in different ways to have them sitting behind me, ready to shoot me down when I say things that are not quite right.

I was fascinated by what became at one stage a mini-debate about the future of local governance in the former urban district of Gosforth in the north of what is now the city of Newcastle. I have to say that the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, reminded me of debates in my own authority in Pendle perhaps 30 years ago, when we were looking hard at what had been five former urban districts and at whether they should have parish councils. They now have town councils. The arguments that the noble Lord is putting forward are very similar to those put forward by members of this party in Pendle 30 years ago. We set up the town councils in the former urban districts, with the support and assistance of referendums and local people, and they have been an astonishing success. I have to say that they are now one of the reasons why we are able to preserve some of our local services, which the borough council can no longer afford to run. So I say, “Good on you, Gosforth—get on with it”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said that there would always be tensions. Local decision-making, however democratic or political it is and whoever is making the decisions, is always full of all kinds of local tensions. That is what it is all about. No one believes that neighbourhood planning is some miracle cure and that it is a perfect system that will take away all the differences of opinion among residents and other people in different parts of an area. Clearly it is not, but it is a means of involving a lot more people in the debates, the arguments and the issues. We will not necessarily get any more agreement at the end, although this process does tend to achieve more agreement than exists if it is not carried out.

I have recently been involved in huge planning applications—at least, huge by our standards; one of them involves 500 houses—over which there have been enormous disputes. A system of neighbourhood planning in that part of the borough, which is now being set up as a consequence of the decisions that have been made, would have helped to achieve sensible, even if still quite angry, engagement between people, instead of people just standing a long way apart and shouting at each other.

The system is not perfect—but nothing is perfect, and it is better than what happens if it is not there. On these Benches we are absolutely certain that that is the case. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is right to say that the people who most strongly oppose a new housing development are always those who are in the previous housing development. But that is just life, and part of life’s tensions. We have to bring people in and get them to talk about it. I am grateful for the Minister’s comments and the helpful information that she has provided, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 87 withdrawn.

Amendments 87ZA to 87ZC not moved.

Clause 126 agreed.

Clause 127: Making neighbourhood development orders and plans: intervention powers

Amendments 87A and 87B not moved.

Clause 127 agreed.

Clause 128 agreed.

Amendment 88 not moved.

Amendment 88A

Moved by

88A: After Clause 128, insert the following new Clause—

“Neighbourhood right of appeal

(1) After section 78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (“the 1990 Act”) insert—“78ZA Neighbourhood right of appeal(1) Where—(a) a planning authority grants an application for planning permission,(b) the application does not accord with policies in an emerging or made neighbourhood plan in which the land to which the application relates is situated, and(c) the neighbourhood plan in paragraph (b) contains proposals for the provision of housing development,certain persons as specified in subsection (2) may by notice appeal to the Secretary of State.(2) Persons who may by notice appeal to the Secretary of State against the approval of planning permission in the circumstances specified in subsection (1) are any parish council or neighbourhood forum, as defined in section 61F of the 1990 Act (authorisation to act in relation to neighbourhood areas), whose made or emerging neighbourhood plan includes all or part of the area of land to which the application relates, by two-thirds majority voting.(3) In this section an “emerging” neighbourhood plan means a neighbourhood plan that—(a) has been examined,(b) is being examined, or(c) is due to be examined, having met the public consultation requirements necessary to proceed to this stage.”(2) Section 79 of the 1990 Act is amended as follows—(a) in subsection (2), omit “either” and after “planning authority” insert “or the applicant (where different from the appellant)”;(b) in subsection (6), after “the determination” insert “(except for appeals as defined in section 78ZA (as inserted by section (Neighbourhood right of appeal) of the Housing and Planning Act 2016) and where the appellant is as defined in subsection (2) of that section)”.”

My Lords, like a number of other noble Lords, I welcome the initiatives by the coalition Government to devolve power to local communities, particularly the introduction of neighbourhood planning. Given that the Government accept the importance of local people having a direct say in the planning of their communities and their environment, how can it be right for local people to have no redress when a planning application is approved that drives a coach and horses through everything that has been agreed? The amendment would create a limited neighbourhood right of appeal for neighbourhood planning bodies. It would enable them to appeal against the granting of permission for new housing that conflicts with the policies of a made, or well-advanced, neighbourhood plan.

We have heard figures given this afternoon—my noble friend Lord Greaves made it clear—that there are about 1,800 neighbourhood plans in the early stages of development. The Minister will correct me in her summing up if I am wrong, but I think that only about 140 of those—140 out of a potential 9,000—have gone right through the referendum process and been created. The Government are rightly keen to increase that number. Is it not a powerful disincentive to neighbourhood groups thinking of putting together the neighbourhood planning processes if they do not have a right of appeal? Why should they make the effort of producing a neighbourhood plan if such plans can easily be ignored when councils decide on planning applications, and the only opportunity to challenge such decisions is through costly judicial reviews, which are limited in scope to largely procedural matters?

The right that I am arguing for would apply only to parish councils and neighbourhood forums whose neighbourhood plans had progressed at least to the point of formal submission to the local authority for examination. Last month, the House of Lords Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment —which is chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, who is not in her place at the moment, and on which I serve—came out strongly in favour of a limited right of appeal. We did so after hearing the evidence from a number of organisations and stakeholders, including particularly powerful evidence from former chief planning inspectors, who supported a community right of appeal in certain circumstances. That support is important.

This amendment will support the Government’s commitment to get more neighbourhood planning and, as has been mentioned and confirmed by the Minister herself, neighbourhood planning delivers more homes, which is the overall purpose of the Bill. If we get that, we will need a whole raft of approaches to get more communities involved in neighbourhood planning. It is very encouraging today to hear more about how the Government are taking special steps to encourage more neighbourhood plans to come forward.

If I may say so as an aside, as a former councillor of Horsham District Council I was delighted to hear the Minister mention that Horsham is a member of the pilot. We will need all those initiatives to get more councils involved. I firmly believe that a limited community right of appeal will be one more means to get more neighbourhood plans that will help us to get more people involved in the planning process, help deliver more consensus and deliver homes we all know we need. I beg to move.

I support the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, on Amendment 88A, which would give parish councils and neighbourhood forums rights of appeal if permission was given for a development that failed to accord with a neighbourhood plan that had been prepared but was not yet finalised. I note that this proposal was debated in the other place, where Nick Herbert MP commended neighbourhood planning. I echo his views and agree with noble Lords who have congratulated the Government and the coalition Government on the neighbourhood planning initiative, which has now reached this number of 1,800 neighbourhoods—I think that well over 200 have now been concluded, but we will probably hear about that from the Minister.

During the passage of the Localism Bill through this House, I supported the idea of neighbourhood plans, but I opposed the idea that after the plan had been approved by the parish council, the district council, the county council, and by an independent examiner, it would then need to be approved through a referendum. I was worried that all the people who had not participated in any of the public meetings, consultation sessions and the rest after years of hard work by the local volunteers, who had nobly got together to prepare their neighbourhood plan, would come out of the woodwork and vote against the plan on principle because they opposed anything happening in their area. I was wrong. The referenda have all so far been in favour of the local plans, and this has not been a negative barrier to getting the plans through.

Returning to the debate in the other place, I note that Mr Nick Herbert went on to say that,

“support is undermined when speculative developers try to get in applications ahead of the completion of neighbourhood plans or even after they have been completed. They bang in their applications, and either they are upheld by the local authority, which is fearful of losing an appeal, or the developer makes an appeal that is upheld by the planning inspector. The development is then allowed to go ahead, which leads people, including groups of volunteers, to ask, ‘Why have we spent literally years working on this neighbourhood plan for where developments should go—a power that was given to us, the community—only for it to be overturned by a developer?’”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/1/16; col. 222.]

Nick Herbert’s views were echoed by Sir Oliver Heald MP, who thought it was wrong that a neighbourhood plan,

“can then be trashed by an application by a speculative developer.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/1/16; col. 222.]

Andrew Bingham MP said this was happening in Chapel-en-le-Frith, a village in his constituency. These sentiments from Conservative MPs were echoed by those of Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods MP for the Opposition.

I have followed the progress of the production of an excellent neighbourhood plan for the Cerne Valley in Dorset, covering the village whose name, Godmanstone, is in my title—I declare an interest in this as an owner of land within the area covered by the plan. In the case of the Cerne Valley, local volunteers formed a neighbourhood forum in the summer of 2011. Consultative meetings were held with fierce debates, and after huge efforts the group—a vanguard for neighbourhood forums, brilliantly led by a local farmer, Fred Horsington, who is now a neighbourhood planning champion—obtained the approval of the relevant parish councils for their plan. In December 2013, it was submitted to the council. It was then subject to independent examination and the examiner’s report came out in August 2014. Then, in December 2014, a referendum was held. To the considerable credit of all the volunteer workers, the plan was approved by a huge majority. Finally, on 8 January 2015, three and a half years from the beginning, the plan was approved by the local authority.

During this lengthy period, all the hard work of those engaged in this exercise was at risk from a developer putting in an application which did not accord with the emerging plan. Had this happened, the parish council and the neighbourhood forum would have had no way of appealing, and the council would have had to be hesitant about using the submitted plan in determining the planning application. Until the referendum was done and dusted, it was a nerve-wracking time. This amendment would overcome the problem and ensure that, even where a neighbourhood plan had not reached its final stage, it would make its mark as it should. I support the amendment.

My Lords, I tabled an amendment in this group which covers similar ground but is not about neighbourhood planning. I tabled it at the behest of a different set of interest groups from those that my noble friend Lady Parminter has worked with, but it seems sensible for it to be in this group because the principle is the same.

This is an interesting issue, which has been around for quite a while. One of the interesting political aspects is that political parties tend to be in favour of some form of community right of appeal against the granting of planning permission when they are in opposition, but when they are in government they find all sorts of reasons why it is not practical. I think this has happened with all three parties, although I think my noble friend is complaining that we continued to be in favour of it during the coalition but were stopped by our big-brother partner—at least I think that is what she is saying; she may have been closer to it than I was.

I have no doubt whatsoever that, for major applications which are against policy, there is a very good argument in favour of the right of appeal. It is also true that nobody has come up with workable legislation. I am not claiming that my amendment, which covers the principle generally rather than just neighbourhood planning, is the answer. But we have to accept that the right of appeal has to be restricted to a considerable degree: it cannot be for any old planning application that comes along, even if it is against policy. If, for example, an extension to next-door’s kitchen is against council policy but the council has passed it, then—rightly or wrongly—it is not a matter for appeal. That right has to be reserved for a major planning application defined in some way or another. I have suggested,

“a major planning application or an application for permission in principle”—

no doubt we will be calling it a “PIP” before we have finished with this part of the Bill.

The legislation will have to clearly define who can object and carry out an appeal—whether this be a body, person or group of people—and will have to strictly limit the right to appeals which are clearly against policy. I believe that workable legislation can be drawn up to cater for those cases, but it has to be tightly drawn and not something that is going to generate loads of appeals, because that would totally undermine the planning system and would certainly undermine the Government’s wish to build many more houses.

I am in favour of this with the restrictions I have outlined. I would ask the Government to look at it seriously and ask an expert to come up with a scheme which we can then decide whether to go ahead with or not; otherwise, we will simply continue as we are. If the Conservatives lose the next election and someone else takes over, at the election after that the Conservatives will be doing what they did on platforms with me in 2010—saying what a good idea this is and promising to bring it in if they get into government. I am not blaming them, because everyone does that and everyone changes their mind.

My Lords, the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is very wide, albeit that it is limited to major applications, however they are defined. Of course it goes to the heart of an important point of principle in planning legislation, which is where the right of appeal does and does not lie. We all know that that is a giant question and I do not think that it can particularly be addressed in this group of amendments. However, there is no doubt that we all have electors, groups and campaigners who ask the question: how is it that we are rendered powerless after a decision? But it would mean making such a radical change in planning law that I do not think that we can address it properly at this point. However, I take it fully that the noble Lord has raised a vital issue.

On the more limited Amendment 88A, I understand the kind of case being put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Best, and indeed the good intentions behind the amendment. The trouble is that we are writing law here, and you could look at it the other way round if it was put into statute. Let us say that this became law and someone wished to frustrate a development by a city council like Norwich, with which the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, is associated. If Norwich wanted to do something and had granted a planning application, we would have this provision on the statute book which potentially provides an opportunity for it to be subjected to an appeal to the Secretary of State—I guess that that means the inspector. It could be a mechanism not for promoting a community interest but for campaigning against a difficult decision which a planning authority had taken. That would be my concern with the proposed new clause as drafted because local authorities have to take difficult decisions.

There is theoretically a defence in proposed new subsection (1)(c), which states that the neighbourhood plan should contain,

“proposals for the provision of housing development”—

that is, the objectors could not be complete nimbys, but they might have a proposal for two or perhaps 10 houses whereas the local authority plan had just given consent for the construction of 150 affordable houses. In the hands of the wrong sort of people—I am sure not those of the party opposite—it could be a mechanism through which campaigners could operate to challenge embedded and accepted local authority proposals. I see also that proposed new subsection (2) states that the objectors could cover only,

“part of the area of land to which the application relates”.

So there could be a situation where a site brief had been drawn up for an inner-city plot, perhaps with community participation, running across two wards. Let us say that it had been agreed to construct housing, a school and so on, but then up pops a group in part of the site area—these things take a long time to process—which then says, “Oh no, we object to that and we will go to the Secretary of State”. You will end up with the whole of the worked-out site brief being potentially frustrated. I am sure that that is not what is intended by noble Lords opposite.

There is a further defence, in that the emerging plan —however it emerges—has to have reached a certain point, such as public consultation, though that can be pushed along relatively quickly. In the wrong hands, this power, which is intended to be benign, could be used to frustrate, challenge and delay difficult decisions taken in the broader interest by the principal authority. Indeed, it is an interesting reversal—

Does the noble Lord not accept that, were one of these neighbourhood groups to bring forward an appeal, they could face costs against them if it was thought to be vexatious or went against them? That would be a powerful disincentive for some of the groups which, as the noble Lord says, might use this process for reasons that none of us would support.

As the noble Baroness knows, the question of costs is very much in the hands of the inspector at the end of the day. Sometimes they are awarded and sometimes not. In my experience, a very lenient view is often—quite rightly—taken where community bodies are involved. I am, therefore, nervous about this amendment, as drafted, because although well intentioned it could very easily be exploited to create agitation where none existed before, to frustrate needed community development.

My Lords, as I have told the House many times before, I am a local councillor in Lewisham. I represent the ward of Crofton Park.

As I have mentioned before, we are in the process of developing our own neighbourhood plan by setting up a neighbourhood forum and taking a much more proactive role in how our local community develops. We are doing this using the powers in the Localism Act 2011. I agree with the comments made previously and in this debate about how that has been a very useful exercise and has certainly engaged with the local community. I am very supportive of that. We are seeking to produce a local script. We will get our documents together for our local community and we hope to have a referendum to get it approved within the next 18 months.

The amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, allows for an appeal by a parish council or a neighbourhood forum to the Secretary of State if the local authority’s decision goes against the policies in the approved local plan. Amendment 101BGA seeks to do something similar but wider. I am interested in the Government’s response, because there is a conflict between what the Government are doing in this Bill and what the Localism Act says. Can the Minister deal with that? We need a proper balance; in that regard, I agree with the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord True. We have to move on, not continue to go backwards and forwards. Something needs to happen here. I will leave my remarks there, but when the Minister responds I may ask one or two questions.

My Lords, Amendments 88A and 101BGA propose a community right to appeal in various circumstances. The existing right of appeal recognises that, in practice, the planning system acts as a control on how an individual may use their land. As a result, the Government believe it is right that an applicant has the option of an impartial appeal against the refusal of planning permission. This existing right of appeal compensates for the removal of the individual’s right to develop.

The planning system, however, already provides ample opportunity where the community wishes to express a view on a planning matter, and the Government place great importance on community involvement in the planning system at every stage of the process. Communities have statutory rights to become involved in the preparation of the local plan for their area, through which they can influence development. As we have heard, the local community can also come together to produce a neighbourhood plan, which sets out how the community wants to see its neighbourhood develop. On the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, about progress, out of the 1,800 communities that have started, 400 draft plans have been published for consultation and of these 300 have been submitted for examination and more than 120 have been “made”—that is, brought into force.

These plans form the basis for decisions on planning applications. We are also proposing more powers for neighbourhood forums in the Bill: first, by allowing them to request that they are notified of applications in their area and, secondly, through existing powers to make neighbourhood forums statutory consultees on the local plan for the area. In addition, communities are able to make representations on individual planning applications, including major planning applications. Our proposals for “permission in principle”, which are contained in the Bill, include community consultation before a decision is made, upholding our principle of community involvement. We believe that the views of the community are considered at every stage in the decision-making process.

The Government do not believe that a community right of appeal is necessary as there are already plenty of opportunities to have a say on local planning issues, as the amendments acknowledge. It would be wrong for development to be delayed and uncertainty created at the last minute with a community right of appeal. These amendments would serve only to repeat issues that were raised and addressed during the planning application process. The law is very clear that decisions on planning applications must be made in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. A made neighbourhood plan is therefore a powerful tool that must be the starting point for authorities’ decisions on applications.

To ensure that the significance of neighbourhood plans is absolutely clear, we issued further guidance on decision-making last month. This highlights national policy that states,

“where a planning application conflicts with a neighbourhood plan that has been brought into force, planning permission should not normally be granted”.

We also have clear national policy on the weight that can be given to emerging neighbourhood plans. This weight can be significant. The National Planning Policy Framework explains that the weight will vary depending on the stage of preparation that the plan has reached, any unresolved objections to it, and consistency within the framework.

The noble Lord, Lord Best, raised the issue of developers being able to intervene in the neighbourhood planning process by putting in applications throughout. We do not believe that it would be right to stop development programmes coming forward at any time, as this would impact on local businesses, which need to invest, and local people, who need homes. However, throughout the rest of the Bill we are seeking to speed up and simplify the neighbourhood planning process so that the plans will have full weight as quickly as possible.

It is somewhat inevitable in a planning system that aims to balance competing demands for growth and environmental protection that development proposals may lead to limited conflict with one objective in a plan in order to deliver another. In these cases, we must allow decision-takers to balance these competing considerations, without the risk that every decision to approve an application could be taken to appeal. If, in rare cases, a community believes that the local planning authority is minded to approve an application that clearly conflicts with a local plan or an emerging or made neighbourhood plan, it can ask the Secretary of State to intervene and call in the application for his or her own determination.

We also announced in January that, for a further six months, the Secretary of State’s criteria on recovering and deciding planning appeals would continue to include housing proposals in those areas where there is a made or submitted neighbourhood plan. This reflects the Government’s clear policy intention for neighbourhood planning.

I thank the Minister for that point but, with regard to recovering planning appeals, can she confirm that that would not apply where permission has been granted by the local authority contrary to a neighbourhood plan? It could be recovered if the local authority has refused the planning permission and subsequently been taken to appeal, but it could not be taken forward if the local authority has granted permission to something contrary to the neighbourhood plan.

I believe that that is correct, yes.

We already have a system which ensures that the views of communities are heard, understood and taken into account in reaching a decision. The best way for communities to engage in the planning system is for them to become involved in the development of local and neighbourhood plans, and make representations on applications as they arise. I hope that the noble Baroness will consider withdrawing her amendment.

I thank the Minister for her reply and I thank all the people who have spoken in this debate. I am disappointed, since I hoped that the Government would think that my amendment was trying to deliver on their objectives of not only delivering more homes but encouraging more people to get involved in neighbourhood planning, which we all agree is an important and welcome new part of the planning process. Of course, planning is about balancing competing demands. I still feel that the balance is not correct but in the light of where we are today and the speed at which we need to go forward, I will withdraw the amendment at this point.

Amendment 88A withdrawn.

Amendment 88B not moved.

Amendment 89

Moved by

89: Before Clause 129, insert the following new Clause—

“Power to direct

The Secretary of State shall by regulations define powers for local planning authorities to direct the use of underused, un-used or otherwise available publicly owned land in a local area to support redevelopment or regeneration as outlined in a local development plan.”

My Lords, I will be relatively brief. Amendment 89 seeks to empower the Secretary of State by regulation to enable a local planning authority to direct the use of underused public land to support development and regeneration. The amendment seeks to make speedier use of public land that is not in use or underused. We have all talked about the housing crisis in many debates in this House, particularly during the course of the Bill. We all know we need to build more houses. Although we may disagree on what sorts of houses we need to build and how to build them, we all accept we need to build more.

The amendment requires local planning authorities to designate land for housing co-ops—something I am very supportive of, and I know that Members on the Government Benches have also expressed support for housing co-operatives in the past. I declare that I am a member of the Co-operative Party, which puts forward policies for a variety of solutions to the problems we face. I beg to move.

My Lords, I need to make it clear that Amendment 89 is not Labour Party policy; it is my view and I believe it is supported by millions of people in the country. Despite my repeated interventions, this is the only amendment I have moved in my name and I therefore need to take a little more time in dealing with it. I think you will find that my previous interventions have been very brief.

Amendment 89 offers us the opportunity to debate the cost of land—the real cost before the profiteers move in. It concerns the impact of land cost on the property market, speculation in land by the land banks and property speculators and hoarders, house price inflation and capital gains tax on developing land. It is about the compulsory purchase of agricultural land for housing development.

I recognise that exception is already made in law for exceptional rural housing development. However, while on occasion that land is offered free or at marginal cost by landowners, it is often offered in return for planning permission on land which is sold at market prices. I argue for the need to go much further, and have done so in interventions on a number of occasions during the course of the Bill.

When we want to build an airport, roadway, motorway, bypass, bridge, railway line, reservoir or development in the public interest, under present arrangements we use powers under various pieces of legislation, in particular the land compensation Acts. Compulsory purchase orders are issued, signed off by the Secretary of State, and the land is acquired at its then market rate, plus an uplift. The uplift can include an occupant’s loss payment, a basic loss, an allowance for the replacement of land to include fees and taxes paid, disturbance costs and an allowance to cover the cost of land unreasonably affected by adjacent development. These additional costs are usually but not always marginal compared to the costs of the original CPO land in question.

The process applies where agricultural, pastoral or arable land is the subject of compulsory purchase. By my reading, the justification for the CPO is set out in Section 226 of the Land Compensation Act 1965, as amended by Section 99 of the 2004 Act where it states that a local authority must not seek a CPO unless it feels that the development of the land will,

“promote improvement of the economic well-being of the area … and promote the improvement of the social well-being of the area”.

Denning, in his judgment in Prest v Secretary of State for Wales, opined on the justification for compulsory purchase, saying that,

“Parliament only grants it, or should only grant it, when it is necessary in the public interest”.

He then went on to set out the safeguards.

The issue for me is quite simple: what is the public interest as described by Denning? What defines the social and economic well-being of an area, as described in law? I would argue, as I believe would the great majority of the British people, that it must include housing the people. There is a housing crisis, with unrelenting house price inflation at a time of escalating student debt: hundreds of thousands of young people will never be able to afford a home because of student debt overhanging their early years. We have huge levels of migration into the United Kingdom. People even live in sheds in parts of this country: in Slough and parts of London, people put sheds in their gardens, illegally, and put people into them. That is the scale of the problem. The English housing survey shows the lowest level of home ownership in 30 years. There is a high incidence of overcrowding, with the particular problem of the younger generation living at home. We have unparalleled levels of homelessness, with ever-lengthening waiting lists.

One of the most important reasons for this is to be found in the 2015 report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health. It says:

“Urban areas are often densely populated and vulnerable to violence and unrest”.

The report highlights the crime and violence associated with rapid urbanisation. In other words, high levels of population in high-density areas can bring about crime. It therefore follows in my mind that acquiring land at agricultural, local market prices under the process that I have described, for the purpose of housing the people, is perfectly justifiable. Under the law, there can be no reason why housing the people, in the public interest, should be impeded by speculation in land.

I am not arguing that land subject to existing planning consent should be CPOd at knock-down prices—that would be wrong—but I am arguing that land not so designated, but needed for housing, should be CPOd. If we are going to meet this huge pent-up demand for housing, we are going to have to expand into the green belt and planners are going to have to compromise. We are going to have to build genuinely affordable housing on the edge or margins of many of our towns and cities. I personally can see no other way. There are those who argue that, following planning designation, the market should determine the price of land. But why should the benefit of a stroke of the planner’s pen fall to the fortunate few, to the detriment of the unfortunate many? Our fathers did not go to war to preserve the privileges of the few; they fought to preserve the rights of the many.

When I talk about privilege, I am talking about unjustifiable, speculative profit. The profit on land is staggering. I have consulted the Valuation Office Agency. The estimated value of a hectare of typical agricultural land in the United Kingdom is £21,000—£8,000 in Scotland and £25,000 in arable England. According to figures from the VOA published on the DCLG site in February 2015, that same land, when granted permission for housing development, would fetch the following figures as opposed to £21,000: £846,000 in Allerdale, in my former constituency; £990,000 in Liverpool; £1.5 million in Doncaster; £1.4 million on the outskirts of Birmingham; £2.3 million in Harrogate; £2.5 million in York; £3.4 million in Watford and Dartford; £5.3 million in east Hampshire; and £5.7 million in Barnet. This is land that is available for agriculture at £21,000 an acre. To put it bluntly, what is going on is a disgrace. The VOA based its calculation on 35 two, three or four-bedroom houses per hectare, so it is a pretty accurate calculation. These stroke-of-a-pen planned price increases are denying millions of people their homes. Not that the fortunate few are the only beneficiaries: the taxman seizes his share in capital gains. We cannot go on like this.

In Nijmegen, Holland, the Waalsprong urban extension is being built on 1,350 hectares of agricultural land: that is not much short of 3,000 acres. There will be about 11,000 homes with public services and facilities to accommodate a future growth of up to 30,000 residents. This is being delivered by a public/private partnership, with the local authority owning the land, having acquired it at a low cost to facilitate the development, it being agricultural land.

In Sweden, there is the 11,000-home development in Hammarby, just outside Stockholm. This high quality, environmentally sustainable development is being built 10 times faster than the same kind of development in England because land costs are lower, so there are fewer incentives to drip out supply while waiting for prices to rise. I am indebted to Shelter and Mr Steve Akehurst for assembling that data on European land for affordable housing.

I turn now to the matter of housing title. Why cannot we have a new system of title in the United Kingdom, whereby we acquire the land under the process that I have described—following development—and sell it to the house buyer under a new form of title, which I have described as crownhold, qualified leasehold or covenanted freehold? This is how I envisage the arrangement: the local authority identifies the land for housing, purchases the land under the formula described, designates the land for housing development and enters into a joint venture with a developer. The developer develops the site, and the joint venture sells the housing development under the new title. The housing is subject to a ground rent set down in statute—let us say £300 per annum, 10-year renewable, payable to the original land vendor—and the homeowner is free to buy the freehold under a simplified leasehold enfranchisement arrangement. Equally, the homeowner is free to sell their title, whether it be the acquired title or an enfranchised title. You could also introduce on sale a tapered levy to contribute towards the cost of enfranchisement on each subsequent sale, after the original purchase has taken place.

What are the implications of all this? First, the original landowner gains not only agricultural price plus uplift, but later, a ground rent and the benefit of enfranchisement. Secondly, landlords would have to judge whether it was better to cede the land for development or wait for full commercial benefit from planning permission on green belt land—which otherwise they could rarely get, indeed probably never—in the vain hope of waiting to develop the land in question. Thirdly, substantial releases of land on this basis would help stabilise the property market and might even lead to a switch from housing investment into more commercial forms of investment in the national interest, as is the case in Germany. I have always believed that the reason the Germans do so well is that they concentrate not on property investment but on real investment.

I was advised by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, this morning in an email that the profit the developers generally expect is in the region of 22%, allowing for a land price of probably £5,000 or £6,000 a plot; it would be a lot less than that in reality, but it has to be serviced. If you could build, as I said the other day, a three-bedroom house for £80,000, you could sell it for £110,000 or £120,000 and housing costs would be greatly reduced. It would carry a mortgage of some £500 to £550—and that is a high rate at the moment—which would allow hundreds of thousands of people to buy their homes, save us a fortune on social housing and render the Bill for the fairies.

Finally, there could be a danger that landowners might use the identification of land for crownhold development in support of their applications or appeals for full commercial planning consent, and for inclusion of that land in the local authority’s local development plans—a sort of piggyback principle—and use the demand or the proposed designation for crownhold as the basis on which they can then apply for a more profitable planning permission. It would have to be made clear that opposition to the identification of land for crownhold development would be a major factor in refusing consent in full commercial benefit planning applications.

It is just a thought. A lot of people in this country believe that land is overpriced and that that is the problem —it is certainly my belief. One day we will change the system. I do not expect it to happen tonight, but I hope it is not too far away.

My Lords, I, too, have an amendment in this group, which I suggested should be moved up in the interests of making progress, because it touches on similar territory to the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. I will not follow the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, in his very interesting remarks. Of course land is a huge conundrum. Heaven knows, as leader of an authority with some of the highest embedded land values in the country, one knows that that is an immensely complicating factor. But, again, a bit like the challenge laid down by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, about rights of appeal across the planning system, it is perhaps a little big for this Committee at this stage and at this time—although it would certainly merit a debate in your Lordships’ House.

On the question of co-ops: 148709 was my old mum’s co-op number. She was also a member of the party—I found her card after she died. She hid it very well in her later years as a Conservative voter but she always loved the idea of the co-op. Housing co-operatives are very welcome. I was brought up to believe to some degree in the co-operative principle.

I want to go back to the origin of where I am coming from, and the other amendment is coming from, which is the poor old local authority. We take so much incoming fire—I hear it time and again, and I have sat through and followed a bit of the Bill. We see these other people, these public undertakings, sitting on land and—I will not use the demotic but noble Lords know what I am thinking. Yet the local authorities get the blame for not developing it. Time and again I hear it: they are the cause and the obstacle and they are the people who do not do it. Some of us are getting beyond the extremes of tolerance for this strand of argument.

I put down an amendment to Clause 137, which is this longfalutin thing about local authorities having to compile registers of land, which would take a few officers a lot of time to do. If that is what the Government want us to do, I suppose that we will have to do it and I suppose we probably will not get any money for it—but can we not do something with these registers? So I suggested that maybe if local authorities have these registers, we could use them and start to challenge some of the registered people in our area who are not doing anything to do something about the land.

Frustrated local authorities in my borough are watching Network Rail, which has a planning application granted in 2011 that is still not fully executed and in fact scarcely begun. It is a disgrace. Well over 100 houses there should be developed. Meanwhile, the private sector is getting on with it across the road. I could name many others.

I do not want to anticipate remarks on what will come up later in the Bill. I see that in Clause 183 there is all this worthy stuff about how public authorities are going to be encouraged to engage with local authorities on proposals to dispose of land. That would be a nice thing, would it not? Why do they not just do it now? They do not need an Act of Parliament to get on with it.

What are they actually going to do when they do engage? We might get something better—better engagement than learning of a Ministry of Defence proposal in my borough from a press release run up by the local newspaper. Perhaps they can engage a little bit better than that. Why do they not do it? It is a disgrace.

Do I think that these public authorities are going to carry the public interest when they develop in the same way as local authorities will with their responsibilities to provide schools and infrastructure and all the things that are needed in local communities? No, I do not. We as local authorities will obviously try to hold them to their responsibilities but our powers are being eroded.

I am a slightly provocative character sometimes and I have a couple of provocative amendments to this Bill, of which this is one. I have a couple of serious ones, too. I warn noble Lords that I certainly intend to press those. This one is provocative—maybe this system would not work. But if we have got these registers, why can we not say to these wretched, lazy, poorly run public undertakings, “Get on with it. Produce a plan. Let us have one in a set time—and if you do not have it, show me good reason why this land should not be developed, and why here should not be a primary school or housing”. Let us see the reason. Let us hear it—and if the local authority does not think that that public authority has got a reason not to develop the land, give us the power to get on with it and do it.

I say “compulsory purchase”. I know of course how difficult that is. I know that that is not practical. There will be 100 arguments from the Box about how compulsory purchase is not the way to go about it. But surely if the public authority will not act, someone should be given that authority—and, frankly, I do not think that it will be a Minister sitting in the Cabinet Office who will do all these things.

So I believe that at some point in some way—it may not be what is down on this amendment—the local planning authority should be given the authority set out in Amendment 98C. Where there is an unwilling public authority, the local authority should be given the opportunity to get on with it. Then we can have a system to divvy up a little bit of the profit with the public and with the owner afterwards. Perhaps we shall be a bit chary with the amount of profit that we give to people who have not done anything for a long time. Let us retain that profit for the community, for the schools, for the roads and so on.

There is a lot of talk about getting brownfield building done. I support what my Government are saying about that. Full power to all that they are saying about that. But why, why, why leave out the local authorities who know who they are and who know where the land is? They are going to have to compile these registers and then they do not seem able to do anything about it. Give us the tools and we shall do the job.

My Lords, it is appropriate to speak after the noble Lord, Lord True, because earlier on in our previous Committee discussions I referred to the point to which the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, referred earlier, namely the deliberations of the Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment. I say again what I said previously: one of the great things that really stuck out for me is the deficit in housebuilding and the concurrent fall-off in local government building on its own account.

There are all sorts of reasons for that, but I would definitely side with the noble Lord, Lord True, on the point that he made about there being a clear case for local authorities to take a hand in the development process. I really do not think that the Government’s objectives will be met unless that can be harnessed in some shape or form.

I give the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, great credit for his consistency and persistence. Earlier in Committee he made clear his view on the problem of excessive house prices linked to excessive land price. He is probably aware that I have a somewhat different take on this, and I hope that he will forgive me for that, but I realise that there is an issue here.

In introducing his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, made reference to agricultural land, but the amendment itself does not seem to necessarily make it clear that it is referring to acquisitions of agricultural land as opposed to acquisitions of land generally at an agricultural value. My next point follows from that because the land may well have been used previously for some other purpose that may have no relationship to its agricultural heritage of 100 or so years previously in either physical or valuation terms. I just flag that up. So it depends on the origins of the land, and it also depends on whether it is serviced or unserviced, because of course there can be an awful lot of infrastructure, particularly if it is land that was previously developed, which adds a lot to its value.

The noble Lord’s proposal is, on the face of it, expropriatory, although he outlined a provision for a way in which there could be a clawback from that. But as it stands, it would require the effective rewriting of current compulsory purchase and land compensation legislation. I fear that it will be seen as departing from a principle of fair compensation, particularly where land is acquired for a purpose for which there is an obvious general market value—unlike, say, a piece of infrastructure such as a road or a school or something which is only ever going to be produced for a public purpose, and, in the case of a road, probably only by a public authority or in pursuit of a public authority’s powers.

But I remind your Lordships that this has been tried before. During my university years, we still had the Land Commission Act, which had something called the betterment levy attached to it. It was scrapped either the year before or during the year in which I took my finals. It was replaced in due course by something called development land tax. This was levied at about 80% of the uplift and it simply caused the land supply to dry up. So little land came forward that one of the first things that the Thatcher Government did when they came in was to scrap it to try to free the thing up. So if you are not careful, you can completely reverse the process where land is voluntarily brought forward and you will have to predict and provide as a public authority and acquire the land, presumably by compulsory means at a low value.

At the moment, the development gains generate some pretty large funds for landowners. However, earlier I sent the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, an email based on the experience of one of my colleagues, who found that the profit made by a developer was substantially—by a matter of 50%—over and above what the landowner got for the land. We should bear in mind that what he got for the land presumably included its current-use value—for example, as agricultural land—plus any increment that he was paid for the development. But the process funds an awful lot of things under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act, the community infrastructure levy and other community and societal benefits. We already have a tax regime that taxes its share of those things, through capital gains tax, corporation tax or whatever.

Unless the noble Lord’s proposal resulted in a wholesale fall in property values—which, as I said earlier, would be a brave new world of an entirely different scale and nature and might have some very undesirable consequences—it would not reduce values. New homes are typically less in any given year—probably substantially less—than 1% of the existing total housing stock. It is a bit of a scratch on the surface, I fear.

That said, I have a lot of sympathy with the noble Lord. There is no question that housing is very expensive. But it would pay to look at a number of other things. The noble Lord, Lord True, mentioned one of them: vacant land that is suitable and is not being used. I remember—and I think the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, will know what I am talking about—a site in the middle of Horsham which the landowner refused to sell or allow to be brought forward for development. It became a sort of island of industrial activity in the middle of the town. I can well relate to local authority concern about that sort of situation.

I also point to some of the restrictive practices operated by a number of the major housebuilders and the way they achieve their profit margins. I certainly think that would warrant looking at. Then there are the costs, risks, drawn-out timeframes—if you like, the costs of democratic input into the planning situation, but I do not complain about that—and the uncertainty of bringing land forward for development and getting consent, as well as the necessary sustainability studies that have to go in beforehand. They have to go in before the local authority will even consider that the thing is relevant. That might be for known, important ecological reasons but might also be without there being any shred of evidence that there is any ecological value of any sort. That hugely adds to the up-front costs.

I now point to the manner in which some utility companies exercise their powers to try and get an additional share of the action—if I can term it thus—notwithstanding their obligation to connect and supply. I am afraid that it arises because, to a large extent, they are monopoly suppliers. They really do not have to do anything other than say, “Well, if you want a connection it is going to involve such and such and by the way we need a 50% increase in the size of the sewage treatment works” or whatever. I have come across situations where the local sewerage utility company said it would not put anything in its advance plan until it was included in the local plan produced by the local planning authority and the local planning authority saying that it would not put it in unless it knew it was in the forward plan for the utility company—so complete gridlock. This game is being played up and down the country. For all the development sites that actually come to fruition, there are others where there have been significant expenses but it has all been left on the cutting-room floor and does not happen.

Then I point to the inability of small and medium-sized enterprises, particularly builders and developers, to get finance, other than on the security of the land itself —and even that can be extremely difficult. I know of situations like that professionally and through other sources.

The tax advantages of home ownership make it a most desirable form of financial security. There are good reasons for this, but it does not help exit prices if it has that sort of advantage. This Bill is all about fundamentally making more land available for development in total, which means everybody realising that their year-on-year incremental increase in home value comes at a cost to society—at the same time, of course, as benefiting the economy. We need to be quite ruthless in our analysis of that.

Finally, I had the pleasure of going and seeing an experimental project in recent times, which was off-site construction. I believe that off-site construction has a lot to offer in terms of reducing the construction period; greatly improving the quality, because a lot of the components can be pre-finished in, effectively, a factory installation; and with huge benefits in terms of the overall timing and everything else. Indeed, I was told that the initial estimates would produce at least a 15% reduction in construction costs, which would probably be more like 20% or more as time went on and it got under way.

So there are a number of things that we can look at that will start incrementally chipping away at what I think the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is concerned about: this inexorable year-on-year rise in house values, which leave a certain sector of the community unprovided for. We all know what it is, and we all know that it is part and parcel of why the Government are setting out, through the Bill and through other measures, to try to close that gap. But it is not a single issue. I suggest that an expropriatory approach—if I can perhaps crudely call it that—is probably not the right answer, but in many ways we are trying to look through the same bit of the telescope and get to the same objective.

My Lords, this group of amendments deals with matters relating to land. I have been left in no doubt of the strength of feeling on this subject, as expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and others. I will take a little time later on addressing the points that he has raised in speaking to Amendment 89L.

Amendments 89 and 89M, proposed by the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Beecham, would, first, by regulations give local planning authorities the power to direct the use of underused, unused or otherwise available publicly owned land in their area, where they support redevelopment or regeneration opportunities outlined in a local development plan. Secondly, they would require local planning authorities to designate land for use by housing co-operatives.

Amendment 98C, in the name of my noble friend Lord True allows local planning authorities to challenge the owner of the land to present planning proposals to the local planning authority within six months in conformity with the local plan, where, first, it has compiled a register, which he mentioned, under Clause 137; secondly, the owner of the land is a government department, Mayor of London or other public authority, transport undertaker or other statutory undertaker; thirdly, the land is unused or underused previously developed land; and, finally, the body concerned has not prepared or declines to prepare a plan for its development. Again I listened carefully to the points raised by my noble friend.

Where the owner declines to present such a plan it must publish within the six-month period a response showing good reason why the land should not be developed. If the local planning authority considers that the response fails to show good reason, it may present its own proposals for development, compulsorily purchase the land and exercise any planning consent that is then granted.

Amendments 89 and 98C share some common features, in that they seek to give local authorities new powers to control the development of land held by other public bodies. A power for the Secretary of State to direct public bodies to take steps to dispose of their interests in land was created by the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980. The 1980 Act provides an important constraint in the use of the power: where the Secretary of State proposes to exercise the power, if the body makes representations to the Secretary of State regarding the proposed direction then the Secretary of State must be satisfied that the land can be disposed of without serious detriment to the performance of the body’s functions before ordering disposal.

Because of the geographical limitations of their interests, local planning authorities will not usually be in a position to make judgments about the potential impact of a direction to dispose on other public bodies with wider, and in many cases national, interests. Government departments, for example, often have functions critical to the national interest, such as the provision of transport infrastructure, healthcare and defence. It would not be right for local planning authorities to make judgments about how the local interests of other public bodies interacted with their wider functions.

The Government have already committed to dispose of any land that is surplus to requirements, and have announced an ambitious target to release sufficient land for 160,000 homes over the course of this Parliament. Moreover, to ensure that people are able to challenge the Government in the use of their land, the Government have introduced the right to contest. This gives anyone the ability to challenge the Government to sell land or property where they believe it is not needed and could be put to better economic use.

However, I support the principle that local planning authorities should have a greater role when government departments are planning to release land. That is why Clause 183 creates a new duty on Ministers of the Crown to engage with local authorities when planning to dispose of land. This will enable local authorities to raise their views with the landowning body as it is developing its disposal strategy.

I turn to Amendment 89M. The Government want to see new homes and places that communities can be proud of and that stand the test of time, and we recognise the important contribution that community-led housing schemes, including those by housing co-operatives and community land trusts, make to this important agenda. While I recognise the good intention behind the amendment, it is not necessary to place a new requirement on local planning authorities to allocate land specifically for housing co-operatives. National planning policy requires local planning authorities to plan proactively to meet all housing needs in the area, based on the needs of different groups in the community.

The noble Lord will also wish to be aware that neighbourhood planning already gives communities several routes to allocate land in their area to meet local housing needs. Communities can use a neighbourhood plan to allocate land for housing development, including land put forward by a housing co-operative. Our early evidence indicates that neighbourhood plans are allocating 10% more homes than the local plan. Furthermore, community right-to-build orders allow communities to give planning permission for a particular development without the need for a traditional planning application. Neighbourhood plans and community right-to-build orders are subject to a local referendum, so proposals benefit from having genuine local support.

Last year we launched a £22.5 million support programme for neighbourhood planning and a £3.5 million programme for community buildings. These fund communities with up to £15,000 to prepare a neighbourhood plan or neighbourhood development order, and up to £50,000 to prepare a community right-to-build order or a community-led planning application for housing. Over 1,800 communities have started neighbourhood planning, and there have been over 1,000 applications to the programmes this year.

I see the point that the Minister makes about public bodies and land, but I can also think of lots of scruffy plots of land all over the place that are clearly not of any strategic importance to the public body they belong to—for example, Network Rail—but are just sitting there looking pretty tatty. I can think of loads of them very close to here, and we could easily build a few houses on them. They are the type of land that we are talking about, and they should be dealt with.

The noble Lord makes a good point but I draw his attention again to the national planning policy, in which there is a requirement for local planning authorities to look at these areas and plan proactively. There is of course now the brownfield register as well. With that, I hope there is some reassurance that progress can be made.

Not really, no. If the land is owned by Network Rail and Network Rail has no intention of doing anything with it, that is part of the problem.

It is fair to say that we continue to work hard to press Network Rail to pick up that specific point. I believe that we have made more progress than ever before in addressing those issues. It is important that we look at all areas of land that are not being used, and that is exactly what this planning process aims to do.

I shall now, if I may, make some progress and turn to Amendment 89L and compulsory acquisition. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has argued—and I accept his passion on this subject—that the imperative for house building is so great that land acquired for that purpose should be acquired as cheaply as possible. There is no doubt that more houses should be built, and that cheap land would help towards that end: he makes a very fair point.

The need for housing is not, however, the only imperative in play when land is acquired by compulsion. The acquiring authority is acting in the public interest, but in return the claimants, whose land and property is being taken from them, must be treated fairly. It may help the Committee if I briefly outline the principles of compensation for land taken by compulsion.

The compensation code is underpinned by the principle of equivalence. This means that the owner should be paid neither less nor more than his loss. The code provides that land shall be purchased at its open market value, disregarding the effect of the scheme underlying the compulsory purchase. The land is valued in a construct called the “no-scheme world”, whereby any increase or decrease in value which is due to the scheme is disregarded. Land will always have its existing use value, but market value also takes into account the effect of any planning permissions that have already been granted, and also the prospect of future planning permissions. This is generally known, as I am sure the noble Lord will know, as “hope value”. In the context of compensation for compulsory purchase, all this is assessed according to the planning assumptions in the Land Compensation Act 1961, which require the valuer to assume the scheme underlying the acquisition is cancelled. Your Lordships’ House may recall that these were reformed in the Localism Act 2011.

In some situations there will be no hope value, because the individual claimant could not have obtained planning permission for some more valuable use. For example, the land might be in an isolated rural location where permission for development would have been unlikely to be granted in the absence of a comprehensive scheme requiring compulsory purchase powers. In other situations, perhaps where land is acquired near an existing settlement, there will be pre-existing prospects for development on the land—in other words, development potential which existed prior to the scheme—and the strength of those prospects will be reflected in the market value of the land.

Why should hope value be transformed into reality on the basis of a planner’s pen? The planner decides, “I recommend to my local authority that that land should be used for housing”, and in an instant transforms the value of that land from £20,000 a hectare to maybe £5 million a hectare. Why? How can we possibly justify that?

I think that I explained that earlier, by saying that we needed to look at both sides, and to use the principle of fairness. The fact of the matter is that unless we intervene and there is a status approach, the value of land is what it is. I believe that the existing regulations are fair. Land will always have its existing value, but the hope value needs to be taken account of as well.

As I said, in some situations there will be no hope value, because the individual claimant could not have obtained planning permission for some more valuable use. For instance, the land might be in an isolated rural location where permission for development would have been unlikely to be granted. Therefore, compensation under the code is paid at the open market value of the land in the “no-scheme world”. This provides a fair level of compensation. I hope that these explanations have reassured noble Lords. I have spent a bit of time expanding on the arguments raised, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and I hope that noble Lords will feel able not to press their amendments.

My Lords, I will withdraw the amendment. Indeed, I said before that I would. Do I withdraw the line of argument? I shall think about it between now and Report.

I am very grateful for the courteous response given as ever by my noble friend but the problem is that public authorities do not do that. In the example that I gave—Network Rail—the planning application granted in 2011 has not moved. It is moving now, to be fair—if you rush off and ring up, it says, “Yes, we’re getting on with it”, because it has been chivvied a bit. But it is not good enough.

It was a good, classic reply. I am very grateful to the officials from the department and for the opportunity to meet them on other things, thanks to my noble friend on the Front Bench. They are outstanding. Of course, it is a good answer to say they could not allow a local authority to come in and say, “Let’s develop that emergency hospital or Ministry of Defence airbase”. We would not do that. It is a reductio ad absurdum that simply does not work when we are dealing with the business of trying to get houses built by lazy public authorities. Why should they not be challenged? I repeat that point.

It is a pity. I suspect that it is above my noble friend’s pay grade that there is embedded somewhere in the system—a bit like the French at Verdun—the statement, “They shall not pass”; we will not let local authorities have a role. We would rather let public land fester than let local authorities do something about it. It is not good enough. We all know that that is what people think. We are lectured day by day. We collectively and in local government have to provide more housing. We accept the lectures; we accept the beating; we do not do enough. We should do more.

I cannot accept all of this, and I beg my noble friends on the Front Bench to think about a little more grit in the machine. We will have to compile these registers so why cannot we actually do something with them? I do not know how it will happen, or whether it will happen. Please, one day, I beg that it should happen. There will be a song of relief from not only local authorities but local communities across the country. They walk past this unused land every day and say, “Why?”. I say, “Why not?”.

My Lords, I thank everyone who has spoken in the debate today. I know that my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours said that this was the first amendment he had tabled, but he has played a really crucial role in our discussion of the Bill, and we welcome that very much. All his points should be carefully considered. As the noble Lord, Lord True, said, there should be a wider debate rather than just here tonight.

I can say to the noble Lord, Lord True, that I still have my RACS card somewhere—my first one, which I have kept for many years. Like him, I think that housing co-ops are wonderful things. In the ward I represent in Crofton Park, which I have mentioned before, we have the Ewart Road Housing Co-op, which is a fantastic place. It is clean, well run, well managed and there is a long waiting list of people trying to get in there. It is real credit to the people who live there, and what a great place Crofton Park in Lewisham is.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord True, about the plots of public land. We are going after strategic sites, but there are loads of scruffy plots of land that blight our communities and which need to be dealt with. I say to the Government that we could even build a few starter homes on them if we got our hands on them. They need to be dealt with, and it is not good enough if they do not do that.

Public bodies, clearly, like private sector companies, can sit there and speculate on the land, see its value going up and do nothing with it. That may not be what is going on but the issue needs to be dealt with. It is not good enough for that land just to sit there. The Government should be doing more. I heard the comments of the noble Lord, Lord True, and hope that the Government were listening. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 89 withdrawn.

Clause 129 agreed.

Clause 130: Power to give direction to examiner of development plan document

Amendment 89ZA

Moved by

89ZA: Clause 130, page 62, line 43, at end insert—

“(6B) The powers outlined in subsection (6A) will not apply where a local planning authority has already complied with subsection (2).”

My Lords, in moving Amendment 89ZA I will also speak to Amendments 89AZA, 89AZB and 89AZE. I will do so briefly.

Amendment 89ZA would ensure that where a local authority has complied with the relevant requirements in Section 20(2) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004—that is, it has complied with the relevant requirements to submit its planning document for independent examination, and believes it is ready for it—the examination of its development plan can continue. This is important because the powers given to the Secretary of State under Clause 130 are excessive, given that the local authorities may well have done what it was required to do. This amendment would simply mean that the powers of the Secretary of State in Clause 130(6A) would not apply where the local planning authority had already complied with Section 20(2) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

Amendments 89AZA and 89AZB would do two things. The former would make it clear that where the Secretary of State chooses to intervene in local development documents or schemes under Section 15 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, any expenditure incurred would be met by the Secretary of State and not by the local authorities as currently indicated in the Bill.

Amendment 89AZB would ensure that development documents prepared by local planning authorities have effect in decision-making until an intervention under Section 21 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 is actually made. In other words, it attempts to restrict some of the additional powers being granted to the Secretary of State to intervene when it is not necessary to do so.

There is a small drafting error in Amendment 89AZE. Three lines were missed out, so that the amendment simply states, “leave out lines 43 and 44”. In a sense, the meaning is the same. The amendment says that when the Secretary of State chooses to use default powers under Section 27 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, any expenditure incurred should be met by the Secretary of State and not by local authorities.

I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say about all four of these amendments, which address the concerning issue of centralising power over the planning process as opposed to devolving it. I beg to move.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for his amendments. Before addressing them, I would like to make some introductory remarks about the importance of the policy and our proposed approach to ensuring that all communities benefit from the certainty that a local plan can provide. I hope that this will provide some helpful context for our discussions.

Communities deserve to know where new homes will be built. That is why we are committed to a plan-led system with local plans at its heart. Throughout the progress of this Bill, we have heard again and again from various organisations about the importance of local plans that set the vision for an area and provide the framework for how housing and other essential development needs will be met.

Since the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, local planning authorities have had more than a decade to produce a plan. The majority—70%—have done so. However, not every local authority has made the same progress towards getting its local plan in place. We have made clear our expectation that all local planning authorities should have a plan in place. We have also been clear that plans should be kept up to date to ensure the policies in them remain relevant. If this is not happening, it is right that we take action.

Before I go on to explain our specific proposals, I also want to assure the Committee that, contrary to what some may have come to understand, our proposals do not seek to centralise plan-making. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords of the current position and then set out the reforms that we are proposing.

Parliament has already given the Secretary of State the power to intervene in local plan-making. The existing legislation enables the Secretary of State to direct that a plan or any part of it be submitted to him for approval. He can also already intervene if he thinks that a local planning authority is failing or omitting to do anything that is necessary for it to progress a local plan. He can also recover his costs in this situation, and the action we are proposing is not new. But currently where he intervenes, the Secretary of State commonly finds that his only option is to take over responsibility for the entire progress, and we want to change that. In cases where authorities are not making progress on their local plan, I can assure noble Lords that wherever possible we want to work with those authorities to bring plans forward. The provisions we are discussing today support this approach. We would retain our ability to intervene where it is necessary to do so, but the Secretary of State could also target his intervention and return responsibility for plan-making to an authority for decisions to be made locally wherever possible.

I shall now turn briefly to the specific amendments that have been laid. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for his comments on Amendment 89ZA. I was not in my place for part of them, but I did hear some of his speech. I shall respond on the understanding that the proposition is that, where a local planning authority considers that it has complied with Section 22 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004—that it has complied with the requirements in the relevant regulations and it considers that its plan is ready for independent examination—the powers in Clause 130 allowing the Secretary of State to give directions to an examiner would not apply. This would be at odds with the very purpose of the clause, which is intended to ensure that authorities are given every opportunity to address any shortcomings identified at examination as an alternative to withdrawing a plan. The Noble Lord’s amendment would disapply the proposed powers in many cases.

The clause enables the Secretary of State to take a view and, where he considers it appropriate, to direct an inspector. He could, for example, direct that an examination be suspended, thus giving an authority the opportunity to undertake further work to address the shortcomings identified at examination. I should make it clear that the measures limit the directions that the Secretary of State could make only to matters of procedure.

I hope that my response has explained briefly to the noble Lord and the Committee why the Government cannot accept the thrust of his arguments on this matter, and I ask him to withdraw the amendment.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, which I will read carefully in Hansard. I hope that he will have resolved these matters, but if not we may ask to have a further discussion on the issues involved. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 89ZA withdrawn.

Clause 130 agreed.

Amendment 89A

Moved by

89A: After Clause 130, insert the following new Clause—

“Use class for affordable housing

(1) Part C of the Schedule to the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 is amended as follows.(2) In Class C3 (dwellinghouses), at end insert “,but not for a use within Class C3A.”(3) After Class C3 insert—“Class C3A. Affordable housingUse for the provision of affordable housing.””

My Lords, I rise to move this amendment tabled in the names of my noble friends Lord Shipley and Lord Tope. Much discussion has taken place on the need for affordable housing, but it is unclear what will actually happen. This amendment would create a new clause for housing which is affordable by granting to local authorities the power to protect defined sites for affordable housing.

For the past decade, local authorities have had to carry out strategic housing market assessments without which their housing and planning decisions would not be informed by evidence. Thus they know, or should know, the level and nature of demand in their areas for housing which is genuinely affordable. In addition, they are able to obtain evidence on desired tenures, size of homes and their location. They are, however, restrained in delivering the housing they know is needed from the evidence base they have obtained because the market lags behind changes in needs and demand. So a local authority can identify a need for a particular site to have homes which are affordable built on it, but currently it cannot specify that. This is not about creating mono-tenure estates since the parcels of land could be quite small.

A crucial consideration in this proposal is that it would help with the viability gap for affordable housing: if affordable housing was detached from the C3 use class, land prices would fall when a site was defined as being for affordable housing. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for his Amendment 89A, which was spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. It seeks to introduce a new use class for affordable housing, and I acknowledge that it is important that affordable housing is maintained for present and future generations. I believe that our reforms will achieve this.

Use classes are an important deregulatory tool that group together uses with very similar land-use impacts. They remove the need for planning permission for change within the use class. While I understand the intent of the noble Lord and the noble Baroness in proposing this amendment, introducing a new use class for affordable housing would add unnecessary bureaucracy and cost to the planning process and added burdens on local planning authorities.

For example, when a property changes from affordable to private, a planning application would be required. Tenants who exercised their right to buy their property would be required to submit a planning application before being able to do so, slowing down the application process and adding burdens on local authorities and unfair restrictions on tenants. Where someone is staircasing to full ownership of a shared-ownership property, the same would apply.

We believe, therefore, that our approach to affordable housing will help those who aspire to home ownership to realise their ambitions, and strikes the right balance—it is a balance—between maintaining the affordable housing stock and providing opportunities for those who want to access or move up the property ladder. Our reforms will help to ensure that affordable housing continues to be provided in the future. Substantial further funding will go into the system from right-to-buy receipts and the sale of vacant high-value assets and will generate additional homes for every one sold, thereby increasing the overall supply of housing.

With this brief assurance, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.

I thank the Minister for his response and I agree that there is a balance to be struck between maintaining housing in the affordable sector and the right to buy. I will read Hansard and we may return to this matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 89A withdrawn.

Clause 131: Intervention by Secretary of State

Amendments 89AZA and 89AZB not moved.

Clause 131 agreed.

Clause 132: Secretary of State’s default powers

Amendment 89AZC

Moved by

89AZC: Clause 132, page 64, leave out lines 25 and 26

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 89AZC and shall speak to the rest of the amendments in this group.

This is about the Secretary of State’s default powers as part of the plan-making process. The Bill introduces a new Section 27 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. New subsection (1) explains that this section applies if the Secretary of State,

“thinks that a local authority are failing or omitting to do anything it is necessary for them to do in connection with the preparation, revision or adoption of a development plan document”.

The rest of it sets out what the Secretary of State can do, basically by taking over the process and doing it himself or herself. This amendment is about new subsection (5), which says that when this development plan document has been produced and published, either by the Secretary of State or the local planning authority, the Secretary of State has the choice of doing three things: first, to approve the document, or approve it with modifications; secondly, to,

“direct the authority to consider adopting the document by resolution of the authority as a local development document”,

which is the normal process that would take place if the authority was producing the document; or, thirdly, to reject it.

The purpose of the amendment is to put the decision as to what to do with the document—adopt it, adopt it with modifications as allowed or reject it—firmly in the hands of elected local councillors. The purpose of this clause is to say what happens when the authority, as a corporate body, is not doing what it should through its staff and so on. Surely the decision on whether to adopt ought to revert in the end to elected local councillors, even if the Secretary of State has taken the process of producing the document out of the authority’s hands because it has not been doing it right. It is as simple as that: a matter of local democracy.

My Lords, the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, superficially sounds extremely attractive but I have done this job and I say to him that it really does not work like that. The truth is that the Secretary of State will use these powers only when they are utterly necessary. The last thing that he or she will want to do is to get into the mixture of arguments and local issues which this amendment is bound to cause. But there has been such a history of difference in the willingness, or indeed the ability, of local authorities to get on with the business that it is necessary to have this intervention power. After doing all the work and getting it sorted out the idea that you could then hand it back to the local authority, which you have intervened on only because of its incompetence, uselessness or sheer downright intention not to act, seems a bit loopy, to be honest. It would mean going back to the very same people and telling them that they had the opportunity to decide whether the Secretary of State had done the right thing. The answer is that you would use this power only in very extreme cases, and in those cases the last lot of people who you would want to come back to are in that sort of local authority.

Perhaps I can answer that before the Minister replies; I know that he may agree with the noble Lord, Lord Deben. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, seems not to understand that there is often a considerable difference between, on the one hand, the bureaucratic competence—I use that word in all its uses as there may be a lack of resources, a lack of professional ability or whatever—and, on the other, the ability of elected councillors to make a decision on the basis of a report and the evidence put in front of them. They are two quite separate things.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for his comments. While I do not wish to repeat my earlier comments or those made by my noble friend Lady Evans on this important issue of planning, whether neighbourhood or local, to reassure the noble Lord I reiterate that we are committed to a plan-led system with local plans at its heart.

Throughout the progression of the Bill we have heard again and again, from various organisations, of the importance of local plans that set the vision for an area and provide the framework for how housing and other essential development needs will be met. However, not every local authority has made the same progress towards getting its local plan in place. We have made clear our expectation that all local planning authorities should have a local plan in place and that the policies in those plans should be kept up to date.

I shall focus on Amendments 89AZC and 89AZD, as tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, which collectively seek to limit the Secretary of State’s power to take decisions on whether a local plan should be adopted where the Secretary of State intervenes under Section 27 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. I hope that my response can, in a moment, provide reassurance to the noble Lord that the Government are committed to working with local planning authorities to get the plans in place. At the same time, I will explain why we cannot support amendments that would in effect remove from the Secretary of State powers that he currently holds or powers that we consider necessary should the Secretary of State not be satisfied with a plan produced by a local planning authority following his direction. The Secretary of State can currently intervene under Section 27 if he thinks that a local planning authority is failing or omitting to do anything necessary to progress a development plan document—that is, the documents which comprise the local plan.

Clause 132 substitutes a new Section 27 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. This is to enable more targeted intervention in plan-making by the Secretary of State. These measures lie at the heart of our ambition to work pragmatically with local authorities to get plans in place that help to deliver the homes and jobs we need.

The amendments we propose are intended to enable the Secretary of State to return appropriate decision-making on a development plan document to a local planning authority. The noble Lord’s amendments go further in such a way that they would remove the ability of the Secretary of State to approve a local plan or to reject the document. In other words, his only action would be to direct an authority to consider adopting the document. Although I am aware of the experience that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has in local matters and local planning, I also very much take account of the comments made by my noble friend Lord Deben and the experience he has had in senior office on these matters.

I reiterate that it remains a balance and we believe that the balance is right. We want to work with authorities to get plans in place. Our proposals give the Secretary of State new options for doing this, without being too prescriptive. However, I remind the noble Lord that the Government may arrange for another body to prepare a local plan only where the local planning authority has failed to do so, despite being given every opportunity. It is a last resort.

The measures we propose provide the necessary assurance to communities and others that where an authority has not put a plan in place or ensured that a plan remains effective, we are able to take the necessary action. Not to do so would risk delaying or even preventing the growth and jobs which are so urgently needed. This action must include taking decisions on whether that plan should or should not form part of the development plan and the starting point for determining planning applications. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

May I ask the Minister a question before he sits down? I agree with the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Deben. We want local authorities to read these things, but equally we have to have a mechanism to move things forward if they are not being moved forward. Will the Minister say a little more about what will happen? How far will an authority go? What will the Secretary of State be looking for? At what point will he intervene? It would be useful to have more information.

I think that it would be wise to furnish the noble Lord with some more detail. For example, I have some charts in my left hand. Perhaps I can reassure him by saying that there is a flowchart and a process in place. I reiterate that this is meant to be light touch. This is what is behind it—light touch, but with a programme and a plan.

My Lords, I am grateful to everybody who has taken part in this short debate. One of the differences in the system in new Section 27 of the 2004 Act compared with the earlier legislation is that it will allow the Secretary of State to intervene on particular documents or in specific ways, rather than on the plan as a whole. As the Minister said, it might be more targeted.

I have not been able to get my mind around whether that will make the position more or less alarming—better or worse. However, the experience of some of us of the planning system is that actions taken by the Secretary of State or on behalf of the Secretary of State are not necessarily quicker or more efficient than actions taken by local planning authorities. We only have to look at the whole system of appeals, which, in the case of major appeals on the evidence that I have, is threatening to be snarled up. That is an indication that the Secretary of State may not have a huge resource available to him to step in and do things. I will just leave that.

I am aware that the whole plan-making system, of which this is just a part, needs review and I have tabled an amendment relating to that, which we will come to later in Committee. I was sent a document this morning that was issued yesterday by the Local Plans Expert Group, Report to the Communities Secretary and to the Minister of Housing and Planning. I look forward to having time to have a good look at it, because I believe that what we are talking about now is a detail and the sooner the Government can look at the local planning system as a whole and at ways of making it more streamlined, more effective and more efficient, the better. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 89AZC withdrawn.

Amendments 89AZD to 89AZE not moved.

Clause 132 agreed.

Clause 133: Default powers exercisable by Mayor of London or combined authority

Amendment 89AA

Moved by

89AA: Clause 133, page 65, line 6, leave out “or combined authority”

My Lords, Clause 133 allows the Mayor of London to step in and carry out default actions on plan-making when local authorities in London—London boroughs, presumably—are failing in some aspect of it. It also includes combined authorities, which is a new proposal that requires a little thought. I can understand that in combined authorities that have mayors the mayor may be thinking of becoming a sort of regional version of the Mayor of London, but in practice the position will be quite different, even when the mayors are elected. In combined authorities where there is not going to be a mayor, the position will be even more different.

The Greater London Authority is set up clearly by Act of Parliament as a freestanding authority and that is how it operates. Combined authorities were initially formed from the bottom up through a number of local authorities coming together and asking permission of the Secretary of State to set up the combined authority and to take on particular powers that they had negotiated between them. The situation is a little different now following the most recent legislation, the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act, which gives the Secretary of State more powers over the formation of combined authorities and their functions. It extends their possible functions beyond those that they originally could have had under the 2008 Act. However, despite that, the whole ethos and idea of combined authorities is expressed by the words “combined authorities”—they come together voluntarily to do things that they can do better together than separately. This proposal seems to suggest that, because they exist, the Secretary of State in future can use them as a convenient place to put in extra powers at will.

My question is as follows. There may well be an authority that is part of a combined authority and which is not carrying out its plan-making functions very well, and the Secretary of State wants to intervene. The implications of using that combined authority to carry out those plan-making functions—in relation to a development plan document or whatever—against the wish of the authority concerned need careful thought.

Combined authorities in most parts of England are not going to work unless they work on a voluntary basis in relation to the members of those combined authorities. I speak as a member of an authority that, in about an hour’s time, will be voting to join a combined authority or to join an application for a combined authority, so we have been looking at this carefully. The whole principle has to be of authorities coming together voluntarily, pooling powers in particular areas and doing so in a way that has consensus and agreement around the combined authority. If it allows some bureaucracy or some other council in the combined authority or a majority vote on the combined authority—whatever it is—to overrule a particular authority on something like this, I am not saying that it is going to destroy the combined authority, but it is going to make life much more difficult and change the whole culture and idea of coming together voluntarily as a combined authority.

That is the point that I am making. I do not know whether the Minister is going to be able to give me a coherent answer to that this evening because it is a slightly obscure and complicated issue, but I ask the Ministers to go away and ask their civil servants to think about it and come back with an answer to these genuine problems. I am not trying to be awkward at all on this; I understand the need to find ways of doing things in default in a sensible way if it is necessary. I beg to move.

My Lords, I rise briefly to support the words of my noble friend Lord Greaves on these amendments. I reside in one of the combined authorities. In fact, it is perhaps the flagship combined authority: Greater Manchester. It consists of 10 planning authorities: 10 local authorities, all of which are planning authorities. I had regarded the introduction of this power of the Secretary of State to intervene as very much an attempt to make sure that the missing 30% of planning authorities caught up. I thought that it was more of a time-limited provision; that once all 100% of local planning authorities had got their plans properly approved, this particular provision would lapse, because they would, after all, from then onwards, be able to keep up.

Therefore, it is worth looking at the starting point. I do not know, without research that I have not done, whether any of the 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester has failed to register its plans. It is a small number of local authorities working in very close concert, notwithstanding the considerable political divisions between the leadership of the different councils. I do not simply mean party divisions: long-standing rivalries, even in local authorities run by the same party, have been overcome to a remarkable extent in setting up the combined authority. As I said at the start, it is very much a flagship combination that has come together.

I very much support what my noble friend Lord Greaves said about the disruptive effect of basically giving them statutory powers to discipline each other for being naughty boys and girls. I ask the Minister to take that point away and consider whether this is the right vehicle. It might be perfectly in order for the Mayor of London to discipline one or other of the 33 boroughs in London—I am not aware of what their situation is—but I am sure that the Minister can imagine the noise that would be created if the current mayor were to step in on a borough of a different political persuasion. And after the mayoral election, the inverse situation might easily arise. So this is not without trouble ahead, when what the Minister actually wants to achieve is valid local plans as quickly as possible. That is an aim which I support, but he might have a mechanism that is more self-destructive than he realises.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Stunell, for their comments on this group of amendments. I note that the content of this group is not too dissimilar to the previous group. However, I do not believe that Amendments 89AA to 89KJ are necessary. Given the similarity of the amendments, I hope noble Lords will not mind if I respond to them collectively.

I hope noble Lords will bear with me just for a moment if I begin by explaining the purpose of Clauses 132 and 133 and Schedule 11, which provide the context for these amendments. Where the Secretary of State thinks that a local planning authority is failing or omitting to do anything necessary for them to do in connection with preparing, revising or adopting a development plan document—that is, the documents which comprise the local plan—the Secretary of State has existing powers under Section 27 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to intervene to prepare the document. However, where he does this, he is unable to hand back decision-making powers to the local authority if he wishes.

Clauses 132 and 133 and Schedule 11 are intended to address this by allowing for intervention by the Secretary of State in this scenario to be more targeted and proportionate. These measures give him options that enable more decisions to be made locally whenever possible—which I hope will be of some reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. Clause 133 and Schedule 11 would enable the Secretary of State to invite the Mayor of London or a combined authority, where applicable, to prepare, revise or approve a local plan as an alternative to the Secretary of State doing so. The mayor or combined authority could not do this unilaterally but only when invited to by the Secretary of State, and only where he considers that the local planning authority has not taken action despite having every opportunity to do so. The mayor and combined authorities provide strong and directly accountable city-region governance. This makes them an appropriate body to ensure that plans are in place across their areas.

The noble Lord’s amendments remove provisions set out in Clause 133 and Schedule 11 for a combined authority to prepare, revise and approve a development plan document where they are invited to do so by the Secretary of State. We have made it clear that we want authorities to take action themselves to get their plans in place. Authorities have had over a decade since the introduction in 2004 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act to produce a local plan, and the majority have done so.

However, I reiterate the points I made earlier—we need to take action where there is clear evidence that an authority is not producing a plan in a timely manner or keeping that plan up to date. We cannot stand by and allow failure to happen, especially given the importance of planning for supporting growth. We have made it clear that a combined authority will only prepare or revise a plan where an authority has failed or omitted to progress a plan and where the Secretary of State invites them to do so. Therefore, in those instances where a local plan needs to be put in place and the authority is failing to do so, it is right that a combined authority can be invited both to prepare a plan and to bring that plan into force.

I therefore hope that my responses provide reassurance to the noble Lords that the Government want to see authorities take action themselves to get local plans in place in the first instance. However, where authorities are failing to do this, it is right that we take action to get plans in place. I am aware that that summary and conclusion is very similar to that for the previous group of amendments.

Yes, my Lords—I am very clear about that as well. Having heard the Minister reply to the previous group of amendments and to the Clause 132 stuff on the changes to Section 27 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, I am prepared to come to the view that the new Section 27 will be better than the old one, for the reasons the Minister set out previously. I understand those arguments; I am really saying that I would rather that it was not there at all. However, given that it is replacing the previous one, I can understand that having a more targeted approach may be better. I am concerned that it may result in more interventions, because being more specific they will be easier to make, but we will find that out in due course.

As far as this group of amendments is concerned, I do not think that the Minister addressed my concerns. If the Secretary of State is going to intervene and take over the production of whatever it is—the local plan as a whole or particular parts of it—then he has to find a way of doing so. One can imagine a number of different ways that he might find. He will have to find some people to do it. I do not believe that the Secretary of State has the personal resources or the ministerial resources to do it himself. He could use the Planning Inspectorate to do it. I do not believe that it has any spare capacity. Using another local authority might be an answer.

I can understand the idea that since combined authorities exist, they could be used. The combined authority is not, in general, going to be a planning authority—it may or may not—so I do not know from where it would get the resources, but that is a different matter. Assuming that it does have the resources and can take over, the objection is that a combined authority is based on the idea of a co-operative group. It is not a Mayor of London set up by statute to tell the boroughs what to do wherever he can do that. It is a co-operative group set up voluntarily between a series of different authorities—it is 11 in Greater Manchester and however many in Lancashire, 15 I think including the county—working together on projects jointly for the benefit of their area. Given the whole idea, it will work only if the members of the combined authority respect each other, work on the basis of equality and do so because they believe that it is the best way forward.

If the Secretary of State comes along and invites the combined authority to take over the function of just one of those councils, we all know how these things work: “inviting” probably means instructing. I do not think that a combined authority would find it easy to refuse it, but perhaps it would. Having the Secretary of State imposing or directing from the top that the combined authority consisting of all the councils has to take over the functions of one of those councils against its wishes is not a sensible way to make that combined authority succeed.

My concerns about this amendment are not about the process of planning. They are not about the need to get the plans done, which we all accept we have to do. We all accept that it has been difficult in many areas but it has to happen. My concerns are about the way in which it is done and the damage that it might do to relationships between local authorities in a particular area. That is the issue that I ask the Minister to go away, think about and see whether what I am saying is complete nonsense or, as I think, has much validity. Having said that and living in hope that it will cause a bit of thought, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 89AA withdrawn.

Amendments 89AB and 89AC not moved.

Clause 133 agreed.

Schedule 11: Default powers exercisable by Mayor of London or combined authority: Schedule to be inserted in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004

Amendment 89B

Moved by

89B: Schedule 11, page 152, line 24, leave out “, revision”

My Lords, at this hour I shall not venture on the patience of the Committee. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak very briefly. On the subject of the mayor intervening, I accept the answer given by my noble friend on Clause 133. If I have understood correctly, the mayor will not be encouraged to intervene except where there is manifest failure on the part of a local authority—and all he has to do is assent.

I suggested amendments simply to probe on the question of revision. Many London boroughs are well ahead with, or already revising, their plans. I do not think that we would particularly welcome much intervention from the mayor. Personally, I do not have great confidence in the GLA planning department. The Government seem rather more starry-eyed about its abilities than I am.

I hope that some caution will be exercised here. The mayor already has extremely extensive powers to intervene, although the current mayor has not used them. A number of very fruitful discussions are currently going on between London councils on housing—for example, Mayor Bullock is actively engaged with the GLA and with the Government. It would perhaps be preferable to let some of those discussions reach a conclusion before enacting even more powers for the mayor.

Clause 135 directly concerns the planning powers of the Mayor of London. My borough has one of the views in London that is protected by an Act of Parliament. I am very comfortable with the present arrangements whereby the sight lines in London are protected in the way they are. Given that there seems to be a bit of a mania in the GLA planning department at the moment for erecting tall buildings wherever possible—I do not know whether that will continue with the next mayor—I would like to see some caution exercised in this change, perhaps until we see where the land lies.

So although these are probing amendments, while these discussions are going forward, while the mayor has extensive powers and while there is the issue of sight lines, I ask the Government to reflect on whether it is necessary to proceed with these extra powers.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord True for his interest in improving the Bill, and I recognise his years of experience in local government. His amendments relate to clauses regarding the Mayor of London. I have spoken today about the importance of supporting growth through the planning system, and the Mayor of London plays a key role in harnessing this growth. I have also spoken about the importance of decisions being made at the local level wherever possible, and I believe my noble friend and I agree on that. I thank him for his comments on these clauses, but I do not believe that Amendments 89B to 89K are necessary, and I hope that I can provide some reassurance to noble Lords about the purpose of Clause 135.

Amendments 89B to 89E would remove the ability of the Mayor of London to revise a development plan document when invited to do so by the Secretary of State. First, I should like to clarify that Clauses 132 and 133 are concerned only with documents that comprise the local plan for an area; they are not concerned with the spatial development strategy for London—the so-called London Plan. I will also seek to clarify what is meant by “revise”, as I believe that these amendments may be based on a misinterpretation of its definition. At this late hour, perhaps I may write to my noble friend with the details of that definition.

I turn to Amendment 89F, for which I will again start with some context. For a development plan document to be adopted or approved, regardless of whether it has been prepared by a local authority or the Secretary of State, it must be submitted for examination. Following the examination, the local planning authority must publish the recommendations of the person appointed to examine the plan and their reasoning. The amendment would remove the ability of the Mayor of London to require a local planning authority to help ensure that local people are made aware of the recommendations of the person appointed to examine the plan.

Amendments 89G and 89H would disable the mayor’s ability to approve a development plan document. Approval is a necessary step if a plan is to come into force. Not doing so would fail to provide the community and others with the benefits and certainty that come from having a plan. Only once it is approved does a plan become part of the development plan for an area and the starting point for determining planning applications. I hope I have been clear that the Mayor of London may prepare or revise a plan only for a London borough that has failed to progress its own plan and only where the Secretary of State invites him to do so.

That brings me to my noble friend’s Amendment 89J. I suspect that this amendment does not fulfil the purpose that my noble friend intended. As currently drafted, where the Mayor of London has been invited to prepare a plan and the plan has been examined, he may direct an authority to consider adopting a document as an alternative to the mayor approving it himself. The change proposed by Amendment 89J does not alter the practical effect of the provision and the outcome would still put the authority under no obligation to adopt the plan where the mayor decides not to approve it himself.

I hope that I have given some brief reassurance to my noble friend and that he will agree to withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I accept that and look forward with interest to the letter. I leave on the record the comments I made about the ongoing discussions with the GLA and the future way we should operate. I did not get a specific reply on Clause 135 but, again, we can pursue that. I am happy to have discussions with my noble friend between now and Report and, on that basis, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 89B withdrawn.

Amendments 89C to 89KJ not moved.

Schedule 11 agreed.

Clause 134 agreed.

Amendment 89L not moved.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 7.11 pm.