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Planning: Retrospective Applications

Volume 773: debated on Wednesday 15 June 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will include in the draft regulations flowing from the Housing and Planning Act 2016 measures to deal with retrospective planning applications and variable fees for higher cost developments.

My Lords, I understand the frustration that breaches of planning control can cause. National planning policy was strengthened on 31 August 2015 to make intentional unauthorised development a material consideration in the determination of planning applications. We do not intend to impose higher fees for retrospective applications, but it is right that larger developments attract a higher planning fee. Fees already vary depending on the application type and the type and size of development proposed.

I thank the Minister for that Answer, but I remind her, although she may not need any reminding, that on the first day of consideration of the then Housing and Planning Bill, the subject was raised of the need for draft regulations and the scant detail that came to this House in that Bill. Can she confirm that we will definitely have draft regulations now that it is an Act, and that there will be adequate time for this House to consider this very important detail?

My Lords, I do not need reminding; I shall never forget the first day of the Housing and Planning Bill. It has not become a recurring nightmare yet, but I certainly heard the feeling of the House loud and clear. I totally concur with my noble friend’s point that regulations should be in draft and ready on time for proper consideration by this House.

My Lords, at a time when local authority budgets are stretched and planning departments are often underfunded, does the Minister agree that it is time for the setting of planning fees to be delegated to local authorities, alongside the ability to impose heavy fines with enforcement action for those who knowingly flout planning regulations?

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a very valid point. We certainly want to balance the imposition of too high fees and encourage people to bring forward applications, but in terms of budgets local authorities have certainly played their part in contributing to reducing the deficit. They have performed that service very well indeed. We need to strike that balance between having fees that do not encourage efficiency and enabling local planning authorities to carry out their role.

My Lords, the Minister was candid enough to acknowledge the frustration felt by those of us who were involved for so long with the Housing and Planning Bill, but is there not a larger issue here? The House has repeatedly received reports from the delegated legislation committee and other committees expressing their concern about the increasing reliance on secondary legislation and the inadequate scrutiny that ensues from that, both in this House and in the other House, where it is probably even worse. Is it not time to have discussion between the two Houses, and within this House, as to the proper role of secondary legislation and how the House can exercise proper scrutiny over it in advance of the completion of legislation?

My Lords, we have had many debates on the subject of when secondary legislation should be used and its appropriateness. I hope that some of the pressure which this House, and indeed I, have brought to bear has ensured that we have had better information about secondary legislation. Certainly, where we have a framework Bill, that necessitates quite a lot of secondary legislation, but I think that the House has made its view very clear going forward in this Parliament.

My Lords, given that the Treasury’s own projections show that the population will increase by some 3 million over the next decade, mainly as a result of immigration, will not planning departments surely need considerably more resources to deal with the housing needs of that group?

My noble friend makes a valid point. The whole point of the Housing and Planning Act is not only to get more houses built but to ensure that the planning system is more efficient to enable that.

My Lords, if the Government had been listening to concerns about the use of secondary legislation, why was it that my noble friend Lord Watson of Invergowrie had to introduce the amendment that he did to yesterday’s legislation? Surely the Government are not listening.

I understand that the Minister replied to that yesterday. I apologise to the noble Lord because I was not here for that debate, but I can reply to him in writing.

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House what percentage of planning applications are dealt with within the statutory period by local authorities?

My Lords, is it not a fact that the statutory instruments brought to us are unamendable and that, following the comments we have heard today in the Chamber, there may be a need to look at that again? Opinion is divided and some say that there is no reason why they have to be unamendable—it would be a question of legal decision and a procedural matter. In a case such as this, where my noble friend has assured us that we will have the right to go into the detail, we will be satisfied, but there are many cases where the statutory instrument comes up, such as the one concerning the leasehold valuation tribunal, and it has to be either abolished or accepted—there is no choice of any halfway house.

I think my noble friend made her point very clearly in her supplementary question about draft regulations being ready on time for proper consideration. I am not a constitutional expert and I do not want to go into that area, but giving noble Lords sufficient time to consider regulations is certainly important.

My Lords, I declare an interest as someone approaching the age of 76. Many of the people who come to this country referred to by the noble Lord will work in services to support those of us who are older, in caring, nursing and medical support. Does the Minister agree that, without them, our services would be the weaker and the poorer?

I am sure the noble Baroness makes a very valid point. On the question of planning, it is important that the types of housing that people need, both in London and elsewhere but particularly in London, meet the needs of those people—hence why the Government have doubled the housing budget to £20 billion over this Parliament.