House of Lords
Tuesday 22 March 2016
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford.
Health and Social Care: Funding
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to introduce measures to convert National Insurance contributions into a special tax for funding health and social care.
My Lords, the Government do not have any plans to convert national insurance contributions into a special tax for funding health and social care. As noble Lords will know, a fixed proportion of each class of NIC receipts from employees, the self-employed and employers is already allocated directly to the NHS. This adds up to broadly 20% of NIC receipts. The rest of NHS funding comes from general taxation.
My Lords, the National Health Service is facing an existential crisis that is probably as serious as any it has faced. The root cause is well known: namely, that spending on health and social security rises much faster than GDP. At the same time, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, spending on social care and the health service is set to decline instead of increasing as a proportion of GDP in the next five years. Do the Government not recognise that the answer is a change in funding? NICs are now in effect a regressive and inefficient tax on jobs. Only part of the money goes to the NHS and the rest goes into a general tax pool, as the Minister has conceded. If the Government do not accept this, will the Minister make representations to his colleagues in the Department of Health to meet a small group, representing a larger group of cross-party experts who have come to the conclusion that to save the health service now means a new Beveridge?
My Lords, there is quite a lot in that Question. To start with, according to the OECD figures, the percentage of our GDP in the past three years has been flat at 8.5%. I accept that over time, as our GDP increases, there is a chance that if the expenditure stays the same, the percentage will reduce. As noble Lords know, under the five-year forward view, we will have spent an extra £10 billion a year by the end of the Parliament. As far as having a delegation to talk about a future strategy on funding the NHS is concerned, I would be delighted to commit the Health Minister to meeting the noble Lord, but I cannot really do that. I will certainly make his views known and ask the Minister if he would meet the delegation.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that the percentage of GDP that the United Kingdom spends on health is much lower than that of comparable countries and that therefore the crisis in the National Health Service needs addressing? Is he aware that, against this crisis background, the Government are asking for a further £22 billion in efficiency savings and yet 53% of hospital trusts say that it will prove impossible to meet the caps on agency staff? We are facing a crisis and the Government are unprepared to face up to it.
My Lords, on the OECD figures, the United Kingdom’s spending is slightly below the OECD average, but it all depends on the denominator and that depends on how high GDP is. However, it is not, as the noble Lord puts it, a lot lower; it is slightly below average for the OECD. On the £22 billion of savings, that was the NHS’s own plan. The Chancellor accepted that and agreed to fund it and in fact produced an extra £2 billion this year as a down payment.
My Lords, will the Minister ask the Chancellor, who is always looking for innovative ideas, to consider the possibility of donations to the health service, which could be tax deductible? There might be a lot of people willing to give perhaps even large sums to the National Health Service. It would be a win-win situation.
I am sure that the Chancellor is always looking for good ideas. However, by the end of 2020, we will be spending £120 billion on the NHS, so the donations would have to be pretty big.
My Lords, health funding is in crisis and expenditure on adult social care has gone down as a proportion of GDP by 19% since 2010, which accounts for part of the crisis in health provision. Would it not be possible to consider that a direct connection between tax contributions and the quantity and quality of health and social care provision would enhance public understanding, improve transparency and probably management, and potentially generate additional buoyancy for funding for these vital services?
I take issue with the noble Lord’s figures. In 2010, the percentage according to OECD figures of GDP was 8.6% and in 2013 it was 8.5%. As far as the hypothecation of taxes is concerned, it is generally an established principle that we do not like doing that because it restricts flexibility. Ultimately, the taxpayer has to pay for the NHS and I agree with the noble Lord that taxpayers are prepared and want to pay for the NHS. They think that it is worth while—we all do. But we do not agree with hypothecating taxes beyond the fact that, as I said in my first Answer, 20% of NIC does go to the NHS.
My Lords, my right honourable colleague, the Member of Parliament for North Norfolk, Norman Lamb, has called for a cross-party commission to take a long-term view on the funding needed both for the National Health Service and for social care. As far as I understand, he has not yet had a response from the Government on his call for that completely cross-party, non-political commission. Will the Government reply on that today?
As far I am aware, the right honourable Norman Lamb has a Private Member’s Bill in the House of Commons, where these issues can be fully debated. Obviously, I cannot give an answer to him today.
Aviation: Sustainable Fuel
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what policies are in place to encourage the development of sustainable aviation fuels in the United Kingdom and what new proposals they are considering.
My Lords, the Government are assessing the benefits of making aviation biofuels eligible for the incentives that currently apply to biofuels used in road transport through the renewable transport fuel obligation. We aim to publish a consultation on legislative amendments to this scheme later this year, including proposals for aviation biofuels.
That is a useful statement and a step in the right direction, but is the Minister aware that we are still the largest and most advanced aviation producer in the world, except on sustainable fuels, where we have fallen seriously behind competitors in Europe, North America and Asia? What will the Government do to improve R&D on sustainable aviation fuels and will they please make sure that they include it in the renewable transport fuel obligation?
My Lords, as I mentioned in my Answer, we will be going out to consultation on this subject later this year, where we will look at increased targets for suppliers to provide long-term certainty to industry and to meet our climate change targets. We will also make biofuels more sustainable by increasing the supply of waste-based biofuels. We will also support investment in renewable aviation fuels by including it in the RTFO. We will also look at possible further competitions on top of the one already held, looking specifically at the jet biofuel issue.
My Lords, it sounds as if these excellent new fuels will be polluting our airports rather less in future, so can we bring forward the Heathrow decision?
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Ahmad answered this question at great length last week or the week before. I do not think that there is anything more that I can add to it.
My Lords, I declare that some years ago I was the vice-chairman of the Air League. The Minister may wonder why, but the Air League has been going for many years. It was started by soldiers, not the light blue. We had certain very tough talks with the Government of the day on the taxing and pricing of aviation fuel. The Government of the day gave certain commitments, which I hope still stand. I say to the Minister on the very pertinent Question that the noble Lord, Lord Soley, raised that, if the taxes go up, everybody’s air ticket becomes more expensive.
My Lords, the noble Viscount raises an interesting point. To be perfectly honest, I am not aware of the answer, but if there is anything else that I can add I will write to him.
In reply to a question asked in the Commons in January on the warnings from those involved in aviation that inaction and lack of clear policy direction from the Government were holding back research and development into, and the use of, renewable fuels in aviation compared with other countries, the Commons Minister said that,
“there is more than one way of killing a cat. Yes, alternative fuels may have an important role to play, but more importantly … a market-based mechanism will allow other types of technology to be developed which can then be used to offset the emissions from aviation, which will always be dependent on liquid fuels”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/1/16; col. 397.]
Does not that statement of policy, contrary to what has been implied today, indicate quite clearly that the Government are, in reality, giving the aviation industry a double whammy: dithering over policy on the development and use of renewable fuels in aviation, as well as still dithering over airport expansion in the south-east?
My Lords, of course I would not agree with the noble Lord, as no doubt the House would acknowledge. Sadly, the British Airways Solena project has not progressed, though it is still live and discussions are ongoing between Ministers and British Airways on this issue. As I said earlier, three projects won the advanced biofuels demonstration competition, dividing up a fund of £25 million. One is in Swindon, producing methane for HGV vehicles. The noble Lord is right that we want to look further at the problems relating to aviation fuel. Unfortunately, in the initial competition, there was only one application from an aviation fuel project. I hope there will be another competition in the near future which will include some more.
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt. It is actually the turn of the Liberal Democrats, as we have not heard from them yet on this Question.
Does the Minister accept that we need to work with international partners in order to develop the use of sustainable aviation fuels? Does he accept the importance of the European Union as one of our international partners, so it is important for us to remain a member of the European Union?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is right in so far as we have to look globally at the whole issue, including what is happening in the European Union. As the noble Baroness will no doubt be aware, we have been working with the International Civil Aviation Organization. In February, we reached agreement with other states in the ICAO on a global CO2 standard for aircraft, which is all part of the same picture. All new aeroplane designs applying for certification from 2020 will have to be compliant with the CO2 emissions standard. Designs already in production will also need to comply from 2023.
My Lords, when will the consultation be concluded and when will the Government implement it?
My Lords, as I said earlier, the consultation will start later this year. I do not have any information on when it will conclude but I have read out the areas that we shall be looking at. Of course, I will write to the noble Lord if there is any more information that I can give him.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that producing sustainable fuels with high levels of ethanol is not the problem? General aviation has a problem with combustion engines, which do not deal well with high levels of ethanol in the fuel, as the hoses, the filters and the seals are incompatible with these high levels.
My noble friend is a lot more expert on hoses, seals and other aspects of aircraft engines. He makes some good points and I am sorry that I cannot comment any further.
Local Authorities: Budget
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the levels of service provision and council tax following local authority budget decisions for 2016–17.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I remind the House of my interest as a local councillor.
My Lords, the Government believe that local authorities, as democratically elected bodies, are best placed to determine the right service provision for the needs of their particular area. We have given them important new flexibilities to enable them to continue to do this in the most cost-effective way. Local authority council tax decisions are published annually as official statistics. The date for the 2016-17 council tax statistical release is 31 March.
My Lords, on 8 February, the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, told me that, if all authorities took advantage of the flexibilities which the Minister has just mentioned, the expected average local council tax increase this year would be 3.7%. Are the Government not concerned that the round of council tax decisions by local authorities this year will produce increases far above the rate of inflation and the growth in wages? At the same time, there are continuous cuts in local government services. Is it not the case that these are all due to the continuing reductions in local government funding by the Government?
My Lords, first, we acknowledge the important role of councils, including Pendle, which deliver the services on which our local communities depend. However, I take issue with the noble Lord because council tax has fallen in real terms by 11% since 2010 and councils have worked particularly hard over the past five years to deliver a better deal for local taxpayers and have coped well with reductions by reforming the way they work to become more efficient in both back-office functions and front-line delivery service.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the SNP has reneged on its promise to abolish the council tax, but instead Kezia Dugdale, the leader of Scottish Labour, has indicated that a Labour Government in Scotland would introduce a more progressive property tax? Is this not something that the Conservative Government should look at for England?
No, we are not in that position. The Question focuses very much on England and Wales. There are lots of opportunities for councils to make savings, particularly when working with other councils or public sector bodies. We have announced plans to reform the local government pension scheme but there are certainly other areas such as procurement, counterfraud and digital where we can make progress.
My Lords, Wiltshire council became a county unitary in 2009. Since then, we have saved £25 million every year in efficiencies from that move. We have used that money to keep council tax down in a difficult time through a recession but have also protected the services which people in Wiltshire consider are important, including investing in others. If that model was replicated across the country, it is estimated that it would save £2.8 billion a year. Does the Minister agree that the Government should now seriously look at implementing this county unitary model across the country?
We are ready to promote and facilitate local government reorganisation but only where areas want this. I am aware of my noble friend’s experience in successfully leading Wiltshire. This is an example of what can be achieved for local people where local government moves to a straightforward unitary structure with clear accountability and strong leadership which is sensitive to local needs. Again, the focus will be on—and has been in Wiltshire—the efficiency of service delivery.
My Lords, recently the Campaign for Better Transport has estimated that local authority subsidies for rural bus services are likely to be cut this year alone by £27 million. In Hertfordshire, where I live and work, there have been cuts since 2010 of 62%. Forty rural bus services have seen radical declines and 14 have gone altogether. While I recognise some of the things the Government are doing, not least the serious increase in the rural services delivery grant, will the Minister tell your Lordships’ House the long-term plans of Her Majesty’s Government to engage with local authorities to ensure that we have proper rural transport as one of the essential elements of rural sustainability?
The entire point of our devolution revolution is that all authorities will have the power to set their own policy agendas and target their spending priorities to match. Local leaders know best what is right for them and we think it is right that Whitehall does not predict exactly what the cost of a local service will be, including the bus service. But by 2020, when councils will be 100% funded by council tax, business rates and other local revenues, they will finally be fully accountable to their electorate and not to Whitehall. This is devolution.
My Lords, I am sure the noble Viscount is aware that the services cut by local authorities include social care, which, as my noble friend Lord Kinnock referred to in an earlier Question, means a massive increase in the number of people coming to hospitals. Does the noble Viscount consider that that is fair and that it is the right way for a Government who care about the health service to behave?
The noble Baroness will know that the 2% adult social care precept will raise up to £2 billion by 2019-20, with a further £1.5 billion available to councils to work with the NHS to ensure that care is available for older people following hospital treatment, through the better care fund.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that those of us who have the privilege of living in East Anglia, particularly those of us who live in Bury St Edmunds, where we have an excellent council which has improved services overall and kept rates well under control, do not need an elected mayor? That will only raise costs, introduce another layer of government and lead to further escalation of these problems.
That may be so, but I reiterate that we think it is right for the local area to decide these matters.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how much funding per pupil with the same needs can vary by school; and what they intend to do to achieve fairness in funding.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Eaton, and with her permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper.
My Lords, the current schools funding system is not fit for purpose. A secondary pupil with low prior attainment would attract over £2,200 of additional funding in Birmingham, compared with £36 in Darlington. The Government are committed to addressing this unfairness by introducing a national funding formula from 2017, based on pupils’ needs rather than purely historic calculations. Fairer funding will mean that every pupil, whatever their background and wherever they live, can achieve to the best of their potential.
My Lords, how many different local authority funding regimes are there at present? How many basic funding streams will be present after this change? May I also take this opportunity to wish my noble friend a happy birthday today?
I am grateful to my noble friend for his good wishes. As local authorities are currently responsible for setting their own funding formula for schools, there are 152 varying local funding formulae. We are currently consulting on our proposals to introduce one single national formula for schools. From 2019, funding will be allocated directly to schools on the basis of that formula. This means that, for example, a secondary school pupil with lower prior attainment will attract the same amount of additional funding wherever they are in the country.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that deprivation and need must be part of fairness?
I agree entirely with the noble Baroness. That will be very much behind our reforms.
My Lords, does the Minister also share my concern about services for under-fives, which I know he has come across, where specialist services are funded by local authorities at their whim? I hope that when he is reviewing the schools programme he will also look at under-five services and ensure that they get an equal proportion of funding.
I assure the noble Baroness that we will look at that.
My Lords, will the Minister share his initial thoughts on the weighting for each of the fair funding criteria, which are outlined in the government consultation, so we can understand his definition of “fair”?
As I think the noble Baroness knows, the consultation is in two parts. The first looks at the principles of the policy and the building blocks. We will set out the detailed design in the second part.
My Lords, without suggesting that the current funding formula is beyond improvement, the proposed national formula is another example of the Government’s centralist mindset. It is not the latest because, since this was announced, we have also had the White Paper on academisation. However, the national funding formula proposes to remove from head teachers the ability to have any say in the distribution of funding within their local area. Why does the Minister believe that civil servants are better placed, and know more, than head teachers about the funding needs of each area of the country?
The simple fact is that we inherited a funding formula from the Labour Government which was incomprehensible and confusing and which, through centralist diktats, got more and more complicated. We have to simplify it.
My Lords, the Government’s announcement of a national funding formula, and its implementation in my own county of Cambridgeshire, is extremely welcome. Following the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s announcement in the Budget last week of an additional £500 million to support the introduction of the national funding formula, can my noble friend give an indication of how quickly the transition from the present situation to meeting the target allocations in each part of the country will be achieved?
We will introduce the national funding formula for schools in high need from 2017-18 but the length of time it will take for all schools to reach their formula will be considered in the second stage of the consultation. We want areas that appear to be underfunded—I am aware that that is the case in Cambridge—to have their funding improved as quickly as possible, but also to move at a pace that is manageable for all schools.
My Lords, what contribution to fair funding will be made by forcing all schools to become academies, whether they want to or not, and getting rid of parent governors?
The answer to the first point is that the contribution will be massive efficiency savings as schools collaborating in groups will be able to hire much higher calibre financial people and make purchasing savings. We are not getting rid of parent governors; we are merely saying that governors do not have to be parents. Schools can have as many parent governors as they need. We will also ensure that schools engage with parents on a much more consistent and effective basis than having the odd parent governor if they want it.
My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the historic underfunding of counties such as North Yorkshire will be rectified by having regard to rural depravity, isolation and rurality factors?
We are intent on rectifying these issues, but I think that the noble Baroness will have to wait for more detail in the second stage of the consultation.
My Lords, need and deprivation—I think that that is what the noble Baroness meant—are going to be at the core of the new system. Will the Minister give us an assurance now that in, say, four years’ time, when we look back at how this new formula has been applied, it will not simply have benefited Conservative-controlled areas?
I can give the noble Lord that assurance. It is quite clear that the formula will benefit many areas that are Labour controlled, and it is being driven entirely on the basis that we have a level playing field for all pupils so that we can deliver educational excellence everywhere.
My Lords, does the Minister think that the very high salaries paid in some instances to the heads of academy chains—some are reportedly paid three times as much as the Prime Minister—is a good use of public funds?
We set out in great detail in the White Paper our thinking behind multi-academy trusts. Where schools are delivering educational excellence people deserve to be rewarded accordingly.
My Lords, from the dubious areas of Yorkshire to the elevated areas of Lincolnshire, surely all schools can benefit from having parent governors. Can my noble friend be a little more encouraging than he was in his answer on that subject?
I entirely agree with my noble friend that all schools can benefit from that, but we are trying very hard to focus governance on skills, so that people must have the relevant skills. But they may represent all sorts of different groups, and parent governors have a great deal to contribute.
Motion to Agree
That the Report from the Committee New investigative committee activity (3rd Report, HL Paper 113) be agreed to.
My Lords, with the leave of the House I beg to move that the third report of the Liaison Committee be agreed to. I can honestly say that I am delighted to be moving this Motion because I am very grateful indeed to all the Members of the House who worked hard to put forward their proposals for ad hoc committees in the next Session. Once again, this has been a very worthwhile exercise and the Liaison Committee has had an excellent range of topics to choose from.
I also take this opportunity to offer my warmest thanks to the members of the Liaison Committee for the constructive and thoughtful way in which they approached the task of first shortlisting and then selecting the proposals to recommend to the House. Sadly, it is of course not possible to avoid disappointing some of our colleagues, but the good news is that they can, if they wish, make proposals in future years. In the mean time, I hope that the House will agree that the committee’s recommendations cover a wide range of subjects, which will make excellent use of the talents of the Members of this House, which we are so fortunate to have.
The committee unanimously agreed the following proposals: first, an ad hoc committee on the long-term sustainability of the National Health Service; secondly, an ad hoc committee on sustaining the charity sector and the challenges of governance; and, thirdly, an ad hoc committee on financial exclusion and access to mainstream financial services. We agreed also to recommend an ad hoc post-legislative scrutiny committee to consider the Licensing Act 2003, which colleagues will recall covers a wide range of important matters.
I believe that it is widely acknowledged that Select Committee activity is one of the greatest strengths of this House. The expansion of this activity in the 2010-15 Parliament, with the growth in the number of ad hoc committees from one each Session to three, together with the introduction of a post-legislative scrutiny committee, have been very productive. Your Lordships will also remember that the committee agreed to establish an international relations committee at the start of the next Session, and the report mentions some safeguards in relation to the work of that committee.
I end on the note of thanks with which I began. Both the process that led to the committee’s report and the agreeing of it have been a delight. I commend the report to the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am sure that the House will warmly welcome the committee’s recommendations, but perhaps the Chairman could take this opportunity to explain to the House just how items get on the agenda of the Liaison Committee. For example, I think that he will be aware that there is a common view that the proposals in the Strathclyde report may well best be answered by a Joint Committee of both Houses, because they matter for both Houses of Parliament. Is that a matter for which the Liaison Committee could take responsibility?
My Lords, the position is very clear. Everybody has an equal opportunity. Every Member of the House has the opportunity to put forward topics for discussion. As the report indicates, we had a large number and a wide range of topics. We considered each and every one most carefully. That, I am sure, will continue to be the way in which the system works in future.
My Lords, I understand that the gathering of signatures in support of applications to the Liaison Committee for particular ad hoc inquiries does not go down very well with the committee. Why not? If 100 Members of this House decide that they want a particular ad hoc committee to be set up, why should the committee then select some item that is perhaps supported by a very few, simply because a majority of the committee at any one time just fancied that subject? This happened when I put in an application for a further inquiry into identity cards. I was supported by a lot of colleagues, who wrote to me, who knew about the application, but I understand that it had minimal support within the committee. We need to find a way of more accurately reflecting what a large number of people in the House might wish to support.
My Lords, the committee considered the range of options that were put to us. There was a common theme on some topics; others were more individual. We considered each of them on their merits and we have reached the conclusion that we now commend to the House.
My Lords, I have been able to give brief and informal notice to the Chairman of Committees of my intention to query the wisdom of the selection of our new ad hoc committees. Let me say again, and in agreement with the noble Lord, that the findings of your Lordships’ ad hoc Select Committees are one of the most valuable contributions of your Lordships’ House to British public life. The experience and knowledge that resides in your Lordships is perhaps unsurpassed by that in any other community in the United Kingdom.
However, at least three of the four selected ad hoc committees, if not all of them, fall into a rather similar category of inquiry, which one could loosely describe as social science. This appears to be at the expense of other important topics. I do not have time to go into all of them, but there is the hugely important and possibly catastrophic subject of antimicrobial resistance, proposed by the former Secretary of State the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. There is better regulation as proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, which would have gone to the heart of our democracy and how it is working or, rather, how it is not working, with the resultant disillusion among the voting public.
Above all, I would single out the problem of Islamism and the spread of Sharia law in this country, so forcefully and tragically brought home to us yet again this morning in Brussels. I submit that it is wrong of our Liaison Committee not to have picked one of the three proposals to examine this perhaps greatest threat to our present culture. We could, for instance, have had an inquiry proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, on global jihadist movements and the international fight against terrorism. There was a proposal from the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for an inquiry into our Prevent strategy, whether it is working and, if not, what perhaps can be done about it. Perhaps most simple of all, we could have had from the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, a committee to examine the spread of Sharia law in communities in the United Kingdom and to assess its social consequences. I feel that the noble Lord and his committee owe the House something more of an explanation as to why these and other committee inquiries were not chosen from the very large number of suggestions that were put forward.
Noble Lords would of course be disappointed if against this background I did not once again protest at the fact that we have no fewer than seven committees looking into our relationship with the European Union, in the form of one main committee and six sub-committees. I know that Europhile noble Lords will say that these committees are hugely valuable and that the reports that they produce are treated with awe and admiration in the corridors of Brussels, but I have to say that I see no evidence of this. In fact, if we take even the influence of the British Government in the deliberations of the Council of Ministers, we can see that since 1996 the Government have opposed 55 legislative measures in the Council of Ministers and were defeated on every single one of them. If the Government have such little influence in Brussels, I would have thought that the reports of your Lordships’ Select Committees have even less. Even if they do have influence, can it be right for us to fund seven of these committees when all these other subjects need to be looked at by your Lordships with the wisdom and authority that our committees bring to bear on every subject that they address?
My Lords, perhaps I may say a few words, since my name has been mentioned. Indeed, I have received a commendation from a rather unexpected quarter—I am not sure that it is all that welcome, but it is interesting. The topic mentioned by the noble Lord that I put forward was one of six that I suggested, none of which was accepted by the committee—and I am a member of that committee. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Laming. The members of the committee are all constructive and thoughtful and I go along completely with committee’s recommendations. The noble Lord, Lord Laming, conducted the discussion exceptionally well. He allowed full consideration of all aspects. There was no dissent. It was perhaps one of the most constructive ways of coming to a consensus that I have ever experienced in any committee in this House. I hope that the House will accept the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Laming.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. The fact that he made a number of recommendations and none was accepted is an indication of the thoughtfulness of the committee and the way matters were approached. We were not intimidated by his presence.
The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, does the committee a great service because he illustrates that we received a range of serious topics and each was very carefully considered. I would not wish in any way to give the impression that the committee thought that some of the topics that have not been recommended today were not worthy matters. That was not the case. The committee took the matters very seriously.
I may be able to give the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, some comfort in that the House has agreed to look again at the committee structure in 2017-18 and it may be that there will be opportunities then to look at some of the matters that he has raised. Although I have never had the privilege of serving on the EU Committee or its sub-committees, I have received consistently good reports about their work and the impact that they have, not only in this country but in Europe and beyond. I hope very much, that said, that noble Lords will be willing to accept this report. I beg to move.
Riot Compensation Bill
That the Bill do now pass.
My Lords, I apologise for raising a point on the Bill at such a late stage. In justification, I read the Bill for the first time this morning. Clause 8(1) states:
“If the decision-maker decides that a claim is valid, the decision-maker must then decide the amount of compensation, up to a maximum of £1 million per claim (the ‘compensation cap’)”.
However, Clause 8(9) states:
“The Secretary of State may by regulations change the amount of the compensation cap for the time being specified in subsection (1)”.
So regulations can change the amount of the cap. That plainly leaves it open to the Secretary of State to increase the cap or reduce it, as the case may be. What troubles me a little is that a possible reduction in the cap might make difficulties in relation to claims for compensation that have not come to fruition, are still in the pipeline and undecided. Would a reduction in the compensation cap affect such claims? I raised this point with the noble Lord, Lord Bates, to whom I am grateful for his assistance, and the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, the sponsor of the Bill.
The consequence has been that the Minister has had a discussion with Home Office legal advisers, and four points have been made, which I think should be placed on the record, because they will be of assistance in construing this Bill and deciding what effect it should have.
My Lords, there is a Motion before the House that this Bill should now pass. This is a formality of the House and I do not believe that there is a substantive case from the noble and learned Lord, who said that he only read the Bill this morning, when it has been before the House and has been properly dealt with by it, or that he should be intervening in this way. I propose that the House consider the Motion that is before it.
Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill
Housing and Planning Bill
Committee (8th Day)
Relevant document: 20th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
89LZA: After Clause 134, insert the following new Clause—
“The purpose of planning
(1) Part 2 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 is amended as follows.(2) Before section 13 (survey of area) insert—“12A The purpose of planning(1) The purpose of planning is the achievement of long-term sustainable development and place making.(2) In this Act “sustainable development and place making” means managing the use, development and protection of land and natural resources in a way which enables people and communities to provide for their legitimate social, economic and cultural well-being while sustaining the potential of future generations to meet their own needs.(3) In achieving sustainable development and place making the local planning authority should—(a) positively identify suitable land for development in line with the economic, social and environmental objectives so as to improve the quality of life, well-being and health of people and the community;(b) contribute to the sustainable economic development of the community;(c) contribute to the vibrant cultural and artistic development of the community;(d) protect and enhance the historic environment;(e) positively promote the enhancement and protection of biodiversity so as to achieve a net benefit for nature;(f) contribute to the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change in line with the objectives of the Climate Change Act 2008;(g) positively promote high quality and inclusive design that meets the needs of the maximum number of people, including disabled and older people;(h) ensure that decision-making is open, transparent, participative and accountable; and(i) ensure, whenever possible, that assets arising from the development process are managed for the long-term interest of the community.””
My Lords, before I launch into my new clause, I am sure that the whole House will have noticed that we are missing the congenial figure of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, on our Front Benches. I am sure that the other Front Benches would like to join us in sending him every best wish for a speedy recovery. He was taken ill last night.
Before we move on to dissect the planning Bill in all its glory, I am proposing a new clause, which I hope will bring great spirit and a brighter vision for the Minister about what planning can achieve. The new clause also draws on the recent report of the National Policy for the Built Environment Committee. We have just heard an interesting discussion on the role of the committee and the report was an excellent example of a very thoughtful appreciation of a very complex topic. Our findings, which are based on extensive evidence of how, with the talent and vision we already have among our planners, architects and engineers, we can make better places for the future. That is reflected in my new clause, which sets out the terms of what is possible, with the need to reassert the fundamental and public purpose of planning itself—something that I am afraid we have lost sight of.
Planning is about making places and shaping the future of communities. Therefore, it has a profound impact on our lives in many different ways. Obviously, it includes housebuilding, but it is not exclusively about that; it can determine whether communities thrive or not and whether the future is safe, whether it is healthy or harmful and whether that community is productive or idle. Of all the public services that we have, it is the longest term. The proposed new clause would put in the Bill a positive statement of the public purposes and benefit of planning.
In 1947, the Town and Country Planning Act took its place alongside the National Health Service Act, the Education Act and the National Insurance Act as the foundation of what was intended to be a new, prosperous and socially just society. Without the 1947 Act, London and Brighton would have converged into a huge, ghastly conglomerate. Somewhat immodestly, I suggest that my new clause is in that tradition. What is significant about it—it is unique in my experience—is that it is supported by a host of organisations which look after different aspects of community interest, such as Age Concern, Friends of the Earth, TCPA and Aspire. These organisations know what a difference a good place can make; they share the concerns on this side of the House that the changes in this part of the Bill will make high-quality, accessible, sustainable outcomes more difficult to achieve in the anticipated new developments.
This amendment specifies what planning authorities need to plan for if they are going to make the best use of land and resources. First, we have the three indivisible elements of sustainability: economic, social and environmental. We need to plan for clear outcomes for health and well-being, for provision for economic development and mitigation of climate change, given the current fragility of the future. Noble Lords may know of the Foresight land use futures project which reported some years ago and concluded that the potential role of land and land use in climate change mitigation and adaptation would be profound. The move to a low-carbon economy will increasingly influence land-use decisions, settlement patterns, the design of urban environments and the choices on transport infrastructure. I wish I thought that the Bill before us had anything like the grip on those issues and the foresight and ambition of that report.
This amendment—and I say this boldly—anticipates happiness too, because happiness and resourcefulness go together. It recognises that the best places to live are those which understand how arts, heritage and culture enrich our lives and create a sense of belonging and identity. It also speaks for the need for rich habitats and green space, all of which are represented by a paramount emphasis on quality and design. This will create inclusive and resilient communities that will thrive in the future. It will design in health and safety. In short, it offers a prescription for the sort of communities we would all choose to live in. The tragedy is that none of this is even hinted at in this Bill and yet it is not some utopian vision which is and should remain out of reach; it is a practical, cost-effective and eminently far-sighted proposition because it will pay for itself and save lives. Instead we have in this Bill an attempt to wrench the planning system towards a particular, limited and short-term purpose. It is driven by Treasury principles and underwritten by the constant accusation that the current planning system is too slow and expensive and has failed to deliver, especially when it comes to building houses.
If the Minister reads the report of the Select Committee on the built environment, she will see that the evidence we received from the people who build houses makes it clear that while the planning system definitely can be improved, the consistent failures impacting on housebuilding have been the lack of finance, the lack of skills and the dead hand of land banking. This new clause reasserts a holistic view which is fundamentally at odds with what this Bill proposes, which is a fragmentation of the planning system—three new routes to achieve the new status of permission in principle—and a perverse separation of the key elements of any development—location, land use and amount of development—from everything in the technical details section which makes up the look, feel, sustainability and quality of a place and the prospects for its community.
Once again we are in murky waters in this Bill, with instances of definitions and delivery waiting on regulations which we will not see and which it will be beyond our reach to change, and a consultation on how the process is going to work running parallel with our deliberations and not available to us. This is unacceptable.
The Bill is supposed to create greater certainty and speed. I wish I could believe that it will, because that is certainly what housebuilders, developers and homebuyers want, but I am afraid that the Bill and the technical consultation are so complex and so riddled with uncertainties and ambiguities of language, meaning and policy that I simply cannot see it happening.
I am offering the Minister an alternative. If we can put on the face of the Bill this ambitious statement of what planning should be about and the sorts of communities we want to see, we would send a strong signal and a challenge to the planning community that we know what it is capable of and what we have a right to expect from it. The Select Committee was adamant on this point. As a nation, our aspirations for the quality of the built environment have been routinely too low. Only the Government can set a more ambitious path and we urge them to do so. The Minister could make a great start by accepting this modest amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have not spoken previously in Committee, but I took part in the Select Committee process and helped to produce the report Building Better Places. I support the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, in this amendment because to a very great degree it reflects many of the conclusions of the Select Committee. It is important that as the Housing and Planning Bill goes through this House it reflects a number of the conclusions of that report. The amendment takes quite a number of those issues in a very comprehensive way and puts them in this new clause.
I pay tribute to the noble Baronesses, Lady Andrews and Lady Whitaker, who were, in a sense, the prime movers behind the setting up of the Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment, and, of course, to the chair, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, who helped drive the report through. The essence of this amendment is that the National Planning Policy Framework guidance is essentially rather weak about placing a duty on sustainable development, and that is what the committee heavily identified.
This amendment has formidable support across the country. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, read out a few of the names, but it is extremely comprehensive. The supporters’ view, which I entirely endorse, is that planning plays a key role in shaping decisions for the wider built environment as well as in individual buildings and development. They share a concern that current reforms will make high-quality, accessible, sustainable outcomes harder to achieve. This is partly because the NPPF fails to recognise the long-term social and economic benefits of many planning interventions from accessible design standards to green infrastructure and from biodiversity to adequate play space for children. The committee found that the evidence was overwhelming on health, inclusion, climate and economic efficiency and that good planning creates well-being and lower long-term costs to the public purse. The essence of the report was the Committee’s statement:
“Moves towards deregulation of the planning system, coupled with an intensification of housebuilding, have the potential to exert significant enduring impacts upon the built environment in England. A consistent theme across much of the remainder of this report is the need for quality, as well as quantity, and the need to think about long-term implications for ‘place’, as well as the important and more immediate need for more housing”.
It went on:
“This was a consistent theme throughout much of the evidence that we heard; many witnesses told us that the design, quality and standard of much recent development is simply not good enough. The coordination between different aspects of the built environment is, in places, sadly lacking … We believe that, as a nation, we need to recognise the power of place and to be much more ambitious when planning, designing, constructing and maintaining our built environment. Failure to do so will result in significant long-term costs”.
Those are extremely wise words. One only needs to look at one factor, which is heritage. The report states:
“The National Planning Policy Framework seeks to balance heritage protection and development policies. We believe that it is essential that this balance is sustained, enhanced and delivered. We recommend that planning and development policy and practice should reflect more explicitly the fact that our historic environment is a cultural and economic asset rather than an obstacle to successful future developments”,
and so on. If one took every line of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, to which I have put my name, one would find that there are supporting statements in this report.
I very much hope that the Minister and this House will listen to some wise words in this report. We spent many months listening to many witnesses, whose evidence quite overwhelmingly says that we need to amend and make much more of the guidance, whether through a new clause like this or through much tighter guidance, to make sure that place is properly taken into account in our planning system.
My Lords, I have listened and have been most interested, and I agree with most of what has been said. The only thing I am unhappy about is that phrase “place making”. The noble Lord mentioned heritage, which is very important because we are creating heritage for the future. “Place making”, however, seems a pretty dull phrase, and I hope that by the time we get to Report, noble Lords may come up with something better.
My Lords, I had the privilege to be a member of the Select Committee on the built environment, and like the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, I have not spoken in this debate before, so I declare the interest I have put in the register.
Planning will not go away—that seems certain. Whatever side of the House you sit on, there has to be a recognition that planning will continue on our island because of the number of people we have and the appropriate amount of land we have. Against that background—I spent the first decade of my working life working in and around planning matters—there is obviously an enormous amount of controversy about what might happen, and so on. However, the perennial problem as I have always seen it is that people get bogged down and put off by the mass of detail that surrounds this topic, and we need a consensus across the political divide and across the rural and urban communities about the generality of what planning is all about.
My noble friend Lady Gardner quite rightly said that the word “place” is perhaps not the most romantic or exciting sounding word, but it conveys a very important phenomenon. As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said we want people in this country to live in a decent place in a decent environment, because that in turn will generate a much better quality of life for them and their families. While I am not unhappy with the detailed wording of what is proposed in the amendment, there is a case for saying that if we can find a brief form of words that would encapsulate what land use planning in this country is all about—and the emphasis will change over time—it would be to everyone’s advantage, not least because the generality of the direction in which policies will subsequently be developed will be set in a framework.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a fellow of the RIBA. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for his kind words about the Select Committee and endorse the importance of this amendment. I will add only one point, as I agree with almost everything that has been said so far. Planning is one of our vital professions, but it has suffered in recent decades in prestige, status and most recently in numbers, as local authorities have cut services, whose value they have come to appreciate less. A clause like this one would return the idea of vision to the career of planning, which sorely needs it. I hope the Minister will understand that we need to revitalise the career of planning so that the places which are made as a result of a development are truly places in which people thrive.
My Lords, I agree with what has been said so far in this debate. I want to emphasise that this is an extremely important amendment because it underpins so much of what follows. It provides the framework within which individual policies can be devised to secure sustainable development and sustainable place-making, and it is important that we have something in the Bill that emphasises that importance of planning.
Two years ago I chaired the University of Birmingham’s policy commission on future urban living. As we took evidence, it became very clear that it was going to be very difficult to make significant change without an enhanced planning system to lead it and a better understanding of why it matters. We concluded that planners must not be seen simply as regulators. That is increasingly the way in which the role of the planning profession in local government has gone. Planners have to be seen as part of a senior management team of a council with a specific role in achieving long-term sustainable development and long-term sustainable place-making. I use that phrase because it is the one that is in common parlance when discussing planning.
It is very important that officers of councils have a broader responsibility in planning than simply regulation. Achieving all this requires a radical upgrade in the importance of planning to attract back the multidisciplinary creative talent that was once prevalent in planning departments. For that reason, the objectives of this amendment are very important because they explain the role of planning as a multidisciplinary function in the local authority. As the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said, in recent years we have lost sight of the importance of planning. I agree absolutely with that. I think it is a very important statement.
As the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, has just pointed out—I think I am quoting him correctly—it is important that we capture land-use planning. This is very important, and it is absolutely right that we should.
My Lords, I remind everyone that I declared a bunch of interests at the start of the debates. I am going to add another one now, seeing that the NPPF has been mentioned. I was one of the four practitioners who wrote the original draft of the NPPF, and I confirm that it is not necessary to add this set of words to the Bill, because that is what the NPPF already does. It is about sustainable development, and that will be determined individually by each council with each application in its area. Putting something in the Bill will limit the ability of councils to deliver what we need to deliver.
Unlike noble Lords who have spoken before, looking through rose-tinted glasses, about what the world has become since 1947 and the planning Act, I remind noble Lords that the tower blocks that we have started to knock down were once seen as iconic buildings of the 1947 Act. I am not sure that we want to go back to that world. Probably my final statement on this will be that this fantastic building that we all have the privilege of operating from would not have been built under the 1947 Act.
My Lords, I set on record my best wishes to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and wish him a speedy recovery. In this Bill we have a half-baked, ill-thought-through set of proposals. Parliament, local government, housing providers and the voluntary sector have been treated in a high-handed manner in the development and consultation of this Bill. No regulations have been produced, and the Government freely admit that regulations will, for the most part, not be available until many months after this Bill has become an Act of Parliament. All we have been offered is an expression of frustration from the Government at that fact. This is not a good way to pass legislation that stands the test of time. It is, however, definitely the way to pass legislation that is quickly discredited, not used, and fails everyone—a bit like the recent Budget.
Amendment 89LZA, proposed and set out passionately by my noble friend Lady Andrews and supported by the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Greaves, seeks, as we have heard, to put in the Bill this new clause, which sets out the purpose of planning. It is a set of principles to which planners need to adhere. Since 2010 there have been a number of changes to the planning process, as we have heard. It is good that we have an expert here from the National Planning Policy Framework, which sets out how local people and local councils can produce their own local plans. The Localism Act 2011 gave specific powers to local authorities and local communities to develop planning policies, but this amendment would help to give a framework for that decision-making process. I acknowledge that it is generally accepted that sustainability needs to be considered, but the amendment would put it on the face of the Bill. That is why it is important for everybody to be absolutely clear about what we are trying to achieve. If the Minister has any objections, I would like to know exactly what they are.
My Lords, before I begin, I want to echo the views expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, about the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark. From the government Benches, we also wish him a speedy recovery.
I thank the noble Baroness for her comments on her amendment. I agree that sustainable development is integral to the planning system and that a plan-led approach is key to delivering it—which were almost the precise words of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. However, I do not believe that the amendment, although well-intentioned, is necessary to secure sustainable development through planning.
The Government have put local and neighbourhood plans at the heart of the planning system. We abolished top-down regional strategies and devolved more power to local communities through neighbourhood planning. This puts local planning authorities and communities at the forefront of shaping a vision for their area and deciding how to meet their development needs. Our commitment to a plan-led system is underlined in national policy and is at the heart of the current system that has the development plan as the starting point for decisions on planning applications. We have also made clear our commitment to getting local plans in place and streamlining the local plan-making process.
The amendment would make sustainable development a legal purpose of planning and provides detail on objectives that plan-making authorities should deliver. However, I believe that this is already addressed in both legislation and policy, and that the proposed amendment would not achieve its objective.
Section 39 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 already sets out that bodies preparing local development documents should do so with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development. As my noble friend Lord Porter said, our National Planning Policy Framework is clear that sustainable development should be at the heart of planning and be pursued in a positive and integrated way. The framework is explicit that the purpose of the planning system is to contribute to achieving sustainable development, and that the three pillars of the environment, society and economy are mutually dependent and should not be pursued in isolation. It makes it clear that policies set out in paragraphs 18 to 219, taken as a whole, constitute the Government’s view of what sustainable development in England means in practice for the planning system. Taken together, these requirements ensure that the principle of sustainable development runs through all levels of plan making; that is, strategic, local and neighbourhood. Because decisions on individual applications must by law be plan led, the goal of sustainable development permeates the planning system as a whole.
While I fully agree about the importance of sustainable development, I do not believe that setting out an exhaustive definition of it, as under the proposed amendment, is the right way to ensure that local communities take a leading role in contributing to its achievement. The amendment would require those involved in planning to satisfy a prescriptive, eight-part definition of sustainable development. This would add considerably to the complexity of the system, pose significant practical implications and take no regard of the individual contexts that local planning authorities have to address. My noble friend Lord Inglewood alluded to those matters.
The added complexity introduced by the amendment would likely result in more legal challenges to plans and planning decisions. It could have the unintended consequence of discouraging local planning authorities from preparing plans and discouraging applications from coming forward.
Placing in statute such a lengthy, statutory definition of sustainable development which applies to all planning decisions, including on applications, is unrealistic. How would a person applying for a loft extension prove that their development complied with the amendment’s proposed principle to,
“contribute to the vibrant cultural and artistic development of the community”?
Nor does it take account of the fact that sustainable development is an evolving concept. I believe that sustainable development needs to allow for future progress in our understanding of what is sustainable.
We want to ensure that all local authorities can effectively plan for the individual needs of their areas, and that they are able to respond to changing demands. The amendment would impose an additional, and unnecessary, legal burden on delivering the homes and sustainable growth that this country needs.
The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, raised the matter of the report of the House of Lords Select Committee on the National Policy for the Built Environment. We are, of course, carefully considering the committee’s findings and will issue a government response in due course, and perhaps that gives her some reassurance. I hope that this also provides a little reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, that we attach considerable importance to this matter. However, I must disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that the National Planning Policy Framework is weak with regard to sustainable development.
To take up a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, which focuses on heritage, as we heard, it is a matter for the conservation and enhancement of the historic environment and is one of the key principles of the national planning policy. The national planning policy recognises that the historic environment can be a stimulus to economic development by acting as a catalyst for regeneration and inspiring high-quality design. It requires local authorities, in developing a positive strategy for the conservation and enjoyment of the historic environment, to take account of opportunities to draw on the contribution made by the historic environment to the character of a place. It sets out a clear expectation that all planning processes should respond to local character and history, and that local authorities should look for opportunities for new development in relation to heritage assets to enhance or better reveal their significance.
I hope that the noble Baroness will be somewhat reassured by my explanation and will be prepared to withdraw her amendment.
I am grateful to the noble Viscount for his reply, and I am particularly grateful to everyone around the Chamber who has supported the proposed new clause. There was a stark contrast with the enthusiasm shown by Members of the House to the response of the Minister, and to an extent the Minister’s response was predictable—if not rather nervous, I thought. I can understand, having been in the position that he is in, how difficult it is sometimes for a Government to accept a positive statement of policy in a Bill, but it has happened in the past—I think of the Children Act 2004 and the paramount importance of the child. All I am asking for in this proposed new clause is that a statement for the positive purposes of planning be put in the planning Bill. We may not have another planning Bill for some years. I have difficulty in understanding quite why it would be a deterrent to local authorities rather than something of an inspiration.
We all believe, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said, that planners have tremendous creativity and a great role to play in the shaping of the future community. I understand perfectly well that we have definitions of sustainable development in other planning Acts, and I know how hard it was to achieve them. I also know that the final draft of the National Planning Policy Framework, which was crawled over by many consulted bodies, is an excellent document, but it took some arriving at. However, I do not think that that is a substitute for having something in the Bill which simply says that in this country we believe that planning has a significant role and can actually achieve more than it is likely to achieve without having such a statement of purpose.
Although I will withdraw the amendment at this point, I would like to consider with colleagues around the House whether it would be worth bringing it back, possibly in a different form, at the next stage.
Amendment 89LZA withdrawn.
89LZB: After Clause 134, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to deliver accessible housing
(1) Part 3 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 is amended as follows.(2) After section 39 (sustainable development) insert—“39A Duty to ensure supply of wheelchair-accessible housing(1) An English planning authority must carry out its relevant planning functions with a view to ensuring the adequate supply of accessible and adaptable dwellings and wheelchair-user dwellings in England.(2) A local planning authority in England must have regard to any relevant guidance given by the Secretary of State in carrying out the duty under subsection (1).””
My Lords, this is a very different sort of amendment, and it is about a different sort of priorities. Our decisions, wherever we make them in government, should be about giving priority to people whose needs are evidently greater than ours and whose potential is diminished because those needs are not met. One of the many failures of the current Housing and Planning Bill, as has been pointed out over many days now and with regard to many aspects of the Bill—from starter homes to pay to stay—is that it marginalises people who are in real need and who cannot take advantage of market forces. This amendment is about one such group: disabled people with mobility difficulties, whose outstanding need is for accessible and adaptable homes.
In the debate so far, noble Lords such as my noble friend Lady Lister, who is not in her place at the moment, have raised extremely important questions about the housing needs of disabled people and the need to ensure that the existing stock is protected. But we have heard very little indeed about the need to plan and provide for the needs of disabled people in the present or the future. There has been no place for them so far in the debate on starter homes, let alone when it comes to planning for the needs of the whole community. I am bound to reflect on the fact that in this week of all weeks, when the position of disabled people has come under such scrutiny in relation to tax breaks for better-off people, yet again we have an instance where the thrust of policy is towards those who can afford a reasonable amount of money for a starter home and where a Bill is silent on the needs of people who have no voice.
There have been few opportunities so far to address the needs of working-age families, let alone the predicament of elderly and disabled people. The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, will speak to her amendment, which in a way is twinned with mine. We have done so much together in recent years on lifetime homes and we are in harness here. To give a very short background, it is only when one has experienced limitation on mobility that one understands the nature of the obstacles, which are everywhere, to having a full life. I have not, and therefore I can only imagine the frustration and anxiety, and we are not short on imagination and data. The most recent data consistently show that the majority of housing in England has very poor levels of accessibility. The English Housing Survey 2012 found that 95% of the total housing stock—that is, 21.5 million homes—is not fully visitable by disabled people, and are hardly compliant with lifetime homes standards in their lack of basic features. In short, disabled people are simply shut out of 21.5 million homes in this country.
What is a nuisance for many is infinitely worse for disabled people, and the situation is deteriorating. The number of disabled people waiting for a home that meets their needs has risen by 17% in the last five years. Aspire, which has been very helpful in framing this amendment, has found that 86% of people with a spinal injury are unlikely to be discharged into a home that meets their physical needs, and 300,000 disabled households live in accommodation that is simply unsuitable. That comes from Leonard Cheshire Disability. Some 24,000 wheelchair users are in urgent need of wheelchair-accessible social or affordable housing. Many others, of course, need to be able to rent or buy suitable homes.
We all know that it is a truism that poor housing means poor health, but for disabled people living in places that reduce their ability even further it has a massive impact on their physical and mental health. I refer noble Lords to a recent report by Loughborough University, The Health and Wellbeing of Spinal Cord Injured Adults and the Family: Examining Lives in Adapted and Unadapted Homes. What is described in that report makes for pretty dreadful reading: the anxiety, the loss of independence, the loss of opportunity and the sense of despair. One person simply says:
“It’s depressing living in here, like this, in a house that doesn’t meet my basic needs … I’m at rock bottom … I just sit here. I can get to the back door but that’s as far as I go”.
Those of us who have the luxury of free movement should try to imagine that. Living in an unadapted home means not being able to do the necessary things, let alone the desirable things such as getting out and about, and 30% of the research participants in this study reveal that they had even contemplated suicide.
The other thing we know is that the costs fall on the NHS and the social care budget: there are more weeks in hospital waiting for suitable accommodation; a bed in an NHS spinal unit costs £960 a day; the cost of one hour’s social care a day is £5,000 a year. But if the kitchen and bathroom are inaccessible, it is a lot more than that. Some 200,000 starter homes are being planned without the slightest reference to what local people with disabilities might need or make use of. It is that lack of awareness and of ambition that prompted me to table the amendment.
The Minister will no doubt tell me that the NPPF requires local planning authorities to meet the housing needs of disabled people in their local plans. Will he tell me how many LPAs have actually identified this need and reflected it in their local plans? How many local plans are still incomplete or not signed off? How many LPAs actually know how many wheelchair users they should provide for?
There are some outstanding local authorities. Brighton & Hove, for example, has used Section 106 to require developers to include accessible affordable homes in their schemes. Another, Dartford Borough Council, has in the past enabled the development of accessible, affordable homes through granting exemption or relief from CIL, and, of course, the GLA has been an outstanding leader. But they are the exceptions. The fact that they have to use Section 106 and CIL to incentivise the development of accessible homes demonstrates the extent of market failure and the market’s inability to develop such housing.
It is a simple argument: if one council can do it, all can. All local authorities need to know the extent and diversity of the need in their local area and be able to plan how best to meet it. Some are better at planning and providing than others. The amendment we tabled is very simple: it seeks to raise the debate by seeking to impose a duty on all local authorities specifically to assess the level of need for accessible, adaptable and wheelchair-user dwellings, and make this explicit in local plans. This would establish a statutory footing for the future supply of what is so desperately needed. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, in this very important amendment. She described it and made her case so beautifully. I rise because I spent six years as a commissioner in the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I am very much aware that people with disabilities are, rightly, a protected group in our country. Therefore, not complying with the amendment might be seen even as discriminatory by many people. Even more importantly, it would not be the right thing to do. What is the point of being in a protected group if there is no possibility of you being able to live in a local housing project? It is just logic; we have to do something to fulfil our obligations and do so with a good will.
The number of people with disabilities is rising. Thankfully, they, like any other person in our society, have a much better chance of survival than previously. This means that an appropriate proportion of housing in any development should be fully accessible to wheelchair users, as the noble Baroness has proposed. Therefore, I support her very important amendment.
I turn now to the amendment standing in my name in this group. As Mark Twain so famously said:
“Buy land, they’re not making it anymore”.
During Committee, a host of ideas have been put forward as to what we should do about the severe housing shortage facing us as a nation. While a large number of the ideas that have been put forward are great in theory, unfortunately some of them do not always work in practice, as has been repeatedly demonstrated in some of the debates we have already had, while others have been proven after many years of successful practice.
One such is retirement housing for older people with supported care needs. This is often called “extra care retirement housing”, which might not be the best name for it. There are others, often called “close care”, or they may be part of a retirement village. They are provided by a whole range of providers in the public, voluntary and private sectors. Such developments are not merely housing schemes designed without stairs, with grab rails and so on for older people; they offer older people a whole lifestyle, providing independent living, where many of the day-to-day chores are taken care of, and where support services come into play if they are required. People there have the reassurance of knowing that trained help is on hand if they need it. There is a restaurant that provides not just food but company when they wish to go there. There is a lounge or lounges available with activities to take part in. There is a guest suite, so that if the family wants to come to stay, it can. There are also 24/7 alarm calls and monitoring by those who understand the needs of older people.
During the years, I have met hundreds—in fact, probably many thousands—of older people in this and other types of housing. Because of my experience, my husband and I were able to ensure that my mother spent the last five years of her life in extra care retirement housing. She lived there, and died happily in her own home, with friends and family around her. I want many more people to have that opportunity.
The case for providing extra care retirement housing goes much further. At the same time as providing all these services, it also offers direct benefits to both local and national government because it brings down the costs of both health and welfare provision. This has already been said in relation to people with disabilities. I declare an interest as I head up the think tank, the International Longevity Centre UK. A study by the ILC in 2011 showed—to take just two examples—that extra care residents are less likely to be admitted for overnight stay in hospital and that they experience fewer falls. The study also showed that around 19% of those aged 80 or more, living in the community and receiving domiciliary care, were likely to move into institutional or residential care, while only 10% of people in extra care housing were expected to do so. That cuts the numbers by more or less a half. So as well as enhancing well-being for many, it keeps older people at home for longer and gives them opportunities to have a full life and to contribute to their communities because they still live in them.
There was a lady I knew who was totally disabled and in her late 70s. Her MP used to speak to me about her often because she was in awe of her; sadly, she died recently. This lady was about the best telephone campaigner in her area and she often terrified her MP. She was able to be in her community and be a resource in that community.
This amendment does not try to spell out quotas or targets but it ensures that there is a legal duty on people who make decisions on planning applications to have special regard to the need for such provision in the community. As such, I hope that it will be acceptable to your Lordships’ House. For me, extra care retirement housing—or housing of that type—ticks all the boxes. It adds to the housing stock; it encourages downsizing where appropriate. At a time when everyone is rightly concerned about the availability of finance, it releases funds that would otherwise be spent on health, social care and other forms of welfare provision. It truly is a win-win situation.
My Lords, I shall say a few words in support of the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, which I signed with some enthusiasm, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross.
Looking back over the past 40 years during which I have been involved in housing issues, it seems that the drive and impetus to provide adequate housing for disabled people across a range of level of disabilities, together with the drive to provide better housing for older people, has faltered. As part of the current wish of people across the political spectrum to have more houses built, simply building them has a higher priority than what kind and quality of houses are built. That is something which I read right through this Bill. I hope that I am wrong, but that is how I read it.
A long time ago, in the late 1970s, when I was chairman of the local housing committee, one thing that we did year after year was build a small number of properties for disabled people. Those properties are still there and people are still benefiting from them. However, such properties are no longer being built. As more and more people live longer and longer, more people become disabled. It will happen to most of us at some stage in our lives. However, it seems that we cannot look ahead and plan for it. As far as housing for older people is concerned, as a society we still have not found ways of providing good endings to the lives of many people. We know how to do it in many cases, as in the examples mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. We know what to do and what kind of provision should be made, but it is simply not a priority. We should all be very ashamed of that. Many of us may suffer at the end of our lives as a result, if the experience of our final years is not as good as it could be, although we do not know whether that will be the case. Housing is crucial to this. Both these amendments are worthy, particularly that of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, as it would place a duty on local authorities to look at this matter and consider it in all their planning policies for new housing. That is critical.
My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. I have been in this House since 1977. During that time, the number of Members on the mobile Bench has increased considerably. When I entered the House, I think there was one, possibly two. That is an example of what is happening in the wider world around us, where you see more and more people using wheelchairs. More of us are living much longer because of the improvement in medicines and doctoring. That means that more people will need wheelchairs.
A property that is built for wheelchair use does not preclude it being used by people who do not need wheelchairs. However, those who move into that property when they do not need a wheelchair will not have the expense and complete upset of having to move home when they do. The more residential property with proper wheelchair access that is built, whether it comprises blocks of flats or individual houses, the better. Make it easy for one and you make it easy for all to keep people in their homes. Most people want to stay in their homes permanently. I strongly support the noble Baroness’s amendment which would also cover most of what is required by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross.
My Lords, I shall add a quick comment. Of course, I support my noble friend’s amendment and the absolutely spot-on comments of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. However, quite a number of elderly people suffer from disabilities which do not confine them to a wheelchair but still require aids and adaptations to be built into the property. For example, they cannot lean over to open a window if the windows are too high and stiff; their arthritic hands make them incapable of that. They cannot manage plugs at floor level because they cannot stoop and bend. These have to be sited at about waist height: suitable for anybody, whether in a wheelchair or not. They will need surfaces in kitchens which are, if you like, on Ladderax and can be adapted as they become more physically immobile but not necessarily confined to a wheelchair. Many of them will, alas, go on to suffer from mental health deterioration such as Alzheimer’s and so on. They will need smart gadgetry in their homes. In my city, the estimates for building that in when housing for older people is built are around £10,000. If you try to retrofit, you quadruple that cost.
I do not disagree in the slightest with the remarks that have already been made: I very much support them. However, I hope that we take a wider view of the increasing frailties that are being generated among elderly people. Many of them will be in wheelchairs; many will have disabilities and frailties which are not wheelchair-related. They may be hard of hearing; they may have difficulty getting into the house. In my housing association’s sheltered housing scheme, one of our most difficult problems now is retrofitting space for mobility scooters and their charging. The housing was built 20 years ago, when mobility scooters, as we know them, hardly existed. Now there may be 15 to 20 mobility scooters in a scheme of 40 households, but nowhere to park them or plug them in. There is a real problem of space standards here. I know that it is hard to think forward and we will always end up retrofitting, but I hope that the Government will take this away and consult with architects and companies like Habinteg which have very wide experience of disability needs in house-building, to see what that agenda should look like for the next 20 or 30 years.
My Lords, this case has been made very clearly, but I will say something about the adaptation of homes, because I was chairman of social services and knew quite a lot of places. Often, a home is adapted for someone for their life and readapted several times. That is excellent, but it is important that, after that person has gone, the adaptations are not just thrown away, as I saw happen far too often. The home should be used again for someone else in a similar situation.
My Lords, the accessibility of housing stock to people with mobility problems remains woefully low and more needs to be done by the Government to increase the number of homes where people with disabilities or mobility problems can live. By increasing the supply of homes that are accessible to people with disabilities or who have mobility problems, we will help people with care needs to be able to stay in their own home for longer and, potentially, reduce the costs on other services. The whole area of adult social care needs careful consideration. The benefits and challenges of living longer need to be addressed. We need to ensure that people can live rewarding lives for as long as possible.
We need to bear in mind the fact that people are likely to spend 20 or 30 years in retirement. It is, therefore, important to focus on this when we are developing policy. My noble friend Lady Andrews was absolutely correct to draw the attention of the Committee to the self-inflicted damage done to this Government by their treatment of the disabled in the Budget last week. By accepting this amendment, they might make up some of the massive territory that they lost with the disabled community this week.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, with her wealth of experience, is someone the Government really should listen to. Amendment 89LZC, in her name, requires that planning authorities, or the Secretary of State, should have special regard to the local need to provide adequate and appropriate accommodation for that ageing population. We support that position. Amendment 102, in the name of my noble friends Lord Kennedy and Lord Beecham sets out to put, in the relevant regulation, the fact that new dwellings should meet the nationally described space standards published in March 2015. This amendment is only putting into the schedule to the Bill the Building Regulations standards agreed by this Government and I hope the Minister can accept it.
The noble Baroness is castigating the Government for the way that developers are building residential accommodation. Should she not be castigating developers for not thinking about how much longer their residential property could be used if it were properly designed in the first place? The Building Regulations are there, so developers need to produce answers not just the Government.
Absolutely, but it would make sense for the Government to ensure that developers are absolutely clear about their responsibilities. These amendments would send a message to those developers: that they need to take this on board and that it is in their own interests to ensure that these provisions are made.
My Lords, I support the amendments that the noble Baronesses, Lady Andrews and Lady Greengross, have brought forward. I will also speak briefly on Amendment 102, which the Labour Front Bench has just referred to.
I agree with the points raised by those who proposed the amendments. It is absolutely the case that the population demographics of this country require housing to be much more adapted, adaptable and enduring in its adaptability. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, made the very good point that once adapted a property should, wherever possible, be put to continuous good use. It should certainly not be made unaccessible by subsequent occupiers.
I want to pick up a point arising from Amendment 102 about introducing into Building Regulations minimum standards for internal spaces. The standards published last March in fact cover some of the ground that these amendments cover and so I ask the Minister not to put too much weight on the additional cost, and the therefore likely reduction in the number of homes built, as a result of adopting any or all of these amendments. The reality is that, if the building industry is told to do something through regulations or enforceable codes, while it may grumble, it will do it. The additional cost will then rapidly be taken out of the equation because of the number of properties built.
In that respect, I want to draw the Minister’s attention to some remarks made by the chair of the Berkeley Group reported in the magazine Building a week or two ago—he was referring to affordable housing but I am sure his point is just as relevant for accessible housing. The article says:
“Tony Pidgley has said the government needs to impose a fixed level of ‘affordable’ housing on every development if it wants to tackle the housing crisis. Pidgley said if ministers insisted on a … rule developers would just get on with it”.
That is a critical point for the Government to understand. The industry will always grumble and complain that it does not want to do things and this can be used as an excuse by Ministers and civil servants to reject amendments like those in front of us. I hope that the Minister will steer clear of that argument.
My Lords, I was not going to speak on this, but I would like to say a few words. Nobody can disagree about the importance of people with specific needs having specific housing. I know about this personally as my eldest daughter is in a wheelchair. She is very lucky: she has an accessible house with an accessible bathroom and kitchen—you and I could not use that kitchen; I can assure you, I have tried. But I cannot support this amendment. Local authorities understand the changing demography of their areas, and I do not want the Government telling those who know their people what type of housing they should have. I fear that an amendment such as this will end up with quotas and those quotas will not fit the demography of that particular place. At certain times, yes, you do need places and all of us probably need places for older people, but some areas need more than others. It is the same with disabled people and specific places for specific disabilities. I ask that we do not agree to this amendment and we allow flexibility in local areas for their specific needs.
My Lords, I profoundly disagree with that case. I will refer a little later to my own experience of dealing with these matters.
I understand from the DCLG website that older people now occupy nearly one-third of all houses in the United Kingdom, and nearly two-thirds of the projected increase in the number of households over the next 17 or 18 years will be in households headed by someone over 65. We have an ageing population going into housing all over the country, the vast majority of which is simply not intended for that purpose and has not been adapted. Very often, the people who are moving cannot afford to adapt the housing because they fall within a means-testing system, which sometimes they find embarrassing or sometimes leaves them on the margin and they do not really want to spend the money.
I understand that the Government have introduced a disabled facilities grant, home improvement agencies and FirstStop advice centres. The National Planning Policy Framework asked local authorities to assess housing requirements, including for the elderly. But that is just not enough.
In a case that I was involved in—and I understand it is quite common because I talked to the salesmen from the various lift companies, such as Stannah and Acorn, who visit people’s homes—the issue was the depth of the stairlift. Many stairlifts on the market can be fitted only in homes that have stairs of a certain width. Many homes cannot take British lifts and people buy the German lift because that is a narrower lift going up the stairs. I would have thought that it would be simple for the Government to insist, whether through the Building Regulations or whatever, that when companies are building houses, the stairs are of at least a certain width to enable lifts to be fitted when, inevitably, they will be required in a very large number of homes in the United Kingdom as the population of this country gets older and we reflect on the statistics on the huge increase in households headed by people over 65.
Dealing with the point that the noble Baroness has just made—she has reservations about quotas and so on—I cannot see why we cannot lay down really important standards of that nature so we can get over the problem. That is exactly what the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, deals with. It refers specifically to the requirement to,
“have special regard to the local need for such accommodation”.
There is no reason at all why most houses cannot be built within a spec that is easily adaptable for disabled requirements.
My Lords, before I respond to the amendments, I will make some introductory remarks to set today’s discussions in context.
This Government want to see new homes and places that communities can be proud of and which stand the test of time. We want to ensure that the appropriate infrastructure is in place when and where it is needed. We also want to see high-quality design creating places, buildings or spaces that work well for everyone, look good and will adapt to the needs of future generations. All sections of society have a role to play.
The Government have a leadership responsibility in setting the overall planning framework. Local government plays a critical role in the delivery of great places, applying the principles of the framework to fit the local context. For example, through the National Planning Policy Framework, we require local planning authorities to plan proactively to meet the local housing needs in the area based on the needs of different groups in the community. Through their local plans, planning authorities set out the vision for the local area, the types of housing they need, and their expectations for the design quality of the built environment, including standards of individual dwellings.
The amendments all tackle very important issues but, as I will explain, it is not necessary to place new requirements on local authorities. Amendment 89LZB, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, places a requirement on local planning authorities that in carrying out their planning functions they ensure the adequate supply of accessible and adaptable dwellings and wheelchair-user dwellings in England. National planning policy sets out clearly the need for local authorities, through their local plan, to plan for the housing needs of all members of the community and that planning should encourage accessibility. We expect them to work closely with key partners and their local communities in deciding what type of housing is needed.
The introduction of optional requirements for accessibility in the building regulations provides local authorities with the tools needed to ensure that new homes are accessible and that, in particular, the needs of older and disabled people are met. Some areas, including London, are already making use of these standards. I believe it is right that decisions on how and where to apply these standards should remain with local authorities.
The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, raised the issue that there are not enough accessible homes and that councils are not compelled to make provision. She is correct to say that, in viewing the housing stock in England, only a limited number of homes are accessible, but that is not the result of current policy. It is because of the historical failure to plan for accessible housing, which I think the noble Baroness and I agree on. As a Government we are taking up this important challenge, which other Governments have not done.
Building regulations for accessibility were introduced only in 1999, setting minimum standards for step-free access and downstairs lavatories, and to ensure that doors and corridors are accessible. It should therefore be no surprise that the vast majority of existing housing is lacking in some or all those features. But current policy ensures that, at the very least, in new homes these minimum standards for accessibility are met. We have introduced higher levels of accessibility into the building regulations which local authorities can apply in relation to need. In London, a requirement in planning policy is for 90% of homes to meet category 2, which is accessible and adaptable dwellings, and for 10% of homes to be category 3, which is wheelchair-user dwellings. Other planning authorities can and do set different requirements, and my noble friend Lady Scott raised the important point about the flexibility needed in a local area.
Independent research undertaken as part of the Housing Standards Review indicated that 76% of local authorities already have policies for accessible and adaptable housing standards in their local plans. The expectation is that this will continue to improve over time, and the same research indicated that between 2005 and 2014 the number of local plans adopting lifetime home standards had increased from 35% to 60%. We expect this trend to continue and we should allow our current policies to bed in before considering further action.
The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, asked how many people need accessible housing. I am pleased to tell her that the planning practice guidance which we have published is very informative in this respect. The English housing survey for 2011-12 tells us that around 30%—29.8% to be specific—of households include a person with a long-term illness or disability, and in 2007-08 some 3.3% of all households included one or more wheelchair user. The data in the planning practice guidance provide further sources of census, population, rental, housing and payments statistics which are important to help in the evaluation of specific local needs for accessible homes.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, for her Amendment 89LZC. I agree that it is important that we plan to meet the needs of all members of society. In particular, since this country is expecting the number of people over 65 to reach about 17 million by 2035, it is important that we plan specifically for the needs of older people. This point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. I recognise that many older people do not want or need specialist accommodation or care and may wish to live in general housing that is already suitable, such as bungalows, or in homes that can be adapted to meet any change in their needs. Helping people to remain in their own homes and preventing or delaying the need for acute care can help ensure better outcomes for older people and reduce costs to local services.
We have already put in place a range of mechanisms to support local authorities in planning and delivering specific and diverse types of housing for older people. The care and support specialised housing fund will, over its two phases, fund a total of 221 schemes to develop up to 6,000 affordable homes. Under the affordable homes programme the Government have committed £1.6 billion for 100,000 homes for an affordable or intermediate rent, including 8,000 new homes specifically for vulnerable people, older people and people with disabilities. We also recognise that, at some point, a number of older people will want—or indeed need—to move into supported housing. We must therefore ensure that there are sufficient homes available.
However, I do not think that this amendment is necessary. The National Planning Policy Framework already requires local planning authorities to plan for a mix of housing based on the current and future needs of different groups in the community, including older people. This includes provision of specialist accommodation or dedicated accommodation specifically for older people. Furthermore, the need for specialist accommodation is already a factor that can be taken into account by local planning authorities when considering planning applications for such facilities.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, whose Amendment 102 seeks to set a national minimum space standard for new homes. I share his concern about poorly designed housing developments and agree that new homes should be of a high quality—a point I made earlier. However, setting a national regulatory minimum size for all new homes would not be the right way to address the concerns on quality, size and housing need.
Noble Lords will be aware that in March last year the Government published a national space standard for new dwellings that local authorities could choose to adopt in their local planning policies. This was an outcome of the housing standards review, which looked at a wide range of standards applied to new housing and introduced a simplified and defined framework that removed overlap, contradictions and duplication.
Housing need and viability differ across the country. We need to ensure the widest range of options for as broad a market of buyers as we can. We must cater for a range of incomes and different dwelling sizes. Local authorities are best placed to understand and decide how to meet these varying local housing needs and we expect them—with the input of local communities—to put in place local plan policies that will bring forward new homes of a size that meet local needs. But they must also ensure that development remains viable and affordable for a range of home buyers.
We continue to support the adoption of space standards through planning policy where needed and where appropriate. It provides a flexible way to address concerns about the size of new homes, whereas a requirement through the building regulations will limit viability and rule out a flexible approach to meet local circumstances. With this explanation I hope that the noble Baroness will agree to withdraw her amendment.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for that full response and to everyone who spoke in the debate. There was a very thoughtful and humane response around the Chamber. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, for drawing attention to some of the inexorable facts of an ageing society and the challenges that we face. The Minister was right when he said we were looking at an accumulation of programmes caused by an historic failure to come to terms with a society that is ageing. It is because it is historic failure that it is urgent. That is why, while I appreciate that the Government do not want to put a new duty on local authorities, we need a clearer and more urgent sense of priorities from them that this needs to be addressed.
There is a lot of good stuff happening, but we need a national conversation about the challenges that we face, and it can be led only by the Government. It is a wider debate than the one that we have had today, and the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, referred to it in her excellent amendment. It is a debate about where housing in an ageing population fits into the challenge of housing the whole nation. If we provide on the assumption of an ageing population, as Berkeley Homes does so well, we free up housing stock and make it easier to find homes for families. As my noble friend Lady Hollis said, we are looking at the opportunities presented by enormous numbers of smart technologies, which will help us not only to provide the sort of housing that would really suit ageing people but to reduce the costs to the health service. This is an important amendment, because it raises a debate that really goes to the heart of what this Bill is about and how intelligently it plans for the future, but also what we as a country are about in the care that we give to our older families.
In relation to what the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, said—and I appreciate that she has huge experience—my amendment did not take any discretion away from local authorities. It is essentially a problem that has to be solved and designed and delivered at a local level. I call on the Government to rise to the occasion and show some stronger leadership. To come back to what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said in a telling phrase, “It simply hasn’t been a priority”. Well, all I can say is that it is time that it was a priority. Since the Government have it on their watch, I hope that they will make it more of an explicit priority. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 89LZB withdrawn.
Amendment 89LZC not moved.
Clause 135 agreed.
89LA: After Clause 135, insert the following new Clause—
“Lee Valley Regional Park Authority
In section 48 of the Lee Valley Regional Park Act 1966 (precepts), after subsection (11) insert—“(12) No precept or levy shall be imposed by the Authority or be payable to the Authority under this section unless the council or London Borough concerned has in its annual budget resolutions assented to the imposition of such a precept or levy by the Authority and specifically approved that levy or precept by a majority on a recorded vote.””
My Lords, before moving this amendment, I hope that the House will not mind if I, too, express my shock at the news about the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark. Not only by his charm and skill at the Dispatch Box has he won our affections but, as leader of a London authority—I declare that I am, too—I know that he is respected in local government across London. I hope that other noble Lords will convey to him what I know will be the best wishes of every London borough leader for a speedy recovery.
In introducing this amendment, I make it clear that I do not wish to press it in its present form. It is a probing amendment. I said earlier in these proceedings that it is in some ways a provocative amendment. I would not press it as there is a risk that it might make the Bill hybrid, among other things, but also because the solution will not be the solution proposed in this amendment. However, I believe that the issue needs to be aired. I know that it has not pleased the Lee Valley authority; because its lobbying efforts are poorly directed, I have quite a little dossier of material that it has sent out to various people asking for the status quo to be defended.
The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority runs what is a 26-mile long linear park running from Ware in Hertfordshire to the East India Dock. It was set up under legislation passed in 1966 and started in 1967. That is, frankly, another world—remember England as World Cup winners, Harold Wilson at No. 10 and the young Leonid Brezhnev thrusting his way forward in the Soviet Union. Since then, in those 50 years, a lot has changed. The area has been transformed by the staging of the 2012 Olympics and from those Olympics the Lee Valley authority received a legacy of the Olympic velopark, the only site in the world that brings together all four Olympic cycling disciplines. It was lately the site of the world’s cycling championships, which I saw reported to have been before sell-out crowds with a global television audience—a venue claimed on the LVA’s own website to be,
“a jaw-dropping events space … in the super league of London’s … venues”.
It has the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre, another Olympic facility, which will stage the Women’s Hockey Champions Trophy in June with finals-day tickets priced up to £62.50 a throw—they have already sold out—and with indoor tennis courts at £20 an hour off peak. It has the Lee Valley White Water Centre, another Olympic venue, offering corporate half-days at a minimum of £164 per person and the self-proclaimed state-of-the-art Lee Valley Athletics Centre. There is the Lee Valley Ice Centre, home to two ice hockey teams, and the Lee Valley Riding Centre, with stables offering full five-star livery services for £10,000 a year—not exactly a service for London’s poor. There are two golf courses, two boating marinas, two large camp and caravan sites, six heritage sites, a sports ground complex, seven parks and wetland sites and 1,400 hectares of land and water resources. In addition, the authority runs two farms which the accounts say feature £250,000 of “biological assets”—dairy cattle to you and me. I am surprised that the TaxPayers’ Alliance has not cottoned on to that one.
According to the 2014-15 accounts, not one of those assets made a profit, apart from a princely £17,000 from the Lee Valley Boat Centre. Even netting out the £1.9 million cost of leisure management services and ignoring the losses on tourism services reported in the accounts, these facilities cost £35 million to run for a gross income of under £12.5 million. The authority had eight staff with packages of over £100,000 a year and a director of communications paid some £73,000, who, it seems, lifts the phone to the lobbying firm some of us have heard of, London Communications Agency, whose fee I cannot find disclosed in the accounts, although I note from its own website that the agency’s chairman boasts Lee Valley among the prized accounts that he handles personally, along with Chelsea Football Club. I doubt whether London’s council tax payers get that PR service cheaply. In short, here is a large public sector body sitting on immense resources and losing money on them. There is no reason to think that any of these vital sporting and environmental assets would be threatened by reducing or ending the LVA planning rule or by better or changed management or a plan to bring the thing into balance.
The fact is that were these prize assets subject to any other public local authority, we would be expected by the Front Bench and taxpayers alike to be looking for a way to balance the books fast by outsourcing, raising income or cutting costs. It defies belief that such a massive and diverse portfolio as I have described needs a huge public subsidy. Instead, because the LVA has a residual planning function and a legal right in carrying out its park and planning duties to precept 32 London boroughs and councils in the counties of Essex and Hertfordshire, including Thurrock Council, it has a captive subsidy and therefore relatively little incentive to be efficient. It simply posts a bill to taxpayers, often an hour or two away from its facilities, to pay for half of all its activities—£10.8 million in precept. Formal break-even targets are vaguely spoken about but are far away.
Looking at some of the typical levies, Bexley’s levy of £230,000 would not cover the authority’s advertising budget and Kingston’s levy would not cover the cost of its chief executive’s pay package. There is no relation between the levy and performance, benefit or usage. It is simply a tax—taxation without representation—for many London authorities that pay the lion’s share, have few visitors to the park and no representation on the board, while other districts that pay nothing do. My amendment would introduce accountability by ensuring that the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority had to prove its worth and competence in order to win payments from willing, not captive, councils. It asks that a proposal to support the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority be put on the same basis as any other budget proposal put before a council.
I recognise, as do all those authorities unhappy with this archaic system—and I have been encouraged by many other London local authorities and Essex County Council—that in the real world that is unrealistic. However, it reflects a legitimate end-result aspiration, so by raising this issue I ask instead that we might look at reform. I hope that my noble friend may be prepared to consider addressing this issue and launching a swift consultation with the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority and all others concerned to find a better and more equitable way forward to ensure financial stability, phase out the subsidy from the precepted planning authorities and safeguard the regional park’s assets. It has to be unwound in a way that protects the existing precepting authorities and does not leave the riparian authorities on their own paying for it. At a minimum, we might seek a taper of the precept leading to abolition, perhaps over a four-year period in line with the four-year settlements being sought.
There may be many ways in which we can achieve that. We need to understand why the authority loses so much on so many facilities, why more income per head is not raised and why we cannot work better. Above all, this archaic precept, which may once have served well, needs to be addressed and progressively removed to bring a worthy 20th-century authority into the modern world to manage effectively and to preserve the important 21st-century facilities that it has in its charge. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to be back in harness with the noble Lord, Lord True, on matters of mutual interest to south and south-west London boroughs. I am grateful to him for his quite lengthy explanation. I will try not to repeat much of what he said but to add to it. I am glad that he started by suggesting that the solution suggested in his amendment might not be what happens in the end. That is probably right and partly why I did not add my name to it.
I first came to this problem when I became leader of a London borough council, coincidentally at exactly the time that the GLC was abolished. When the regional park was established in 1966, it was funded by the Greater London Council and paid for through the precept on all London boroughs to the GLC, not to the park authority. It was brought to my attention in my first year as leader of a London borough council when suddenly we found that we had a precept to a park authority, the existence of which we were only vaguely aware of—I must confess that at the time I thought that the park was in Essex, although as the noble Lord, Lord True, said, it is not—and that we were going to be paying several hundred thousand pounds to this authority right across London. I inquired how many visitors from Sutton—my borough—went to the park and was told that there were fewer visitors from my borough, which was paying several hundred thousand pounds that year towards it, than there were from Northern Ireland. This has been a thorn in the flesh for the past 30 years, at least, and continues to be so. It gets raised on a number of occasions—the last occasion I remember was during the passage of the Localism Bill—always by ingenious methods such as that which the noble Lord, Lord True, has devised today, for which I am grateful to him.
This has become a little more important now not only because of the financial pressure on all local authorities, including the London boroughs, but because whereas 50 years ago, when the Lee Valley Regional Park was established, there was only one regional park in or partly in London, now there are three. There is the Colne Valley Regional Park, a relatively small part of which is in London, and the Wandle Valley Regional Park, which is wholly within Greater London and which covers the boroughs of Wandsworth, Croydon, Merton and Sutton. It was established a few years ago, not as a statutory authority but as a trust, and at that time I was one of the trustees. It has no funding stream. It has been funded in recent years, to the extent that it has been funded at all, by voluntary contributions from the four Wandle boroughs, as we call them. Rather than keeping the money that we obtained by Lee Valley’s reduction in precept, we chose to pass on that discount or reduction to help to fund the Wandle Valley Regional Park.
The sums involved are very small; Croydon has never paid that money at all, and last year Wandsworth stopped paying it, so currently it is paid only by Sutton and Merton, each of which paid £5,000 last year. We are therefore in the position where the four Wandle boroughs between them pay well over £1 million to a regional park way over on the other side of London, which goes into Essex and up into Hertfordshire and which is visited by very few of our residents. It is an excellent facility—I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord True, said that, because this is in no way an attack on the regional park; the issue is simply that the funding is all askew.
I share the noble Lord’s view that the authority probably ought to be looking to raise more funds itself and, indeed, it has been doing that in recent years. To give it credit, it has reduced the precept each year for the last few years—not by very much, but nevertheless it is a welcome reduction, as I said, which two of the four Wandle boroughs have passed on to the regional park. It makes no sense, however, for four boroughs that have a regional park in their midst to pay over £1 million, while those boroughs pay something like £10,000 towards the establishment and development of another new regional park.
I very much share the sentiment of what the noble Lord, Lord True, has said, not so much in his amendment but in his urging of the Government to take charge of this issue and to look at it. Over the years there have been numerous attempts to do this. London Councils, as it now is, is not able to do it, because it is a member authority, and while many of its members are disadvantaged by the precept arrangement, many benefit hugely from having this excellent facility quite literally on their doorsteps, with that facility being quite heavily funded by boroughs whose residents seldom if ever go there. Similarly, it receives significant contributions from Essex, Hertfordshire and a rather smaller one from Thurrock. I remember the last time that we raised this issue, a DCLG Minister said, “Well, it needs primary legislation—if London comes forward with the solution, we might do something”. We have waited 50 years—or 30, certainly, since the abolition of the GLC—to try to find such a solution and it will not happen that way, such are the conflicting interests.
I hope very much that one thing that will arise from the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord True, in raising this issue is, as he suggests, that the Minister will say to us, “Yes, DCLG will take this up and look at it, and will look at the funding, not only of the Lee Valley Regional Park but of the three regional parks that are wholly or partly within the greater London area”. In that way we would get the funding on a basis that gives all of them—whatever form that funding takes—a secure and stable future, which Wandle Valley Regional Park certainly does not have at the moment.
My Lords, this is in danger of appearing to be a sort of “all our yesterdays” discussion as regards London boroughs. I was deeply tempted by the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord True, when he told me that it might render the Bill hybrid, which of course would consign all the other ridiculous provisions within it to some long drawn out and time-consuming purpose. However, that would be an inappropriate and churlish way to go forward.
I think, however, that the noble Lord, Lord True, has made a number of perhaps unfair assertions about the Lee Valley Regional Park. His big concern seems to be that this legislation was crafted back in 1966, and is no longer fit for purpose. I am afraid there is plenty of local government legislation going back many decades that looks at these issues. I recall discussions about the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority in the distant days when I was a local authority leader in London. I needed some convincing at that time that this was a worthwhile contribution for my borough to be making, even though we are slightly closer than either Richmond or Sutton. I am fascinated to discover that the residents of Sutton are less adventurous than the residents of Northern Ireland as far as visiting the jewels of north-east London is concerned.
I needed some convincing, and at that time it was difficult to defend the contribution the Lee Valley Regional Park made to the wider area, but the situation is very different now. The noble Lord, Lord True, cited all the major facilities that are now available for the people of London—he made that part of his argument; I thought it was part of the argument the other way—and, of course, the other counties and areas concerned. He is appalled at the cost of some of those facilities, yet at the same time he complains that the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority is not doing enough to recover costs and reduce the burden which falls on the precept levy.
Let us therefore be clear about this. In the past 30 years, we have seen the development of a series of major facilities—given a huge advantage by the 2012 London Olympics—in north-east London which serve not only that area but a much wider area beyond, and which are trying to recover their costs. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord True, is correct that, like all cross-local-authority initiatives, it could perhaps be managed more effectively to deliver even more benefits at less cost. But through the effort it is making to raise funds, it is trying to reduce the burden raised as part of the precept. That it has done successfully and in successive years by reducing the precept year on year. That is the sign of an organisation that is trying to move in the direction that it should. The efforts of the noble Lords, Lord True and, apparently, Lord Tope—rising from Sutton—to complain about this, are an attempt to undermine this process.
Therefore, we have to ask what precisely the preferred outcome is of the noble Lord, Lord True. He says he does not want the amendment to be passed as such, which is just as well as it would be deeply unworkable, given its impact and disrupting effect on finances. He says he wants a review but, presumably, the question is, what would be its terms of reference? The reality is that such collective provisions need to be funded collectively. If you are saying that, because the London Borough of Sutton or the London Borough of Richmond are geographically a bit remote from north-east London —of course, there are excellent transport arrangements, and if the citizens of those boroughs are not prepared to travel to north-east London, that is their loss—and that you are therefore going to undermine that collective support, you are creating some very dangerous precedents for other provisions which are resourced collectively.
The Minister will obviously not want to support this amendment because of the danger it would pose to the rest of the Bill—he would be quite right to allow the rest of the Bill to fall apart, but he probably will not wish to. I hope he will assure us that any review of the way the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority is to be funded would be based on accepting the idea that this facility serves a much wider area and deserves to be collectively funded across that area, rather than the cost falling on a very narrow number of riparian boroughs and authorities.
My Lords, I have a very simple question to ask of the noble Lord, Lord True. I did not see any of the briefs that he said were circulated—if I have had one sent to me, I have not seen it—but I noticed something on the internet about the authority. It seems that the chairman, Mr Paul Osborn, is a Conservative councillor; that the deputy chairman, a Mr Derrick Ashley, is a Conservative councillor; and that the Conservatives have 15 people on its board, with eight Labour members and two Liberal Democrats. In other words, this is like a family argument within the Conservative Party about the competence of their own people to manage this facility. I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord True, that he gathers them all together and puts it to them that he has a bit of a problem with his authority coughing up to pay for their excesses. I do not think that it is a matter for us; I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord True, can sort this out. I say in support of what my noble friend has just said that facilities such as this lose money all over the country. There are lots of services provided by local authorities which do not necessarily make money; they are there for the benefit of the wider community. We have that in some of the national parks where there is a problem and they have to be helped out, but we do not close them because we have trouble funding them on occasion. I enjoyed the noble Lord’s contribution; however, he talks about taxation without representation, and I think he has some pretty good representation there and he should have a little chat with them.
My Lords, I am glad to report that my noble friend Lord Kennedy has been sent home from hospital, so that is good news.
I hate to intrude on this London borough grief—I know that my noble friend would have loved it—but I want simply to endorse the pertinent points made by my noble friend Lord Harris. We cannot make changes to how authorities are funded through amending a Bill coming towards the end of its parliamentary process without any discussion with those concerned, who would have to manage the consequences of the amendment if it were carried. It is simply not appropriate, so I hope the Minister will not accept it.
My Lords, I have probably 30 years’ experience of duelling with the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, which is significant because Haringey is just a little bit nearer to the Lee Valley Regional Park than the London Borough of Sutton, yet it pays pretty well exactly the same precept. He suggested that I was trying to undermine the funding to Lee Valley; absolutely not—I am second to none in my praise and admiration for what Lee Valley does and achieves and the excellent facilities there. I said that the reduction in the precept had been used to support the Wandle Valley Regional Park; what I should have added is that Lee Valley Regional Park has been very supportive of the Wandle Valley Regional Park. It has provided tangible support to the best extent it can within its powers, and we are grateful for and appreciative of that. If anything I said has been interpreted as some form of attack on Lee Valley, some form of questioning its value, my 30 years of experience with the noble Lord, Lord Harris, lead me to suggest and put on record that that is quite wrong.
My Lords, I feel that I might be intruding on some private arrangement as well. However, in all seriousness, I thank my noble friend Lord True for Amendment 89LA, which would make the funding levy for the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority voluntary. I acknowledge the contributions that we have heard, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and from the noble Lord, Lord Harris, with his contrasting view.
My noble friend Lord True eloquently highlighted the background and the issue. I listened carefully to what he said, so I do not wish to go over that from my perspective. Under the current arrangements, the majority of the authority’s funding is generated by its own commercial and investment activities, and the rest comes from a levy on council tax payers in the councils of Greater London, Essex and Hertfordshire. This amounts to less than a pound per head of population per year.
The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority is a private statutory body established by the Lee Valley Regional Park Act 1966. Having been established via this Act, the authority sits outside a significant proportion of current local government legislation. We believe that any potential changes to the funding levy must first be fully discussed and agreed by the affected councils and the park authority before any legislative options are considered by Parliament—how interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, made this very point. We understand that such discussions have not taken place, but I can offer a light at the end of the tunnel for my noble friend Lord True, who seeks to initiate discussions with the local authorities. We will offer to meet to discuss this further, because it is important that discussions are led by the affected boroughs and not based on decisions from central government.
So, while I acknowledge the points that my noble friend has raised today, without this local agreement, we do not propose to amend the levy funding arrangements. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am partially encouraged by what my noble friend says, but I am also discouraged. I assure him that I do not speak on an individual basis; indeed, the House has heard from the noble Lord, Lord Tope. Many authorities—I named a large number of them—wish this matter to be addressed, are ready to address it and have sought to address it on many occasions, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said. No authority can hold a veto on these discussions, including the Lee Valley itself. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said and, frankly, I do not think that councillors should be running commercial facilities, or facilities directly, at all. I am not troubled in any way by what he said about a Conservative councillor being the chairman. He should be doing a better job, in my judgment.
I shall look very carefully at what my noble friend said, but this nettle really needs to be grasped. It is not good enough for the noble Lord, Lord Harris, to say, “Don’t rock the boat”. The so-called reductions are 2% a year; there are authorities across this country being asked for reductions of 25% to 35%. With the facilities that that body now has, it can and must do better. All I am asking for is an agreed programme over a period of years moving towards financial equivalence.
I shall study what my noble friend said, but it would be disappointing if this did not lead to some concrete, active and swift discussions. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 89LA withdrawn.
Amendment 89M not moved.
Clause 136: Permission in principle for development of land
89N: Clause 136, page 66, line 28, at beginning insert “Subject to section 58B (land for which permission in principle may not be granted),”
My Lords, Amendment 89N is the first in the group of amendments on the part of the Bill that refers to permission in principle and relates to Clauses 136 and 137 and Schedule 12. We move back to discussing a countrywide issue rather than a London parochial matter, which the House of Lords does so well. Most Members of the House of Lords come from London, so it is not surprising, really.
This is, I think, the most important and most central part of Part 6 of the Bill, which is the planning sections. It is regrettable that we come to it at tea-time on day eight out of seven allocated for Committee. Nevertheless, we have seven hours today to have a good look at it—and perhaps a bit more in the morning, who knows.
In Part 6, particularly in the planning-in-principle system, we are looking at a radical, fundamental change to the system of development management in this country. My second regret is that this comes to us at a late stage in the parliamentary process on the Bill without any clear understanding or knowledge at all in the country about what is being proposed. This is a technical matter and an extremely important one. For those of us who are local politicians, it is vital because it is about local planning applications, and we all know that they are some of the most controversial things that happen in relation to councils and local communities. These proposals would have been ideal for pre-legislative scrutiny. In particular, when we get on to later parts of Part 6, which were dumped into the Bill at a very late stage in the Commons and had absolutely no scrutiny, it behoves us here to do what we can in the limited amount of time that we have. This is not a good and sensible way, in my judgment, to introduce new and important legislation.
As in some of the earlier parts of the Bill, there is a huge amount of prescription of powers for Ministers to make regulations in this part of the Bill. Simply reading the Bill itself will not tell anyone how the new system will work. That again is unfortunate. Because it is part of the planning system, where a lot of the regulations in planning delegated to Ministers are done through development orders that do not go through parliamentary process, the position is even worse, because a lot of the very important consequences of what is being proposed here will not be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. So we have an important job to do.
I am grateful to have come across a document called Technical Consultation on Implementation of Planning Changes, which has been sent out to local planning authorities. It is unfortunate that it was not sent to us earlier, because it answers quite a lot of the questions about what the Government intend that is not set out in the Bill. I recommend it to noble Lords who have not seen it as bedtime reading before Report. At least it will help them go to sleep.
We all know about the present system of development control. Where planning permission is required, most development is subject to applications for planning permission to local planning authorities, which may be outlined and establish the principle of development, or may be reserved matters, or may be both taken together as a full application. The new system is unusual in that the old system will remain alongside it. I understand that it will remain for everything except housing. Even for housing, there will be a choice for people as to which system to use. It appears that the Government believe that planning in principle should rely on only three material considerations in relation to whether planning in principle for a site should be given. I am simply reporting what I think the Government are proposing.
One is location—the red line. One is uses, which I understand means housing together with any lesser uses that might be appropriate in a big housing development, such as some retail development, playgrounds or whatever. The last is the amount of development—the number of houses—which the technical consultation suggested should be flexible within quite tight limits. Once there is planning in principle, an application to the local planning authority will be required for technical details. They will have to be only within parameters—a new planning word that we will all learn to love or hate—set out in the planning in principle, if I have understood the technical consultation correctly. The planning in principle may be by allocation in a qualifying document—this may be a local development plan or a register; the brownfield register is the one that is most often talked about, but it seems that there may be other registers as well—or by application to the local authority in a similar way to application for planning permission.
As I say, all this is little known and little understood. The legislation is complicated. Even among planners there is a great deal of concern. Hugh Ellis, policy director at the Town and Country Planning Association, says:
“You can’t make a decision in principle”,
“about a site until you know the detail of its implications, from flood risk appraisal to the degree of affordable housing. Giving permission in principle would fundamentally undermine our ability to build resilient, mixed communities in the long term”.
The planning manager in my local authority in Pendle, who is an extremely competent planner, said after reading and studying the consultation document:
“Until there is more clarity on the process that is involved and the level of assessment that is required in order to be able to approve developments in principle, it is not possible to make informed comments on the process”.
That was in response to the Government’s technical consultation.
It appears that this is happening based on a fallacy that housing supply is being held back mainly by the need to secure planning permission, which is not happening. There is very little evidence for this. The blockages are mainly market-linked. They are to do with viability, sources of finance, economic demand as opposed to need, extra costs on sites, and predevelopment work such as site clearance and decontamination. They are to do with the habits of development companies, which they deny but which we can all see around us, of land banking: getting planning permission for sites and then sitting on their increased value, which has a beneficial effect on their bottom line; and, in some places, borrowing money on the basis of those sites and spending it somewhere else.
One of the things we have to look at in this PIP business is the boundary between planning in principle and technical details. The Government think that it is very clear: there are just those three things in PIP and everything else is a technical detail. But technical details include flood risk, contamination, community infrastructure, highways and transport, place-making, landscape heritage, design, and all the rest. They are not technical details; they are things that you need to sort out before you give agreement in principle to a site being developed—or at least some them are some of the time.
One of the arguments put forward is that there is duplication in the present system and a repeated test of the principle of development on a site. I have some detailed evidence from my own authority, which may or may not be typical, which said that in the last three years there have been only three refusals of planning applications for housing based on principle. They were all in the green belt, where they would presumably be turned down anyway. There is really very little evidence that this complaint is true.
What can PIP—I think I will call it that—be used for? It was invented last October—that recently—as part of the brownfield sites proposals. Since then, it has been extended in the Bill to the local planning process. The Bill actually says that it can be used for anything, all subject to ministerial regulation through either statutory instruments or development orders. It could be used for anything from industrial estates to fracking. We in this House ought to tighten up the wording on the face of the Bill. There are lots of other things we need to be discussing.
I apologise for coming late to the particular amendment I am moving, but I thought we needed an introduction to PIP generally to get this debate going. Amendment 92D, which is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Featherstone, sets out a long list of the types of land for which permission in principle will not be able to be given. This is simply because, in these areas, proposals for new housing or for any other development need clear, careful and full consideration. Permission in principle seems to be a way of streamlining the process and cutting corners. I am suggesting that a proper full planning application would be required in the case of green belts, conservation areas, national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, metropolitan open land in London, local green spaces in a local development plan, commons and village greens, access land under the CROW Act, local and national nature reserves, sites of special scientific interest and parks and parkland of various kinds. Reading some of the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord True, perhaps I should have put “royal parks”. It would also apply to any land used for recreational purposes, public open space, a garden or land forming the curtilage of a dwelling, a scheduled monument and the national forestry estate. It states that local planning authorities,
“may set out in a local development document descriptions of land for which permission in principle may not be granted”.
This is probing as to whether PIP will be possible in all these areas, but it is a vital part of the Bill for your Lordships to discuss.
I have been trying to remember if this is the fourth or fifth planning Bill I have been involved in since I have been in your Lordships’ House. Every single Bill that I can remember left your Lordships’ House much better than it arrived. That applied even to the then Localism Bill—over which my noble friend Lord Stunell had some ownership, or said he had. When we sent it to the Commons, it was a better Bill than when it came here.
I hope that the Government will be sufficiently flexible to allow us to understand exactly how the system is going to work and, when we think it is not going to work very well, to accept sensible amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, as the noble Lord has just reminded us, we have at last come to the part of the Bill which deals with permission in principle or, as he has put it “PIP”. This is another form of PIP—following the personal independence payment—which is to be the subject of controversy. I am also reminded, of course, of the character of Mr Pip in Great Expectations which we do not really harbour in relation to this Bill.
What the Government are engaged in is legislation in principle. Members all around the House have complained frequently during Committee about the large number of issues on which the impact assessment was hopelessly inadequate. With even greater vehemence and relevance, they complained about the Bill’s reliance on secondary legislation, drafts of which remain unavailable. An embarrassed, overworked and—it is fair to say—much-admired Minister shares our concerns. However, given the Government’s determination to drive the Bill through as quickly as possible, there is little chance that we will have an opportunity to see—let alone have time properly to consider—how the legislation will work in practice.
On 17 February, two months after the Bill left the Commons, the department issued a 64-page document—the one referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—containing a “Technical consultation on implementation of planning changes”. Had Michael Gove been Secretary of State, we would at least have seen the definite article before “implementation”. The consultation on this major change to planning policy and practice will end on 15 April. I assume that, on the Government’s rushed timetable, Report will conclude in the following week or, at the latest, the week after. There is therefore no chance that this House will have an opportunity to consider the responses to that consultation, let alone the Government’s reaction to it, before the Bill is enacted. Of course, all this is four or five months after the Bill left the Commons.
One of the Bill’s characteristics, particularly relevant to the clauses we are now discussing, is the increasing number of functions assigned to the Secretary of State. Thus, where an application is made to the local authority, under new Section 59A, the Secretary of State will have the power to set out in a development order the process that local authorities must follow. In relation to technical detailed consent, a development order may—and I emphasise that word—set out the process that must be followed.
The Explanatory Notes helpfully assert that the Government intend to consult on the process in due course. Perhaps the Minister could indicate when this might occur. They also identify a range of issues where the Secretary of State may—or I suppose may not—do a variety of things. New Section 59A provides that development orders will set out how long PIP is valid for and that it may contain transitional arrangements when PIP expires. It empowers the Secretary of State to issue statutory guidance.
Clause 137 sets out a string of powerful new actions which the Secretary of State may take. These include the possibility of requiring the register of brownfield land to be held in two parts—one for brownfield land suitable for housing; the other for a grant of PIP where the local planning authority considers it suitable. To be clear, this is a new form of planning permission, imposed centrally, which deliberately reduces the scope of democratically accountable local decision-making. The next step would presumably be for the function to be entirely in the hands of the Secretary of State or his appointees.
Regulations may provide that the local planning authority is permitted to include land which does not meet all the specified conditions and that the Secretary of State might exercise this power so that the local planning authority could register land suitable for four dwellings or fewer. New subsection (4) sets out what regulations may specify in relation to the register. It gives an example where the Secretary of State may specify that certain descriptions of land are not to be entered into the register. New subsection (4)(c) provides that the Secretary of State may allow for some discretion by the local planning authority—how generous—to exclude land from the register and that he might allow the local planning authority to exercise its discretion in exceptional circumstances. He may also specify by regulation what information should be included in the register or specify descriptions of lands by reference to national policies, advice and guidance. For example, regulations could refer to the definition of previous development land within the National Planning Policy Framework.
Given the plethora of possibilities, could the Minister advise us how many civil servants will be required—and for how long—to produce the detail envisaged by this Government of self-proclaimed localists, ensuring that Whitehall, and not town halls, becomes in effect the local planning authority? How many regulations are likely to emerge from this bureaucratic jungle? Yesterday we received a letter from her—for which we are grateful—enclosing the timetable for consultation, impact statements and the laying of regulations in respect of eight areas of the Bill. None will reach us before Report and there is as yet no timetable for PIP.
Last week, in reference to the Government’s approach, I referred to George Orwell. Today it is Lewis Carroll’s turn because, as ever with this Government, when it comes to legislation it is “Sentence first—verdict afterwards” and, I might add, evidence invisible. This is no way to deal with important legislation about the future of our communities, cities and counties. Members on all sides of the House have expressed concern about the way in which the Government have proceeded. One Conservative Peer, whose identity I will not reveal, approached me last week and said: “You have done well to preserve your sanity over this terrible, terrible housing Bill”. I will not seek to test the opinion of the House on the question of my sanity but the opinion of the Member in question—a thoroughly loyal Conservative Back-Bencher—tells its own story. The hubris exhibited by this Government is beginning to make Margaret Thatcher look like a legislative shrinking violet.
This is exemplified in the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report of 12 February, to which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred. It is highly critical of Parts 6 to 9 of the Bill and declares that the memorandum,
“seeks to justify a delegation of wide powers … without properly explaining why this is considered appropriate”.
The committee found that,
“references to powers being ‘technical’ or even ‘quasi-technical’”,
were not accurate. It drew attention to the wonderful phrase that one delegated power was the result of,
“a ‘likely shifting matrix of considerations’!”.
Perhaps the Minister could clarify the meaning of these words, but the House will forgive her if she is unable to do so.
In relation to PIP, the committee drew attention to new Section 59A of the 1990 Act, to which I have referred, which would of course be created by this Bill. It points out that the Secretary of State’s power, either for himself or for a local authority, to grant PIP—either by a “qualifying document” or via a “prescribed description”, respectively—would be by negative procedure. This is coupled with an assurance by the Government that a document will be prescribed only if it is made by a public body after going through a robust process—whatever that might mean.
The committee points out that the Secretary of State’s legislation would not bind future Governments, and that new Section 59A should be amended to specify the consultation and other processes involved, and not be left therefore to secondary legislation. The committee notes the Government’s intention to apply PIP to housing-led development, albeit with the possibility of being extended to other developments. On this, the committee points out that the procedure is new and untested, and that no reason has been proffered for a possible extension to non-housing development. Hence its conclusion that the delegation of power under new Section 59A is inappropriate to the extent that it would allow PIP for developments which are not housing-led. All this reinforces the concerns and misgivings widely shared across your Lordships’ House and elsewhere about the excessive reliance on secondary legislation, in respect of which the contents are shrouded in mystery from which the cloak may not be lifted before we reach Report, let alone Third Reading.
Before I turn to the amendments in this, the first of eight or nine groups, it would be sensible if I outlined the Opposition’s view on the overall policy. We clearly support efforts to promote the building of more new homes, for which there is an evident massive need. We are also at one with the Government in wishing to see brownfield sites reclaimed for housing, but also for ancillary and perhaps alternative uses. However, we have major concerns about what will be built in terms of design, space, energy efficiency and affordability. We want to see a range of tenures and, where sites are substantial, we want to see them as not just sites for property development but for the building of communities.
We are conscious of the huge numbers of extant planning permissions to which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred, some of which have been on the shelf for years, while—as my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours has pointed out more than once—land and property prices have soared, producing potential capital gains which, of course, thanks to the Budget, will now extract minimal taxation.
A good deal of concern has been expressed by a wide range of commentators, some of them expressing fears that we may be adopting by default the kind of zoning policy which has led to significant problems in urban America. The Royal Town Planning Institute stresses the need for local communities to have a say through their planning committees in what happens to their area, and that there should be flexibility to exempt certain types of development from PIP while the whole process, including the second stage of technical details consent, should be developed in consultation with planning authorities.
The National Housing Federation welcomes PIP, but cautions that councils should define density, housing and tenure mix in this new “zonal planning system” which could affect,
“people’s democratic rights; and the way we secure high-quality outcomes for people”.
The process will require planning authorities to prepare a register of brownfield sites which, when included in a development order, will grant PIP for the type, amount and location of development. Other sites may be identified in local and neighbourhood plans and “other documents”. Can the Minister tell us what sort of “other documents”, and whether or not, in this category, development will be limited to housing?
Thirdly, and more worryingly, applicants may seek PIP in a process which will restrict the local planning authority’s function to approve or refuse and provide no opportunity for conditions to be imposed. Critically, applications could not be turned down on technical details even if there has been a change in circumstances such as those reflected in Amendment 95, to which we will come in a later group, where, for example, archaeological finds may be discovered. In my own ward, a small housing development is going ahead under the existing procedure after archaeological investigations of the site, which formed part of a civilian vicus near a major fort on the Roman wall. Under the new provisions, had there been any such discovery after PIP had been granted, nothing could be done. Similar concerns could arise about environmental or ecological issues, which the divorce between allocation and detailed permission may exacerbate.
The Town and Country Planning Association points out that the department says that local planning authorities will have a choice of what kind of land will be subject to PIP. However, it is not clear from the addition to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 of new Section 59A(2)(c)—inserted in Clause 136—whether that new section’s reference to an indication that the land is “allocated for development” means that the LPA could, apparently, pick and choose which sites to include. The TCPA points out that this, like so much else, is subject to statutory guidance, and calls for a clear statement from the Secretary of State. Perhaps the Minister could procure this before Report.
London Councils stresses that local authorities should have sufficient flexibility to exempt certain types of development, or certain types of land or areas, from PIP, and that the second stage of technical details consent should be properly thorough and not, in its words, just a,
“truncated prior notification type procedure”.
Can the Minister offer any assurances in that respect? Can she say whether, in relation to housing sites, there will be a limit to the number of houses to be built under PPI? Sorry, I meant to say PIP. I am getting my consonants mixed up. The Government are getting their policies mixed up. A report in Planning Resource in October suggested that PIP would apply to housing schemes of around 500. Is there any indication of the kind of numbers that the Government are expecting to be included in such schemes? Above all, will she dispel the concerns expressed by Hugh Ellis—the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred to him—the policy director of the TCPA, that PIP as prescribed in the Bill,
“could apply to all forms of development”,
even for fracking as part of a minerals plan, and whether it is the Government’s intention to adopt US-style zonal plans? Interestingly, in last week’s Budget the Chancellor referred specifically to zonal planning. But perhaps this, like certain other proposals in the Budget, will now be subject to review and, we hope, with a similar outcome. We broadly support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lords Greaves, which list some 19 types of land to be excluded from the process.
Amendment 90 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Kennedy—whose return I very much look forward to—approaches the issue from a different standpoint, restricting PIP to brownfield sites, where it seemed the concept was originally to apply. We support many of the amendments to be moved by other Members in relation to PIP in the groups of amendments which follow, which seek to allow the tailoring of what resembles a one-size-suits-all pre-emptive policy to local needs and aspirations, not only for increasing housing supply but for building well-designed, mixed communities.
Having spoken at some length, I promise your Lordships’ House that I will be brief hereafter as we go into the Bill, and not merely in stature.
My Lords, I am confused—or perhaps puzzled—because earlier this afternoon the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, said that the Government’s legislation on localism puts local planning at the heart of the system. Yet what we have heard so far this afternoon about permission in principle seems to be very much at odds with that principle of putting local people and local planning at the heart of what happens in communities. Both the previous speakers, with their knowledge and expertise gained over many years, have understood the Bill’s proposals. I decided to seek to understand what might happen in my own locality as a consequence of this proposal.
It seems there are two possibilities. One is that land that has not previously been allocated in a local plan could be appropriated and allocated as a site with permission to build. Therefore, if a developer needed greenfield land on which to build as opposed to a more difficult brownfield site, the relevant land could be appropriated and given permission in principle regardless of the wishes of the local community. It is of huge concern that the democratic process has been totally disregarded. Anyone who has ever served as a local councillor—as I do—will tell you that the issues which engage local people more than any other are developments taking place on their doorstep as they have such a significant impact on their lives in terms of increased traffic on the roads or the number of children trying to access schools which may already be full. All this sort of thing needs to be considered. Having permission in principle is totally contrary to what we regard as a local planning authority, making local decisions based on a democratic principle.
Having thought of that site, which was appropriating new land, I then wondered if they were thinking about brownfield sites—white land, as we sometimes call it—which want to change their use. I know about one in my ward: a former hotel which has closed. A developer has bought it and wants to develop it. There are huge issues about access, because I live in a hilly part of the country; about the height of the houses and their impact on other local residents; about drainage. You name them, those problems are there. Yet, under this proposal, that site could be allocated for housing development without any consideration of the impact it would have on the neighbouring properties. For those reasons, I am very concerned.
My second concern, which I hope the Minister will be able to give some assurances on, is that, since the 1947 planning Act, we have developed a process of engaging with local people about changes and developments in their area. They have their say; their voice is heard even if, at the end of the day, they do not achieve their outcome. If people feel that they have had a chance to put in their objections and contrary suggestions, they are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome than if they are disregarded and a proposal goes on despite them. I am very concerned that that element of local planning will just disappear under this proposal. If this does come to pass, I will be pointing out to people exactly why it has happened.
The last issue I want to raise is why this proposal has suddenly appeared in the Bill. If it is because developers are putting pressure on the Government about an inadequate supply of land for housing then we ought to look at the evidence, which simply does not support that idea. In my own ward, I have planning consents for over 500 units, 300 of which have had consent for over three years. Nothing is happening because the developers are waiting for property prices to rise. All we will get with permission in principle is more land-banking by developers. Who benefits from that? It is the developers. It is not local people, who will lose opportunities to try and shape their community and have a say in what goes on. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure me on some of these points and will listen to the expert comments and concerns raised earlier.
My Lords, the amendment to Clause 136 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, enables us to consider some of the principles of permission in principle. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests as the chair of the Cambridgeshire Development Forum. When we discussed the principles of the Bill at Second Reading, and in other debates in Committee, I said that we have to keep our eye on the purpose: our capacity to build more homes. If we are successful, through the mechanism of the Bill, in enabling and encouraging more homes to be built, many of the issues we have discussed in Committee will be expedited as a consequence.
Permission in principle is a measure which stands a good chance of enabling us to deliver more homes more quickly. I refer to the example which I gave at Second Reading from my own constituency, which continues to be current and interesting. When it was first proposed, Northstowe, to the north-west of Cambridge, would have been the largest new town built in this country for some 30 years. In 2003, as the local Member of Parliament, I participated in the public examination before the inspector as part of a detailed structure plan inquiry. The purpose of the inquiry was to identify the best location for the establishment of a large new town with some 10,000 homes. The structure plan identified Northstowe as the best location for such a development. It was intended, and subsequently incorporated into local planning, that there would be 6,000 new homes built there by 2016. It is now 2016 and no homes have yet been built. Governments of all political colours always included Northstowe as an example of development potential: the coalition, this Government, the previous Labour Government—Gordon Brown mentioned it when he announced eco-towns. Indeed, Simon Stevens from NHS England included Northstowe as one of the new healthy towns when he talked about them three weeks ago. It is no kind of a town unless we build it: we have to make it happen.
I draw attention to this because the structure plan inquiry went into detail—often exhaustive detail—about the suitability of the location for a development of that size. It looked with great care at the questions which permission in principle is intended to treat as the particulars. What was the location? It was a housing-led development, but what other associated uses were in the master plan? What was the amount of development? What were the density issues? The particulars were all there but, under our existing planning system, the fact that so much had been, as we understood it, agreed in the structure plan did not make any difference to the amount of cost, complexity and time that needed to be absorbed by the lead developers to bring this through to even an outline planning application. As noble Lords will understand, that is before the point at which they go on to the full planning application which follows.
What is intended here is very straightforward. Under such a set of circumstances, where major sites for housing development are contemplated and there is a local or neighbourhood planning process or an appropriate register as a qualifying document, we should go from three processes to two. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is right that the balance and the boundary between those two things is important. However, the implication of what he was saying was that, because the Government identify three particulars as the basis on which the development order will be granted, those particulars therefore exclude, by definition, some of the issues which enable the particulars to be determined.
My understanding, having read the technical consultation, is that that is exactly the position. One thing we have to tease out is the exact stage at which the detailed investigations into and the related decisions about particular sites take place under the new system. We all agree that while they should not take place three times, they should take still place. However, there does not seem to be anything in the new system that says they will unless they are carried out and paid for by the local planning authority. That is unacceptable.
I understand the noble Lord’s point, and he is quite right that we have to tease this out. My noble friend will tell me if I am wrong, but, as I understand it, a qualifying document must be based on a suitable process for establishing how the particulars have been arrived at. For example, where a site is allocated under a local plan for housing development, as part of the process, the local planning authority will go through what I hope will be a rigorous process—I think we all know it will be—with time to examine, for example, whether it is in a flood plain and, if so, what the mitigation would be. It might also examine whether the development is environmentally sustainable and whether, from the point of view of the local highways authority, issues arise from development on a large scale.
We have to be clear whether the local plan process enables a suitable site for housing development to be included in a local plan and thereby gives rise to the potential for permission in principle being granted. This does not mean that a subsequent environmental impact assessment will have to be done on the site at that point. It means that when either that assessment or the highway authority’s response to a plan’s technical details takes place, the question will not be whether the site is right in principle but whether the assessments necessitate mitigation measures. I hope that the Government make it so that there are three processes instead of two and that the qualifying documents in the first process giving rise to permission in principle are sufficiently robust.
I have an additional question about the relationship between permission in principle and current local plan processes. A significant number of local and neighbourhood plans were made and adopted following the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework and many local authorities will adopt those plans in the months following Royal Assent. Will they automatically be eligible for permission in principle through a development order? If so, how can we be confident that the necessary and rigorous processes that should be the basis for the granting of such permission have been gone through, such that local authorities are not required to go through the outline planning application processes? That relationship is very important. I hope that we can make local plans rigorous so that permission in principle can, through development orders, be applied to suitable sites.
Why do I say that? In my experience as a Member of Parliament for an area with a great deal of planning activity, I found that local communities often did not give the attention they should to, or were not engaged to the extent that they ought to be in, understanding the importance of the local plan or local development framework. We need that to happen. Permission in principle has the ancillary benefit that it will cause it to happen much more.
How often have those of us involved in these matters found that when a planning proposal with the potential for an outline planning application was brought forward, people affected began to organise on the basis that that was their moment to be heard? But in a plan-led process, that is not the moment. Instead, it is when the local plan is being put together—but that is a big process and people find it difficult to intervene. We need to ensure that people are clear about the overriding importance of local plans. If they know that a site for housing development may be granted permission in principle as a consequence of its incorporation into a neighbourhood or local plan, they are far more likely to get involved in making that happen.
I absolutely accept the points that the noble Lord is making about the difficulty of engaging local communities and the fact that they arrive at this process far too late. Could he say a little more about how PIP will accelerate that? The concern on these Benches is that it will leapfrog the normal process, however inadequate it is.
It is probably more for my noble friend the Minister to explain how the processes work. My point is simple: it is said that permission in principle is inimical to a local planning authority’s processes or democratic input, but that is not the case. It should prompt a much greater involvement on the part of local people. It should also focus the local planning authority on engaging with the people they represent, not only to ensure that there is a plan-led system, but so that it is understood that the local plan will in many instances give rise to permission in principle. That will cause people to engage with a local plan more than they have previously. For that and other reasons, I support Clause 136 and permission in principle.
Following on from what the noble Lord said—although perhaps the Minister will put us right—my understanding is that permission in principle has two routes. One is through the local and neighbourhood plan. Giving permission in principle is really what such plans do. It is the second route that I am concerned about. Through this route, an application can be made directly to the local planning authority for a site that may not have already been allocated for development—if it had been, it would be in the local plan. That is my concern with this proposal. If it just said that sites allocated in a local plan have, by the very nature of their being in a local plan, permission in principle, I could probably live with it. I am concerned about the second area, and I hope that I will get answers and reassurances.
My Lords, I wish the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, a speedy recovery and I am glad to hear that he is back on his feet. Although he is not the greatest fan of the Bill, it has been a great pleasure discussing it with him.
I want to make a point about the letter that noble Lords received on the secondary legislation. I sense from the Benches opposite that some have it and others do not. I will think about what the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said about placing copies in the Printed Paper Office. I am sure that we can do that in future. I also have a couple of copies with me, if noble Lords would like to see it. I was absolutely determined that the letter would be with noble Lords, and it is a shame that difficulties with offices being spread thinly have prevented it. In future I will put copies in the Printed Paper Office.
I thank the Minister for that. It is a strain trying to do a Bill four days running. We cannot keep up with it. By putting it in the PPO, which is very effective and efficient, we all have access to shared information. So I thank her.
The noble Baroness is very welcome. We learn these things as we go along. I also confirm to noble Lords that I will be responding to the DPRRC report tomorrow, as well as giving my intentions for Report. That said, I will go through the whole principle of permission in principle, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, did. It is a measure that responds to issues raised by representatives from the housebuilding and professional planning sectors about the lack of predictability and efficiency in our current planning system, which noble Lords have alluded to, in two specific key areas.
First, the current system requires applicants to invest heavily upfront in the finer details of the scheme without sufficient certainty that the site is “in principle” suitable for that type of development. This can waste time and effort for local authorities which have to determine detailed applications that may not be suitable in principle, and for communities and other consultees that are asked to comment. In August 2015, the Planning Officers Society released a discussion paper on this very issue, which states that,
“the costs associated with submitting applications for outline planning permission, with all its information requirements, can be significant for small and medium builders. This, coupled with no guarantee of success, can deter small and medium businesses from putting forward sites into the planning system. This needs to be resolved”.
Secondly, the current system allows “in principle” decisions to be revisited at multiple points in the process. I am sure we have all seen this. Even where land is allocated in a local plan, decision-makers will reassess the basic principles of site suitability when a planning application is submitted. This means that the hard work and local effort that go in at the plan-making stage are often revisited and repeated at the development management stage. On this point, when giving evidence about the Bill in the other place, the Home Builders Federation said of planning applications:
“Unfortunately, I can point you to many, many examples of where the principle of development gets discussed at length even for an allocated site”.
I also take this opportunity to highlight that the Lyons review, published in spring last year, also identified that the principle of development should be established earlier.
Clause 136, which my noble friend Lord Lansley referred to, responds to these issues by introducing permission in principle: a new type of planning consent that will provide upfront certainty that the fundamental principles of development—the use, location and amount of development—are agreed and established once in the planning process. This will give increased certainty that a type and amount of development is acceptable in principle before significant investment is made in costly technical matters. However, permission in principle must be followed by an application for “technical details consent” before full planning permission is granted and work can start on-site. This will provide the opportunity to assess the detailed design and to ensure appropriate mitigation of impacts and that the contribution to infrastructure is secured.
Clause 136 will enable permission in principle to be granted in two ways. The first is on sites that local planning authorities, parishes and neighbourhood forums choose and allocate within their local plan-making process. It will strengthen plan-led development in this country and increase the efficiency of the system by ensuring that the hard work that goes into local plan production and site allocation is put to best use.
I stress that the choice about where to grant permission in principle will be a local one, reached through the rigorous involvement of communities and members of the current plan-making process and not through the Secretary of State. Far from removing a community’s voice from planning decisions, permission in principle will strengthen the role of the local plan and help ensure that housing development takes place on sites that people actually want to see built. Where permission in principle is granted through neighbourhood plans, this will truly ensure that communities are in the driving seat of local planning.
To meet the specific challenges faced by smaller developers, Clause 136 will provide a second route for permission in principle to be granted by enabling applicants to make an application to the local planning authority for a minor development. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, referred to this. This will ensure that smaller builders can test the acceptability of a scheme before having to invest heavily in the technical detail that may go to waste if the development is not acceptable in principle.
I thought it was worth interrupting the Minister at this point because of the definition of “technical details”. If we can get that straight, it might save a lot of discussion later on. Does “technical details” mean the NPPF or is it less than the NPPF? In Fixing the Foundations the Chancellor talked about,
“a limited number of technical details”.
Does she have a list of those technical details? I think we would all benefit from genuine clarity about that at this point.
My Lords, when setting out the local plan, local authorities will have to be clear on things such as environmental mitigation and flood risk—all the various things that would usually be considered. If noble Lords have suggestions for what should be included in the technical details stage of the process, I would be very grateful. I thought the noble Baroness was going to mention something entirely different because we talked the other day about sites of archaeological interest. Of course, such things have to be considered in terms of the NPPF anyway. But if she thinks there are additional things that should be included at the technical details stage, I am very happy to listen and take them on board.
That is very helpful but I think what is concerning people is not what additional material considerations there may be for planning applications or the new system, it is which of the existing ones the new system will miss out. Will anything that is a material consideration for a planning permission at the moment, whether it is a full permission or reserved matters or whatever, still be a material consideration under the PIP technical details system?
I assure the noble Lord that absolutely it will. The rigour that exists in the current planning system will be the rigour that exists through permission in principle. All the permission in principle system does is create a lesser financial burden upfront for builders, particularly small builders, which might want to build developments. It saves the upfront money knowing that they have the “in principle” go-ahead to pursue it further. I assure the noble Lord that none of the rigour that exists now will be diminished or diluted in the permission in principle system. I hope that that reassures him.
Can the Minister indicate to the House whether the Government have a particular ceiling in mind for what a minor project consists of, which might otherwise be somewhat in the eye of the beholder in this debate and might lead us into confusion?
I am making an assumption here, but I would say that a minor scheme would be one with no more than a few dwellings on it. It would certainly not be a large scheme, which is currently designated as more than 10 dwellings, so perhaps one or two houses; no more than that. In fact, it might be just one dwelling.
I can also assure noble Lords that the technical details must be negotiated and agreed before developments can start, so in terms of the rigour of the planning process, they cannot be agreed afterwards. They have to be agreed before the development can go ahead.
I am a bit confused by the Minister’s language. When she said that they should be negotiated before the development starts, does that mean that permission is given by the local planning authority as if it was a reserved matter?
Yes, it would be. The development cannot go ahead unless the technical details have been agreed. It is an essential part of the process, just as it is under the current system.
Perhaps I may finish my opening remarks by reminding noble Lords of what the sector has made of our proposals since the Bill was published back in October. The Federation of Master Builders strongly supports them, and it believes in particular that the application route for minor developments will help to reduce the barriers to bringing forward small-scale housing development. In its evidence to the committee scrutinising the Bill, the Home Builders Federation said that Clause 136 would definitely increase supply because it is,
“a positive step towards finding the sites that local authorities actually want to see developed”.
I hope that I have been able to demonstrate briefly that permission in principle is a much-needed measure that is supported by the sector. It aims to introduce more predictability and efficiency into our system for locally supported development.
The noble Lords, Lord Beecham and Lord Greaves, talked about fracking. I should just like to make the point at this juncture that fracking sites are precisely the type of development that would not be suitable for permission in principle; they are simply at the other end of the scale. We are talking here about housing-led sites, so I shall say on the Floor of the House that fracking is not the sort of thing that we are thinking about. However, I know that noble Lords like to have it confirmed again and again, and I do not blame them.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked about the number of dwellings. The number will be determined through the local plan derived via consultation with the local community. He also asked about archaeological sites. If, say, a new dead king was found under a site, making it a site of great archaeological interest, it is fair to say that the technical details consent would be refused at that point.
The noble Baroness may be inciting me to withdraw my amendment, because some archaeological sites can be mitigated rather than withdrawn, but that mitigation requires the permission in principle to be changed because the mitigation can happen only, for example, by reducing the minimum number of houses. What happens then?
The noble Baroness is absolutely right that the archaeological aspect of a site could be mitigated. Perhaps we will move on to that issue later, but I thought I would mention it, given that she is sitting in front of me. It might be a good example.
A few noble Lords talked about local development orders. We will get on to those in a later group, but I want to make the point at this juncture that local development orders are quite different from permission in principle, because they are tools that local authorities use to grant detailed planning permission for a specific development within a defined area, such as unlocking problematic sites and playing a vital role in regeneration. I thought I would make the point, because it has been mentioned.
Amendments 89N and 92D, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, seek to place in the Bill an exclusion on certain sites from benefiting from a grant of permission in principle. Let me simply reaffirm the following truth: the Bill enables permission in principle to be granted for development on sites chosen by local authorities and neighbourhood forums. If a local authority considers that a site is suitable for housing-led development in line with local and national policy, it will be able to use permission in principle to help to ensure that such sites are delivered.
Perhaps I may ask the Minister about a point that has been puzzling me. Does the duty to co-operate between local authorities remain as it is under their current system?
Yes, my Lords. Indeed, I would reinforce the point that the duty to co-operate, particularly on larger sites, is even more important, given the buy-in by local communities of two different local authorities. Does that answer the noble Lord’s question?
Yes. I thank the noble Baroness.
Perhaps I may reaffirm that if a local authority considers that a site is suitable for housing-led development in line with local and national policy, it will be able to use the permission in principle to help to ensure that the site gets delivered. The NPPF already provides strong protections for the type of sites listed in these amendments, including the green belt, the historic and the natural environment. At its heart, the framework is clear that local authorities should plan positively to meet each of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. For example, paragraph 157 sets out that plans should identify land where development would be inappropriate and contain a clear strategy for enhancing the natural built and historic environment. Permission in principle does not change any of these existing protections. Local and national policy has always driven how local decisions are made, and the addition of a new route to obtaining planning permission does not change that. I suggest that setting out centrally what type of land may or may not be granted permission in principle would set an unwelcome precedent.
Noble Lords have tabled a number of amendments to Clause 136 that seek to restrict permission in principle to be granted for housing development only. Amendment 90, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is part of the group. Although I understand the desire to add more detail to the legislation at this stage, there are important reasons why it would be unwise to restrict the granting of permission in principle to housing development in the Bill. First, and most importantly, if we restrict permission in principle to housing only, we lose the crucial ability to facilitate mixed-use development. We are currently consulting on an approach that would enable permission in principle to be granted for housing-led development to allow for the possibility of mixed uses that are compatible with a residential environment. This means that as long as a site allocation is housing-led, local authorities will be able to grant permission in principle in line with local and national policy for other uses.
I will not ask the Minister to do so now, but will there be a definition in guidance about what housing-led actually means in terms of proportions of sites and so on?
Yes, my Lords. I can give an example of what that might include. It may be a retail community and office space. This approach is absolutely crucial to continuing to promote sustainable development and the delivery of balanced, mixed communities, spaces and places in line with the principles set out in the NPPF. We are currently consulting on this approach and we would welcome views about what would constitute a suitable proportion of housing and the compatible uses, in line with the noble Lord’s pre-emptive question. This will allow us to set out a sensible definition of housing-led development in secondary legislation.
Amendment 90 would also restrict the granting of permission in principle to brownfield sites only. I want to remind the Committee that the Bill will enable permission in principle to be granted to sites identified on the new brownfield register specifically to help to ensure that development takes place on these priority sites. We also intend to enable permission in principle to be granted on sites chosen and allocated by local authorities, parishes and neighbourhood forums within their local and neighbourhood plans. Restricting the granting of permission in principle to only brownfield sites in this context would greatly reduce the effectiveness of this measure and the freedom for local agreement on where development should take place as part of the plan-led approach.
Finally, my noble friend Lord Lansley asked whether new plans could automatically be considered for PIP. Once the secondary legislation is in place, our newly adopted plan could grant permission in principle. The choice about whether it should be granted will be a local one. I hope that, with those words, the noble Lord will feel happy to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful for the care with which the Minister has answered and taken part in the discussion on these amendments. Inevitably a great deal of what she said was explaining the proposals rather than engaging with some of the arguments put forward, although she engaged with quite a few.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, made an interesting point about emerging plans. We will discuss this later, but it is clear that the Government do not intend that permission in principle should be retrospective. However, there are plans at the moment that may not—and if they are very close to adoption, will not—have been put together with an understanding that permission in principle might come from them. There is an interesting debate to be had in a later group about that.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, also mentioned flood plains. In a sense, this underlines the difficulty behind the permission in principle and technical details concept. Is the liability of land to flood on a flood plain or indeed in any other circumstances a matter to be sorted out before permission in principle is given or not? Should it be sorted out at local plan level? If there is an application for permission in principle outside the local plan, direct to the authority, who sorts it out and at what stage? One of the concerns of local planning authorities is that the work on assessing the problem, assessing what needs doing, designing mitigation methods and so on may be transferred from the applicant—the developer—to the local authority. Most of the work involved in putting a local plan together, such as the strategic housing land availability assessment and other such documents, is done by and paid for by the local authority.
In terms of planning applications, one of the complaints seems to be that developers—applicants—have to spend a lot of money at an early stage when they are not sure if their application is going to get passed. I am not quite sure how you get away from that, but if a local authority says that it cannot give permission in principle on land because it is a flood plain, it will have to have evidence to show that—not least if it goes to appeal. To get that evidence, it will have to do the work and show that mitigation is not possible. There is a real problem. Is this a device for transferring the cost of doing work before an application can be agreed from the developer to the local authority? If it is, there are obvious problems, which I think we can discuss in later groups.
Otherwise, I am pretty grateful to the Minister for what she has said and I will have a happy time over the Recess reading it all. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 89N withdrawn.
Amendment 90 not moved.
90ZA: Clause 136, page 66, line 31, leave out “technical” and insert “development”
My Lords, this is a miscellaneous group relating to planning in principle. In moving Amendment 90ZA, I will speak to the rest of the amendments in my name in the group. Amendment 90ZA and two other amendments in this group relate specifically to the term “technical details”. Noble Lords will know that I take an interest in what things are called. I think that it is important for the way in which they are regarded. “Technical details” seems to me to be the wrong name. They suggest a formality, either right or wrong, or yes or no, like building regulations—non-controversial, technical and able to be the subject of tick lists.
It is becoming clear from the discussions that “technical details” in the case of planning in principle will include a great deal more than that. They will include things that are debateable and arguable and they will require a lot of evidence from both sides. Also, when a local authority makes a decision, it will be subject to appeal. “Technical details” seems to me to be a source of confusion and misunderstanding and have a lack of clarity for the public. When people are told that their objection about access to the site through their estate or the impact that it is going to have on the local landscape is just a technical detail, I think they will get quite angry. Therefore, because it seems a more sensible name and because I always want to help the Government in these matters, I suggest that they should be called “development details”, which is a clear, simple and obvious name for them.
The Bill says that when there is an application for permission in principle—in other words, getting a PIP directly through the local authority and not through a document—the local planning authority may grant the planning in principle or may refuse it. It suggests that there are no circumstances in which local authorities could grant it with conditions. This is causing a lot of bemusement in the planning world. Amendments 94ZB and 94ZC are to probe this and say,
“they may grant permission … with conditions”,
“any conditions imposed … may only relate to matters that are material to the granting of permission of principle”.
It seems rather drastic to say that, in relation to the area, the amount of housing or indeed other uses of the site, the local authority is not able, perhaps after discussion and negotiation with the applicants, to put conditions on in the normal way.
The present planning system is not anti-development; it is actually very pro-development. One thing that applicants often complain about that is not to their benefit is that there can be a great deal of negotiation after the initial pre-application discussions with the local planning authority. There will be perhaps negotiation as it is going through the system and the final result may be different from what was proposed at the beginning, but the result will be that planning permission is given.
The whole impetus now within the local planning system is that, when a planning application comes in, it gets permission. Therefore, what the local planning authority is doing and what the planners are doing very often during that process, in negotiations with the applicants, are the things necessary to make it possible to give that planning permission—and it goes to committee to make a recommendation for that. To say that you can simply pass it or kick it out seems to me a recipe for having more refusals than we do now. If there are things that people think need negotiating and changing, it will not be possible to do it—and having conditions is a way to do that.
Finally, conditions on an outline planning approval will mean that the permission given will say something like, “This permission is given subject to reserved matters, which are as follows”, or it may say that all the matters are reserved, but it will give outline planning permission subject to subsequent agreement about the reserved matters. What is now being said is that the planning in principle will be given but there will be a list of parameters set for a subsequent application for technical details. I do not understand what the difference is between an outline planning permission and a permission in principle in those circumstances and I do not understand what the difference is between reserved matters and parameters. Perhaps the Minister can elucidate what parameters mean and what they are all about. Will the parameters set out be mandatory on technical details? Will there be things that have to be sorted out at that stage? What happens if perfectly good objections arise to a proposal at technical detail stage that have not been thought about at planning and principle stage? Will it be impossible to consider these other things, which members or local groups or even councillors may bring up and which may be valid and obvious things that need to be sorted out before the application can be dealt with? Will they be banned from being dealt with if they are not in the list of parameters—if they are not in the parameter of parameters that have been agreed at the first stage?
With Amendment 94B, I am just trying to be helpful, as the Bill as it is written at the moment does not make sense. It would make an amendment to Section 70 of the Town and Country Planning Act. Perhaps somebody could look at it.
Amendment 94ZA is all about guidance. For heaven’s sake, we are going to have lots of regulation-making powers by the Secretary of State, then we are going to have all the powers of the Secretary of State to make development orders under the Town and Country Planning Act, which will set out most of the rules and regulations for local authorities. In addition to that, we have this ridiculous paragraph saying:
“Local planning authorities must have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State in the exercise of functions exercisable by virtue of this section”.
If the Secretary of State issues guidance, people will pay attention to it—obviously they will. But putting it in legislation like that is an insult to local planning authorities, to councils, to planners and to councillors. It is treating them like children; it is just pathetic. However, that is just an outburst on my part. The other amendments in this group are more substantial. I beg to move.
My Lords, I intervene briefly to support quite a lot of what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has just said. This business of language is absolutely critical. Part of the problem is the splitting of what is now a holistic process through the discretionary system that we have into two arbitrary divisions. That is what the Bill proposes, and that is why the distinction between the two parts of the process and the language is absolutely critical, as is understanding where the boundaries lie and whether they are in any way permeable or whether they are fixed. The technical detail to describe the infrastructure, contamination, substance or transport is not correct or appropriate. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has got it right when he talks about development, because they are all aspects of development, but I ask the Minister and officials to think really hard about the proper language here.
The other issues that have been raised are about the flexibility, and we will come on to that in later amendments. What we have is a cliff edge at the end of the first stage on the three criteria, which are very blunt—location, land use and amount. The rest is about how it works. Unless we are clear that there is no way that anything that is discovered that cannot be known, because no site investigation will have been required—in many instances none will have been done—and unless we know whether there is any way in which to alter the PIP, or unless conditions are attached to the PIP, the only choice is to reject the planning application as a whole. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is quite right—that means that we may end up getting fewer sites agreed than under the present system. This is an extremely important set of amendments and some very important issues have been raised.
My Lords, I support the point just made that language is very important in this matter, but I am slightly disturbed by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, saying that the language is too simple and talks down to people. What does it matter if the planning officers find it all so simple? I am a great believer that ordinary people should be able to understand the law. Therefore, it should be in as simple a form as possible and we should not worry about who feels that they are being talked down to. We have just had two conflicting statements on that, but I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, that language is important.
I, too, agree that language is important and what might be talking down to one person might feel incredibly complex to another, particularly when it comes to planning, which lies outside the interest of most people and is of interest only when it affects them.
The effect of Amendments 90ZA, 95ZA, and 95BA, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is to replace “technical details consent” with “development details consent” to reflect his wish that applications following the grant of permission in principle should be determined in accordance with the existing rules relating to planning applications under Part 3 of the Town and Country Planning Act. I share his desire to ensure that an application that follows a grant of permission in principle includes a robust process that allows for consideration of development against local and national policy. We have set out our wish for an application for technical details consent to strike the right balance between securing such a process, while minimising unnecessary duplication at the permission in principle and technical details consent stages. We are currently consulting on how to get this balance right, and asking key questions about important matters such as information provision and involvement of communities and others.
Amendment 92HA allows me to explain the difference between permission in principle and local development orders. I apologise to noble Lords that I am slightly repeating myself, because I have just made this point in the previous group, but it is important to say again that local development orders are tools that local authorities use to grant detailed planning permission to specific development within a defined area. They are a particularly useful tool in unlocking problematic sites and play a vital role in regeneration. Local development orders and neighbourhood development orders will still have a role in allowing a local planning authority or neighbourhood groups to grant a more detailed planning permission for specific sites.
On Amendment 94ZA, we have taken a power to issue statutory guidance on the new system of permission in principle. We think that this is an important power as it will allow us to make clear to local authorities, developers, statutory bodies and the general public how the new system should work. The guidance will also help to make permission in principle fully accessible to all users, thereby placing strong expectations on how, where and in what circumstances permission in principle can be granted.
I turn to Amendment 94ZB. New Section 70(1A) as introduced by the Government will enable local authorities to refuse or approve an application for permission in principle. The amendment suggested by the noble Lord effectively removes the ability to make an application for permission in principle to the local planning authority. As I set out in my opening remarks, Clause 136 enables applicants to apply directly to their local authority for permission in principle and it is important to have this route, alongside being able to obtain it through a local plan, a neighbourhood plan or the brownfield register. Our intention is to make this option available for applications for minor development, specifically to help address the particular challenges faced by smaller developers, who often find that the cost of providing swathes of technical detail up front prevents them from entering the development market.
One of the ways that we can help to address this chronic housing shortage is by diversifying the housebuilding sector and encouraging small and medium builders and custom builders into the market. The permission in principle application route aims to help achieve exactly that, offering a route for smaller builders and even custom builders who can seldom afford to waste money on detailed planning information for sites that are unacceptable in principle to gain more upfront certainty and reduce the risk for them to enter the market. The permission in principle application route will be optional for applicants and will sit alongside other routes for securing planning permission. Permission in principle will be determined by local authorities in accordance with the development plan for the area unless material considerations indicate otherwise. We will be setting out minimum statutory requirements for consultation when an application for permission in principle is made to ensure that the local community and the statutory agencies are consulted before it is granted, closely following the existing requirements during the planning application process. In no way will the permission in principle application provide a route for applicants to push through unacceptable proposals. Instead it will be hugely beneficial to the SME market and could play an important role in helping to diversify the housing market.
Turning now to Amendment 94ZC, I am thankful to the noble Lord for his comments on how decisions to grant permission in principle are made. However, I do not think it is appropriate that permission in principle should be granted subject to conditions, because permission in principle is to provide simple certainty on the basic acceptability of the site early on in the process. As the permission in principle does not on its own authorise development, conditions at this point would unnecessarily complicate the process, although we expect local authorities to make clear when they give permission in principle the matters that they would expect to see covered in an application for the technical details consent, and we are currently consulting on how best to achieve this. The technical details consent application will provide the opportunity for the local authority to determine all further matters of the development in line with the local plan and other material considerations, subject to conditions. This is the appropriate time to impose conditions on how a scheme is to be delivered.
On Amendment 94B, I agree with the proposals put forward in the noble Lord’s amendment. That is why, in response, I draw attention to page 157 and more specifically to paragraph 11(2) of Schedule 12, which already makes the changes the noble Lord seeks to make with this amendment. I thank him once again for this debate and, in light of my comments, ask that he withdraw the amendment.
On the last point the Minister raised, when the permission in principle is allocated the local authority must advise the applicant what will be covered by the notion of technical details. It seems to me that much of what is driving this Bill is a concern for SMEs, possibly more than large developers. But SMEs will not have gone through the plan. They are bringing their applications forward, so they may have an eye on a site but they may not have any idea what that site is like. They certainly will not have done a site assessment. How, therefore, can the local authority be certain of the advice that it is going to give to that small builder about the technical details to be covered? As we keep saying, we do not want to waste money. That is part of the present system, so we are told. But surely there is a possibility that a small builder will engage with a site only to find that he cannot deliver because he cannot deal with the technical details which will be given to him at a later stage.
The noble Baroness raises a vital point. The lack of some upfront costs will help the smaller builder because knowing what will be expected of him or her later down the process could enable that smaller builder to make a decision on whether or not to proceed with that application. I hope that that is helpful to the noble Baroness.
It does depend on the local authority and the small builder knowing what they are looking for. It may be, if it is a site that nobody knows about, that they will not know what they are looking for. This is one instance where, if we had the consultation and the response of people who are going to manage this, we would be in a much better position to know whether this is safe or not.
I hope the noble Baroness will engage with the consultation. In fact, her words tonight will form part of the consultation. All noble Lords’ suggestions are being taken forward to help shape policy.
My Lords, the problem is that getting permission in principle will not provide certainty. All it will provide is certainty that you can go on to the next stage where the hard work will have to be done and paid for and the application might be turned down. The Minister keeps talking about the fact that conditions can be put on and applications can be amended at the technical details stage. That is absolutely right but they can also be thrown out, and the problem that some of us, including the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, are trying to grasp is that some of the things which will be discussed at technical details stage are regarded as something that should be discussed at outline planning stage. They are matters of principle such as the question of whether you can get proper safe access to the site and the matter of ecology on the site. The proposal that has been put forward is that you can get planning permission in principle for such a site but then there are technical details that have to be dealt with, so it does not stop the cost. It might even cost small builders more because they are being led down the garden path with permission in principle and then they are being stopped when they get to the privy at the bottom, whereas at the moment they would be stopped halfway down the garden path. So this needs to be thought out.
As a ward councillor I am currently engaged peripherally in discussions for a small planning application for about 24 houses. The development has had full planning permission but the developers decided it was not viable as set out so they have come back with a changed application. Discussions are now taking place which are delaying the whole thing, but the purpose is to get it passed in the end. Some of the discussions are taking place because residents in nearby flats, assisted by me and other councillors, are complaining about some of the properties just behind them being too high and too big. Meanwhile, the developer is saying that it is still not viable and they want another one. So discussions are taking place at the moment on the minor detail of changing the design of one of the houses, perhaps putting another house in a corner where there is not one.
All that discussion is taking place at the moment. There is nothing unusual about it. Planning applications do not just come in and then be dealt with and sent out again; they require a lot of pre-application discussion with planning officers, and sometimes with councillors as well. If they are sensitive in any way, a lot of discussion takes place during the eight weeks of the application process, and then the decision is made at the end. If, half way through, a decision is made to change it, there will be another application. As far as I can see, none of that will change unless the new process is so rigid that it forces councils to make a decision before they want to, in which case they will decide to reject the application. So, more things will get rejected if this kind of constructive negotiation, which is partly political, partly residential and partly planning, does not take place. These proposals do not seem to fit in very nicely with the real world, but, having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 90ZA withdrawn.
90A: Clause 136, page 66, line 32, leave out “a prescribed period” and insert “three years”
My Lords, I submitted some of the amendments in this group before I got further information by reading the technical consultation and implementation, which I will come to. I shall speak also to the other amendments in my name in this group. These amendments are mainly about timescales and time limitations, which is why they have been grouped. There is a very helpful Labour amendment in the middle of the group.
Amendments 90A, 95C and two others refer to the prescribed period. Amendment 90A is a probing amendment to find the Government’s idea of what the prescribed period should be for after permission in principle is given on a piece of land but before technical details have to be given, otherwise the permission in principle may lapse. I have suggested three years, which is the present position for outline planning permission and reserved matters. Since I tabled the amendment, I have been able to see the technical consultation which talks about a different timescale, and I hope noble Lords will let me raise this as it is important.
The maximum determination period for permission in principle on application and technical details consent is how long the local authority has to process and determine applications. At the moment, it is essentially eight weeks for ordinary applications and 13 weeks for major applications. The proposed determination periods that are being consulted on are five weeks for permission in principle for minor applications, five weeks for technical details consent for minor sites and 10 weeks for technical details consent for major sites. There is considerable concern about these proposals and these timescales. I apologise to the Minister, who will not have answers on these specific things, but I want to put them on the record.
I have a comment from my planning manager in Pendle. He says:
“If there is to be meaningful consultation the timescales involved are unworkable and will lead to many applications being rejected. A significant number of applications need amending or further clarifying information needs to be prepared. This requirement often comes from the comments of consultees who normally take the full 21 days to respond”.
Consultees are Highways England, the Environment Agency, the Coal Authority and the rest of them.
“The processing of an application and registration takes two days and letters sent out to consultees. They will get the letters in the first week. There are then three weeks for consultation. That leaves 1 week to deal with all the issues that are brought up. If there are outstanding matters”—
and my experience is that there usually are—
“which there will inevitably be, LPAs will refuse consent rather than allow something that is potentially unacceptable.
Timescales need to be more realistic or the process will fall down with impossible to achieve timescales”.
The Minister said that our comments will be fed into the consultation, so I hope those comments will be fed in.
Amendment 93A states that PIP cannot be retrospective, and I think the Government agree that that is the case, so perhaps I will not pursue it. Amendment 92N probes the circumstances in which the Secretary of State can grant PIP instead of the LPA. Amendment 93A also states:
“The procedure to be followed for the readoption or revision of a qualifying document in a way that affects the granting of permission in principle to any land is the same as that which applies to the original adoption of the document”.
The purpose of that provision is to probe whether, after the document has been adopted with all the public consultation and processes which it appears are being promised, it could then be changed in some way on the sly without all that process taking place again.
Amendment 93B is about whether permission in principle will cease to have effect on land. If planning permission is given for a different use, does the housing PIP then lapse or does it stand alongside a new permission for, say, a supermarket? If land is allocated for a different use or has the allocation for housing removed in the local development plan, does the planning in principle lapse if the local development plan is changed? If land is removed from the list of land suitable for housing development or the register of brownfield land, does that mean that the planning in principle is also removed at the same time?
Amendment 93C is about how applications for planning permission will work on land which already has planning in principle for housing. If it has permission in principle for housing, and somebody puts in a planning application for a supermarket, a garage site or whatever, will that simply operate on the same lines as it would if that permission in principle did not exist? If the permission in principle for the supermarket, the garage site or whatever is then granted, does the planning in principle for housing lapse or does it continue to exist alongside? I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise with, I promise, uncharacteristic brevity to speak to Amendments 93 and 96, which are tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Kennedy. These amendments relate to time. Amendment 93 relates to new Section 59A(4), which states:
“Permission in principle … takes effect when the qualifying document is adopted”,
and, critically, goes on to say in new paragraph (b) that it,
“is not brought to an end by the qualifying document ceasing to have effect or being revised, unless the order provides otherwise”,
which strikes me as somewhat peculiar provision. My amendment would ensure that the provision in principle expired when the plan was no longer relevant or had been replaced. It limits the time to circumstances when it remains relevant or has not been replaced.
Amendment 96 again relates to the time factor, because the somewhat convoluted proposed new subsection (2ZZC) says:
“Subsection (2ZZA) does not apply where … the permission in principle has been in force for longer than a prescribed period”.
That is what the Bill currently says. The amendment seeks to put a limit on that period of five years, so there would have to be development within a five-year period. That seems perfectly reasonable given what we already know about the vast number of outstanding permissions which are not acted on, and which therefore of course do not contribute to meeting housing or indeed any other needs.
My Lords, the effect of all four Amendments 90A, 95C, 96ZB and 96 would be to put a timeframe in the Bill to allow local authorities to reopen the principle of development when determining an application for technical details consent after a permission in principle has been in place for three years.
Proposed new Section 70(2ZZC), as introduced by the Government, will give local authorities the ability to re-examine the principle of development when a permission in principle has been in place for longer than a set period and where there has been a material change in circumstance. I assure noble Lords that we intend to set out a suitable period for when the principle of development could be reconsidered in secondary legislation. We are currently consulting on the duration of a permission in principle granted either on allocation in a plan or on application to a local authority. To set the duration of permission in principle in secondary legislation rather than in the Bill is a prudent approach, because it gives us a better opportunity to ensure that this model works as intended and for the Secretary of State to keep it under review and respond as appropriate.
Amendment 92J would have the effect of removing the ability to prescribe the type of development that can be granted permission in principle in secondary legislation and—taken with some of the other amendments tabled by the noble Lord to this clause—would limit permission in principle to housing development only. Once again, I understand the desire to place detail in the Bill. However, as I have already set out, there are important reasons why permission in principle should not be restricted in this way. The power that Amendment 92N seeks to remove is there simply to ensure that permission in principle is consistent with the existing system. This is important as it minimises complexity, and for this reason, I ask the noble Lord to consider not moving this amendment.
On Amendment 93, I will briefly explain to noble Lords our intentions behind proposed new subsection (4)(b) in Clause 136 on the duration of permission in principle. We have no intention of allowing permission in principle to exist in perpetuity. We are intent on setting out a sensible duration and are currently consulting on the option of setting that limit at five years. Proposed new subsection (4)(b) would give us important flexibility to ensure that, in appropriate circumstances, where a plan or a register is more regularly revised or updated, it does not automatically mean that permission in principle comes to an end.
Did I hear the Minister correctly? She indicates that she is thinking of a five-year period, but how would that be provided for? It does not seem to be in the Bill—will it be a matter for regulation, and whence would that authority derive?
The noble Lord is right; as I just said, we are currently consulting on setting the limit at five years. Does that answer the noble Lord’s question or am I answering a totally different one?
Does the Minister mean that she is thinking about a government amendment to this clause on Report, or will that be determined by regulation?
My Lords, I am saying that we have no intention of setting it out in perpetuity; we are consulting on what the length of time would be and on the option of setting the limit at five years, which would indeed be set out in secondary legislation.
On the question of five years, if I remember correctly, the limit for outline planning applications and full applications used to be five years, and the limit for outlines was reduced to three years precisely to encourage people to get on with development and apply for reserved matters. Is it not the case that going back to five years for planning in principle before technical details are required could result in the process slowing down, which is the opposite to what the Government want?
I take the noble Lord’s point; I hope that all that would come out in the consultation and that we would arrive at a sensible period of time.
On Amendments 93A and 92K, in answer to the points raised about permission in principle applying to existing local and neighbourhood plans, I hope that I can make some helpful assurances. I make it clear that permission in principle, granted on allocation in locally prepared plans and registers, will apply only to those adopted once the permission in principle measure is fully in force. The Government have no intention to apply the measure retrospectively to site allocations in existing local development plans. It will be possible to grant permission in principle only going forward, so existing plans and site allocations will not be affected. My noble friend Lord Lansley asked what would happen to plans that are in evolution. Local authorities can go back and review their plans to put permission in principle to effect. I am making the point that it cannot be done retrospectively, which has been a concern.
While we are on this, in principle—I hate to use that word here—there might be no reason why, if the local plan has been put together in a very thorough way with lots of public consultation, it should not apply, once it is adopted, perhaps next year or later this year, to permission in principle. The problem is, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and the Minister said, that because of the way in which local plans are put together at present, very often there is not much public involvement about particular site allocations because people always think, “That’s been allocated for housing for ages so it’ll be allocated again, and we can always get involved and object if and when there’s a planning application”—and people hope that there never will be. If a local plan involving site allocations, whether it is the whole local plan or just the site allocations document, is almost or half-way ready to go to inspection, and the sites have more or less been agreed, and then there is the question of whether that plan, once it is adopted, should qualify for PIP, if the Minister is saying, “The local authority might have to go back and review it”, and if that then involves having a greater degree of public involvement and neighbour consultation than has taken place so far, that will delay the plan. Can the Government give a guarantee that under those circumstances they would not then penalise the authority for not meeting deadlines in production of the plan?
My Lords, there is no intention to penalise local authorities; the Government made it quite clear that this would not be retrospective but could be reviewed as time went on. The noble Lord makes his own case when he talked about local people not being involved in the planning process. In fact, there is every evidence that the local planning process has vastly increased engagement from local communities, so I think it is a very good system, and I hope that local people get involved.
I turn to Amendment 93B. I assure the noble Lord that, as I said, we intend to set out a sensible period of when permission in principle ceases to have effect in secondary legislation. Setting the arrangements out in secondary legislation is more prudent, allowing us to consult and explore this further so that we can get the approach right.
I do not disagree with that at all.
If I could just complete this point, the noble Lord can come in afterwards. On Amendment 93C, I reassure the noble Lord that we are consulting on the application process for the technical details consent. We envisage that the process will draw on the existing planning application process set out in Part 3 of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1990. However, because the permission in principle, followed by technical details consent, is a different route to obtaining planning permission, it would be inappropriate to place a requirement in the Bill that fully duplicates the current full planning permission procedure at the technical details consent stage.
We will be setting out the application process for technical details consent in secondary legislation once our current consultation closes, and, as I have said today, I will be very interested to hear views from noble Lords. I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
It would be very helpful to have a bit more information about some of the Government’s thinking on the secondary legislation to which the noble Baroness referred several times. That is what I was trying to intervene on. It is very difficult to know how the process is going to work and to understand it without knowing at least some of that. I accept that some of it is in the technical consultation, but not all.
Can the Minister tell us the relationship between pieces of land which have permission in principle and other planning applications that might be made on those pieces of land? Is the existence of the permission in principle a material consideration in the consideration of another planning application for a different use? If that planning application is granted, does the permission in principle on that land lapse, or would there be two permissions of a different sort side by side?
My Lords, I do not think that a local authority would want to put a permission in principle on a site that already had an application for another use, but that would be up to the judgment of the local authority, particularly in planning for housing.
I am sorry to pursue the detail, but it is important. There might be a permission in principle on a piece of land that has been there for three or four years, and nothing has happened, and someone comes along and wants to develop it for something different. That is the sort of situation I am thinking of, in which the permission in principle is historic on the land, as it were, and it is a new application. Perhaps the Minister will write to me on that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment
Amendment 90A withdrawn.
91: Clause 136, page 66, line 36, at end insert—
“(4) Criteria for permission in principle and technical details consent shall be subject to consultation with local authorities.”
My Lords, Amendment 91 stands in the name of my noble friends Lord Beecham and Lord Kennedy and is still on the issue of permission in principle. In particular, we seek to mitigate the parts of the Bill that introduce a new system that in effect takes out both local democratic control and the rights of local people to have a say in proposals on their area—or on their doorsteps, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, said earlier.
Amendment 91 would require consultation with local authorities on criteria for PIP and on the technical details. Amendment 94 sets out information about the permission in principle granted by a development order, which must have prior consultation with local planning authorities. Amendment 95 would allow local planning authorities to overturn permission in principle decisions where important material considerations which the planning stage did not reveal have come to light. My noble friend Lord Beecham gave the example of archaeological finds in the debate on an earlier group.
These amendments and the others in the group are essential if the Government’s new system is to retain any workable input of local democratic accountability and to allow for further consideration as circumstances or what is known about a particular plan and its effect come to light. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have four amendments in this group that pursue the question of what should be in permission in principle and what in technical details. These are absolutely crucial issues, which need a great deal more thought between now and Report.
People will not understand that permission in principle can be given, as I suggested in Amendment 96ZC, for a piece of land where there are clearly drainage problems and there needs to be drainage assessment, unless that drainage assessment has taken place. If it is a brownfield site, is the local authority supposed to carry out that assessment to see whether a sustainable drainage scheme is needed for the site, to set out any details of measures that can mitigate the problem, or perhaps improve the problem by taking water off land that is liable to flood but that, if dealt with properly, would not? I suggest that that kind of thing ought to be part of the assessment of permission in principle, and it ought to be the responsibility of the developer to assess it and to produce a scheme that is acceptable. Otherwise, it will be put in the local plan as suitable for development, it will be allocated for housing and it will automatically get permission in principle because of that, yet the problems will not have been looked at and sorted out, and the certainty that the Government want for the developer will not exist. It will simply be transferred to the technical details stage.
Amendment 96ZD picks up another similar issue, which is highways and access appraisal. On any substantial development it is almost impossible to get outline planning permission nowadays unless you have the access sorted out. That is absolutely crucial. The access may be the direct access into the site, off the road or down the road, or works may be necessary on the local highways network to make the development of that site acceptable. Again, if that is not done by the permission in principle stage, if people think they have permission in principle and everything is okay, all the problems, all the expense of doing this will inevitably go to the technical details stage.
On the proposed timescale for dealing with consultations of three weeks, which I read out during the debate on the last amendment, if the local planning authority is consulting the local highways authority and it has to do a technical appraisal, go on site, measure junctions and all the rest of it, the whole thing is impossible. Unless it is sorted out at the permission in principle stage, there will be no certainty, permission in principle will be nothing, and technical details will turn into a full planning application type of process.
The third survey I have mentioned is for contamination and remediation. That clearly requires work done in advance. If it is a complicated site—if there have been mills, foundries, railway yards or whatever on it—it will require specialist technical people to do it. The applicants will have to get that work done, spend money on it and find out whether development is possible. The idea that they will then not have to pay for this and simply get permission in principle and the whole world will suddenly be wonderful is frankly a dream. Nothing is going to change. All this work will still have to be done. There are lots of other surveys that I could have put down as well—ecological surveys, landscape surveys, heritage surveys and all the rest of it; my noble friend Lady Parminter will speak to an amendment on those issues in due course.
The final amendment refers to the CIL. I have tabled it simply to have confirmation from the Government that developments under permission in principle will be liable for CIL charges. I also ask that it be possible to put Section 106 charges on the application at the technical detail stage. Again, I say that it is far better for such discussions and negotiations to take place at the earlier stage, so that you can filter out applications that are not going to go anywhere and actually cost developers less. If you just give permission in principle and then say that developers have to do it all for the technical detail stage, they will lose more money than under the present system when the application is turned down. This is a fundamental issue of the relationship between planning in principle and the technical details and how the interaction between developers, planners and everybody else is going to work. I honestly do not think that the Government have thought it out properly yet.
My Lords, I have two amendments in this group that I hope take forward some of the matters which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has already addressed. I shall go as quickly as I can, but I have been trying to thread my way through the technical consultation document and it has thrown up quite a few questions, and if the Minister will bear with me, I will ask those questions now.
Both the amendments seek clarity on the fundamental question of what happens when a PIP is set in stone and cannot be reopened. We have already addressed the question of what happens if information or material considerations that were unknown when the PIP was awarded turn up during the technical detail stage and may not even be covered. In this case, there would need to be some flexibility around modifying the PIP if it is not to be entirely lost, because that would seem a waste of time, energy and money all round.
Amendment 95 puts this question in more general terms by stating:
“Unless material considerations indicate otherwise”.
Amendment 96ZA focuses on instances,
“where the authority becomes aware of information since the permission in principle came into force which renders it no longer appropriate to determine the application in accordance with the relevant permission in principle”.
As the Minister anticipated, I will raise the issue of archaeology here, because it is a good example and not because I am obsessed with archaeology—
A noble Lord
There is nothing wrong with that.
Honestly, I am not obsessed with archaeology, but it seems a good example of what might happen, because archaeological findings have the habit of derailing development. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has raised a whole range of issues and material circumstances that can lead to extremely difficult outcomes. Our old industrial sites are often by rivers, so not only do we have layers of contamination going back 300 years, heavy metals and goodness knows what, but we have flooding issues. All such issues relate to the viability of the site, which is a key factor in whether permission should have been allocated in principle—we will come back to viability later on—but none of them would necessarily be explored at that plan-making stage when sites were given approval in principle. They also raise questions of when the NPPF kicks in, how we will see and know that, and the scope of what we mean by technical details.
The reason for pressing for clarity on this point at this stage of the Bill is obvious; it is because the PIP is a radical departure from the discretionary planning process that we have now. It shifts the locus of consent, the plan; it removes the key flexibility to refuse permission that exists—in relation, for example, to an outline planning application; and it implies that the principal development made in a plan cannot be reopened even when new evidence comes to light.
I am aware of the provisions in the Bill—we have discussed them briefly—that allow for decisions to be reopened after a period has elapsed, but they do not address this issue of when technical details that are not understood or anticipated at the plan-making stage challenge the core principles of whether development should go ahead. That illustrates the basic difficulty of having separated this process into two distinct halves.
Paragraph 2.13 of the consultation document states that this,
“does not prevent consideration of the technical details of the scheme against local and national policy and other relevant material considerations … Any conditions needed can be imposed when technical details consent is obtained”—
which I think means that the technical stage of the process, as well as the front end, will have to be in compliance with the NPPF, but I would like to have that confirmation. I would also like to know why the term “does not prevent” is used rather than “has to comply”. Can the Minister confirm that if the technical details are found wanting and there are some aspects that do not comply with the NPPF, the plan will not be approved? If he can give a clear answer, it would be very reassuring.
I have to raise a wider point here, which is the paradox whereby, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has alluded to, if you have not done the site assessment and there has been no requirement on you to visit and test out the site, how do you know whether the NPPF will apply? A review of the NPPF is going on, so how does the Minister think that might reflect what we are discussing in this Bill?
When we come to what is covered by the technical details, I have already raised what the Chancellor meant when he talked about a “limited” range of technical details. The Minister has said that we will have to wait for the consultation, but if she could have a stab at that this evening, that would be useful.
The technical consultation states that the parameters of the technical details that need to be agreed will have been “described” in the PIP, not that they will have been determined or agreed or assessed, for the difficulties that they might cause. What does “described” mean? Does it mean that they would be listed, that a paragraph of intent would have been written, or that evidence would have to be produced, either from a desk analysis or a site visit, on, for example, the history and extent of contamination?
The Minister will probably say that the developers or the LPA will already have identified key issues, because that will have been done in the local plan, which will passport the brownfield site forward. Great weight is put on the local plan; the argument is that it will save time. But local plans are sometimes barely more than a red-line indicator of an allocation; they go no further and rarely involve site visits or detailed investigations. They are subject to a strategic environmental assessment that is based on desktop analysis; it does not involve the requirement for wildlife or archaeological field surveys. Material considerations can cover all that.
Let us think about flooding. There are parts of the country that now flood once in every 10 years when previously they flooded once in every 100 years. These are new circumstances to take into account. I would be very happy incidentally for the Minister to write to me about this if that was simpler.
Here is the rub. Paragraph 2.25 of the technical assessment states:
“The local planning authority may not use the technical details consent process to reopen the ‘in principle’ issues”,
“are not acceptable for justifiable reasons”—
in which case—
“the local planning authority could justify a refusal at the technical details stage, and the applicant would have the right of appeal”.
So this is an opportunity for the Minister to say what a justifiable reason would be. Let us bear in mind that we are trying to bring greater certainty to this whole process, but not only does it appear that it can be overturned completely if the technical detail is confounded but there is no room for manoeuvre and no way in which the applicant can go back and say, “We’ve discovered a real problem. We can mitigate it, but it means we’ll have to really challenge and change the number of houses that we can build”.
Many of these facts and material considerations will not reveal themselves without serious site-based knowledge. How many developers are going to do that? Once they have permission in principle, they know that they are home and dry, at least in principle. So we could have the worst of all worlds: a fixed and immutable decision in principle which might be overturned when the full facts of the site and its constraints are known. This is a probing amendment, of course. It is an attempt to keep the door open to a change of mind over PIP when an important material consideration which could not have been foreseen actually comes to light.
Amendment 96ZA deals with where the material considerations take on an acute presentation. The very common unknown quantity of undesignated archaeology can stop development in its tracks. We know that archaeology is important because it is the only means we have to understand our remote past. Technology now gives us the power of understanding and overturning what we thought we knew. For example, recent investigations in Stonehenge revealed that masonry workers came as immigrants from Europe 2,500 years ago. We actually did not know that; it is another gift that immigration gives us.
Archaeology is fragile, irreplaceable and unpredictable. Some of it is known and designated; most of it is unknown, awaiting discovery and undesignated. That is precisely why, after such careful negotiation, the NPPF has put a clear weight on the need to protect heritage assets as part of sustainable development; that is in paragraph 128 of the NPPF. In fact, a fully predetermined assessment and evaluation is usually carried out only where there is an application for permission, and for conditions or obligations to be imposed, or to mitigate or compensate for unavoidable but justifiable harm to the historic environment.
The problem is that brownfield sites are the most intensively worked sites in our history. They have been occupied longer and more has been done to them, and there tends to be very intense archaeology now. In most of the city-centre archaeological sites, such as Leicester, brownfield sites are turning up extraordinary archaeological finds now—not just Richard III but whole medieval and Roman foundations, which we simply did not know about. So we have a problem with brownfield registers.
We also have a problem with SHLAA methodology which will be used, because that does not involve assessment either. Many of the sites that will be identified or allocated have not had the benefit of predetermination in terms of archaeology; therefore, there is a real possibility of damage.
Let me just short-circuit some of this. Any short-circuiting of the development management process which impedes or precludes the opportunity to oppose development on the basis of archaeological objections or to impose conditions makes the historic environment vulnerable. The PIP runs this risk because, as we know, it is not possible to impose conditions at the in-principle stage, and it is not clear that the technical details will encompass archaeological and other considerations related to the historic environment. As I said, it is very difficult to assess whether there is an in-principle objection to development on archaeological grounds without detailed consideration. If no in-principle objection is made, as I said before, sometimes you can mitigate rather than throw out the scheme.
The difficulties are compounded by the loss of expertise in local authorities. It is estimated that they have lost a third of their conservation officers in recent years. Relaxing planning regulation and reducing information requirements generally allow the planning regime to operate with less input from local authorities, and the reduction of input from local authority heritage and archaeological services is doubly damaging. It leaves the sites even more vulnerable to harm.
To conclude, both these amendments raise similar issues in slightly different form. I hope that at least—if in writing, that is perfectly acceptable—the Minister can actually address some of the specific issues that have been raised by the reading of the technical consultation document. But I ask her to think about something else. It would be really helpful if she could put the following assurances on the record—assurances that would apply equally to both my general and my specific amendment: that permission in principle will be decided only by local authorities, whatever its roots; that it will always be decided against the NPPF; that if there is insufficient understanding of the impact the development might have, permission in principle will not be used; and where the impact is difficult to assess without details, the authority will be encouraged to set a conservative limit on development or to carry out investigations as required by the NPPF in order to increase confidence as to the acceptability of the site.
My Lords, I support Amendment 91 and the amendments down in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and I simply express the concern about the lack of clarity around the permission in principle process and the technical details stage. I had a very useful session with the policy and Bill team, and a brief one with the Minister about this, and I think that a considerable amount of greater clarity could be given for the benefit of the Committee about what issues will be taken into account at permission in principle stage and what issues will remain for the technical details stage, and what consultation will take place at both these stages.
I will briefly deal with the content of each stage and the consultation separately. I keep banging on about the need for a flow chart that demonstrates the steps in this process, and I hope that the Minister is going to provide us with that. Very strong assurances were given that the permission in principle could not go ahead if the site was not compliant with the NPPF. But I think that it would be of benefit to noble Lords if it could be spelled out in exquisite detail exactly what that would imply in terms of the sorts of issues that would be resolved at permission in principle stage, and assurance given that they would be also subject to full statutory consultation, including the statutory consultees, because that is the point at which both government agencies and others, and indeed the public, can be alerted to the possibility that a local authority will be granting permission in principle for a site.
At technical details stage, it is absolutely important—and I endorse what has been said by other noble Lords—that if we are going to be able to give developers the security that permission in principle needs to provide if it is not going to be a hollow process, we need to have resource to some of these hugely important details, which are contained in the NPPF. We need to be sure that local authorities are giving themselves sufficient assurance that things like flood risk, roads, contamination, nature conservation and other infrastructure issues are being dealt with adequately to give the local authority the security to assure developers that permission in principle can be granted. So the technical details stage genuinely becomes simply for the fine-tuning of the site, rather than trying to deal with some of these basic issues, at a point when permission in principle has already been granted on an adequate basis. That would also help with the current proposal that technical details would be subject only to discretionary consultation—that local authorities could decide how much and how far they wanted to consult on the technical details. If they genuinely are fine-tuning, I could just about live with discretionary consultation at that stage. But if they are at all going to deal with fundamental issues, which ought to have been dealt with at permission in principle stage, it would be important that full-scale consultation was required of local authorities at the technical detail stage, and not left for local discretion.
So I ask the Minister: before we reach Report stage, can we please have my flow chart? I think that that will reassure the Committee that permission in principle is not a hollow process, and that if permission in principle is granted by a local authority because a site is in the local plan, in the neighbourhood plan or in a brownfield register, it has also taken sufficient steps at the point of deciding that it is going to grant permission in principle to have taken account of all these hugely important issues at that stage and fully consulted on them.
May I start on a cheery note and reassure the noble Baroness that I did send the flow chart out with the details of the regulations? I do know that some noble Lords on the Benches opposite did not seem to get it. It will go into the Printed Paper Office. I have some copies here and the noble Baroness can avail herself of one. I hope that she is content with that.
I must say to the noble Baroness that we have spent many hours discussing the process of PIP and, if I do not answer all of her questions, perhaps she could look through Hansard and get back to me. Some of what I am about to say may also give her reassurance.
When permission in principle is granted through locally prepared plans and registers, local authorities will choose which sites they grant it to as part of their existing plan-making and site-allocation work. This choice will therefore be a local one, reached through rigorous involvement of communities and members within the current plan-making process. For the application route for minor development, following the existing planning application process, local authorities will be required to determine applications for permission in principle in accordance with the development plan for the local area, unless material considerations indicate otherwise, after a period of consultation with the community and statutory bodies.
The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, asked me what “describe” meant. It means the setting out of expectations about what will be covered in a later application underpinned by evidence. That is my understanding of what “describe” means.
Amendment 94 would include in the Bill that information included on the planning register would be subject to consultation with local authorities. Under the current system, local planning authorities are already required to hold and maintain a planning register of all planning applications. The power in subsection (7) of new Section 59A, inserted into the Town and Country Planning Act by Clause 136, will merely require local authorities to add to the planning register information about permission in principle granted through locally made plans, registers and applications. The information to be placed on the register will be the same as they are currently required to publish or make available for standard planning applications.
On Amendments 95 and 95B, permission in principle will agree and establish the fundamental principle of development for location, uses and amount of housing development. Section 70(2ZZA), as introduced by the Government into the Town and Country Planning Act through this Bill, means that when the local authority determines an application for technical details consent, it cannot revisit the fundamental principles agreed by the permission in principle. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, pressed me again on what technical details might look like. They might look like matters relating to the design, affordable housing, inappropriate mitigation or, conversely, appropriate mitigation.
Does that include access to the local highways?
I do not think that the site would get permission in principle if there were no access to the site. That would be one of the fundamental principles for a site to be suitable for permission in principle. But I will get on to that.
If accepted, the amendments would have the consequence of allowing the local authority to reconsider the fundamental principles when considering an application for technical details consent. That defeats the purpose of the measure and undermines the certainty that it aims to give, because it allows other material considerations to become relevant during the decision-making process, as is currently the case. There would therefore effectively be no change.
However, I want to make it very clear that in determining an application for technical details consent, although the local planning authority will not be able to revisit the fundamental principles of development, it will be required to consider all the details of the application fully against the National Planning Policy Framework. The noble Baroness asked at what point; the NPPF is relevant the whole way through and local policy is also relevant. I re-emphasise that technical details consent can therefore be refused if the detail is not acceptable. Permission in principle is a tool that will allow the basic suitability of a site to be established early. What it will not do is override the need to ensure that proposals are sustainable, create mixed and balanced communities and include any necessary mitigation measures.
The noble Baroness pressed me on what would happen if technical details consent cannot be granted for a scheme. I hope that I have set out the rigorous process of consideration and engagement that will be followed to grant PIP and in that context, the scenario when no scheme can be given technical details consent, is an extremely rare one. But if it does occur, in those rare circumstances we have made provision for PIP granted on application to be revoked or modified.
That is the first time we have heard that. Does that mean that there can be changes to PIP if the technical details require it? Would that mean that there could be an even lower number of houses or a slightly smaller site?
I understand that it could be modified in an extreme circumstance such as that. This is a rare circumstance, but I understand that that is the case.
On the revoking of a PIP granted by a local plan or brownfield allocation, the noble Baroness makes a good point. The Bill does not currently make provision for this, as she has told me again and again. Can I take that away and thank her for her points? She also asked me to confirm absolutely that only local authorities can be responsible for the granting of permission in principle. Yes, that is the case.
The Minister has just made a concession and agreed to my noble friend’s point, but she talks in terms of revocation. Is it not necessary also to provide for variation?
The noble Baroness has raised something that I have said I will take away. I will also take away the noble Lord’s point because it is not particularly provided for in the Bill. Will the noble Lord and the noble Baroness let me take that away and reflect on it?
On Amendment 96ZA, an important starting point is that permission in principle will be granted where a proposal accords with the development plan for the area, having regard to the National Planning Policy Framework, as I have said, alongside other material considerations. When choosing appropriate sites that may be deemed suitable for a grant of permission in principle through a local plan, local authorities will be able to draw on a wealth of information to determine whether that site is suitable. That includes information gathered to support their local plan, a strategic housing land availability assessment, local knowledge of areas of constraint, engagement with communities and statutory bodies, and other information. That will all be underpinned by consideration against local and national policy.
It is possible that on the basis of that assessment a local authority could conclude that granting permission in principle would not be appropriate, either because the site is unsuitable—which goes to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—or, in exceptional cases, that the fine detail of the scheme needs to be worked up before a decision can even be reached on the principle of development. I hope that what I have set out is a sensible basis for deciding whether to grant permission in principle. I remind noble Lords that it must be followed by a grant of technical details consent before development may commence.
I turn to Amendments 96ZC, 96ZD, 96ZE, and 96ZF, which provide by condition for the assessment of flood risk, highways and access, contaminated land, and securing of appropriate infrastructure through either Section 106 contributions or the community infrastructure levy. I hope that I have put the noble Lord’s mind at ease over the course of my remarks as I have described in more detail how permission in principle will operate—specifically that it will still include consideration of these important matters through an assessment against local and national planning policy.
Specifically on conditions, I hope that my comments on Amendment 94ZC set out the Government’s thinking on the timing for the use of conditions. Permission in principle is to provide simple certainty on the basic acceptability of a site early on in the process. As it does not on its own authorise development, conditions at this point would unnecessarily complicate matters, although we would expect local authorities to make clear, when they give permission in principle, the matters that they would expect to see covered in an application for technical details. On the community infrastructure levy, I confirm that, where it is in place, it would become payable once technical details consent has been granted, as is the case when full planning permission is given.
Finally, Schedule 12 is a list of consequential amendments that we have made to the Town and Country Planning Act and other planning legislation. This accompanies Clause 136 and is important for ensuring that permission in principle, as a new route to obtaining planning permission, operates effectively alongside the existing system. I will therefore press that Schedule 12 stands part of the Bill.
I am very grateful for the noble Baroness’s response. I will read Hansard properly because I want to make sure that I heard her correctly. I will ask her one question, because she is being so generous. One of the technical details that really bothers me is the notion that affordable housing should come at the technical details stage. Is there any possibility that she could consider, when we talk about the 30% to 40% of affordable housing that we want to see in developments, making that a subsection of that stage? It is not of the same order as drainage and environmental considerations.
I hope that I can reassure the noble Baroness that that is certainly one of the things that could be part of that stage. I could perhaps come back to this on Report, but it is certainly one of the examples of what could come forward.
That was very interesting and we are making a bit of progress. I will put a particular instance to the Minister. It is based on real life, but I shall not say where it is. There was a big application for 500 houses—that is huge by east Lancashire standards. It has outline planning permission. As part of that, it required details of access. The highways authority—it is a two-tier area, so a county council—was required to approve access off not only an existing main road, but I think the roundabout on to that road. It also required a contribution towards improvements to a roundabout further down the road to increase its capacity on to the motorway. That all happened at the outline planning stage. Where would that happen under PIP and technical details? When will it happen? What is the process by which it would happen? Would that be part of declaring that that piece of land was okay for permission in principle, or would it have to wait for technical details?
My Lords, the noble Lord will know that outline planning permission is entirely different from permission in principle, but if a site required significant infrastructure investment to access it, it is unlikely that that would be a simple permission in principle site.
My Lords, on behalf of everyone who has spoken, I thank the Minister for dealing with that. We will all need to look quite closely at some of the things she said. At one point I thought she said that PIP was about the basic acceptability, but she also said that it would be very rare for the technical details to be declined. I see quite a contradiction in that if it is just very basic, but if it would then be very rare for the technical details to be the hold-up. However, that is something we will need to read carefully in what she said and ensure that these two fit in properly.
Other issues remain, particularly about the consultation. As my noble friend Lady Young said, is “technical details” just the fine tuning, or is there something quite substantial there? If PIP is only basic acceptability, it sounds like there is more there. However, like my other noble friends, I thank the Minister for agreeing to look at whether PIP could be modified for changes. We will want to come back and look at that when we have read this carefully, but for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 91 withdrawn.
92: Clause 136, page 66, line 36, at end insert—
“(4) Permission in principle may not be granted in respect of land of high environmental value, which is defined as such by dint of—(a) containing priority habitat(s) listed under section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (biodiversity lists and action (England));(b) holding a nature conservation designation such as ‘site of special scientific interest’; or(c) having been selected as a local wildlife site.(5) Land of high environmental value is also exempt from the development order requirements provided for by section 59A (development orders: permission in principle).”
My Lords, I am a strong supporter of brownfield first when it comes to housing, but I have a particular concern that the PIP proposals do not exclude brownfield sites that have very clear benefits for biodiversity and, by extension, to society—namely, land of high environmental value. That could be SSSIs, heathland, local wildlife reserves or habitats for some of our most precious species, such as red squirrels, water voles, or bluebell forests, you name it—some really special areas of our country.
The coalition Government put together some very strong safeguards for such land. I quote the NPPF, paragraph 111:
“Planning policies and decisions should encourage the effective use of land by re-using land that has been previously developed (brownfield land), provided that it is not of high environmental value”.
The planning practice guidance goes on to say that brownfield land can have high ecological value and that,
“planning needs to take account of issues such as the biodiversity value which may be present on a brownfield site before decisions are taken”.
My concern with the PIP proposals is: how can those very strong safeguards in the NPPF and the planning guidance, which make it clear that those decisions have to be looked at right at the early stage, be taken into account? The Minister said earlier that if something was not compliant with the NPPF, it would not happen. It seems quite clear to me that the NPPF is saying that land of high environmental value is not compliant and it should therefore be excluded.
These sites are important, but they are not a huge number. My understanding is that English Nature has assessed the figures and we are looking at a total of between 6% and 8% of all brownfield land. They are important sites, but they are only a small number. Therefore, it would be difficult to argue that, by removing them from the PIP provisions, they would somehow prevent use of brownfield sites for housing overall. Clearly the number is quite contained.
They are a small number but they are vital. Most of our species—some 65%—particularly those of most concern, are declining. We need to take account of that, not only for the effects on nature and biodiversity, but for the impact on quality of life as well. Therefore, there is a strong case for land of high environmental value to be excluded. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support these two amendments to which I have also put my name. It is distressing that we are again beginning to see important and lesser wildlife sites being increasingly damaged by development, and particularly by housing development. When I first came into the environmental movement almost 30 years ago, on average 15% of sites were damaged each year. We managed to get that down to less than 0.1% about 10 years ago, but it is increasingly creeping up again. So there is a real issue to make sure that the provisions for permission in principle and for the brownfield site register do not inadvertently make it more possible for development to damage sites of wildlife interest.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said, the NPPF and, indeed, the national planning practice guidance steer both local authorities and developers away from land of high environmental value. We run the risk of encouraging developers—at the breakneck speed with which we are moving towards the provision of housing in particular—to be less aware of the requirement to be careful, especially on brownfield sites and on sites such as local wildlife sites that do not have statutory protection. As the noble Baroness said, brownfield sites with high environmental value are comparatively small in number, but a proper assessment is required at the appropriate time for that to be established.
We also need to take into account the fact that some of the traditional safeguards against development of these sites have diminished. Local authorities are under pressure and have less specialist ecological advice available to them. The statutory nature conservation bodies similarly have less capacity and less ability to comment in detail on small-scale sites. So it would be absolutely right to have on the face of this Bill a reminder to both local authorities and developers of the importance of these sites and to abstract them from the permission in principle and the brownfield site register processes.
My Lords, this is an important amendment and I hope that my noble friend will listen carefully to the arguments that have been put forward. I suspect that she will have been provided with an answer that goes somewhat like this: “We already cover this under this part and that part and the other part”. I have sat where she sits and I know that this is what civil servants are liable to suggest.
The reason for this amendment is precisely because it makes the position very clear. It states absolutely without peradventure that this is the position—not that if you look up in planning guidance you see that this is the recommended position. I beg my noble friend to recognise that we are dealing with people who will often do anything to avoid being concerned with the precise details that the amendment brings to our attention. I commend especially the comments of the noble Baroness opposite, who talked about the fact that, across the parties, we have fought together over many years to reduce the amount of damage done to wildlife sites. Frankly, we have been very successful. It has been a common activity and we have done well. However, there is some indication that there has been a return, in a way that is not reasonable and not what I think the majority of people in Britain want.
I am particularly keen on this amendment because of its reference to brownfield sites. I believe that we should be much tougher about building on brownfield sites and much more determined against building on greenfield sites. I believe from experience that, if you allow people to build on greenfield sites, that is where they will build; they will not build on brownfield sites. If that is the position you hold, it is important that you make a distinction between the vast majority—some 92%—of brownfield sites where building is obviously suitable and the 8% or so where there are specific environmental reasons for not building.
The amendment enables the Government to say on the face of the Bill what my noble friend will no doubt tell us that the Government believe. No doubt she will say, “We do not think we need it because we accept it and it is within the law”. I delicately suggest that there are many out there who do not do a lot of looking up and who do not search too carefully for the various documents. I would like it to be clear that there is no way in which these sites can be designated in principle for development because, small though they are, they are too important and too valuable for us in our generation to return to doing the damage that was done in previous generations.
My Lords, I cannot too strongly support the views expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the noble Lord, Lord Deben. As somebody who has fought to preserve environmental and natural habitats, I know that we are talking about something that can easily become the thin end of the wedge. We should be trying to make it the thick end of the wedge. This country is not that big. As the noble Baroness said, we do not have so many areas that are dedicated to the preservation of wildlife. Very often, if the law is not strong enough—I have seen this happen—developers will march ahead and think, “We can sort this out later”. I could enumerate three or four examples of that. That is why it is so important that the Government take on board these amendments and protect our environment at all costs. Reading through the amendment, I am inclined to say to the noble Baroness, “What’s not to like?”.
My Lords, these areas are described in common parlance as brown land or brownfield sites. Although the legislation does not describe it in that way, that is how we normally describe these sites. When we refer to brownfield sites, we think of industrial areas, pollution and sites that are derelict rather than of the very wide variety of sites that would be covered by permission in principle. The essence of this issue is that many of those sites, particularly those on urban fringes and, indeed, in urban areas, probably have a more diverse and interesting ecology than do many greenfield sites, which often comprise monocultures and are not as important in ecological terms or in their value to local communities. This amendment is important as it would protect these designated sites and ensure that they are exempted from the Bill’s provisions.
I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter, Lady Young and Lady Bakewell, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for tabling these amendments to both the permission in principle clause and the brownfield register. I also thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate. I recognise how important this issue is and agree that the planning system should play an important role in the protection and promotion of the natural environment. I will briefly explain how the permission in principle measure will continue to ensure that the natural environment is both safeguarded and promoted without the need for such exclusions as set out in these amendments—I fear that my noble friend could have written this speech.
I begin by addressing Amendment 92. Clause 136 will enable permission in principle to be granted on sites that local planning authorities, parishes and neighbourhood forums choose and allocate within their plans or identify on new brownfield registers. The aim is to build on the detailed work that goes into plan production to identify suitable sites for particular housing-led development and to grant those that are considered locally to be suitable a level planning consent. This will give increased certainty for local authorities, developers and others that an amount of housing-led development is secured in principle, leaving them to work up and agree the details on the site. This means that the choice about where to grant permission in principle is a local one—as we have heard—reached through involvement of communities, members and statutory bodies. Permission in principle will therefore be granted only where development is considered to be locally acceptable, in line with local and national policy.
If a local authority considers that such sites of environmental sensitivity are not suitable for development, in line with the strong protections for the national environment set out in the national planning policy framework—both noble Baronesses mentioned this—then it need not allocate the site for such use in its local plan, or choose to grant it permission in principle. I should add that where an application for permission in principle for minor development is made to a local authority, it will be able to determine this in accordance with the local plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. This would be in the same manner as planning applications are currently determined.
My noble friend says that if the site was of the relevant kind and the local authority thought that it should therefore be designated in that way, it could do so. But does that mean that if this were a site of importance, the local authority could decide that it would develop it, because that seems to me to be rather difficult given the guidance in the other document? If the local authority cannot designate the site, will my noble friend explain why we cannot include the measure as an amendment to the Bill?
As I said, if there are sites of environmental sensitivity that are not suitable for development in line with the strong protections of the NPPF, a local authority does not need to allocate the site for such use in its plans. This measure will continue to be in line with the strong protections in the NPPF.
Amendment 97 would place similar exclusions on land to be included on the brownfield register. I recognise noble Lords’ desire to protect land of high environmental value and understand concerns that such land should not be considered suitable for housing. I hope that I can reassure them why it would not be desirable or necessary to include such an exception in the Bill.
Local authorities will be required to have regard to national policies and advice when preparing their registers. This requirement is in the Bill. This means that when making decisions about which sites should be included on registers, local authorities will be required to take into account the NPPF. The framework states:
“Planning policies and decisions should encourage the effective use of land by re-using land that has been previously developed … provided that it is not of high environmental value”.
This is one of the core planning principles of the framework. Local authorities have discretion to determine whether a particular site is of high environmental value. I believe that this is the right approach.
One of the points of this amendment is to pin down the concept of high environmental value rather more closely and clearly than is the case in the NPPF or, indeed, in the national planning practice guidance, by listing the parameters of high environmental quality. At the moment, there is very inconsistent practice by local authorities in determining that. That is unsatisfactory. It would be preferable to include in the Bill a standard definition.
A definition in the Bill would remove discretion and override a local understanding of the environmental value of the land. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, an area considered to be of high environmental value in an inner-city might be quite different from that in other areas. A fixed definition could unintentionally lead to a situation where a local authority would have excluded land but was prevented from doing so by the definition. Local authorities are best placed to exercise their discretion and to make the decision, rather than fixing a definition for them by putting it in the Bill. I hope that, on the basis of these explanations, noble Lords will agree not to press their amendments.
I thank the noble Baroness for her comments and her acceptance that this is an important issue. It clearly is, given the strength of feeling in the Committee, and I am grateful to colleagues for rowing in on it. The Minister seems to be saying that it is up to local authorities. If one is being charitable, it is a belief in the spirit of localism: it is okay for local authorities to do this because they can look back to the planning guidance that we have already provided. However, the words “need not”, which the noble Lord, Lord Deben, picked up, are critical. If they need not allocate this land, it means that they can allocate it. However, that is clearly contrary to the provisions set down by the coalition in the NPPF, which says that this should be excluded. Colleagues in Committee have shown that this designation is, in principle, too important not to be included in the Bill. I will withdraw the amendment now, but I am sure that we will return to it on Report.
Amendment 92 withdrawn.
Amendment 92A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
92B: Clause 136, page 66, line 36, at end insert—
“(4) A development order under subsection (1) shall be made in respect of land in Greater London by the Mayor of London and in respect of land in England outside of Greater London by the Secretary of State.(5) Section 59B (development orders made by the Mayor of London) shall apply to the making of a development order under subsection (1) by the Mayor of London.”
My Lords, I will also speak to Amendment 96A. I begin by raising a couple of issues, in the hope that by the time I finish—which will not be long—clarification may have arrived. The Housing and Planning Minister in the other place stated that the mayor will be consulted on, and have the power to call in, applications of technical details consent where they are for schemes of strategic importance, and gave the assurance that the mayor will have an opportunity to influence the process of boroughs identifying sites of strategic importance. I hope that, when she replies, the Minister here can clarify exactly what that means in practice and how the mayor’s strategic planning powers which exist now will be taken properly into account in the new system. For instance,
“an opportunity to influence the process by providing his views”,—[Official Report, Commons, Housing and Planning Bill Committee, 3/12/15; col. 548.]
is significantly weaker than the current power to take over an application. Although the mayor may still be able to take over an application at technical consent stage, the principle of the type of development will already have been set. That highlights why we are moving these amendments today.
Amendment 92B would give the mayor power within Greater London to grant development orders. Amendment 96A sets out the detail that he or she would have to follow in doing so, including a fairly full consultation process with a duty to respond to that consultation. That would directly correlate with the power of the Secretary of State elsewhere in the country. It is appropriate to an authority which has had a directly elected mayor, with a strategic planning role, for 16 years.
Many times during the progress of the Bill we have said that London is different. It is different in that respect and in terms of having a particularly high level of housing need. It has a strong economy and competing pressures for available land and high-density development. Almost all the land with housing potential within Greater London is brownfield and most has existing use in place. I speak as a London resident: if we are going to go down this route then the mayor and the Greater London Authority are better placed to understand London’s particular needs. That is why they are there. Their relationship with the London boroughs, while occasionally and understandably difficult, is on the whole very good and there is a continuous dialogue there. It is much more appropriate for the Mayor of London and Greater London Authority to have these powers in relation to Greater London than for them to be vested in the Secretary of State, who has to deal with the rest of country as a whole. We believe in devolution and this is very much a part of it. In this case it is to the GLA—what may follow elsewhere is not part of this amendment.
In essence, the purpose of these amendments is to give the Mayor of London—whoever that may be—the powers that the Secretary of State will have in the rest of the country. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Tope. I was surprised when he said we have had a Mayor of London for 16 years—the establishment of that position was another great step forward by a Labour Government.
It is absolutely appropriate that the mayor—the only politician with a London-wide executive mandate—has these powers. The amendment sets out a framework in which he can make an order, including who he must consult and how the proposal should be dealt with. It is effective and time-constrained and should not cause any undue delay. It reflects the mayor’s mandate and we think it strikes the right balance, enabling him to help drive forward the development of our great capital city.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for his comments on these amendments, and to the noble Baroness. I hope I will be able to assure your Lordships that the Mayor of London will continue to play an important role without the need for these amendments.
New Section 59A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, inserted by Clause 136, makes it possible for permission in principle to be granted on sites allocated within local development plans, neighbourhood plans and the new brownfield register, and the choice of when to do this will be a local one. Let me be absolutely clear that the Secretary of State will have no direct role in choosing specific sites to grant permission in principle to. In the same way that the Secretary of State maintains oversight of the existing development order-making powers under Section 59 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to ensure consistency of how the planning system functions across England, he must maintain oversight of how the permission-in-principle system will work.
Amendment 92B would effectively set up different planning systems between London and the rest of the country by giving the Mayor of London the ability to change the process for permission in principle. We believe that introducing inconsistency into the system would be undesirable.
I reassure noble Lords that there are a number of ways in which the Mayor of London will be able to play an active role in influencing the granting of permission in principle in London. The London Plan will be able to set policies that will influence which sites are suitable for a grant of permission in principle. The mayor will also be a key statutory consultee during the plan preparation of any borough in London. Furthermore, where a mayoral development corporation is in place, the plan for that corporation can allocate specific sites that could be granted permission in principle. Mayoral development orders can also now be used to grant planning permission for site-specific development in London.
The noble Lord also asked whether the mayor would be able to call in applications for technical details consent. The answer is yes: the mayor can call in applications, including the new technical details consent, when the planning application is of potential strategic importance. He can also do this for an application for permission in principle. I will see if there is any further information that I can provide the noble Lord with in writing, but I hope that on the basis of what I have said he will withdraw his amendment.
For the avoidance of doubt, will the Minister confirm that the Government do not intend to extend any of these mayoral powers to the mayors of combined authorities under the devolution deal?
Yes, I can confirm that.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I think she said that this would give London a different system from the rest of the country. London has a different system from the rest of the country. It has had it for 16 years. The Government believe in devolution. This seems a logical part of the difference of London, which was set up originally under a Labour Government and has been supported by a coalition Government and a Conservative Government. I do not really follow that justification.
I am grateful to the Minister for what she said. I did not actually ask if the mayor would have those call-in powers. I said that, since he does have those call-in powers, can she say a bit more about how that relates to the current situation? If she can write to me further, as she said she would, I would be very grateful. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 92B withdrawn.
92C: Clause 136, page 66, line 36, at end insert —
“(4) Permission in principle may not be granted for a development of land which is an important part of the national infrastructure, or is the subject of national policy or interest, as defined by the Secretary of State in regulations made by statutory instrument.”
My Lords, I thank my noble friend and her officials for the time they gave to address my concerns in a number of meetings. I will speak to Amendments 92C and 97B. First, I declare an interest as a private pilot. I am vice-president of the General Aviation Alliance and president of the General Aviation Awareness Council. I love flying and I seek to protect the ability of British people to take to the skies for both business and recreation in all sorts of light aircraft.
General aviation—GA—aerodromes are very vulnerable to development. Many are officially deemed brownfield sites, even though they may actually comprise broad acres of flat grassland in desirable locations. They are much coveted by developers for housing. We have already lost many vulnerable aerodromes that form part of a national communications network. The pressures on land in our crowded island mean that they are threatened by the Bill’s intent to ease the planning process for housing. If aerodromes are added to the register of sites that have planning permission in principle, they will be doomed.
The Government’s own General Aviation Strategy, published last year, indicated that GA was worth £3 billion annually to the UK economy and emphasised the importance of our national network of aerodromes. The strategy specifically notes that many aerodromes do not believe that they have,
“the full support of local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships ... While most of these bodies would acknowledge the clear value of GA infrastructure this appeared to be often overshadowed by the need for other land use priorities, in particular housing”.
GA supports 38,000 skilled jobs, often in rural areas. GA gives us transport choices—an alternative to our increasingly congested roads, railways and major airports. This is particularly important to businesspeople —wealth creators—to whom time is always valuable.
Other uses and users of the UK aerodrome network include pilot training, air ambulances, the police and recreational flying. GA aerodromes have other benefits in addition to their economic, recreational and transport value. They are unofficial wildlife sanctuaries, protecting the habitats of flora and fauna and providing large open spaces close to and sometimes within our expanding towns and cities. We cannot afford to lose any more of these aerodromes.
When the National Planning Policy Framework—NPPF—was introduced, I spoke in this House about the need to give aerodromes specific protection, with some result. This Bill again raises the threat that localism may trump the national interest because no adequate powers are given to the Secretary of State to exclude land from the register. I speak now about not only aerodromes but other national communications, security and economic assets, and my amendment is broadly framed as a consequence.
Under Clause 137 and proposed new Section 14A(1) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 the Secretary of State could prescribe land which can be included, but no power is proposed in primary legislation for the Secretary of State to exclude specific categories of land from the register. This could permit unrestricted housing development that would have a detrimental effect on national infrastructure, security and economic activity. My concern is that the Bill as currently drafted omits to provide the Secretary of State with clear and specific powers to protect the national interest in important matters. Regulations that “may” be issued and guidance that “may” be followed are not adequate to protect essential national infrastructure that is often already under serious development pressure.
In addition, the local registers of land available for development were first prepared under the previous planning regime and may still include land that should have been given special consideration under the NPPF. My proposals would amend Clause 137 and new Section 14A(1) so as to give the Secretary of State powers to exclude from the register land which is considered to be of significant value for national infrastructure or economic purposes, or otherwise the subject of national policy and interest. It must be recognised that these areas of land have current or potential economic value for the national communications infrastructure which may outweigh the benefits of housing development.
Amendment 97B defines for planning purposes aerodromes operating as aerodromes for more than 28 days in a calendar year as those which are specifically excluded; in other words, those that do not operate for more than 28 days in a calendar year would be deemed obsolete. Exclusion from the register does not of course mean that the site cannot be registered. It requires only that any proposed development should go through the normal planning allocation process with full consultation. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick. I also have to declare my interests as president for many years of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and as a keen private pilot myself. I will be brief. The noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, set out eloquently the difficulties that general aviation is facing. There are one or two issues that I think need to be stressed.
General aviation gives to this country an essential network and it is in essence vital to the public interest. It provides an infrastructure for travelling that is second to none if one is privileged to use it. It also does immense work in terms of training professional pilots. This country, along with America, is one of the world’s centres for training professional pilots who go on into the commercial world and other areas such as the air ambulance service, the police and so on. Commercial concerns have been illustrated. General aviation in this country brings in £3 billion a year, which is a considerable sum of money and reinforces the importance of general aviation. Also, there are many amateur pilots who love flying for the sake of flying. They love the leisure pursuit of getting away from the troubles that inflict the world we know when we are walking on the ground; it is a delight to get into the air.
It is essential that the consultation process covers issues that involve the public interest. Over the past 10 years, many airfields have closed, sometimes for good reason. Surely, as the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, has underlined, there has to be a consultation process that involves the people who give their time and professional input and will have their careers put on the line if some of these airports are closed.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 94A, 95A and 101BA, in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Whitaker and Lady Hodgson of Abinger, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. I declare my interest as an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and as a vice-president of the Town and Country Planning Association. Such are the mysteries of amendment groupings that I can see only the most tenuous connection between these amendments and the very interesting amendments on aerodromes from the noble Lords, Lord Rotherwick and Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington.
Amendments 94A and 95A are intended to ensure that the admirable ambition to build a million homes over the life of this Parliament—the quest for quantity—does not come at the expense of quality and of building decent homes that contribute positively to their environment rather than spoiling it. In considering these issues, it has been hugely helpful to have before us the report from the Lords Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment, Building Better Places. I congratulate the chair of the committee, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, her committee members, clerk and advisers.
The Government’s permission in principle concept aims to speed up planning and help housebuilders know quickly where they stand, but it brings with it the risk that it is interpreted as, “We want you to get going and we are not much concerned about what your development looks like, how it fits into its local setting, or whether it contributes anything to the community where it happens”. Disregarding design has two huge dangers. First, what is built becomes deeply disliked by those who move in—suffering the fate of those dreadful 1960s and 1970s estates that have subsequently been demolished. Secondly, the drive for more housebuilding, which is indeed desperately needed, is stymied by widespread public opinion that quite justifiably concludes that new homes are a blight not an asset. If design of housing developments is awful—as has not infrequently been the case, I am afraid to say—then public opinion will ensure that the hopes for more housebuilding never materialise.
These amendments should protect the Government’s ambitions for more new homes by making sure that the new permission in principle is not a handicap. It must not be a licence to ignore the Government’s own, helpful, National Planning Policy Framework, which sets the parameters—in paragraph 59—for decent design. The NPPF contains a very good set of guidelines covering considerations such as incorporating green and public space in new developments, responding to local character and history, respecting local surroundings and materials, and so on.
I know from experience that objectors to new schemes, suspecting they will be as ghastly as the worst examples of abysmal new private sector estates, can become supporters and advocates when they see good design shine through. To take a couple of examples: at the opening of the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust’s village scheme in Hovingham, North Yorkshire, a local councillor said to me, “I was one of the strongest opponents of this development: I thought it would spoil the village. How wrong I was. It will not only provide excellent homes for local families but it also adds to the attractiveness of the village”.
My second example is the major new Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust scheme of 540 homes on the east side of York. This was subject to seemingly endless opposition, but has won over many of its critics with its high-quality design and emphasis on sustainability. A master plan by PRP Architects provides for extensive green space and play areas, homes designed by Richard Partington to an award-winning design of arts and crafts for the 21st century, and extensive environmental enhancements. We can expect public support for the big housebuilding programme the nation needs only if the new homes follow best practice in place-making. To make this happen, local planning authorities must remain able to ensure good-quality design. We know how stretched authorities have become following big reductions in their budgets; it is not good to see this key link in the development chain weakened at just the moment when housebuilding is set to grow rapidly. If planners are to maintain their role as the line of defence against a decline in quality, they need some legislative support to fortify their position.
Amendments 94A, 95A and 101BA propose that the new permission in principle, which means in effect that planning consent becomes as of right for sites in the local plan, in neighbourhood plans and on registered brownfield land, should be conditional on following some straightforward, site-specific design guidance. This says to the developer: “Go ahead in the expectation of getting planning consent, but bear in mind our core design requirements for this particular site”. This approach would draw on the good guidance in the NPPF and give clarity to the housebuilder without adding a lot of bureaucracy. When the local planning authority considers detailed planning permission at the new second stage, which involves the consideration of technical details, compliance with the earlier site-specific design guidance would be checked. Thereby, the arrangements in these amendments square an important circle, speeding up the planning process but emphasising the design requirements that each site should take on board. I commend them to your Lordships.
My Lords, I declare an interest as an honorary fellow of the RIBA. I shall speak to Amendments 94A and 95A, so persuasively introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Best, and Amendment 101BA, in my name. The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger, who regrets she cannot be here, also supports these important amendments, as does the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. So there is all-party support for amendments which are intended to ensure that, in the radical changes to planning processes envisaged by permission in principle, the all-important role of good design is guaranteed. Why is it all-important? Because good design has a fundamental effect on well-being, environmental quality, and the long-term economic value of buildings and competitiveness of places, and because it is at risk in the new procedure proposed.
We heard in the Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment, which reported on 19 February, powerful evidence that health, employment prospects, access to services and amenities, were all improved by design which respected good place-making. The Minister responsible, Brandon Lewis, said to us that,
“an increased focus on good quality design could help us to deliver more homes, at a quicker pace, which communities can feel proud of”.
Planning authorities are the custodians of their local community’s requirements for the right design for their place. To substitute for their discretion an as-of-right regime is to risk issuing a blank cheque for the design of the development. It means that the all-important factors of height, density, landscape, layout, connections for transport and access, to name but a few, need not be considered from the outset. But it is at the outset that they should be thought about. These are not matters of detail, as the Bill would have us believe, but fundamental development parameters that determine the suitability of the development, both to its place and to the needs and aspirations of communities. This is how the National Planning Policy Framework—a very good achievement by the Government—envisages the role of design, and it is the right one. Without consideration of these matters of place-making, how will communities know how developments impact on surrounding areas, on the environment and on the sense of place? Yet they are being asked to give their approval without due regard to these matters. This is surely a recipe for nimbyism.
These amendments all reinforce the essential consideration to be made right at the beginning of a development process, in accordance with the NPPF, of what sort of place will result. The site-specific guidance need only set out the fundamental design requirements and should be relatively easy and quick to prepare, either by the local authority or by the developer. It can be done for an area as much as for individual sites, but it would be a tremendous advantage. It would be an invaluable way to strengthen the hand of planning authorities now that they have been so hollowed out by local authority cuts in staff and expertise. Our recommendation in the Select Committee report is prefaced by the sentence:
“We are anxious to ensure that moves towards a permission in principle do not undermine the capacity of local authorities to develop, design and integrate key sites in a way that ensures that they function effectively and respond to local needs and aspirations”.
Finally, the implementation of these amendments would make it easier for local communities to accept the development that is necessary to provide the housing we need, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, said. They can involve public engagement early on in the process as well as provide an opportunity to establish what is important to local people. All the evidence suggests that a little more effort spent establishing the key principles at the start can greatly smooth and shorten the process of planning and development overall. I urge the Minister to respect her Government’s NPPF and accept them.
My Lords, I rise very briefly as a member of the Select Committee to support Amendments 94A and 95A, so ably spoken to by both the noble Lord, Lord Best, and the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and simply to draw the Minister’s attention to a couple of paragraphs in the Select Committee report which directly bear on the planning-in-principle point. Paragraph 143 says:
“These proposals have caused some concern. It was suggested that ‘principle’ and ‘detail’ in the planning system were closely related”.
One particular witness is quoted as saying:
“This negates the whole basis of the fact that detail and principle in planning are intimately related. How is it possible to give permission for something in principle, without understanding its detailed design or flood risk mitigation or sustainable urban drainage or proportion of social housing? I could go on. It misunderstands the intellectual process of making planning decisions”.
So the Select Committee came to the conclusion in paragraph 148:
“We are anxious to ensure that moves towards a permission in principle do not undermine the capacity of local authorities to develop, design and integrate key sites in a way that ensures that they function effectively and respond to local needs and aspirations. The relationship between principle and detail is important in the planning system. We recommend that the Government should carefully consider the impact its reforms could have upon this relationship. As a minimum, it is important that the process of granting permission in principle and Technical Details Consent should give due regard to design quality, sustainability, archaeology, heritage and all the other key components of place-making that would normally be required for the granting of planning permission”.
This amendment precisely reflects those concerns and I very much hope the Minister will have due regard to them.
My Lords, I would also like to speak to Amendments 94A and 95A. I mentioned the importance of design in my Second Reading speech and I return to the subject in this grouping.
Amendment 94A seeks that, for permission in principle to be granted, paragraph 59 of the National Planning Policy Framework should be in place and adhered to. I am sure that we have all seen examples of identikit, mass-market estate housing so often crammed in cheek by jowl with its neighbour. Small windows, poor roof design and a lack of adequate insulation are the main hallmarks of this all-too-prevalent building type, and often the houses are far too tightly packed together.
Equally, I have seen more aesthetically pleasing new build, some even having chimneys. Houses without chimneys need a great deal of extra care in their design if they are not going to appear completely jarring. Many people living in the countryside still like to have the ability to have an open fire to burn wood or coal and, with appropriate interior draft doors built into the construction, it should not compromise insulation efficiency.
Fenestration makes or breaks many house designs. It can be upright or rectangular. Although I have long railed against plastic windows, new techniques and colour incorporation allow much nicer results, as well as contributing to longevity and far less maintenance.
Landscape and layout—in other words, the maximum number of units that can be put on the site—together with the design of the individual homes must be large drivers of residents’ well-being and even their health. A parallel can be drawn with the slums of the post-war building era when civic pride was disregarded. Good design will also reflect in capital values years later.
It is fashionable in some quarters to demand sustainability. This is all well and good, but it can be taken too far, for example, where little or no parking provision is made and residents are expected always to use the bus or their bicycle. This is unrealistic.
Our planning regime is by now surely sophisticated enough to incorporate good design from the start. All factors from the holistic design of the site down to the design codes of individual homes should be pre-approved with due regard for the vernacular of the area. This important point is made in paragraph 60 of the code. Such progress would find favour with existing neighbours and lead them to be far less hostile to any new development, knowing that it would not impinge on their amenity and aspirations too adversely.
It is vital that permission in principle incorporates good design from the outset. Good design does not have to cost more. It just takes more effort and care at the beginning of the process. I support these amendments.
My Lords, my noble friends Lord Beecham and Lord Collins and I have an amendment in this group. It reflects much of what has already been said. I commend the other amendments in this group. Our amendment puts concern about sustainable development and design further forward in the process of what goes on the brownfield register and what we expect from brownfield sites. It is important to consider putting it at this point in the Bill because the provisions setting up the brownfield register have no explicit place-making or sustainable development obligations in relation to land included in the register. It seems unfortunate to miss this opportunity, so this amendment attempts to address this by placing a high-level obligation in the Bill to ensure that brownfield land on the brownfield register contributes to sustainable places.
The purpose of the brownfield register is essentially to speed up the provision of housing. The Chancellor has described it as introducing a zonal system, like that seen in the United States. The argument is that this will reduce unnecessary delay and uncertainty for the developer. We have debated aspects of this today, and I am not quite sure why this should follow, especially since we now have 200,000 sites where development has been granted but no building has begun. I am surprised that some more simple way was not found to accelerate development on those sites rather than go through the business of introducing a completely new idea into the planning system.
My concern with the housing zones idea is that there is a chance that they will be just that—acres of housing, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Somerset, has just indicated, which are put up as quickly as possible and, by implication, as cheaply as possible, and which as he said will replicate the worst sort of housing we saw in the 1950s and 1960s in the housing estates which are now being knocked down. They remind me of nothing so much as the housing estates which were put up in south Wales on the tops and the sides of mountains in the 1950s and 1960s, where so little thought was given to the needs of those communities, which needed a bus to get down to the town in the valley, that there was barely a shop, a tree or a bus stop on them. Those estates have been problematic for many years, despite good communities living there. That sort of barren housing estate in this country, as well as ugly town centres and infrastructure, has given us so many problems.
The Minister may say that this will be covered because, in new Section 14A(7)(b), the regulations will require LPAs in setting up a register to have regard to “national policies and advice”. That may be so, but that could still be reinforced by sticking my amendment on the end of it to lift the idea that sustainable development and design is at the heart of our expectations for these new developments.
What worries me is that when we come to the technical consultation it does not say that any development must be sustainable. It says that the sites must be deliverable and available, that there will be a realistic prospect of houses within five years and that they will be “viably developed”. In the absence of any strong reference to the paramount need to ensure the sustainability of the site, the issues around viability become very vexed. We know from our discussions in the Select Committee just how vexed they are. In evidence we were told that viability is now the key element in discussions between local authorities and developers over specific planning proposals. It was suggested, for example, that the absence of an agreed methodology means a range of different approaches in different areas as to what makes a development viable, and raises the possibility of uncertainty and delay as well as exploitation by developers seeking to avoid planning obligations. Anything we can do in the Bill to improve on that situation to deter that sort of behaviour we should try to do.
Such was the concern at the evidence we received that the Committee recommended that the NPPF and the planning guidance make even clearer than they do at the moment that the process of viability assessment should not be used to enable the unreasonable use of viability assessments to avoid the funding of affordable housing and core infrastructure. I therefore urge the Minister to look at the recommendations in the report, test them out against sustainability before she proceeds further with this part of the Bill and to put in the Bill a clear statement that the brownfield register must have regard to sustainable development and design before the Government approach the notion of viability.
My Lords, I will speak just a few words on Amendment 98A. It is quite odd that in this debate no one has referred to the biggest driver of ugly housing and design in the United Kingdom. It is not bad architects, problems in planning law or disinterested local authorities but the price of land. In many areas that is what determines what houses look like and how they are placed on these sites. The noble Duke referred to mass-market box housing that is crammed in. That is what you get when you have high-priced land. All these debates that are taking place take me back to my amendment—it seems as if I moved it six months ago—on the price of land and the need to build on the green belt as the population expands.
In America, people can buy a house for a fraction of what they pay in the United Kingdom. The reason is very simple: land is cheaper. They do not need fancy architects or planners to tell them to do it. People want better-designed houses because they can afford them. The driver here is the price of land, which is driving millions of people out of the housing market. The best way to deal with this problem is to find a way of securing land at sensible prices, and these problems will evaporate.
My Lords, I hesitate to disagree with my noble friend because I entirely agree with him that the price of land is a significant issue, and it has risen to an unconscionable extent in recent years. However, I do not think that is a good enough reason to acquit the industry of poor design and poor building. Good design and well-built properties are not incompatible with a reasonable price, even allowing for the undoubted problems of land prices. I am afraid that volume builders over the years, when prices were not as high, have not produced good-quality properties, paid little attention to issues such as energy conservation—never mind the aesthetics. My noble friend is being overindulgent towards the industry while making a very valid point about land prices.
I hope the Minister will think about the land price issue. My noble friend Lord McKenzie muttered the words “Develop land tax” to me as I rose, and that is not a bad idea, to be reverted to. That apart, I hope she will stress the need for good design as part of the Government’s approach to housing and part of their interest when looking at the technical side of permitted development. I would not like to see carte blanche given to the kind of builders who put up pretty depressing properties, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Somerset, referred to before. We should not give them any excuse. They should be made, in the context of the new system, to provide aesthetic quality and energy-efficient quality, among other things, as part of the deal.
My Lords, we are reserving remarks about the register until later, so I am puzzled about the register and the point of it and what we will actually do with it when we as a local authority have it, as I said earlier. I agree with what has been said about design, but I also hear what has been said about sustainability. The only thing I would say is that some of the ugliest properties that I have ever seen passed the highest sustainability tests—the wonderful eco-house that is completely jarring in its setting. There are tensions between design and sustainability. That of course leads me back to local rather than national determination. We have to tease out some of these things before putting them in the Bill.
My Lords, turning first to Amendments 92C and 97B, I fully understand the desire of my noble friend Lord Rotherwick to protect land which is an important part of national infrastructure, including the network of aerodromes, in which I am aware the noble Lord has a particular interest. I will briefly set out why adequate protection for these sites will remain without the need for the amendments proposed.
To be clear, Clause 136 will enable permission in principle to be granted