Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant document: 15th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee.
My Lords, if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.
14: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—
“Permitted development: change of use to residential
Where the Secretary of State, in exercising the powers conferred by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, makes a general permitted development in respect of change of use to residential use as dwelling-houses, the developer must apply to the local planning authority for a determination as to whether the prior approval of the authority will be required as to—(a) transport and highway impacts of the development;(b) contamination risks on the site;(c) flooding risks on the site;(d) noise impacts of the development;(e) minimum space standards for the dwelling-houses;(f) in cases where the authority considers the building to which the development relates is located in an area that is important for provision of particular services (for example, offices), whether the introduction of, or an increase in, a residential use of premises in the area would have an adverse impact on the sustainability of the provision of those services;(g) whether the location or siting of the building makes it otherwise impractical or undesirable for the building to change use to a use falling within Class C3 (dwelling houses) of the Schedule to the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987;(h) impacts of air quality and noise on the intended occupiers of the development; and(i) the impact of neighbouring buildings and their uses on the intended occupiers of the development.”
My Lords, I declare my usual interests as this is the first time I have spoken in Grand Committee today. I refer the Committee to my registered interests and specifically declare that I am a local councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and one of the many, many vice-presidents of the Local Government Association who will declare their interest in the course of our proceedings today.
Amendment 14 in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, seeks to provide the local community and planning authority with a degree of influence in developments that have been approved by way of permitted development rights in respect of a change to residential use. The amendment sets out those matters for which the developer has to apply to the local planning authority for a determination as to whether they require prior approval. If not dealt with properly, all the matters listed in the amendment could lead to inappropriate development or development that is not sustainable and does not enhance the area, potentially causing significant problems for the local community.
On subsections (a) to (e) in the proposed new clause, I hope the Government will agree that issues such as contamination risks on the site are matters that should be considered by a competent authority. We can all think of former industrial areas that may now be desirable, having been converted from working buildings to offices. However, before development proceeds, there should be a requirement to look at the operations that have taken place there to ensure that there are no consequences for health and other matters. Equally, matters such as space standards are important. Subsections (h) and (i) raise matters for consideration including the level of air quality and noise on the intended occupiers. We have all seen reports in the media on poor air quality, its effect on people’s health and the number of premature deaths that it can lead to.
Locating dwelling houses in an industrial area may not be the best thing for the occupiers. Subsection (f) raises the important issue of the area being a place where businesses operate. Such an area could have considerably more vehicle movement and have services operating early in the morning or late at night. It has been desirable to keep these areas well away from residential areas, and the introduction of homes can lead to complaints and pressure around the matters that we have highlighted. It can also put into question the viability of businesses in the area.
I grew up in Southwark. At one time, it had a very busy and extensive economy around the docks. Look at Jacob’s Island, Canada dock, Greenham dock and Surrey dock. Today, these places are residential, but at one time they were home to big industries—at the time of Dickens or the two world wars. When they were industrial sites, there was very little housing in the area because the work that went on would not have combined with people living there. The industries have now moved away and those areas have become quite desirable. It is important to understand, however, that you cannot have a wharf building with people living on one floor and, on the floor below, all sorts of activities taking place, such as the trading of goods and services. That would not have worked at all due to all the issues I have talked about—vehicle movement, health issues and all the other problems. The amendment seeks to give the authority the opportunity to consider whether a conversion to residential use would have an adverse impact.
Amendment 44, also in my name and that of other noble Lords, seeks to give the power to a local planning authority to publish a cumulative impact assessment. This assessment would look at the impact on the environment and the sustainability of particular services that results from the incremental impact of the action which is taking place under permitted development. By doing that, it would bring in an element of scrutiny. This gives the authority the power to produce the report, look at the evidence and publish it, and see whether it needs to suspend those permitted development rights because they are causing problems. The report is available to the public and the authority retains the right to review it and change its decision at a future point. Both these amendments give local planning authorities many important rights that they need in order to look at these developments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I also declare an interest. I have interests listed in the register and I have a pending legal case concerning a planning application. I have taken advice from the Clerk of the Parliaments and have been told that the sub judice rule does not apply here. I support Amendment 14 and I have been asked by the noble Lord, Lord Porter, to introduce his Amendment 44.
On Amendment 14, I am not opposed to imaginative reuse of buildings: it is sometimes a very good way of preserving or conserving them. In my area a huge mental asylum has been turned into housing. It is of modest architectural merit but it provides homes for people, and those people, fortunately, do not know its distressing and disturbing past.
I can also think of redundant churches, some of real architectural distinction, that have been preserved by being transformed into homes. I am sure noble Lords know lots of other examples. However, I share the caution of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and other noble Lords, that changes of use should not be given without careful consideration of the consequences. There should be a requirement for a community impact assessment.
There are many short-term financial gains to be made by turning employment sites into housing, especially if it is, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has said, large-scale development. That can, however, have a detrimental effect on a whole area, and very long-term implications. I think back to the multi-storey office blocks, built for another purpose: it is appropriate for them to be occupied by staff during the day, but they may not be suitable places in which to live.
We have learned from the mistakes of the past, such as the badly designed tower blocks with broken lifts—places of misery and centres of crime. Now they are loudly cheered as they are demolished and come tumbling down. They were recognised as unsuitable places to live in and proved not to be socially beneficial. New tower blocks, however, appear almost daily, crowding the skyline. Presumably, considering the stringency of building regulations, they are good places to live in.
I wonder, however, whether converting office tower blocks of concrete and glass is an appropriate thing to do. We are in the middle of a housing boom right now. Booms do not last for ever, which is why the rush for numbers may be expedient now but not necessarily a solution for future housing needs. We have to be very careful, therefore, to get the balance right between homes that are desperately needed now and the long-standing impact on a local area. I think of my own business. I certainly could not run it on the hoof: my staff and I need a base. We are technologically pretty able but we still need a base. So we must look at the employment opportunities in an area before giving them up.
I move on to Amendment 44. The noble Lord, Lord Porter, has asked me to speak to this amendment on his behalf because unfortunately he cannot be here today; he is speaking at the District Councils’ Network conference in Warwick. The noble Lord, Lord Porter, would have told the Committee that permitted development can be a useful way of speeding up building the homes, infrastructure and communities that are needed. Councils should, however, have powers to consider the impact that new developments are having across an area. Many areas, particularly in London and the south-east, are concerned about the rate at which office space is being converted to residential sites. This could have a very negative impact on local employment and economic growth. The British Council for Offices has estimated that between 3 million and 9 million square feet of office space were converted in England in one year. From April 2014 to September 2016, there were nearly 9,000 applications for prior approvals for office-to-residential permitted development; nearly 3,000 of those did not require prior approval and an additional 4,000 were granted.
The Local Government Association and local councils have expressed their concerns about this issue, so in an attempt to address the problem a number of councils have introduced Article 4 directions to remove the permitted development rights for office-to-residential conversions. However, there have been limitations to the scope of the Article 4 directions in places and they will in many cases be restricted to certain areas within the local authority boundary. There are 17 local authorities that have individual buildings, roads or zones within their local area that are exempt from the rights until May 2019, including the City of London and Manchester city centre.
I share the concern of my noble friend Lord Porter and the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Tope, that local planning authorities and their communities should have a greater say on the cumulative impact of new development falling within existing permitted development rights that affects their local area. I am saying this rather than my noble friend Lord Porter, but local authorities should have the right to ask: “Is this desirable housing or are we providing the slums of the future, with all the social problems and attendant costs that poor-quality housing brings?”.
My Lords, my name is to Amendment 44 and I would certainly have been happy to add it to Amendment 14 as well, which I support. I first declare my interest as yet another vice-president of the Local Government Association. An interest in many ways more relevant to this debate which I no longer have to declare is that until May 2014, I was for 40 years the local councillor for a town centre ward in a south-west London borough. We debated the effect of permitted development rights, particularly the conversion of offices to residential development, during the passage of the Housing and Planning Bill less than a year ago. In Committee and on Report, we had some spirited debates led by the even more spirited noble Lord, Lord True. I think that he was speaking more in his capacity as leader of Richmond Council, another south-west London borough. Sadly, both debates were very late at night and inevitably therefore curtailed.
I will not repeat all that I said a year ago but this issue has had, and continues to have, a devastating effect on the town centre ward that I used to represent. It has particularly affected the town centre. I cited nine months ago the figures I had had from my local authority, showing that in the 18 months between the coming into effect of the prior approval permissions and being able to obtain an Article 4 direction to cover that area, the town centre lost 28% of its office space. This was just in that 18-month period. Many people assumed that those were vacant offices but they were not. Sixty-two per cent of those offices were then currently occupied and the businesses occupying them were, politely or impolitely, asked to leave. Employment was directly lost from the town centre, with an inevitable effect on its economy—not just the work that goes on in the offices, but all the commerce that is brought by the people working in them. Some businesses were able to move elsewhere; others, sadly, have gone out of business, with a consequent loss of jobs.
In connection with the Bill, I have inquired into what has happened since then, and it is fair to say that the Article 4 direction that covers the town centre has had some effect in slowing down, but not stopping, that process, although more offices are being lost from the town centre. Now all the offices in the district centres, where there is no Article 4 direction, are also going. It is becoming increasingly difficult for those needing small office premises, in particular, to find them. That is causing significant problems to the local economy. Already, the local authority sees that it will not meet the projected long-term demand for offices in the area.
We come to the question of offices against homes. I have heard the Housing Minister—who, incidentally, is an MP in the next borough, and I suspect would be saying different things were he still a Croydon councillor —say that the need for more homes overrides all the permitted development right problems. I understand why a Housing Minister, charged with an ambitious target—which we all accept and wish him every success with—might say that, but it is not good enough for us as legislators. We want not just more homes but more of the right sort of homes in the right places, meeting the demand with the highest possible quality of design and sustainability.
That is not what is happening in any of those respects under the PDR office-to-homes conversions in town and district centres. The designs are poor and the housing provision is not at all what is needed in the area. It is largely providing one-bedroom or studio accommodation as pied-à-terres, with no contribution to the local community—certainly none to the local economy, or indeed the council.
More importantly, particularly in London, it is making absolutely no contribution to affordable housing. In my view, that is the biggest effect in London—not just in my borough but right across London and, I am sure, in other parts of the country. It is making no contribution to affordable housing. It may just help with the number count, but not with the actual demand for the homes that people need in places where they need them—where their children can go to good schools and where they can obtain good employment.
This is having a very serious effect. I know it is not the case in all parts of the country—our debate on the then Housing and Planning Bill was replied to by the former leader of Trafford Council in Greater Manchester, and she said that the conversion from office to residential was having a beneficial effect in that part of the world. That is good and I welcome it, but surely we should recognise that different places have different requirements. We used to call it localism, but I think that that is no longer the buzzword. Is it not common sense that local authorities should have the power to determine what is necessary in their area? If conversion of redundant offices to residential use is desirable—I would say, with sufficient safeguards to ensure that it is the right sort of residential development, which ought to apply everywhere—it must be a good thing, but in outer London, generally in London and in other cities, it is having a devastating effect and really should not be allowed to continue. That is why I am happy to support either or both of these amendments.
My Lords, I support the amendments and thank noble Lords for what they have said because, although I thought this was a serious issue, I was unable to take part in debates on the then Housing and Planning Bill. It is clearly very important. Permitted development is a useful tool when used proportionately. It has been able to free extra capacity to build housing, in many cases, very appropriately. When the National Policy for the Built Environment Select Committee was doing its Building Better Places report, this came up as a formidable problem. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, has described it. It is to do with the scale and the concentration in particular areas. I will be very grateful if the Minister has any figures that show how much conversion of office space to residential there has been and a geographical breakdown that shows some notion of the scale. We are getting housing development outside the normal planning provisions. Once that happens, essentially none of the planning rules applies. One of the things that exercised the committee was that the casual conversion of office space to residential space was compromised because of the absence of space standards and, I think, normal building regulations. I would be grateful if the Minister will state the official position on the lack of acceptable agreed building standards in buildings that are being converted.
There are two social impacts of casual conversion. One is on the nature of the living accommodation that is being created in this era of desperate demand for housing. What sorts of lives are people living? The other impact is that with 28% more housing instead of office space, the demand on services is quite different. Therefore paragraphs (a) to (c) of the proposed new clause are extremely important. Does the department have any assessment of this? Has it done any work on the impacts that can be measured? What is the Minister’s judgment about that? We need more information and to know more about what the department and local authorities know about the way this is working.
Amendment 44 raises an important principle. The point about planning changes is that single changes are manageable and have a useful, and often positive, effect, but cumulative change can be very different. Cumulative change is what the noble Lord, Lord Porter, raises in his amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, represented him very well and spoke about development rights and the impact on sustainability overall. The only analogy I can make—and I hope it would be contained in Amendment 44—is with conservation areas. In conservation areas, you have permitted development rights. You may be able to advise individual householders to put in wooden windows rather than plastic windows or not to put a porch over the front door, but after a while control and discipline slip and the character of the conservation area can be completely compromised. One has to be extremely careful about the nature of the slope when one embarks on permitted development rights. The notion of cumulative impact is very important.
I do not know whether there is anywhere in planning law the concept of a cumulative impact which could inform the way this amendment could be very usefully attached. If there is, there is something to be gained from thinking intelligently about how Amendment 44 might be pursued. It is obvious that local authorities ought to have more control over what happens in the exercise of permitted development rights, and this is very timely because we have now had five or six years of accelerated deregulation, of which permitted development rights are probably the most conspicuous aspect. It is time that we step back and look at the impact of that in relation to local authority competence.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in the debate on the amendments in this group. Before I respond to some of the specific points that have been made on the two amendments, let me say a little about permitted development generally.
Permitted development rights have long been a part of the planning system and have been recognised as a beneficial way of simplifying the need to secure planning permission. The current permitted development rights for England are set out in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 and provide flexibility, certainty and reduce planning bureaucracy. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, asked about the number of additional homes that have been delivered by permitted development rights. I am particularly proud that development rights in the latest year for which we have figures, 2015-16, delivered an additional 13,800 homes. We are looking to see if we have a geographic breakdown of that, and I will certainly pick up on it.
I suspect that that forms the bulk of them but I shall endeavour to get that information.
Permitted development rights are making a real difference in providing homes in town centres, rural areas and brownfield sites, supporting our housing delivery ambition. We should welcome that permitted development rights provide that opportunity.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and my noble friend Lady Cumberlege for Amendment 14, which seeks to prescribe those matters which must be considered by the local authority as part of the prior approval process in any future permitted development rights that allow change of use to residential. When new permitted development rights are designed we work to ensure that any matters that we think require the consideration of the local planning authority are included in the prior approval contained within that right. Certain criteria have to be considered in this prior approval process for the change from office to residential, and these include some of the matters contained in the proposed amendment.
Four matters that have to be considered on office-to-residential prior approvals are: transport and highways impacts of the development; contamination on the site; flooding risks on the site; and the impact of noise from commercial premises on the intended occupiers of the development when it shifts, as is proposed, to residential. So they are tailored to consider those specific points. We recognise that in all cases of change of use to residential, the prior approvals that are set out are important. However, this is not necessarily true of all the other proposed prior approvals in the amendment.
The current approach to permitted development certainly simplifies matters—it cuts out some of the bureaucracy and helps in relation to costs for the applicant and the local authority. Amendment 44 covers some of the same territory but is wider. It was tabled initially by the noble Lord, Lord Porter of Spalding, who is not in his place, but was ably spoken to by my noble friend Lady Cumberlege and supported by other noble Lords. In the Government’s view the proposal is far too wide. There will be exceptional circumstances where a national permitted development right is not appropriate in a particular location. This is why an effective process to allow local planning authorities to remove permitted development rights already exists. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, referred to this and said that it had made a difference. To be fair, he said that he had hoped it would have gone further but that it has made a difference. As noble Lords will acknowledge, this is true in some of the areas that are hardest hit.
I have been listening carefully. There are issues relating to change from office to residential which have had an impact in some communities on the availability of commercial premises. That is undoubtedly true. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, spoke of his personal experience and made reference to the experience of my noble friend Lord True, who is not in his place, who raised this issue in relation to Richmond.
Article 4 provides part of the answer but obviously fairness demands that those affected are given an opportunity to be heard, that they are given notice and that they are compensated where necessary. However, I am pleased to offer the reassurance that the Article 4 process gives planning authorities the flexibility to withdraw rights in exceptional circumstances, while ensuring the fair treatment of those affected if they are not able to pursue the development. I accept that there is a concern more generally about these issues, and although I believe that these amendments—in particular Amendment 44—go far too far in requiring consideration across the board without being properly targeted, I acknowledge that there is an issue that should be looked at. That point was well made. However, as I said, these amendments go far too far.
I am not sure about the point that was raised concerning cumulative impact, and I suspect that that will be very difficult to define. I do not think it is recognised in planning law but I will investigate that. I think that challenges of cumulative impact would arise depending on how large the area was and so on, but I do not think that it would be easy to tackle.
I would like to reflect on what has been said in Committee today and, without prejudice to the outcome, to go away and perhaps speak to other noble Lords who cannot be here, such as my noble friends Lord Porter and Lord True, as well as others. I shall be very happy to have an open door to discuss this matter but, in the meantime, and with the reassurance that I have given, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, to withdraw the amendment.
I thank the Minister. Before withdrawing the amendment, I would like to raise one or two points with him. The Article 4 direction is not widely used and is not that easy for local authorities to use. The Minister said that Amendment 44 goes far too wide. I thought that it was for the Government to set the broad parameters of policy and then for local authorities to apply it locally. I would not expect the Government to be very specific but I do not see why they would not want to give a wider power, with an authority then looking at how it applies locally and impacts locally. I would welcome further comment on that.
On Amendment 14, I am very pleased that the Minister was able to respond in respect of the first four items in paragraphs (a) to (d) and I thank him for that. However, there are the other items listed in paragraphs (e) to (i), and I do not know whether he can comment on those. I draw his attention, in particular, to paragraph (h), which refers to air quality. Deaths from poor air quality are now regularly reported on in the media, and that is a particular problem in London and elsewhere. If development were to take place on a former industrial area, that could be an issue.
Paragraph (e) refers to minimum space standards. One development that I know of is Lewisham House in Lewisham—the old Citibank tower. It is not the most attractive building in the world—I do not know whether the Minister knows Lewisham town centre. Apparently, at some point in the future it is going to be converted into largely one-bedroomed properties but I do not know what the minimum standards will be. I suspect that the plan will be to have something like 230 one and two-bedroomed properties there, and they will not be particularly big. The whole question of space should be of concern to the noble Lord and to the Government in general. I hope that the days of rabbit-hutch developments are long behind us, but that is something that the noble Lord should certainly look at. There are a number of other places that I know of where I do not know whether the developments have taken place. Lewisham House has not been developed yet—it is sitting there waiting for that to happen. However, we would not want rabbit-hutch developments if we could possibly avoid them.
I thank the noble Lord for that. In answer to the question, “Do I know Lewisham?”, I have certainly visited it on occasion but, through the noble Lord, I feel I know it better than just from the two visits I have made there fairly recently.
In relation to the points he is making, there has to be a balance in what we do here, and I think that noble Lords would accept that Amendment 44, talking as it does of giving the power, seemingly unchallenged, to local authorities to suspend permitted development rights indefinitely, goes too far. I have offered to go away and reflect on this but I have made it absolutely clear that we cannot accept that amendment as it stands.
Article 4 directions are open to boroughs and other areas to use. In fairness, this is one area where they try to look at the cumulative impact. So, contrary to what I have just said, there are areas where we try to assess cumulative impacts, which is part of the Article 4 consideration. But, as I say, I accept that there is an issue to look at here. I want to go away and reflect on this, so I do not want to get down into too much detail on the position of the different London boroughs or elsewhere. However, I am happy to go away and have a look at it, without prejudice. I hope that noble Lords will take up that offer.
I thank the noble Lord, and of course he is very welcome to visit my ward in Lewisham any time he likes. I can show him one or two places that I have mentioned in our debates as well as other problems I have. I am quite happy to show him. It might actually help us in our debates over the next few weeks. I thank him for his response and am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 14 withdrawn.
15: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—
“Land use following lapse of planning permission
If planning permission lapses, the local authority may direct the use of that land for purposes relating to priorities in the local development plan or neighbourhood plan.”
My Lords, this amendment, which is in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, seeks to find a way of dealing with the problem when land is just not being used—where planning permission has been agreed but nothing happens and the planning permission then expires. The amendment would give power to the local authority to direct the use of the land for the priorities as detailed in the local development or neighbourhood plan and in line with the priorities set out in the local process we discussed in our previous sitting, and in keeping with the NPPF.
We have a serious problem with land not being used, especially in London where there is a particularly high demand for homes. Again, I can give many examples from my own ward where there are small sites with signs saying “planning permission for X number of houses”, but not much is happening and people are waiting for the land value to increase. Communities and local authorities already have some powers to get things moving, such as the community right to reclaim land, which has been on the statute book for many years. That power enables public bodies to dispose of land. There is also the community right to build so that communities can propose site developments in their area, and which also gives local authorities additional power to get things moving locally.
I hope we will receive a positive response from the Government today. Maybe these matters will be dealt with in the White Paper, I do not know; but we need to get these sites built on. They are an eyesore. Leaving things as they are, with permissions but nothing ever happening, is a problem. We have often talked about the number of permissions already agreed in London but with nothing ever seeming to happen. We need to get things moving. I beg to move.
My Lords, as this is the first time I have spoken in Committee I draw the Committee’s attention to my entry in the register of interests.
I fully support the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in this amendment. The problems he has listed are those relating to London and other urban areas. However, they are not isolated to just those areas. Those of us in rural areas suffer significant frustration when planning permission has been applied for and given but nothing happens. Land is often left untouched for many years when it could have been productively used for key priorities in local development or neighbourhood plans.
Occasionally, spoiling tactics are employed. A local authority can identify a particular use for a parcel of land which does not meet with the approval of either the owner or those living in close proximity. As we all know, anyone may apply for planning permission on any piece of land; they do not have to own it. It certainly helps the process if the applicant is the owner, but this is not a requirement. Spoiling applications are submitted, appear to be in accordance with the local plan and gain approval. Thereafter, nothing is done to the site and those objecting feel their mission has been accomplished.
In such cases, and those listed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, I support the local authority having the right to direct the use of the land in order to fulfil the priorities in the local plan or neighbourhood plan. After all, both plans will have taken a great deal of time and effort to be completed; they will have gone out to extensive consultation and been thoroughly examined before being adopted. It is therefore only correct that the aims of those plans should be implemented as far as is possible. I believe this clause would help achieve that aim, which is in the general public’s interest. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for moving and speaking to Amendment 15, which is in group 9. This amendment, tabled by the noble Lord, would allow local planning authorities to direct the use of land upon which planning permission has expired for the purposes of its priorities, as set out in a local development plan.
Authorities should normally take decisions on development proposals within their area in line with the priorities set out in the development plan, together with the other policies of the plan. That principle is already enshrined in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and set out clearly in the National Planning Policy Framework. Both the Act and the framework are clear that applications for planning permission must be determined in accordance with the development plan, where its policies are material to an application unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Thus where planning permission has lapsed, any new proposals for development which require planning permission must be determined on that basis.
The planning history of a site, including any recently expired planning permissions, may be a material consideration when considering any fresh proposals. The weight to be attached to any earlier permissions will be a matter for the local planning authority but the importance of the plan remains unchanged. I appreciate and support the intention of the new clause proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. However, I do not believe it is necessary at the moment. The noble Lord mentioned the forthcoming White Paper, which we hope will be forthcoming very soon. It will cover this issue, as I have mentioned many times before in the Chamber and elsewhere. This is an issue that we must confront and not just for London and urban areas. I fully accept what the noble Baroness alluded to there.
Perhaps I may bring the Committee back to this legislation, which is designed to streamline processes and deliver more houses. We should not lose sight of that. We all say that we are wedded to it but we must be careful to ensure that it remains a central feature of the thrust of the debate, and of the legislation. If that much land is held by developers, they have fewer excuses for land-banking. I say gently that if that land were developed more quickly, although it would not crack the problem in its entirety, it would go some way to doing so.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, very much for the invitation to Lewisham, which I look forward to fulfilling—not necessarily on a day when Millwall is playing at home but on some other day. With the knowledge that this issue will come forward in the White Paper and that we will have a longer process of having a crack at it in a deeper dive—along with that friendly reciprocation of his invitation—I ask him to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I want to speak briefly to Amendment 15, which my noble friend Lady Bakewell has spoken to. I know that Lewisham is closer to this place than some places are, but if the noble Lord is issuing a general offer to visit wards that some of us sitting here represent on local authorities, he might have a few letters in the post. But he would be welcome indeed to come to Colne any time he wishes and I would be happy to show him some of the problems we have that are different from those in Lewisham and other parts of the south-east.
Having cheekily said that, there is something behind this amendment about what happens when a planning permission which has been given, perhaps in detail, then lapses and that permission is no longer in line with a local plan. For example, if there has been a local plan and the permission has been given, a neighbourhood plan may then be adopted which does not have to accord exactly, as I understand it, with the local plan on site allocations but has to be in general conformity with it. If a neighbourhood plan for a village says that a piece of land which has planning permission for housing is not the most suitable while a different piece of land can be allocated—one which local people would prefer to be allocated under the neighbourhood plan—and if that keeps the same number of new houses built in that area, or even more, what then happens?
There is a wider issue: developers and planning committees—planning officers—tend to assume that if a planning permission has previously been given, for example for a change of use, and has not been taken up, and the same application is put in again after four or five years, it ought to be granted, on the precedent that it has been granted previously, and yet circumstances may have changed. There is a very important issue here relating to detailed applications which, at the moment, do not always result in the most satisfactory outcomes because of the assumption that although planning permission has lapsed, it is really still there and all you have to do is fill in the forms, pay the fee and everything will be okay.
My Lords, I will seek to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on both points.
First, if the planning permission has lapsed, a fresh application has to be put in for the use of the land, and it must conform to the local plan at the time, including any neighbourhood plan that has become part of the local plan in the meantime. Secondly, in planning law there is no presumption that permission should be given in relation to an application with a lapsed permission. That would not be the case. The committee might want to take into consideration the fact that a lot of work has been done and look at it, but there is no presumption in law that it should be adhered to. I do not think that planning authorities are under that misapprehension but if they are we need to make it clear that that is not the case.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. I am pleased by his comments and am looking forward to the White Paper and these issues, hopefully, being addressed. I have put Questions down in the House before, and there is an issue with getting houses built in certain areas. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is right: there may not be a case for granting permission in certain areas. I accept that entirely. However, in certain areas there is pressure for building and the frustrating thing is that you have given permission to build on the site, then you drive past every day and nothing has happened. It is very frustrating.
I hope that the White Paper will address that. I hope also that the Minister will visit my ward; his predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, visited my noble friend’s ward while she was in his job. He may consider that too. If the noble Lord ever comes to Millwall I can assure him of a very warm welcome. As the noble Lord, Lord Young, knows, planning permission and compulsory purchase are big issues down there at the moment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 15 withdrawn.
16: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—
“Reviews of neighbourhood areas
After section 61I of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 insert—
“61IA Duty of local planning authority to review neighbourhood areas(1) A local planning authority must from time to time review the neighbourhood areas within its area with regard to—(a) the number and distribution of such areas in the authority,(b) the proportion of the authority covered by such areas,(c) the progress made in the creation of neighbourhood development plans in those areas,(d) the proportion of such areas in which the qualifying authority is a parish council or a neighbourhood forum respectively, and(e) the extent and effectiveness of the promotion of neighbourhood planning within the authority.(2) A local planning authority must consider the review undertaken under subsection (1) and in doing so consider—(a) how it may become more effective in promoting neighbourhood planning and adopting neighbourhood development plans,(b) whether to review its statement of community involvement in relation to its policies on advice and assistance in relation to neighbourhood plans in its area, and(c) whether to carry out a local governance review in any part of its area that is unparished.””
My Lords, Amendment 16 is about a review of neighbourhood areas and is particularly focused on the importance of existing parish and town councils as a basis for neighbourhood planning. It is a very important amendment and I am grateful, in promoting it, to the National Association of Local Councils for finding a way of getting it onto the agenda of the Neighbourhood Planning Bill. I should declare an interest as vice-chair—I think—of the APPG on Local Democracy.
One-fifth of the population of England is parished, according to the NALC. I was looking for the statistic—I have it somewhere but did not find it—on exactly how many neighbourhood plans are in parished areas. Perhaps the Minister can help me there. It is certainly over four-fifths. The great majority of neighbourhood plans have been promoted by the town or parish council, which is the qualifying authority in those areas. We know that 1,800 neighbourhood plans have been started, are under way or have been finished. In all of them, there is a clear relationship between the neighbourhood planning process and the town or parish council, but only a fifth of the population is covered by parish and town councils. The fundamental question behind the amendment is: what are the Government doing to set up more parish councils? Clearly, that must be with the agreement of local people, not imposed, but a lot of principal local authorities do not want any more town councils around the place and are not being very helpful.
I do not know what proportion of the population of the country is covered by neighbourhood plans, but it might be something like 5%. If that is the case, everything that we are talking about in earnest is very much a minority interest out in the country. If only one in 20 people in England is covered by a neighbourhood planning process of any kind, either neighbourhood planning is not for most people or, as I would suggest, it is not being sufficiently promoted to get more people involved.
Some planning authorities not only do not like parish councils, they are not very enthusiastic about neighbourhood plans. Clearly, if you are working on a local plan, you may not want to devote additional resources to neighbourhood plans. Although the responsibility for drawing them up lies with the neighbourhood planning group—either the forum or the parish council—it requires time and effort from local planning officers to ensure that it fits with the local development plan, planning law generally, and will work.
Most big urban areas have not got on with neighbourhood planning yet. Most neighbourhood plans are in rural villages or suburban villages. Some areas are pioneering—the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, will tell us about his—but there are not many in the big urban areas. However, it is not just the big urban areas that are a problem. If my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market were here—I think she is occupied in the Chamber—she would be talking about a town in her area that wants to get on with having a parish council and neighbourhood planning, but is being blocked by the local authority. So it is not just the big urban areas: unparished areas are missing out on neighbourhood planning.
I come back to the reasons why parished areas are taking the lead on this. First, the fact that there is a parish or town council means that there is a focus in that community to discuss and promote such a plan. There is an existing body of local councillors who are used to considering and acting on local issues and problems and giving their view on planning applications. Some of them turn up at planning committees for the principal authority to give oral evidence on behalf of their parishes, but send in their views in writing. Parish councillors are used to considering proposals and schemes by principal councils and government legislation. People ask them whether they want to take part, and they discuss it. In many parts of the country, including mine, they are taking part in community transfers, taking over land, property, facilities and services from district councils at parish council level, so they are used to this kind of thing.
Secondly, as well as being focused, they are a source of resources. They are not huge resources, but they have a clerk, to start off with, and perhaps some other staff who can do the initial things that need doing to get a neighbourhood plan steering group going and are used to dealing with correspondence, reports and all the rest of it in legislation. The other resource that parish councils have is money. They can use some of their precept money to supplement grants from the Government towards the neighbourhood planning process. On our previous day in Committee, we discussed how much the grants are and whether they vary, and I do not have any further information on that. Whether or not they are the same for all parishes, whether big or small, in most cases government grants for a neighbourhood plan will not be enough to carry out that plan. In some cases, the grant will be nowhere near enough. Parish councils are one source of local funding. They are not the only one, but they can do it.
On the other hand, forums are ad hoc and random, and they depend on somebody turning up and taking the initiative or a local group learning about it. There is no one in the community who will automatically consider whether to have a neighbourhood plan. This amendment states that local planning authorities must review their neighbourhood areas and look at how many there are, where they are, what proportion are parished, the progress that is being made and, in particular, the unparished areas that are missing out on neighbourhood planning and must consider how to promote neighbourhood planning better. The amendment puts the onus on planning authorities that are not terribly keen on neighbourhood planning to get keener on promoting it in their area. Finally, if places which are not parished ought to have neighbourhood planning, the amendment requires local authorities to consider undertaking a local government review to consider, with the local population, whether to start the process by setting up a parish council or a town council which would have the ability and resources to produce a neighbourhood plan. It would also be able to do everything else that parishes and towns do. I live in a borough which was mostly not parished when it was formed 40 years ago but is now wholly parished and the process has been almost entirely beneficial. I beg to move.
I apologise for arriving a little late. Trains from the West Country are operating rather badly because of bad weather and the London Tube is operating really badly just because it is the London Tube, but it is a delight to be here now. Before I speak, I should draw attention to one of my interests which I have previously declared. I am the president of the National Association of Local Councils, and I will be speaking on an issue that it has raised. It is reflected in some of my noble friend’s comments.
It is clear that the great majority of neighbourhood plans that have been brought forward are in parished areas. I have represented a local community for many years, and I continue to live in one, and I have chaired a neighbourhood plan process initiated by a parish council. It is very obvious that parish councils, in communities where they exist, are very successful in moving things forward in representing community interests. In the context of neighbourhood planning, they provide an essential vehicle for initiating a plan, ensuring there is proper accountability to the wider community and, in the absence of sufficient funding for some of what happens, providing funding. In the case of our own neighbourhood plan, we initiated at a point where there was no government funding at all for the interregnum because the old fund had run out and the new one had not been established. The parish council, although a very small and poor one, was able to step into that breach.
Therefore, I think that it is really important both for neighbourhood planning and for planning more widely to establish parish councils wherever possible. They are not always welcome to the district or county authorities in which they operate, because they can run counter to an individual council’s views or a more general council view, but that is a healthy tension and one that should be in place.
I wanted to use this amendment as a hook to say to the Government that I think that efforts should be made to see parishing not only across all rural areas but across equivalent democratically accountable bodies in urban areas at the local neighbourhood scale. As I said, this is something that the National Association of Local Councils has argued for.
I want to say something else on which I am not sure whether the national association agrees, so I am definitely not speaking on its behalf. My own view is that every so often there should be an intelligent review of the borders of parishes and the forms they come in. The truth is that historically they were established for very different purposes and very different reasons based on the church boundaries. For the purposes in which they now operate, that can often be deeply illogical.
Taking my own neighbourhood plan as an example, it was a very defined community for the most part and it made a lot of sense. However, one essential area—the Victoria Business Park on the edge of the A30—has a parish boundary running right through the middle of it for no particular reason. It clearly relates to our parish and the A30 is on the other side of it, so it relates not at all to the neighbouring parish. The boundary reflects the historic A30 and not the new dual carriageway. In any case, having a boundary running down the middle does not necessarily make sense if there are things on either side of it.
Similarly, our parish extends right to the edge of Bugle. This is a village in the next-door parish and it has grown in a form that has taken it into our parish. Frankly, it made no sense that, in theory, our neighbourhood plan dealt with things that clearly belonged primarily to another community and had no impact on almost all of those in our parish.
Therefore, although I understand the sentiment around historic boundaries, I believe that a relatively simple process for review, particularly when development growth of one sort or another materially changes the nature of the settlement patterns and how they relate to the parishes, would be useful. I just wanted to take the opportunity to say that and to prompt the Minister to comment.
What the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said strikes a chord with me. I always represented very urban areas in the House of Commons. I remember rather similar problems, particularly from my time as the Member for Orpington, which was in the middle of the borough of Bromley in south London, not too far from Sutton. The idea of neighbourhood planning is, frankly, a serious joke. It simply does not exist. In fact, it is worse than the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, described it. He said that there was a vacuum and that essentially only a very small number of people, largely in rural areas, had neighbourhood councils, and that is true.
Planning for a neighbourhood in an urban area such as Bromley simply does not exist. In fact, it is worse than that. Orpington was historically a district council and had all the appurtenances of a district council. Indeed, the late Lord Avebury, who was the MP for Orpington, was a district councillor when there was a district council for Orpington, and the council was used to making plans for Orpington. Under the Heath local government changes, it then became part of the London Borough of Bromley. When councillors for Orpington put forward schemes for Orpington high street or whatever for the benefit of the local residents, inevitably when they went to the planning council in Bromley they were promptly overruled by the councillors for Bickley or Chislehurst, who had no knowledge whatever of the Orpington situation. That was to the fury of people in Orpington, who thus became convinced that Bromley was fundamentally an anti-Orpington organisation, and the sooner they got rid of it the better. They went back to Kent, where they had some power as a district council, but they had no power inside the London Borough of Bromley. Their fury was evident to me on many occasions.
It will please the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, to know that when briefly it was under Liberal Democrat/Labour control during the early part of the noughties, as they are called, when the Liberal Democrats were more of a power in the land than they are today, it attempted to meet this problem by forming ward committees—putting wards together and having committees which would consider planning issues on a level more local than the council level. It was a sensible initiative. Sadly, it did not attract much support from the local population. They thought it was another piece of bureaucracy which did not work, cost money and so on. It fizzled out but it was a brave idea, which I supported at the time. It would have given large boroughs such as Bromley—the largest borough in London, with areas such as Biggin Hill on the one hand and Orpington on the other, each with distinct personalities—some kind of local say in a way which the amorphous Bromley council, as such, has difficulty in giving it.
There is a real problem here. When one thinks of neighbourhood councils, one attaches to them an almost merry England kind of picture of lovely little parishes such as Grimsargh in Lancashire. I take my title of Lord Horam, of Grimsargh, because that is where I was born. It has a beautiful set-up, with a parish council and local church, and it works wonderfully. However, such a set-up has no meaning whatever in most urban areas, and yet it is in urban areas that we need it. I now live in Fulham close to the old Imperial Gas site, an area of pollution with a great deal of bad land, gasometers, gas works and miscellaneous offices. It is now Imperial Wharf, with Berkeley-built homes sold mainly to foreigners for a lot of money. You walk down there and find that there is no one on the electoral register because they are all foreigners and that all the languages are not English. It is a great tragedy that it has happened in that way. Obviously I am pleased that it has ceased to be a polluted site and is no longer used for the supply of gas—that is delivered by other means—but the way in which it has been developed has been of no benefit to the people of London or the people of Fulham. There was a need to look at that development from the local area point of view as well that of the overall Fulham and Hammersmith Council.
There is a problem here which I do not know how to solve. It is certainly the case that neighbourhood planning is lacking in most of our major urban areas, and I do not know how to deal with that problem.
My Lords, to follow the noble Lord, Lord Horam, I should perhaps start by reassuring him that the London Borough of Sutton is still under Liberal Democrat control after 32 years and still has six area committees—and area committees are not the same as neighbourhood forums, let alone parish councils.
I know there is a temporary cessation, but give it another year or two.
I strongly support what my noble friends have said in proposing the amendment. However, there is a particular problem, as my noble friend Lord Greaves said, in all larger urban areas—and Greater London is the largest urban area of them all. The problem is exacerbated because until comparatively recently Greater London was not allowed by law to have any parish councils. Since that became permissible under law—I think a little less than 10 years ago; I cannot remember exactly—there has been only one parish council formed in the whole of Greater London and no others. I do not know how many neighbourhood forums there are in London, and I do not suppose the Minister has this information at his fingertips, but, if it is available, I would be interested to know how many neighbourhood plans have been formed, or are in the course of being formed, in Greater London. Perhaps that will serve to illustrate—or, praise be, to deny—the point that the noble Lord, Lord Horam, and I are making. It is a difficult problem, and while I agree with my noble friends that parishing and parish councils are particularly useful and beneficial to neighbourhood plans, if we are to wait for the whole of Greater London to be parished then neighbourhood plans will be a very long time coming. Clearly, that is not the answer. It is a problem in other places too, but particularly in London.
In London, neighbourhoods are often named after former villages. So we know what a neighbourhood is, but it is a heck of a sight more difficult to decide where the boundaries of those neighbourhoods are. They are most certainly not the ward boundaries, because the wards, particularly in London, are based on arithmetic and not on community at all. For administrative convenience, a neighbourhood forum is likely to adopt ward boundaries, at least in part, but they are not necessarily the historic neighbourhoods. That is a particular problem in London.
I have supported parishing and parish councils all my political life, but while it may be desirable, it will not happen quickly enough for the purposes that we are debating today. Therefore, I would be very interested if the Minister is able to say something about the particular issues and problems in London, to which the noble Lord, Lord Horam, and I have referred.
My Lords, I hope the Minister will understand that this is a very important issue. The reasons for that have been extremely well explained in the speeches that have been made so far. The noble Lord, Lord Horam, made an extremely helpful and important point, as did others, about the problems that exist. In a nutshell, those problems can be explained as follows. On the first day of Committee, my noble friend Lord Stunell pointed out that emerging neighbourhood plans are showing a greater appetite for more housing, precisely because they have more say in the way in which they build their community. In other words, it is in all our interests to promote neighbourhood planning. However, the second problem is that only around one fifth of the country is engaged in neighbourhood planning. As we know, in those places that do not have parish councils, it is a slower process. But as we also know, you do not have to have a parish council to undertake the neighbourhood planning process.
I hope the Minister will be willing to look at this issue between Committee and Report, because we will be coming back to this on Report. The Bill says that neighbourhood planning is important and must become more important. But as a consequence of that, local planning authorities must do more to promote neighbourhood planning. It is for them to decide whether that is through the creation of more parish councils under the review procedures that exist or through the other means that exist. This is a very important issue. It is not going to help the Bill if we simply end up with not many more people engaged with the process.
My Lords, I have only a few brief remarks to make on this amendment. To go back again to my own ward, in Crofton Park, we have a neighbourhood forum and are tempted to set up a neighbourhood plan. We are one of the places in London that is trying to do this. It is a difficult process, but I certainly see the value of it. My fellow councillors and I, along with community members, are working towards that. We hope to get it approved and to put it to a referendum among local residents.
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, is right: there is only one parish council in London, and it is the Queen’s Park parish council in Westminster. It was set up in 2014 after a referendum, and it is based on the Queen’s Park ward of Westminster City Council, which is a Labour-held ward—there are not that many Labour-held wards in Westminster—but it is non-political. I do not think that parties contested the election there, so it very non-political, and by all accounts it works very well and is a very good thing.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was right in what he said about parish councils and neighbourhood plans. They are largely in more rural areas. I know the east Midlands well, and I have come across the Deeping St James Parish Council in Lincolnshire very close to Peterborough. I have many colleagues and friends who are involved in that parish council, and it works very well. They certainly look at their rural area and are very conscious of the planning that takes place there. I accept that in many cases it is as the noble Lord described.
The only issue I have with the amendment is that this is a new duty for local government and perhaps funding should be addressed as well. Perhaps the Minister will address that when he replies.
My Lords, I thank the many noble Lords who have participated in the debate on this amendment. Before I turn to the specific amendment, I shall make some introductory remarks which I hope will set the matter in its context.
Community members have said that a local planning authority’s input and attitude can make a significant difference to neighbourhood planning progress. We have also heard during our discussion of the importance of neighbourhood planning groups being able to access technical advice and support and financial support. All parts of the committee have spoken of the importance of ensuring that we promote neighbourhood planning, which is something to which all parties are committed. I am sure that that will make a difference. It is clearly beginning to make a difference, although I accept there is much ground still to cover.
I shall say a little about the advice available through the Government’s support programme for communities preparing a neighbourhood plan before we turn to the specific role of local planning authorities. The Government’s £22.5 million support programme has been accessed by communities across the country and has made more than 1,800 payments since it was launched in March 2015. The support available now is very different from that which may have been available to some of the early pioneers of neighbourhood planning. All those wanting to prepare a neighbourhood plan can apply for grant of up to £9,000 to help them do so. Those that fall into certain priority groups can apply for up to a further £6,000. I am not sure that that is widely known. I think there is work to be done to make sure that it is more widely known.
We have reflected on the experiences of early pioneers and responded to new challenges that groups have faced. For instance, specific toolkits and technical support are now available to help groups establish neighbourhood forums in unparished areas, which are usually urban areas, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, to assist with assessing local housing needs and to support those wishing to allocate sites for development. Any group wishing to modify its existing neighbourhood plan can also apply for support in the same way as any other group can on initially setting up. I applaud the work being done by those who are setting up neighbourhood forums or parish councils. Although there is only one parish council in London, there are neighbourhood forums in London and many work across boroughs, such as the Kilburn Neighbourhood Plan Forum which works across the boroughs of Brent and Camden on specific projects.
The Government have also established a national network of 132 neighbourhood planning champions. These volunteers are drawn from local planning authorities and neighbourhood groups and provide advocacy and peer-to-peer support. We are continuing to support them across England through further training and local networking events. Last year, the Government launched a national advertising campaign to promote take-up of neighbourhood planning, targeting 81 local authority areas through adverts in local press, local radio, online and on-street posters. I shall endeavour to provide more information on that. Perhaps it can be disseminated to particular councils that noble Lords will be familiar with so that we can share some of this information more widely because that would be appropriate.
If I have not said this already, and I do not think I have, I will write again. The letter regarding the first day of Committee is in the process of being finalised, and I would like to write another one to pick up points that I do not cover or fully cover in the course of today’s debate. So once again there will be a write-round.
I turn specifically to Amendment 16. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and others who have contributed to the debate. This is an important area. Already, communities in over 70% of local planning authority areas have taken up the opportunities offered by neighbourhood planning, but I fully acknowledge that that does not capture the fact that there are massive gaps. In other words, there are groups throughout the country but it needs to permeate much more widely. There is much more to do, as noble Lords have rightly said.
Local planning authorities have a legal duty to give such advice or assistance as they consider appropriate to facilitate neighbourhood planning. As set out on Tuesday in response to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, these duties are funded by my department under the new burdens doctrine. I can confirm that that funding will continue into the next financial year, and the amount of that will be released ahead of the new financial year so details of it will follow.
Planning guidance sets out the Government’s expectation for local planning authorities to take a proactive and positive approach, working collaboratively with those preparing a neighbourhood plan to ensure that neighbourhood plan proposals have the greatest chance of success. Building on this, Clause 5 requires authorities to set out in their statements of community involvement their policies for providing support to their communities. That requirement applies irrespective of whether there is any existing neighbourhood planning activity in the area and will bring transparency to the support that authorities provide, leading to more informed and equitable discussions.
The Government have set out, in the document entitled Further Information on How the Government Intends to use the Bill’s Delegated Powers, our intention to require statements to be reviewed at least every five years. While it will be for authorities themselves to decide whether the document should be revised, should an authority consider change unnecessary then it must publish its reasons why they are not updating the statement. The Government have also tabled an amendment to the Bill that would allow the Secretary of State to specify by regulations the content of those statements, and I think we are coming to those later.
Local planning authorities are also required to publish a map setting the designated neighbourhood areas in their authority area. Regulations also require authorities to publicise on their website, and by other means, when they designate a neighbourhood area or a forum, together with the progress of individual neighbourhood plans or neighbourhood development orders.
I turn to the part of the noble Lord’s amendment concerning community governance reviews, which are the reviews undertaken to decide whether new parish councils should be established. The Government have already taken steps to make it simpler for neighbourhood forums to request that new parish councils are created for their communities, and have supported communities up and down the country to set up new parishes through a £1 million investment over the past three years.
I can therefore reassure noble Lords that current requirements alongside measures in the Bill, together with government amendments that we have tabled, proactively promote neighbourhood planning and, as I have said, that we are seeking to publicise the benefits of neighbourhood planning.
I would like to cover some of the points that were made by noble Lords, if I can pick up those that I am in a position to answer. Those that I cannot, I will identify and write on later. We understand that around 90% of neighbourhood plans are in parish areas, a point that I think was made.
I was asked about the number of communities that have neighbourhood planning. I can say that over 2,000 communities in England have at least started the process of neighbourhood planning. If I am able to give a more detailed breakdown on that, I will do so when I write.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, raised the specific issue of the need occasionally, or perhaps more than occasionally, to change the boundaries of parishes that may be quite historic, and it may therefore be appropriate if that is revisited at times. At the heart of the neighbourhood planning process is the principle that it is for communities to decide what they plan for. Therefore the boundary of a neighbourhood area does not need to comply with administrative boundaries, and neighbourhoods can bring plans forward.
Specifically on changes to neighbourhood areas, I direct the noble Lord to Clause 4, which sets out some of the procedure. I appreciate that he was aiming more widely—in the sense of how to tackle the problem—but the procedure is covered by Clause 4. If there is anything else I can pick up on that in the write-round, I will do so.
The noble Lords, Lord Tope, Lord Horam and—I think—Lord Shipley, also raised the issue of how we tackle London specifically, and perhaps it relates to a wider area. I will consider that. There are quite a few neighbourhood forums in London, but no parish councils. I accept that, and I will see whether there is anything that we can usefully contribute on that.
I think that those are the main issues that were raised. If I have missed anything I will pick it up in correspondence. We take this issue seriously, and I will seek to address in correspondence some of the specific points raised in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in introducing this valuable amendment. With that reassurance, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for the positive and constructive way in which he responded to this amendment. It gives some hope that the Government might, in addition to letting us know what they are doing, put a bit more oomph behind this process. Before I comment on the Minister’s response, I have one or two comments for other noble Lords—and I thank all noble Lords who took part.
My noble friend Lord Taylor of Goss Moor talked about changing parish boundaries. Since responsibility for local governance review passed to the local authority and no longer requires the heavy-handed involvement of the Boundary Commission—I am not sure when it was—the process has been quite easy. If a local authority wants to review parish boundaries it can do so through the local governance review, which sets out exactly how it should take place. It can do it for the whole authority area or for just one or two parishes—to tackle a particular problem, such as the one my noble friend mentioned. It does not, therefore, need a new process, just for the local authority—in this case presumably Cornwall unitary council—to agree to do it.
The noble Lord, Lord Horam, reminded me of the only time I have been to Orpington. It was an extremely long time ago, and the first time I ever knocked on a door was on behalf of a Liberal candidate: Eric Lubbock, in the by-election of 1962. Before his sad death last year he was, of course, for many years, Lord Avebury. I remember it well. I would not claim to be an expert on Orpington but I would have thought that Orpington and perhaps some other communities there, such as Biggin Hill—where I remember traipsing around on unmade roads—would be an ideal place for a parish council. It ought to happen.
I am a member of an authority and was heavily involved in setting up area committees about 20 years ago. It is important for area committees on a local authority to be given real powers and not just be talking shops. We have had area committees with real powers. In fact the political job I most enjoyed in my life was chairing the Colne and District area committee for a number of years—again, quite a long time ago.
My noble friend Lord Tope said that we knew what neighbourhoods were but drawing boundaries was always extremely difficult. I think people bring that up as an excuse for not doing it. Drawing boundaries is not difficult if you know what community you want to define, and its core. Then you have to find a way to draw the boundaries with the consent of the people who live on and around them. It is usually quite possible. People know the part of the borough, or whatever, that they live in and, if they do not, a sensible decision has to be made. However, in most cases, drawing boundaries is not difficult.
The important, and more difficult, job is deciding what the core community is to start off with. Sometimes it is the local authority ward. If the local authority ward has been long established—I was about to say “and has been there a long time”, which would be tautologous—because of the activity that has taken place on a ward boundary basis and because that is what the councillors represent, then those boundaries, which initially were pretty arbitrary, take on meaning over the years. That is the case with some of the new authorities that were set up in 1974. In some cases, wards are perfectly reasonable places but, again, it is a question of judgment. In other places where the wards have recently been redrawn, that has resulted in complete nonsense for neighbourhood and community purposes, and things have to be done differently.
I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for having called him the wrong name. I am a northerner and all these Londoners sound the same to me, so there we are. He talked about the new duties for local authorities. I would say that the sorts of things set out here are things that the principal authorities—the borough, district or unitary authorities —should already be doing. I do not think that they are terribly onerous, although as a principle I very much take the point that he keeps making.
I am very grateful to the Minister. He said that much of the amendment and much of what I said concerns the local planning authority’s input and attitude. I was very grateful to him for setting out the position statement on behalf of the Government. I think that the Government are very positive on neighbourhood planning. As someone who has spent more time than I would have liked looking at all the stuff about neighbourhood planning on the web, I can say that it is very good. The Government are doing a good job in helping people who want to get to grips with this process. I do not always say that the Government are doing a good job but in this case I think they, and indeed their advisers, are doing a very good job in providing information and support of that nature.
What I am really saying is that more active promotion is needed at local authority level. It is no coincidence that the big urban areas have very few parish or town councils. One or two have them for historic reasons but in most cases the metropolitan districts, London and other big urban councils have very few, and that is because there is a lack of interest and a lack of will on the part of the members and officers of those councils. That is where change is needed and that is the purpose of the amendment—to persuade the members and officers of these big councils that having parish and, where appropriate, town councils in their areas would assist in the processes of local democracy and in the delivery of local services.
Having said all that, I am very grateful to the Minister for what he said and I look forward to receiving his letters. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 16 withdrawn.
Clause 6: Content of development plan documents
17: Clause 6, page 5, line 27, at end insert—
“(1CA) The development plan documents must contain references to—(a) a threshold for social and affordable housing in the area;(b) the impact of the proposals in the documents on energy efficiency in dwellings and infrastructure in the local area;(c) flood protection for the local area;(d) the impact of the proposals in the documents on air quality in the area; and(e) the provision of green spaces and public leisure areas.”
My Lords, I refer again to my interests as a Newcastle city councillor and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. My noble friend Lord Kennedy referred to Queens Park. Perhaps I should declare an interest, given what their Rangers did to my team last night. However, I do so not to wish Queens Park Rangers well.
Turning to this group, Amendment 17 stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Kennedy and the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege; Amendment 18 is in my name and that of my noble friend; and Amendment 17A is in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay of Llandaff and Lady Watkins, who do not seem to be in their places, although I assume that somebody will speak on their behalf.
The amendments in this group flesh out the Bill’s prescription of matters that must be included in development plan documents. Amendment 17 includes five substantive issues that ought to be addressed, and on which current government policy is either non-existent or inadequate. The first relates to the provision of social and affordable housing. As noble Lords are aware, affordability appears to be a pretty elastic concept for the present Administration, exemplified by the definition of affordability in relation to rented housing, as 80% of private sector levels, and the definition of starter homes for purchase, as up to more than £500,000 in London. A much more realistic approach is required, but the principle should at least be explicitly acknowledged in development plans, which should, as exemplified in the other areas covered in the amendment, be designed to provide not just “development” but communities.
Despite President Trump’s refusals to acknowledge them, energy efficiency and flood protection issues are increasingly important areas of concern given the growing evidence of the damage that climate change engenders. So is air quality, as underlined by the recent appalling revelations of schoolchildren suffering from the effects of vehicle emissions while they are at school, just a couple of miles away from where we are today—my noble friend Lord Kennedy referred to that issue. Clearly, the provision of green spaces and public leisure spaces should help in this context, as well as being an obvious requirement for any development, new or old.
Noble Lords will no doubt recall the famous picture of David Cameron and the husky in his green days, proclaiming that a Conservative Government would be the greenest Government ever. Well, he shot the husky—metaphorically speaking—and the green agenda became, in his less than elegant phrase, “green crap”. Now is the opportunity for the Government to return to that agenda and, in particular, to ensure that it is embodied in this Bill.
Amendment 18 seeks to ensure the provision of a minimum number of dwellings in any development plan, after consultation locally. In that context, it will be important for locality not to be confined to the area where development might take place, and to ensure that the need for housing in the wider local area is taken into account. The experience of Stevenage, hemmed in by its surrounding county and district areas and without developable land of its own, should not be repeated.
The amendments do not include reference to an issue that I have repeatedly raised; namely space standards, which my noble friend touched on. As noble Lords will recall, in recent years, space standards have fallen substantially below those in Europe. Perhaps when moving his amendment concerning guidance on the housing needs of the elderly and the disabled, which we very much welcome, the Minister could indicate whether this too could be included alongside those matters.
Clearly, we endorse the suggestion in Amendment 17A that the education, health and well-being needs of the population are also reflected in the development plans. I beg to move.
Amendment 17A (to Amendment 17)
17A: Clause 6, after paragraph (e) insert—
“(f) the education, health and well-being needs of the population.”
My Lords, in the absence of the noble Baronesses, perhaps I can speak to the amendment. This is completely spontaneous, but I feel quite strongly about it. The issue is one that surfaced very conspicuously in the Select Committee on the Built Environment; that is, the absolute necessity of planning places that essentially support and nurture the health and well-being of the whole community. Plans must explicitly include designs for such spaces, rather than spaces that, at their very worst, encourage criminal activity because they are small and narrow and do not allow for sufficient activity. It is very interesting that Milton Keynes, in its 50th year, has been praised for the quality of its environment and its particular ability to promote well-being through its green spaces. We can all agree that education and health are part of the fundamental infrastructure of our communities. Good schools, good health services and good health opportunities are part of what makes a community successful. I will leave it at that. The amendment deserves a longer debate, but in the absence of the noble Baronesses, I want to put my comments on the record.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for tabling Amendment 19, which lies in this group and derives from a lengthy debate in the other place. It seems extremely important to address specifically the housing needs that result from old age or disability, so I hope that the amendment will secure support. Regarding the other amendments in this group, a number of these issues are very important and will be debated elsewhere in our consideration of the Bill in Committee. But some of them will also depend on what is actually said in the housing White Paper, which will be published at the beginning of next week. In that sense, we have to reserve our positions with a view to waiting for Report.
My Lords, my name is attached to that of the noble Lords, Lord Beecham and Lord Kennedy of Southwark, on Amendment 17. It is quite right that we should set our priorities in these documents so that the community knows exactly what is in our minds. Its provisions as set out in paragraphs (a) to (e) are really important.
First, Amendment 17 refers to affordable housing. In an earlier debate I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Tope, who said something quite true: that very often the conversion to offices does not allow for affordable housing. Some of the units being built really do not accommodate family-sized residences for people who want to live there, so affordable housing is critical.
Secondly, the amendment refers to,
“energy efficiency in dwellings and infrastructure”,
and we certainly want warm homes. Since I first got involved in planning, the building regulations have become very interesting. We built an office near to us and found the other day that the amount of insulation and everything that we have to put into it because of building regulations was really encouraging. We need to ensure that that continues.
Thirdly, the amendment refers to,
“flood protection for the local area”.
We sit between two towns. They were both seriously flooded and that caused anguish to those involved, so that is really important. More than that, when we design the sites and think about where housing will go, flooding really must be a consideration because to build on the flood plain is a disaster, as we have seen in these two towns. We should avoid it.
Lastly, the amendment refers to,
“green spaces and public leisure areas”.
In towns and cities, the green spaces are very often described as the lungs within an area. They allow people to breathe. I think of children desperate to get out of their houses and kick a football around or play, or do whatever they want. That also applies to young people and people of a certain age. It seems important that they also have that opportunity, so I strongly support this amendment.
I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Bourne, who really has listened carefully to what people have said to him. I very much welcome his Amendment 19. I also thank very much the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for coming in on the spur of the moment to move Amendment 17A for the two noble Baronesses who are unable to be here. She is absolutely right that we need to ensure that what we build is healthy and will improve the quality of life for the people in those areas. It is important that we see the thing in the whole, not just bricks and mortar. I very much support these amendments.
I would quite like to speak to the other amendments, if I may, and welcome the Minister in the name of my noble friend. What we are looking at in these amendments is something rather more radical than somebody tacking on to the development plans some fundamental issues such as housing affordability and so on. It invites us to revisit the local development plans. The point about the elements that have been identified, including flood protection, which is more and more of an issue, is that they are exactly the elements that should inform and drive the shape of the local development plan. They are not accidental outcomes—they should be shaping the quality and priorities and the relationship between the local development plan and the local economic plan, led by the LEP. So those additions, as identified, would give us a better opportunity to imagine the sort of communities that we want and give us proper inputs to create a more robust as well as more creative local development plan, which at the moment is very remote from most people. So the only people who tend to get involved in this protracted and complicated process tend to be those who already know the process and have something specific that they want to say.
I turn to Amendment 19 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, to say how much I welcome it and say a few more things, if the Committee will bear with me. This is a really important step forward, but I have some concerns about it, which I want to raise with the Minister. I may be wrong, and I would be happy to be corrected, but this is the first time when the challenges of ageing in terms of housing needs for elderly and disabled people have been recognised in primary legislation. Many of us have been working to that end for quite some years, and seeing it in this Bill is extremely welcome. I look forward very much to following it through with the noble Lord. I would be interested to know why it is felt to be the right move at this time.
My concern is whether it will meet the challenges of an ageing society. I am anticipating much of what the Minister may say, I suspect, but my caveats start here. One of the most predictable things in policy-making is demography; we have known about the demography of the ageing society for 30 or 40 years and known about the impacts. What we have done essentially is to fail to plan for it, because it is in the “too difficult” box—and now it has caught up with us and it is pretty monstrous. We were told in evidence to our Select Committee on the National Policy for the Built Environment that in 20 years’ time, by 2037,
“the number aged between 70 and 80 will grow from 4.5 million to 7.5 million”.
That is another 3 million elderly people. This winter we have seen just in the past three or four months the impact of winter on A&E and the health service in general, and it is clear to me and to many others that we have a model for funding and organisation of the health service that is unsustainable.
The resources that we have, and the conversations that must lead to action, are the ones for housing. What we are debating here is essentially not about housing but about the front line of the health service, and how and where and under what conditions elderly and disabled people live is becoming a prime order question for healthcare and social care policy and not just about finding a housing solution. In another context, we know that 60% of total household growth in England up to 2033 is expected to come from households headed by someone aged 65 or over, and many of them will have disabilities that come with age. Most people want to age in place and live and die at home—and that is part of the responsibility of government. Only 2% of the country’s housing stock is in retirement housing.
In addition, the amendment reflects the responsibility that the Government feel that they have to provide for children, as well as adults with disability; it recognises those needs. But it is really beyond time. We were told in our Select Committee—I keep quoting it; I am conscious of that—that,
“only 4% of the current housing stock met basic accessibility criteria”.
That is a shockingly low figure.
In the context of the amendment and what I have just said, does the guidance recognise that changes are required not only in the amount of specific and specialised accommodation across the range of healthcare and housing needs for elderly people, but also in relation to the need to plan for the housing of elderly people as a whole in housing supply policy? I would argue that we are not providing niche market housing. We should be planning as a whole for an elderly and ageing society. That is the only way to build in foresight and anticipate the needs of the future, and it is the only way to create a national housing policy.
Can the Minister therefore ensure that the guidance that he is planning will make explicit the economic and social argument across health and social care? Local authorities have to know that this is an urgent need, but that it would also help them to hit their other policy objectives. They need to know that it is not only economically efficient but also socially efficient, in terms of health and social care. Frankly, if I were in charge of all this, I would prioritise the handyman services, so that you could get the adaptations—in the homes that need them—that keep people out of hospital or get them home more safely and quickly.
Will he also recommend—and this is in the guidance—that all new homes are built to lifetime home standards, so that everyone has the chance to stay where they are? We were working, in 2008, towards a mandatory standard. I understand the political changes that have driven a more deregulatory agenda, but we now have optional standards. However, since 2004 places such as London have adopted a universal lifetime home standard that has been extremely successful. It is compulsory and has led to a significant increase in provision, and there seems to be no evidence that it is a deterrent because of extra costs.
My second set of questions—I will try to be brief—is also about the context of this amendment. In relation to the NPPF and local development and neighbourhood plans, I feel that this is putting the cart before the horse. Although the cart is very welcome, I would like to see the horse involved. My fundamental question is whether we can count on this planning guidance to achieve the changes that we need in what local authorities are going to plan for and secure. Current planning policy requires authorities to plan for housing for older people. McCarthy and Stone—with which the Minister will be familiar, and one of the biggest builders of retirement housing in the country—told a CLG Select Committee on housing in 2014 that 65% of planning applications for buildings for older people are rejected first time round by councils, and went on to say that measures around the need for local authorities to plan for demographic change were neither clear enough nor likely to be powerfully enforced in their current form.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Best, is not in his place because he has been a great inspiration behind this. We put forward a recommendation by the All-Party Group on Housing and Care some time ago—I think it would be welcomed by local authorities and providers—that the NPPF itself be strengthened and made clearer in relation to planning for an ageing society. That would be wise, because the references in the NPPF are rather vague and insubstantial. It says, in paragraphs 50 and 159, that local planning authorities should,
“plan for a mix of housing based on current and future demographic trends, market trends and the needs of different groups in the community (such as, but not limited to, families with children, older people, people with disabilities, service families and people wishing to build their own homes)”.
I do not think that that is enough in the light of what we are facing and need to do. The Minister has an opportunity to do it because the NPPF is under review. Can he tell us whether the issue has surfaced in the review and the consultations; whether the DCLG is looking at strengthening those sections of the NPPF; and, if not, whether he will commit to looking at how it might be done? There will be no better opportunity.
I have a final comment on the next stage, the local development plan. In relation to the earlier amendments and the identification of things that might go into local development plans, which I support, the point is that this is guidance. It would be entirely logical for it to be in the development plan, so that the guidance had some attachments to it: for example, to set ambitions for lifetime homes. Would the Minister be prepared to meet me, with his officials, to talk about whether this is a possibility and how it might be done?
Turning to the guidance, I have some specific questions. Can the Minister give me some examples of the tone and nature of the guidance, and the degree of detail that we might expect? For example, would he include guidance on how best local authorities might assess our present and future needs, and the range of those needs? Will there be a specific requirement to plan within the housing supply targets at local and neighbourhood level? Will there be specific guidance on how to assess the financial viability of, and benefits from, investments in lifetime homes standards? Where will local authorities go to get the best advice? Will there be advice on how best to link planning with social care and health, and achieve genuine collaboration on setting targets? What provision will there be for consultation with older people about getting a home that they say is the right size for them—usually a smaller home—since “right sizing” is a better term than “downsizing”? Will the Minister ensure that the guidance goes to those dealing with both local and neighbourhood planning? And how will he ensure that this guidance is followed and implemented, which is the only question that really counts? Will he take advice from agencies such as Age Concern, as well as from Habinteg, FirstStop, Berkeley homes and McCarthy & Stone? There are lots of people who know about how to deliver this properly.
I have gone on quite long enough and I think that the Minister will get the message. I look forward very much to seeing the guidance, and I wonder when we will have it. I presume that in the housing White Paper, which we are looking forward to so much and on which the Minister has already given many hostages to fortune, we will have something on this as well.
My Lords, I too want to speak in support of Amendment 19, which I welcome enthusiastically for two reasons. First, I believe that it signals important progress for the Government to propose their own amendment specifying that the Secretary of State must issue guidance which requires local planning authorities to,
“address housing needs that result from old age or disability”.
This is surely common sense. On the one hand, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, has already argued very persuasively, demographics show that we are an increasingly ageing society. On the other hand, thanks to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and subsequent disability rights legislation passed by your Lordships’ House, disabled people increasingly, and rightly, want and expect to be able to live independently. The supply of more accessible housing is essential to them realising that goal.
Therefore, it makes sense to plan for the future now, in the present. This amendment simply reflects that reality. However, in my view, it does more than that, which is my second reason for welcoming it. It also has real symbolic—even radical, as the noble Baroness said—significance because it underlines the importance of inclusion not just on paper but in practice and, crucially, on an anticipatory basis.
Noble Lords may know that I recently supported Amendment 173 to the Policing and Crime Bill precisely because I saw it as an ideal opportunity to uphold the anticipatory nature of the duty to make reasonable adjustments enshrined in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. That amendment related to ensuring that disabled people could access licensed premises. As noble Lords will know, that amendment was rejected, but the Government’s amendment to this Bill gives me hope that some Ministers none the less recognise the importance of anticipating the need for accessible environments—in this case, in housing—and, crucially, ensuring that they are actually provided. I thank my noble friend and the Minister in the other place, Gavin Barwell, for their commendable combination of pragmatism and practicality in drafting the amendment and for listening to Heidi Allen, who has done brilliant work on this issue in the other place.
I very much hope that the Secretary of State will involve disabled and older people’s organisations closely in both initial development and regular reviews of the guidance for local planning authorities. I also hope that other departments may follow the example of anticipatory action which the amendment sets.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in the debate on this group of amendments. Before I turn to non-government Amendments 17 and 17A, perhaps I may highlight some important issues which deliver clear social and environmental benefits. They are important matters that should be addressed through a plan-led system.
Clause 6 puts beyond doubt the Government’s commitment to a plan-led system: a system where all local planning authorities have development plan documents in place to ensure that sufficient land is allocated for housing in the right places to meet needs, with roads and other vital amenities required by communities. At Second Reading, several Peers raised the frustration that many communities face when their local planning authority has not put its own local plan in place, or the policies in the plan are out of date. The Bill makes clear the Government’s expectation that all local planning authorities must have up-to-date plans to deal with those issues.
However, as my honourable friend Gavin Barwell, the Minister for Housing and Planning, outlined during discussion in the other place, as long as authorities have policies to address their strategic housing and other priorities, we want them to have more freedom in the type of plan that is most appropriate for their area. The Government have put local and neighbourhood plans at the heart of the planning system. We put local authorities and communities at the forefront of shaping a vision for their areas and deciding how to meet their development needs. The existing regime reflects the understanding that local planning authorities, together with local communities, are best placed to set out future development for their local area.
I turn to non-government Amendments 17 and 17A. As the Minister for Housing and Planning stated in the other place, we need to guard against attempts to duplicate matters which are already addressed in national planning policy. Perhaps I may also address a couple of slightly extraneous points made by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. I assure him that we are certainly not following any of President Trump’s policies. On climate change, which was specifically raised, although it is not central to this legislation, I reassure him that there is a very strong bipartisan approach which I pursued with the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. We fulfilled our international commitments by signing the climate change treaty—I know because I was there—and very much follow the policy set out in the Climate Change Act 2008, passed by the then Labour Government, of setting carbon budgets.
I move now to the specific points addressed in these amendments. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for moving Amendment 17A on behalf of the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Watkins, who I know feel strongly about these issues, and enabling it to be part of the debate.
The matters addressed in these amendments relate to affordable and social housing, energy, flooding, air quality, green spaces, education, health and well-being. All are clearly addressed through the National Planning Policy Framework. I do not propose to read out all the parts of the framework that cover each issue. However, for example, paragraphs 99 to 104 of the framework require local authorities to shape and direct development to protect people and property from flooding, including through strategic flood risk assessments. Furthermore, paragraphs 120 to 124 require local authorities to safeguard people from unacceptable pollution risks; paragraphs 73 to 74 and 76 to 77 deal with the need for local authorities to provide green spaces and public leisure areas; and paragraphs 69 to 78 set out how local authorities should use the planning system to create healthy, inclusive communities. Noble Lords will be aware that legislation already protects land registered as common land areas.
Local authorities are already required by law to have regard to national planning policy and guidance when preparing their local plans. At examination, the extent to which a draft plan accords with national planning policy is one of the matters that the examining planning inspector will check. The planning regime is already set up to ensure that local authorities have regard to such important matters as those raised in this amendment.
There is no doubt about the importance of the issues raised, all of which help to create attractive and sustainable places. However, specifying them afresh in the Bill would lead to unnecessary duplication and prescription. I therefore do not believe that Amendments 17 and 17A are necessary. They would also limit the freedom for local authorities to choose the type of plan that is appropriate for their area, contrary to the intention of Clause 6.
I turn to Amendment 18, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. I fully recognise the importance of ensuring not only that housing is delivered but that the appropriate number of dwellings for an area is agreed at a local level. As noble Lords will be aware, housing is a key priority of the Government and we are clear that we must build more of the right homes, in the right places. To achieve this, it is essential that local planning authorities have an up-to-date plan in place which identifies, as far as possible, the housing needs of their local area. This provides the certainty communities deserve as to the number and location of new homes that will be built.
The very same concerns I expressed on the previous amendments apply here. This issue is addressed more than adequately in paragraph 47 of the National Planning Policy Framework. Local planning authorities must identify and plan to meet, as far as possible, the market and affordable housing needs of their area. Failure to include this information in a local plan may lead to the plan being found to be unsound at inspection stage. We are clear that local communities must be consulted during the plan-making process, in accordance with both legislative requirements and the local authority’s statement of community involvement. Additionally, neighbourhood plans offer a further opportunity for local communities to become involved in planning for the development needs of their area. Alongside this, the Bill includes further measures to ensure that communities are involved from the outset in wider plan-making activity in their area.
In short, I understand the concern that some local planning authorities currently have no local plan, while others do not have up-to-date plans in place. This has a negative impact on the allocation of development sites. However, measures introduced in the Bill will ensure that, in the future, plans are put in place more quickly. Clause 6 will ensure that local planning authorities set out their strategic priorities, including housing.
On government Amendment 19, I thank noble Lords for their warm welcome of this provision. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, I, too, believe that this is the first time that it has been recognised in this way in legislation. To echo what my noble friend Lord Shinkwin said, it is of great symbolic importance as well as practical effect. It sends out a powerful message, just as the Disability Discrimination Act did in 1995. I am proud of the role of my party and other parties in securing that legislation.
The important issue of the housing needs of older and disabled people was raised in the other place, particularly through my honourable friend Heidi Allen. I appreciate that the devil will be in some of the detail and we would not expect all the detail to be in the legislation, but I am certainly happy to meet the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross—she is not in her place, but she has been very interested in this legislation and has vast experience through Age Concern—and other noble Lords to see how we can take this forward in a meaningful way. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, will also have a valuable contribution to make. It is important that we secure sensible legislation and sensible policy moving forward, as I am sure we can.
I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, that there is provision for this in the National Planning Policy Framework, which we will look at. Also—another hostage to fortune—I think that there will be something in the White Paper to enable us to discuss it more fully. I am keen to ensure that, having made this commitment, we get it right. We have to deal with many challenges. Indeed, it is part of the wider issue across government of health and social care. The impact of an ageing population affects probably every government department that you can think of—it applies to DCMS, the Department for Education and other areas—so there is something to be done across government, which I hope we can take on board as well. As a bonus, the aim is to do something for this part of the community. It is important that we do that but it should have the effect of freeing up some housing that this group is in. That, too, is to be welcomed. As I say, I thank noble Lords for their welcome of the amendment.
More specifically, there is already a structure in place that recognises these needs. We have mechanisms through local authorities, the National Planning Policy Framework and building regulations. We need to build on those. The Government have listened carefully to the concerns that have been expressed by many Members in the Commons and the Lords, across parties, about these issues.
Understandably, specific questions were raised. I will try to pick up some of those details in responding by letter. I hope that I have given a broad view of where we are going, but I am, as I say, happy to engage with noble Lords on the more detailed approach as we take the policy forward. With that, I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.
Amendment 17A (as an amendment to Amendment 17) withdrawn.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, my noble friend Lady Andrews and the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin. My noble friend Lady Andrews touched on the issue of the necessary provision of suitable accommodation for the elderly. That resonated strongly with me. Just in these last few days, I have been contacted by a tearful lady whose elderly mother is living in two-bedroom accommodation—a house rather than a bungalow—where she is effectively confined to the ground floor. Alas, the poor lady is incontinent and is finding it almost impossible to manage in that accommodation. She is applying to be rehoused, but we have very few alternatives to her present accommodation. Over time, we have not provided nationally for this kind of problem, which unfortunately will grow, as she has made clear.
The Minister, in reply, suggested that everything we have discussed today is already included in legislation covering different aspects of planning and development, but Clause 6 specifically concerns the content of development plan documents, and it seems sensible to bring together the various strands in one place. He is gilding the lily somewhat when he speaks as though everything is being done to secure proper guidance in relation to the matters raised in the amendments and our discussion, notably energy efficiency and climate change. To be fair, I am not sure whether it was the present Government or the coalition Government who reduced the standards. Whatever the standards are, they ought to be part of a development plan so that everybody can grasp what is required of such a plan, be they developers or those in the community anxious to see proper development in their area.
I do not want to sound unnecessarily critical of the Government in this matter, because they are moving broadly in the right direction, but I regret that we cannot have the whole picture reflected in what should be an important development in planning policy. However, in the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 17 withdrawn.
Amendment 18 not moved.
19: Clause 6, page 5, line 39, at end insert—
“( ) In section 34 of that Act (guidance)—(a) the existing words become subsection (1), and(b) after that subsection insert—“(2) The Secretary of State must issue guidance for local planning authorities on how their local development documents (taken as a whole) should address housing needs that result from old age or disability.””
Amendment 19 agreed.
Clause 6, as amended, agreed.
Amendment 20 not moved.
Debate on whether Clause 7 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I gave notice of my intention to oppose Clause 7 standing part of the Bill, which is grouped with my intention to oppose Clause 8, and I will speak to them both fairly briefly.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for signing up to my opposition to Clause 7 standing part of the Bill. When you read the clause, it is extraordinary to find it in a Bill entitled the Neighbourhood Planning Bill. There is nothing localist about it: nothing for local communities or planning authorities to decide, it just assumes powers for the Secretary of State to give directions. Perhaps it should not be here, or perhaps the Bill’s title is incorrect, but it is odd that it is in a Bill called the Neighbourhood Planning Bill. On the one hand, the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, says that the Government support localism and neighbourhood planning and they want local people and local councils to decide. On the other, we have the Government taking all sorts of new powers to instruct local authorities, councils and councillors.
Having said that, the most outrageous thing in the Bill is Clause 38, which we shall get to next week. That is something else. The first sentence of Clause 38 reads:
“The Secretary of State may by regulations make such provision as the Secretary of State considers appropriate in consequence of any provision of this Act”.
That is localism in one sentence, is it not? But we will deal with that next week and, I am sure, again at Report.
I move on to Clause 8, which I again oppose, and am grateful to the noble Lords who have signed up against it. Again, it is bizarre. Where we have two-tier areas—a county council and a series of district councils—I do not think that there is any detailed planning expertise at county level, so it is odd to take a power to allow counties to take on those powers. Will the county then have to buy in those services, set up its own planning departments or commission the district council to do the work? That seems bizarre. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My Lords, very often when we discuss a clause not standing part of a Bill, it is an opportunity to discuss broader matters and the whole of the clause. I am concerned about this clause because it gives me vibes that the Secretary of State wants to micromanage some local planning issues. I would like to understand the intentions behind this lengthy clause and the Minister to explain whether it furthers the cause of devolution of planning powers.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy: this is the Neighbourhood Planning Bill and yet that is not mentioned in all these clauses. Having been a Minister, I know that it is often extremely hard to get some policies that you feel keen about in the department into a Bill. I wonder whether this clause contains all kinds of policies that the department really wants to get legislated and that this is a hook to hang it on. I hope that that suspicion will be negated by my noble friend.
I am worried that the words “direction” and “direct” run through nearly every sentence and clause of the Bill. That says a lot to me. I have been trying throughout the Bill to separate the powers of the Secretary of State—the overall policy—from the local. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said, this is not about localism but about the Secretary of State having power to intervene in local issues.
I am also suspicious about whether this is a first step towards getting local authorities to merge. I know that we are talking about planning documents, but I wonder whether this is a first step towards merging local planning authorities. In my area, two planning authorities have willingly combined their back office services. That is fine: it works great, saves money and so on, and we, the inhabitants of those areas, are quite content with that. However, we would resist very strongly if two local authorities were forced to merge because the Secretary of State at that time felt that it would be a good thing to do. That should be resisted, and we would resist very strongly.
I wonder about the content of the clause. Even if it is only about getting authorities to prepare joint planning documents if they do not want to do so, is that a good thing to do or is it a first step? To me, bringing about mergers is about diplomacy, not autocracy. I fear that this has elements of autocracy, but I hope my noble friend will put me right. I am very concerned about this.
As to Clause 8—again I may be mistaken because it is a long time since I was involved as a county or district councillor—in my area of East Sussex, the county council has devolved all the local planning it can to district and borough councils. The county council makes decisions on mineral extraction, waste management, schools, libraries and roads but it does not do detailed planning. It seems slightly odd to make it the default authority for local planning if district or borough planners fail to live up to expectations.
The Bill deals in detail with housing, sites, employment and things of that sort which towns and parishes know a lot about. I thought about what police authorities do when they have problems in their local areas. Of course we get problems in local authority areas. The police get another police force from outside the area to look at the problem, as it knows about policing. If we want a system whereby we can bring together authorities and unpack some of the difficulties that they are facing, would it not be better to get a well-regarded local planning authority to come to help? That seems a better choice. I may have misread both these clauses, so I hope the Minister will put me right.
My Lords, I was a county councillor for 20 years and have been a district councillor for eight years, so noble Lords will not be surprised that I shall speak against Clause 8 standing part of the Bill. All local authorities are under extreme pressure following many years of budget cuts, and services are being squeezed. In county councils and unitary authorities, children’s services and adult social care are demanding more and more of their budgets. Are the Government seriously proposing, at this critical time, that county councils should take over the preparation and execution of districts’ local plans?
In Somerset, all districts have local plans in place that followed due process and were adopted. There are, of course, other areas of the country where this is not the case, but beating them over the head with a stick hardly seems the way to bring them into line. Paragraph (b) of new Clause 7B inserted by Schedule 2 refers to upper-tier county councils being invited to prepare or revise the development plan. This gives the impression that if a district council has drawn up a plan with which the county council has some disagreement, it can blithely take it over and amend it to its own ends, regardless of how pertinent and important the plan may be to the inhabitants of the district.
The District Councils’ Network opposes Clause 8 because: county councils do not have the local planning expertise required to discharge this proposed function, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said, which could lead to further delay; the expenditure incurred by county councils in discharging this function could lead to further additional costs, which would adversely impact on the existing planning capacity of district councils; and there is a lack of clarity about who will be legally responsible in the event of a challenge to an adopted local plan if it is approved through this route.
Surely the Government are not looking to burden county councils with this additional work to replicate that which has already been undertaken by district councils. Neither level of local authority is looking for extra work at a time when one is desperately trying to find the money to care for the vulnerable and the other is desperately trying to facilitate the building of much-needed homes in accordance with the Government’s agenda. I look forward to the Minister’s comments.
I have some doubts and concerns about these provisions. How does Clause 7 relate to combined authorities? How does it fit with the devolution proposals if:
“The Secretary of State may direct two or more local planning authorities to prepare a joint development plan document”?
A number of areas are about to elect a mayor and become a combined authority. Within that combined authority, however, there will still be constituent local authorities. How does the provision in Clause 7(2) apply to those areas? Can the Secretary of State direct two or more of the authorities within that area to prepare a joint development plan document, when there is an elected mayor and a whole new structure is being created?
Clause 8, on the county councils’ default powers, states:
“Schedule 2 makes provision for the exercise of”,
“in relation to development plan documents”.
That assumes a straightforward situation of a county and districts, but in at least one controversial area, I think I am correct in saying that a court case is proceeding about the proposals which affect some parts of Nottinghamshire County Council and the Sheffield-led new combined authority. That may not quite be its name but the Minister will understand what I am talking about: the mayoral authority that will encompass Sheffield and adjoining authorities, to which I think two Nottinghamshire districts wish to affiliate for some purposes. They will, however, remain part of the county council for other purposes—unless of course this is seen, as the noble Baroness implies, as a step towards a back-door reorganisation of local government. Some of us have concerns about that.
How would these default powers affect that area, assuming that the mayoral authority is created with these two district councils? I think I may have said Nottinghamshire, but Derbyshire is in fact involved in this, rather than Nottinghamshire. There may be a similar problem in Nottinghamshire. How would those arrangements be affected by the provisions of Clause 8? I quite understand that the Minister may not be able to answer that immediately but, if that is the case, he will no doubt write to me.
My Lords, I shall be very brief but want to ask the Minister four specific questions about Clause 8, which will help us when we come to Report. Clause 8 was a late addition to the Bill; it was not in the initial draft that went to the House of Commons. It would help if the Minister could explain why it was felt necessary to include it.
My first specific question is: can a county refuse to undertake the work and, in that case, what would happen? Secondly, can a county subcontract the work to somebody else, which would presumably include the use of consultants? Thirdly, if it does, how is local knowledge about the district in question going to be guaranteed in constructing the plan? Fourthly, with reference to Schedule 2, it looks to me as though a county can charge a district whatever it likes, so what action do the Government plan to ensure that cost recovery is reasonable?
Before the Minister responds, on the point raised by my noble friend Lord Beecham about difficulties with the Sheffield city region, my understanding is that it is North East Derbyshire District Council and Chesterfield Borough Council in Derbyshire which wish to join. I think that Bassetlaw District Council in Nottinghamshire may also want to join. The legal action is being taken by Derbyshire County Council, which of course partly comprises the north-east Derbyshire and Chesterfield areas. The problem is with three districts in two counties, but one county council has raised the legal action on the points that my noble friend outlined.
I thank noble Lords for the debate on this part of the Bill. I will try to take Clauses 7 and 8 in that order. There were certainly some questions on which I will need to write with fuller answers, but let me first turn in general to Clauses 7 and 8.
These measures contribute to the Government’s objective of ensuring that all local planning authorities across the country have up-to-date development plan documents—the documents that collectively form the local plan. In particular, Clause 8 ensures that there is not a void and that we have a local plan. We would have been heavily criticised if we had left an obvious hole in the system where no one was preparing a development plan, but I will come to that.
The Government are committed to a plan-led system in England. We have put communities at the heart of that system, and I hope that I can leave no doubt in your Lordships’ minds that we want communities to have confidence in a system that takes account of their views, while delivering the growth that the country needs.
I also want to kill one hare that was set running, which I had not heard before. There is no agenda, let alone a secret agenda, for mergers of councils. This legislation is about neighbourhood planning. Until today, nobody had raised with me that this is about a secret agenda to merge authorities. It is not, it is to try to ensure that we have a full pattern of what is needed for the planning of the country. It is important, therefore, that where local planning authorities do not have an up-to-date plan in place, the Government should take action to resolve this situation. We would have been roundly and correctly criticised if we did not have such plans.
I turn first to Clause 7, spoken to ably by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy—I apologise for my short absence during his speech—and my noble friend Lady Cumberlege. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and other noble Lords spoke more widely about this.
We want to encourage collaboration between local planning authorities so that strategic priorities, particularly for housing, across local boundaries are properly co-ordinated and clearly reflected in individual plans. The Local Plans Expert Group which was asked by the Government to examine what measures or reforms might help to ensure the efficient and effective production of plans recommended that more could be done to encourage local planning authorities to work on joint plans. The Government agree with this recommendation, and it forms the basis for the clause.
The idea of joint planning and working collaboratively with neighbours is not new. We know of more than 40 local planning authorities, right across England, that are working on joint plans. There is no agenda about encouraging or, even less, forcing them to merge. My honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning referred during debates in the other place to representatives of Norwich City Council who told him about how they were working with South Norfolk Council and Broadland District Council districts to produce a combined plan across the three districts. We are also seeing joint plans being developed as a result of devolution deals, such as the Greater Manchester spatial framework.
Authorities working jointly with their neighbouring authorities can see that there are benefits to be had. For example, there may be cost reductions to individual authorities through working collaboratively on evidence or through shared examination and legal costs. A joined-up plan-making process, where key decisions are taken together, can also assist local planning authorities to plan for housing.
We know that some areas across the country are having real difficulties in addressing issues that require solutions across geographic boundaries, such as planning for housing need in areas with significant constraints, and collaboration with neighbouring authorities may help to resolve some of those issues.
Clause 7 inserts new Sections 28A to 28C into the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and makes consequential amendments. I wish to emphasise that this power can be exercised only where the Secretary of State considers that it will facilitate more effective planning of the development and use of land in the areas of one or more authorities. During the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, I wrote down a reference that he gave to Clause 7(2)(a), I think. I do not think that there is a Clause 7(2)(a), but if we could discuss it afterwards, I am happy to get a full read-out on it and write to him.
New subsection 28A(5) provides that:
“The Secretary of State must, when giving a direction under this section, notify the local planning authorities to which it applies of the reasons for giving it”.
That is a clear provision which ensures that it can only be used appropriately. Presumably, like other provisions of statute, it will be subject to judicial review which, while it is not something that we want to encourage, is a backstop if people feel that any Secretary of State has got it wrong, as may happen on occasion under any Government.
New subsection 28A(3) states:
“The Secretary of State may give a direction under this section only if the Secretary of State considers that to do so will facilitate the more effective planning of the development and use of land in the area of one or more of the local planning authorities in question”.
So it is to be used sparingly.
The noble Lord asked five questions about Clause 8. The first question was about why it is needed. It is because we need a plan if there is a gap. His second question was about whether the county council is required to do it. No, it is absolutely clear in Schedule 2 that it is an invitation to the county council. The county council does not have to take up the invitation. He raised several other questions including whether county councils can subcontract this. I suspect not, but I will correct that in the letter if I am wrong. He asked how local knowledge is to be guaranteed. That is specifically the reason this is needed. The Government would look to intervene in this way if we believed it was the only remaining lever to ensure that there is a local plan. The alternative would be the Secretary of State intervening directly, which would not be very local. This is an attempt to get the vacuum filled by the most local appropriate authority, otherwise it will not be done. The most desirable outcome is that the district council does it. The whole procedure can be prevented by the district council doing it, and that is exactly what will happen in the vast majority of cases. We would be roundly criticised if we did not have such a provision.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, raised some fair points about the impact of this on combined authorities. Clause 8 supplements existing powers to invite the Mayor of London or a combined authority to prepare a development plan, so it is already in existing legislation for an authority in its area. Again, I will take up that point in more detail, but I think that is the provision.
The essence of this is that it is within the power of district councils to ensure that the powers introduced by the clause are never used. That is what we hope will happen. I am of the view that it would be only in the rarest of circumstances, where there is not a plan in place, that this provision would be needed.
Questions have been fairly raised about the skills and capacities of county councils and whether they can turn down this role. We anticipate that there will be discussions with them about what happens if there is no plan. They are the next nearest directly accountable authorities and have knowledge and understanding of the development needs of the area. They are familiar with the planning process and are already involved as statutory consultees in the local plan’s process, and many work with their district councils on cross-boundary issues.
As I said, we would be rightly and roundly criticised if we did not have these provisions. They are needed in order that we can cover the whole country. They are long-stop provisions which I anticipate will not be much needed. They are only on the basis—particularly in regard to Clause 8—that if there were not such provisions it would mean direct intervention by the Secretary of State and the department, which is not what we want in a neighbourhood planning process.
I am comforted that there are no secret agendas for mergers, and I thank the Minister for his assurance. As to collaboration between authorities, my noble friend told us that 40 authorities have agreed to provide joint plans. Presumably that has been done without the clause in the Bill. Are the plans likely to be more sustainable because the authorities are working willingly together rather than having joint plans imposed on them by the Secretary of State? I take my noble friend’s point that the power will be used sparingly. That sounds wonderful in debates in this House, but when it comes to the actuality, if it is not written in this document, people will have no recourse to come back.
I am disconcerted by the way in which the clause is framed, its extent and the words threaded through it about the Secretary of State making directions and so on. It is not a light touch but a huge amount of interference from the Secretary of State in local matters, and that I resent.
On that specific point, perhaps when the Minister responds he can tell the Committee how the policy has arisen. Where are the examples of the councils that do not have these plans? Why do the Government think it so necessary to take such a wide-ranging power, as the noble Baroness asked? Clearly, there must be some very serious problems that the Government want to address for them to take such wide powers. I would love to be informed about what those are.
The Minister kindly answered three of my four questions. The missing answer was on the right of a county to charge whatever fee it wishes to. It is an important issue and, if he prefers, the Minister can write to me, but in Schedule 2, lines 31 to 40 rather suggest that a county can charge a district whatever it wishes.
I shall take up those points. In response to my noble friend Lady Cumberlege, this power will be used sparingly, and the Secretary of State will have to give reasons. In preparing their joint plan, the authorities concerned can, if they wish, reject the plan—they are not obliged to adopt it. I repeat that there is absolutely no hidden agenda here. As my noble friend correctly said, it is certainly better where joint plans emerge. That is very much the view of the Government and the Secretary of State. We anticipate that that will be the case in the vast majority of circumstances. We know that, occasionally, local authorities do not necessarily have the capacity. There will be cases—even if there are not, we still have to guard against the possibility that there could be—in which the Government will have to have a backstop power in relation to these matters. That is what this is. The Secretary of State has to give reasons. The authorities concerned can turn down those reasons.
In relation to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, I am advised that there is cost recovery for the work done. I hope that answers his question. If I am wrong on that, I will correct it in a letter.
I was asking for information on the councils that are failing in their duties and so require the Government to take on these powers. Perhaps there are no councils in that position and the Government are taking the power preventively— I do not know. If there are, which authorities are they?
I am sure the noble Lord was listening very carefully to what I said. I said that we need backstop powers in case that situation arises. I hope that I did not indicate that there is an existing list of authorities against which we thought we were going to use this measure. It is a backstop power. When the noble Lord’s party was in power, it was responsible. I am sure that he would expect any succeeding Government to be the same and to ensure that these powers exist in case they are needed because an authority is not stepping up to the plate.
That makes it a bit clearer: at the moment, there are no councils against which the Government would need to think about using this power; it is a backstop power. It is good to have that clarified.
When the Minister responded to the debate on Clause 7, he also said that councils will have recourse to judicial review. I have never heard a Minister at the Dispatch Box suggest, in proposing legislation, that the backstop measure is that someone can seek judicial review. Ministers do not usually like that. I think it is an amazing thing to do and I hope it is available for people. However, I am slightly worried by the confidence the Government have in their legislation when their immediate defence is to say, “Don’t worry, you can go off and seek redress in the courts”.
I must correct that very serious accusation. I was not encouraging people to bring legal action. I was explaining, in case noble Lords were not aware of the fact, that this statute, just like any other, is justiciable on its interpretation and that people will have rights at law. That is the point I was making.
I was not suggesting that the Minister was encouraging people to bring legal action. But he certainly said that people would have redress through judicial review. It seemed odd to hear that from the Dispatch Box while we are discussing legislation.
My Lords, as a lawyer and somebody who sympathises when somebody has a legitimate compliant, which they may do, against any government department or local authority, I think it is absolutely right that that right is put on the record by the Government. That is all I sought to do. I do not think there is anything improper or extraordinary in that.
Clause 7 agreed.
Clause 8 agreed.
Schedule 2 agreed.
Clauses 9 and 10 agreed.
Clause 11: Statements of community involvement
21: Clause 11, page 10, line 17, at end insert—
“( ) Section 18 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (statement of community involvement) is amended as follows.”
My Lords, before I turn to government Amendments 21, 22, 23 and 130, I shall make some introductory remarks which I hope will set the context for our discussion. We have been clear that we want to see a more collaborative and effective planning system. We have discussed the energy and passion that many communities invest in the preparation of neighbourhood plans, and we are committed to seeing that number grow. We discussed that particularly in relation to the amendment so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. We also recognise that not all communities may wish to prepare a neighbourhood plan. Some communities and their local planning authorities are working collaboratively on the local plan for their area, and we want to encourage that. This is also a point we discussed during our first day in Committee.
Clause 11 will clarify how communities can be involved in decisions about the wider planning of their area. It extends the matters to be set out by a local planning authority in its statement of community involvement. This will ensure that authorities include in these statements their policies for involving their communities and others in the preliminary stages of plan-making. Specifically in relation to their functions under Sections 13 and 15 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, these include a local planning authority’s survey function and the preparation and maintenance of a local development scheme. The latter must set out the development plan documents that collectively make up the local plan for the authority’s area, their subject matter and geographic coverage and the timetable for their preparation and revision.
Including an authority’s policies for involving local people in the work an authority will do to survey its area will help local people understand and express views on the changes that may be taking place in the local population, which may influence the type of housing needed, for example, or in the local economy, which may influence the type of accommodation business may need. Changes such as these will drive the development needs of an area that any plan may need to address.
Requiring an authority to set out how it will involve local people when taking decisions on the development plan documents that it will prepare will encourage a discussion between the local planning authority and its community on whether communities may wish to prepare a neighbourhood plan as an alternative to one or more of the authority’s documents. The changes introduced by Clause 11 pave the way for more informed and equitable discussions between local planning authorities and their local communities about the future local growth and development of their area and the sorts of planning documents that will shape these changes.
Government Amendments 21, 22 and 23 will allow the Secretary of State to produce regulations which set out further matters which local planning authorities must address in their statements of community involvement. They will ensure that the Government can clarify further for communities, including neighbourhood planning groups and others, how they can play a role in the development of their area. For example, the amendments will enable the Secretary of State to require authorities to set out how they will provide advice to neighbourhood planning groups on the relationship between a neighbourhood plan and the plans that the authority has prepared or is preparing. This was an issue raised in the other place which my honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning committed to consider further. The amendment responds to that concern. It will also ensure that we can leave communities in no doubt that authorities will set out who they propose to involve and when and how they can get involved.
Government Amendment 130 amends the commencement provision in the Bill to ensure that the power to make regulations in Amendment 23 comes into force with the passing of the Act. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for enlightening me, if not other members of the Committee, as to the otherwise completely incomprehensible terms of Amendments 21 and 22. Not having been given a crystal ball to look into, I could not really understand what they were about, but he has partially explained them, for which I am grateful.
However, on Amendment 23, we are again in the business of secondary legislation. I do not know whether the Government have yet consulted at all on the regulations and whether there is any chance of seeing any draft regulations before Report, but it would be interesting to know whether they had embarked on a consultation with the Local Government Association, for example, about the contents of any such regulations. Again, it looks like the Government imposing a particular way of proceeding on local government, possibly without any real exchange of views about how that might best be achieved. As we know, other Committees in your Lordships’ House have expressed great concern about the increasing reliance on secondary legislation that all too often emerges without any real evidence of effective consultation about what it should contain.
The provisional punch-up, yes. I will certainly seek to avoid that.
I have some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, about the rather obscure, not to say Delphic, nature of the provisions; they took me quite a while to get through as well. With regard to more detailed information on policies and so on, we supplied some supplementary information to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which I will ensure is circulated to noble Lords to provide more detail on the thinking behind this.
We certainly want to ensure that we discuss the way forward on the issue. This provision was widely welcomed in the Commons, and it is our intention that it should be a means of ensuring that communities are properly involved. I do not think there is anything sinister here, so I am happy to share what documents we have and use them as a way forward.
Amendment 21 agreed.
Amendments 22 and 23
22: Clause 11, page 10, line 18, leave out from “In” to “after” in line 19 and insert “subsection (2)”
23: Clause 11, page 10, line 19, at end insert—
“( ) After subsection (3A) insert—“(3B) The Secretary of State may by regulations prescribe matters to be addressed by a statement of community involvement in addition to the matters mentioned in subsection (2).””
Amendments 22 and 23 agreed.
Clause 11, as amended, agreed.
24: After Clause 11, insert the following new Clause—
“Guidance on clustering of betting offices and pay day loan shops
(1) Before exercising his or her powers under section 41(1), the Secretary of State must issue guidance to local authorities on the granting of planning permission for change of use to betting offices and pay day loan shops.(2) This guidance must set out the manner in which policies in neighbourhood plans and local plans about the number, density and impact of betting offices and pay day loan shops are to be taken into account when determining applications for change of use, in a way which prevents a deleterious effect on the neighbourhood or local area.”
I am really disappointed: I thought we would have a long debate on the technical amendment replacing “and 10” with “10 and 11”, government Amendment 130, but perhaps we can defer that pleasure.
Some of your Lordships may recall the almost holy alliance that I entered into with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark and—I cannot read my own writing, but two bishops—in connection with fixed-odds betting terminals and betting shops, and the damage they were inflicting on local communities. I referred to high levels of crime affecting local communities and involving a great deal of police manpower, exposure of staff to violence and the facts that a large proportion of commercial crime occurs in these premises, that they are generally aimed at relatively poor communities and that they are a social menace.
The object of this amendment is to require the Secretary of State to issue guidance to local authorities on planning permission having regard to concerns expressed nationally, not just in debate on the Policing and Crime Bill, when we discussed amendments and the Government assured us that consultation was taking place. Can the Minister tell us how that is progressing and, if it is making progress, whether the Government intend to use this Bill to provide measures in the planning system that might help to deal with what is a growing problem in many places?
A similar concern, although hopefully without any violence involved, relates to payday lenders. I seem to recall reading fairly recently in one newspaper that payday lenders had more than one outlet in an area and people go from one to another. The individual lender will have a limit, but someone can go to three, four or five of these places and take out loans. Obviously, they are usually people in high financial need and very vulnerable. There is potential to attack that problem, in part at least, through the planning system, which is what the amendment is intended to facilitate, without prescribing anything beyond the fact that guidance should be issued. We are not asking the Secretary of State to lay down and impose rigid rules, but to offer guidance to authorities, which I think are increasingly sensitive to this issue, especially, but not only, in more deprived areas. I hope that the Minister will undertake to see whether agreement can be reached or an alternative proposal made when we get to Report. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, in his amendment. I simply ask for the Minister’s guidance, either now, in writing or at Report. I draw his attention to the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals All-Party Parliamentary Group, which launched a report earlier this week on the subject. It drew attention to the London Borough of Newham, which has succeeded in using cumulative impact assessments to curb the development of new bookmakers. Broadly speaking, the noble Lord’s amendment is about change of use and new betting offices and payday loan shops. The APPG report was about fixed-odds betting terminals, and I am not sure that it directly related to the location of payday loan shops. However, there is clearly a problem with cumulative impact. Newham Council has adopted policies to curb the development of new bookmakers. The APPG says that:
“While being a helpful mechanism to stop the expansion of future bookmakers, this would not, of course, provide a mechanism to deal with current bookmaker premises and clustering”.
There is, therefore, a very serious issue here and it would be helpful if the Minister could look at it before Report, with a view to having a further debate at that point.
I will make a couple of brief comments before the Minister responds, including one about payday loan shops. I should declare in this context that I am a director of a credit union—London Mutual Credit Union, which is based in London and covers four London boroughs: Southwark, Lambeth, Westminster and Camden. We are also the credit union to the Armed Forces: a number of our members are from the Armed Forces.
I was conscious that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, and others, encouraged the Government to take action in the previous Parliament in respect of the interest rate, and that is very welcome. There is, however, an issue—we certainly get it because our main office is in Heaton Road in Peckham. About 10 doors along is The Money Shop. We often get 50 to 60 applications to join the credit union but also people walking in off the street. Often they have been to The Money Shop and, because of difficulties there, people have suggested that they go down to the credit union. They join, and the first thing that we do is try to find out what their problem is: how big their debt is—get it all out of them. Then, if we can, we will find them a loan. We want to pay that direct to The Money Shop, to end the problem there, not just give it to the people themselves.
There is, however, an issue with a number of these high street shops and how they operate. I would certainly like to see more action—more ability for a local authority to look carefully at its area and see whether there are enough such shops. Unfortunately, as we have all seen, the problem is not borrowing more money, it is getting a grip of your finances and controlling them. Credit unions are one type of organisation that can help with that, along with others such as money advice services.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for his amendment, and other noble Lords who participated in the debate, including the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Kennedy. The amendment reflects the importance of planning at the local level to address local issues. I was particularly interested to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, about the all-party parliamentary group covering betting, the experience of Newham and the local action that it has taken on fixed-odds betting terminals in betting shops.
It may be helpful, first, to remind noble Lords of the important planning changes we made in April 2015 specifically to allow local planning authorities to consider the merits of any application for such uses, and to provide the community with an opportunity to comment. Prior to April 2015, the use classes order grouped betting shops and payday loan shops with other financial or professional services in the A2 use class. This meant that any financial or professional service could change use to a betting shop or payday loan shop without a planning application. Now they would need such an application. Additionally, under permitted development rights, new betting shops or payday loan shops could be opened in any property used as a restaurant, café, pub or other drinking establishment, or hot food takeaway. These changes could be made without local authority consideration.
Responding to concerns raised at that time about the clustering of such uses on the high street, the Government made changes to the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order. We took betting shops and payday loan shops out of Class A2 and made them sui generis, or a class of their own. This change was made precisely so that a planning application would be required for any additional such shop. This would allow for local consideration of any issues that might arise due to the change to such a use in that area. Local planning authorities, therefore, already have the ability to manage any additional clustering through their local plan policies. It is not for national government to set out how many betting shops or payday loan shops there should be, and where they should be.
Where a local planning authority is concerned about the clustering of such uses, it should ensure that it has an up-to-date plan with robust policies in place. We know, as has been demonstrated, that some local authorities are already putting in place detailed policies in respect of betting shops and payday loan shops that reflect their individual local circumstances, and setting out the position in respect of the numbers and location of those shops.
The National Planning Policy Framework provides local planning authorities with the policy framework to plan for a mix of uses, promoting the viability and vitality of their town centres. Such policies should be based on sound local evidence and tested at examination. Policies contained in the local planning authority’s development plan must be taken into account when determining any application for a new betting shop or payday loan shop, unless any material considerations indicate otherwise.
Noble Lords will be pleased to know that, as he committed to do in the other place, Gavin Barwell, the Minister for Housing and Planning, met yesterday with the Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage, who has responsibility for gambling. They were able to discuss the issues emerging from the review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures undertaken by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. As noble Lords would expect, there was a positive discussion to consider how we can continue to work together effectively to take forward any proposals arising from the review, which I understand is likely to report later in the spring. I have not as yet had the opportunity to have a detailed discussion with my honourable friend in the other place. If there is any additional information, once again I will include it in the write-round. There is, therefore, an agenda that will continue to have our attention, recognising the concerns that are widely expressed, and of course this goes much wider than planning.
Although we consider that local planning authorities have the tools they need, we will continue to work closely with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. However, it is not for national government to set out in guidance how many betting shops or payday loan shops there should be in an area. The tools are already with local authorities. These are local issues that should be dealt with through local planning policies. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I am slightly disappointed with the Minister’s reply. The Government are not slow to offer guidance about a range of issues when it suits them, but on this occasion they seem to be something of a shrinking violet. If the Government are concerned about this, I do not understand why they will not take the opportunity to push for change—which is all they would be doing—by offering guidance. They would not be instructing local authorities as to how many such shops there should be; they would be offering guidance in a way that guidance is offered across a range of issues.
If the Government are taking this problem seriously—I am prepared to concede that that may well be the case—I encourage the Minister, in consultation with his colleagues, to recognise that this Bill provides a way of highlighting the issue and advising and supporting local authorities in dealing with what is a growing social problem. Otherwise, ultimately we may have to resort to primary legislation, but goodness knows when that might be. This could make a contribution at an earlier stage, and, after all, I do not think that the Government would be entering into a hugely complicated issue if they were to accept the amendment. However, in today’s circumstances, I am prepared to beg leave to withdraw it but I may wish to return to this on Report.
I did not want to say that this was not an issue—that certainly was not my intention. I wanted to say that we have engaged with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I await a detailed discussion with my honourable friend as to how that meeting went, because I think that there are broader issues. If there are specific planning issues where I think we can make a difference, I shall be very keen to look at those, but I think that the tools are already there for local authorities and perhaps we need to get that message across. However, it is a specific subset of a planning class. They already have the powers and we certainly do not want this to be an imposition. I am not suggesting that the noble Lord was saying that; indeed, he was saying the opposite—that it was directing them.
I shall be very happy to report back further on how the discussions went, perhaps involving the noble Lord’s ally, although I have some doubts about the security of an alliance where you cannot remember the name of your ally.
Amendment 24 withdrawn.
25: After Clause 11, insert the following new Clause—
“Right to reject a second development application
A local planning authority has the right to reject a planning application if the applicant, or any associated individual or body, already has planning permission to build 50 or more homes in the area.”
My Lords, first, I should say that I tabled this very much as a probing amendment. We all agree that we desperately need more houses for the next generation, and the Bill attempts to loosen the planning system so that we get more permissions to build more homes via improved neighbourhood plans and curtailing the possibility of delays caused by overprotectionist pre-commencement conditions. So far so good, but improving the planning system will not necessarily result in more homes being built. We need some sort of incentive or leverage to make the builders build.
In this context, two bits in the early evidence sessions in the Commons interested me. One was a question from Kit Malthouse MP to Hugh Ellis of the TCPA. He asked:
“On that point, is it possible for a developer to obtain a large permission in an area, and then not develop it out, and then challenge a refusal on another site in that area on the basis that a five-year land supply has not been fulfilled?
Hugh Ellis replied, “yes” and Kit Malthouse went on to spell it out:
“Therefore, by being patient, they are able to blow a hole in the land supply and get a permission that they otherwise would not have done, and double up”.—[Official Report, Commons, Neighbourhood Planning Bill Committee, 18/10/16; col. 32.]
That merely confirmed what other people had been telling me for some years. It was that short conversation that led me to table this amendment as a possible solution. It is not necessarily the only solution. It is worded in such a way that the initiative remains firmly in the hands of the local planning authority. It does not have to refuse a second application from a developer or builder, but it is to be hoped that if there is any hint that the developer is playing speculative games, the local planning authority should have the incontestable right to refuse him or her permission, however suitable the second site may be. I use the word “incontestable” advisedly, the point being that local planning authorities have a duty to fulfil their five-year land supply, which is as it should be, but they need more tools in their toolbox than the current planning system gives them.
To take an alternative approach, a little later in that evidence session there was another conversation between Hugh Ellis and the Minister, Gavin Barwell. Hugh Ellis said:
“You have signalled, Minister, that you are interested in exploring how we can find new ways to challenge that”.
He is referring to the gap between planning permissions granted and houses being built.
“The critical issue is that from 2019-20 onwards, the private sector will probably go on building 150,000 homes a year, almost for ever”.
A little later, the Local Government Association representative added to the conversation:
“I will finish with an example from Croydon. If a planning permission has not been taken up within three years, perhaps a council building company … should be invited to step in and start building the homes that somebody promised they would build but did not”.—[Official Report, Commons, Neighbourhood Planning Bill Committee, 18/10/16; cols. 37-38.]
So there is another possible solution to the problem: giving local councils permission to build out an undeveloped site. An alternative could be for the local planning authority to divide the land up into smaller plots and sell them off to other builders who can guarantee to build them out within a given period of time. There was an article in the Times today which hinted at that as a solution.
Something has to be done. This amendment is entirely probing: to test the Government’s enthusiasm on this issue. There is no doubt in my mind that we cannot go on having national, local and neighbourhood plans for housing continually undermined by developers who do not develop. I expect that the Minister will tell me that all this will be in the housing White Paper, but I like to hope that he can give us some indication of government thinking in this area. I beg to move.
I am speaking on behalf of my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, who is indisposed and has had to leave. I draw attention to my interests as set out in the register. I am another vice-president of the Local Government Association and a councillor in the Metropolitan Borough of Kirklees.
My noble friend wanted to say that, while some developers submit planning applications and build the homes for which they have been given permission, not all of them do so. It is not unusual for developers to gain permission but not to start work on site or, if they do, for the work to be at a low level and for the site then to be abandoned. This does not help the housing crisis that the country is currently undergoing. Local planning authorities and councillors believe that there are sufficient planning permissions to cover local housing needs, but they are thwarted when homes are not built in a timely fashion. There is currently little that they can do to encourage a developer to start and finish. The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, would encourage tardier developers to take seriously the permissions they already hold and to build to meet the need. It is not intended to penalise the smaller developer who may be having problems financing his work but is aimed at those who have permissions for 50 homes or more, and who could make a real difference to the housing shortage by realising that these homes matter.
I turn now to Amendment 63. We have all seen sites around the country that have received full planning permission and where a digger has been on site and excavated a drainage ditch, then the driver has packed up and gone home. Often the digger is left on site. Perhaps metal barricades will be erected around the ditch, but nothing else happens. These sites can often be left for years before anything further is done. There is a notorious site in my area which was 40 years in development. As noble Lords can imagine, many things have changed in that time, such as the road network and all sorts of other things. It is a real issue that needs to be addressed. The country is suffering a housing crisis, and has been for many years. This will not improve unless we get developers moving to fulfil their obligations to build with the permissions they hold.
Encouragement does not appear to have worked in the past, so we must turn to sanctions. In my amendment I have not specified what “a reasonable time” for completion might be or what the financial penalties should be. I believe that these are best left to be determined by the size of the site and the number of homes not completed in an orderly fashion. The amendment appears to be all stick and no carrot, but I regret that the country has reached the stage where homes need to be built, and developers have to play their part in making that happen. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, when I first saw the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Cameron, I was not sure that I would be able to support it. However, in his introduction to the amendment he certainly clarified some points, and I agreed with a lot of what he said. However, I see both good and bad points in this short amendment, and would like to offer two comments. First, I declare an interest as a landowner who has recently benefited from a housing development planning application.
On the one side, there are often planning circumstances in which a housebuilder will submit a new, revised planning application on a site where he already has planning permission. This could perhaps be to squeeze in more houses, to improve the layout or to take account of a potential Section 106 condition. The real aim, of course, is to increase profit on the scheme, which is often to the detriment of the vendor of the land.
The disadvantages of the amendment arise where it talks about the “area”. I am not sure whether there is a definition elsewhere of the word “area”, but I take it that it means the local authority area or the district council’s geographical area. Large national housebuilders may have various schemes on the go throughout an LPA, the aim of which is to provide more houses of the type that we really need, as we have already heard. The amendment could thwart these types of concurrent developments, to the detriment of aspiring occupiers. Therefore, I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord for missing the first part of his speech moving the amendment. Like other noble Lords, I strongly sympathise with the objectives but I am not sure that the amendment as drawn is viable. The noble Duke, the Duke of Somerset, has identified one or two issues with it, notably what is meant by “area”. We are not necessarily talking about a small area or even a city. There are now unitary authorities—for example, Durham and Northumberland in my part of the world—that are geographically large counties. For them, 50 homes is neither here nor there.
The objective that the noble Lord seeks to pursue is absolutely the right one, but the noble Baroness’s amendment is a better way of dealing with matters. She is looking amazed. I am always happy to congratulate the Liberal Democrats on getting something right; it usually happens in leap years, but not always. I think she has identified a better way of approaching the matter than the noble Lord, but what is important is that the noble Lord has raised the issue, which is something that has been in people’s minds for a long time.
I hope that this is an opportunity for the Minister to indicate what, if anything, the Government are considering doing to deal with what is something of a scandal. We apparently have something like 500,000 or 600,000 permissions not acted upon, at a time of huge shortage. The Government want to increase housing numbers, and there must be ways in which developers can be persuaded to get on with it or lose their permission. That could take a variety of forms, and the noble Baroness’s suggestion may more workable than the noble Lord’s. However, the main thing is that the Government should accept there is a problem and agree to do something about it in one form or another, in a way that will help to incentivise the implementation of planning permission and effectively remove the risk of permission being outstanding for long periods with nothing happening on the ground where it is most needed. I am looking forward to a sympathetic reply from the Minister on the issue, without his necessarily committing to either of the two projects.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in this part of the debate, and in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for so ably speaking to an amendment at short notice. I wish the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, well and I am sorry to hear about her indisposition. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said at Second Reading and reiterated here today, there is one thing on which we are all agreed: the fact that we need more houses. I thank him very much for stressing that this was a probing amendment; I appreciate that point.
Before us are two amendments that take separate approaches to achieving essentially the same important objective of ensuring that once planning permission is granted, the development of the site should be taken forward as quickly as possible. That is absolutely right. Of course there may be circumstances that affect it, but I appreciate that it can be taken care of in legislation. This is what local authorities and the communities that they represent expect. I therefore thank noble Lords and the noble Baroness for putting forward the amendments in this group, which allows us to have an important discussion on the question of developers making good on their permissions.
Amendment 25, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, would give local authorities the right to refuse to determine a planning application if a developer already had a live permission in that local authority’s area for 50 homes or more. The amendment targets an issue that the Government are determined to address: the gap between permissions granted and the number of new housing units that are completed. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, that the amendment as drafted is not quite what is needed; to be fair the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said so too. It is a question of degree—the number of 50, for example, and some of the definitions that would be needed.
We have already taken important steps to tackle delays in the delivery of housing development once planning permission is granted. For example, a key point of concern and delay for many developers is the time taken to comply with planning conditions that can be discharged at a later stage in development, something that this legislation of course seeks to address. Issues with infrastructure can also delay or prevent housing development going ahead. To help tackle this problem, we have already launched the £3 billion Home Building Fund and a separate £2.3 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund. The Home Building Fund will provide loans to small and medium-sized enterprise builders, custom builders and off-site construction, and will unlock large sites throughout England. The Housing Infrastructure Fund will provide investment funding to local authorities to help support the development of necessary site infrastructure, such as water, energy and internet, to deliver up to 100,000 new homes.
We are also continuing discussions with housebuilders to identify ways of increasing delivery from existing sites and bringing forward more sites, particularly for small builders. These discussions build on the Home Builders Federation statement in May 2016, which set out its plans for increased delivery by major housebuilders.
I recognise that we must do more, not least to hold developers more clearly to account for delivery of new homes on sites they hold with planning permission. Having taken so many measures, obviously the list of potential other reasons for delay is diminishing. Therefore we look to developers to deliver on sites where there is planning permission. That is particularly true of larger developers. In this context, I fully appreciate what the noble Lord seeks to achieve in this amendment and what the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, seeks to achieve in the amendment that she has spoken to.
As I have indicated, I have fundamental concerns with this amendment in view of the fact—noble Lords rightly anticipated that I would again say this—that this matter will be addressed in the housing White Paper. It needs a fuller discussion and the housing White Paper is expected very shortly. I suggest that this is not the appropriate vehicle for this issue: it needs a deeper dive and a longer look. In response to a fair speech from the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, I can confirm that the Government see this as a concern and are looking at ways to address it. With that, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, who so ably spoke to their amendments, to withdraw or not move them on this occasion.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. As I said in opening, the amendment was seeking to provoke the Government on whether they were addressing the problem from our perspective. I am glad to hear the Minister say that the Government are working on the problem and that it will be looked at seriously within the housing White Paper. As I said at the beginning of my speech, I know this is not the right amendment. It is only a provocative amendment to get some form of response from the Government, so I am happy to withdraw it.
Amendment 25 withdrawn.
Amendment 26 not moved.
27: After Clause 11, insert the following new Clause—
A local planning authority must extend accordingly the length of any public consultations regarding a planning application if any public or bank holidays fall within the consultation period.”
My Lords, this is a simple amendment. As I understand it, the position at the moment is that local authorities can decide to extend a consultation period but they are not obliged to do so. I believe that they should be obliged to do so because Christmas and August bank holidays are sacrosanct for families. It is a bit of a “slickie” if someone can slip in their application around such times —perhaps even by arrangement in less desirable cases—and it goes through, and then people come back from their few days away with their family to find that, suddenly, something they would have very much opposed has been passed. That is the reason for the amendment.
It is important that consultation should be carried out properly on every aspect of planning. It is not just a matter of time but also of the area where the application is for. In my experience, many planning authorities do not understand that in some streets in urban areas the houses are numbered 1, 3 and 5 on one side, and in other streets they are numbered 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Sometimes, they do not seem quite sure which houses they should serve the notice on. It is important that local people understand that something is being considered, so that they can decide whether it is good or bad for their area.
It is very useful in urban areas to put the notice on a local lamp-post or telegraph pole. However, it is not so useful when the next council officer who comes along sticks up a removal notice for someone who is moving house and obscures the previous notice. It is important that councils should be aware of what they need to do to enable people to understand local planning.
I went to a meeting in your Lordships’ House with Nick Boles, who had responsibility for this. One of the big discussions was about just who your neighbours are. If your house is on a corner, you can have four or five neighbours in different streets all around you. It really is important that the right people are notified. Even if it is not 100% right, at least a neighbour will say to you, “Have you seen the notice?”. However, if there is nothing there, you are at a terrible disadvantage. The first thing you know about it is when it has all gone through and it is too late. That is the reason for the amendment. I beg to move.
I would like to say what a sensible amendment this is. It is impossible to overestimate the amount of cynicism that there is around the whole issue of consultation. There is too widespread a view that it does not make any difference because the planners will do what they want to do anyway, and that switches people off coming forward and participating. A lot of work has to be done to build public confidence in the consultation process. The very specific matter raised in this amendment is important because it is a real issue. I have come across it myself when people have said, “For God’s sake, it’s Christmas. We didn’t know that it was not exempt from the consultation period”. I hope that the Government and my noble friends on this side of the House will take the amendment seriously as a very practical and human suggestion.
I shall speak to Amendment 27A standing in my name but, before doing so, I want to say that it must be a relief to the Minister to have what I think are three sensible amendments all thrown at him at once at this late stage in the afternoon.
I do not think that there is anything to object to in the noble Baroness’s amendment. With the neighbourhood planning process that I led locally, we happened to have a consultation period over Christmas and new year, and I was slightly startled to find that I was not under an obligation to extend that period in view of the circumstances. In fact, we extended our consultation period well beyond what was required under the neighbourhood planning rules, and I think it is a common courtesy to do that in holiday periods. As that is not always a courtesy extended by those making applications, perhaps the Government should make sure that it happens.
In relation to Amendment 62, we had a similar need for statutory consultees to respond to what we were doing in a timely way, but they too are notorious for not always doing that. Therefore, I hope that that amendment, as well as mine, will get a positive response.
Turning to my amendment, in the previous planning Bill the Government accepted proposals that I made for modernising the process under the New Towns Act to make the way in which local authorities bring forward proposals for a new settlement—under what is now the garden villages programme that the Government have adopted—easier and more modern. There would still be proper scrutiny, but it would be a process that could work effectively, and the Government accepted that. Since then, they have had a response to the national garden villages and towns programme that I think has exceeded all expectations, as local authorities have seen the opportunity provided by taking low-value land to create really high-class settlements to meet housing needs and which does not involve building around the edges of historic communities in a way that often wrecks those communities. Although people can be very dismissive of nimbyism—the “not in my back yard” attitude—for a long time I have said that that argument is often the right one. The planning system was introduced precisely to stop urban sprawl. As well as protecting the green belt, it was associated with renewing our urban centres with brownfield redevelopment, which is very important, and with the establishment of new settlements. I am delighted that the Government have gone down that route and that there has been such a lot of interest in it right across the country. I know that there are many more schemes still to come forward, and they will mean that we can meet the housing needs of our children, as well as the need for employment facilities, in a way that we too rarely see with most estate housebuilding at the moment.
The New Towns Act was drawn up in a very different era, not an era of localism but one in which national government had huge powers. When a new town development corporation is established, although it is the local authority that brings it forward—we are talking about relatively small communities and garden villages meeting local needs—the current statute says that the board, when established, is appointed entirely by the Secretary of State, not by the local authority that initiated it, and that all expenditure has to be approved in detail, to the last penny, by the Secretary of State. Given that these organisations acquire all the planning powers for the area that is designated and will make a huge investment in the community when that happens, very few local authorities would wish to see the Secretary of State take all those powers. Very few communities would feel comfortable with that either. Most importantly, a Government committed to localism would not feel comfortable with it. To put it bluntly, the Secretary of State probably does not have time to decide the last few pennies of expenditure by a body developing a local garden village.
The amendment is very simple. It says that where a local authority requests the Secretary of State to delegate powers relating to appointing the board and the financial conduct of the organisation, and therefore in practice its work, the Secretary of State should delegate those powers. That opportunity is not currently in the hands of the Secretary of State. I hope the Government will agree that, given the support they have given this policy and given the take up, it would be useful to make that change. I hope we can get a positive response from the Minister on that today.
My Lords, I shall speak again on behalf of my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. Amendment 62 is in her name. As my noble friend Lord Taylor said, it is an eminently sensible amendment.
For the past eight years, my noble friend Lady Bakewell has sat on a committee that considers planning applications. She is therefore painfully aware of the length of time that some statutory consultees take to respond. Whether it is the highways department or rights of way department of a county council, the Environment Agency, the Highways Agency, Historic England or the National Trust, some will be consulted on a regular basis and perhaps all will be consulted on some sensitive applications. Very often, their comments will be of a minor nature, but on larger applications their contributions will be critical to, for instance, traffic flow and pedestrian safety, as well as to ensuring that flooding considerations have been adequately catered for and to the protection of the built environment and flora and fauna.
My noble friend does not wish to name and shame those statutory consultees that are tardy in the extreme with their responses—she is very kind—but their silence, despite frequent reminders, causes planning officers a number of headaches. The applicant becomes irritated at being frustrated in their desire to proceed with their development and unjustly blames the planning authority for not getting on with it. Members of the local community, which may have been consulted by both the developer and the planning authority, wonder what is going on and when they might be able to attend the planning meeting and have their say. The ability to express their view in public is extremely important to neighbours and often to the wider community. It is an integral part of the democratic process. It can help protestors to see that there are viewpoints other than their own, even if they do not agree with them. It is not conducive to community cohesion for residents to have to wait, often for very long periods of time, before applications are considered in public as a result of the local planning department, in turn, having to wait for and chase consultees for their responses. The Government and local planning authorities are keen to speed up the planning process. This amendment would certainly be one step towards achieving that aim. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Judd in saying what a sensible amendment this is, as moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parks. The noble Baroness is very experienced in these matters: she is a former councillor in Westminster, she campaigns for leaseholders and she knows this area very well. She has come to the assistance of the House many times on these matters, and we are again grateful to her today. It is right that public holidays should be taken account of, particularly, as she mentioned, in August and at Christmas. They are not, and it is unfair that notices are slipped out when people are not around. I hope that the Government understand that and give a positive response to the issue raised by the noble Baroness.
I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, has had to leave the Grand Committee tonight. On her behalf, the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, made the sensible and important point that statutory consultees should be made to respond in an appropriately reasonable time. I suspect we all know who we are talking about when we talk about those who do not respond—it is the same all over the place, and we should do something about it.
We support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Goss Moor. It seems practical and sensible that the power to appoint members of boards on new town development corporations should be devolved to the local authority, along with matters of financial conduct. I hope that we can get that agreed.
My Lords, I obviously support both the amendments from my noble friends, particularly the one from my noble friend Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, which deals with a very important issue. The other two amendments in the group raise what some noble Lords might consider to be fairly trivial issues, but they are actually very important.
I make one further point about the issue raised by my noble friend Lady Pinnock. If you are taking a major planning application to committee towards the end of the 16-week period in which the Government say it has to be determined—for a new housing estate or industry or whatever—and you have not received a response from important statutory undertakers such as the Environment Agency or the highways authority, or if you are a county district and you are waiting for the county to wake up and submit a consultation response, you have a choice. You can either delay it beyond the deadline and take it to the next committee, which might be three or four weeks later, or you can determine the application without the specific expert advice that you need but have not got within your own authority. You will certainly not have the statutory advice in your own authority. If you do that, it adds to the delays in determinations. As we know, planning authorities are in danger of being sanctioned by the Government and having their ability to determine applications taken away if they do not meet the Government’s deadlines. It is out of their hands.
So what do we do? Do we pass an application that we think is dodgy but for which we do not have the evidence to turn down until we get the advice from the county or wherever, or do we risk being sanctioned and delay it? There is a serious issue here; it is not at all trivial.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parks, raised another issue. In all the years that I chaired committees with development control powers—what used to be the planning sub-committees, then the area committees—the greatest anger among members of the public came from their belief that they had not been consulted properly. They would be concerned and very worried about the planning application, but they would become angry because they had not been consulted. That is the way it is. They would say, “The notice you put up was too small”; “It was across the other side of the field”; “The bull came and removed it”; “Why did my neighbour get a letter and we did not get a letter?”; “The article in the local newspaper came after the deadline for sending in objections”, and so on. I used to say to them, “For heaven’s sake, you have got five minutes to tell us why you are against this—use your five minutes. You are here. You knew it happened. The consultation worked”. They would say, “No—you did not do this and you did not do that”.
This is a very sensible proposal because one of the things that people get most upset about is when a consultation happens over Christmas or Easter. They sometimes even say, “It happened in June when I was away on holiday and I couldn’t do anything about it”. As an authority, we are flexible. If objections come in after the deadline but before the committee, they all get reported to the committee anyway—we are not stupid like that—and people can come to the committee. Even so, people get upset about this issue. I do not think it needs primary legislation, it just needs a change to either the development order or the advice and guidance to planning authorities. The Government ought to say to authorities “Do not include bank holidays or holiday periods”.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has reminded me, as a member of the planning committee in Lewisham, that we rarely refuse applications —we always get advice on what we can or cannot do—but on a couple of occasions we have deferred applications on the basis that people have not been consulted properly. Sometimes the worst offender can be the council itself, if the housing department has not consulted properly. Some people come to the meetings and they are very cross because, as the noble Baroness said, the notice has gone through the wrong doors. People find out by rumour but those who should have been told have not been told at all. If that is proved to our committee, we will certainly defer a decision and allow a proper period for public consultation on the application.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in the discussion on these amendments. I shall deal first with Amendment 27 and then move to Amendment 62 as they relate to consultation, and then come back to Amendment 27A.
On the amendment so ably moved by my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes, she has vast experience of planning so one listens particularly carefully to what she has to say. From what I can gather, the vast majority of planning authorities exercise discretion in going beyond the 21 days. Most would behave in an exemplary fashion, as Pendle and Lewisham clearly do, by being flexible where flexibility is needed. I have done a deep dive in the department to see whether there have been any complaints about this but I have not found any malefactors or authorities that are not coming up to scratch. This seems a sensible amendment, so I wonder whether my noble friend will meet with officials if she has evidence of bad practice—I am sure she does have—so that we can discuss what we can do. It is important that people are properly consulted and that there is some flexibility during the periods of bank holidays. I would not wish to prescribe a period and then find that all local authorities are saying, “We do not have to exercise any discretion now”. The discretion that is exercised is important.
In response to some contributions from noble Lords, it is inevitable that some people will come along to a planning hearing and be aggrieved that it is not going the way they want. They therefore seize upon whether the procedure has been correctly followed. I agree with the noble Baroness about proper service of notice. I recall some years ago getting a proper notice delivered to me in the proper time, where the development was half a mile away and I was not sure why I was being consulted. That does not matter, but if the reverse happens clearly it does. That said, there are rules that should be adhered to. So, in the write-round, I will ensure that I draw attention to those rules, because clearly they are an integral part of the system as well.
I turn to the amendment so ably spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, who is obviously on a roll now. Once again, this deals with statutory consultation but, on this occasion, in relation to statutory consultees. A couple of points cause me difficulty in responding positively to this amendment. The first is that the annual performance data for 2015-16 show that, on average, 98% of substantive responses were made by the key statutory consultees within the 21-day period or such other period as agreed. Part of the procedure is that the law provides for an extension on a case-by-case basis if the two parties agree to it. This performance appears to be consistent across small and large developments and we monitor that very closely through the annual performance returns that statutory consultees are required to provide by law.
Therefore, I am concerned that adopting the approach suggested in the amendment would lead to a worsening in the performance of statutory consultees. Extending the period to 28 days would mean that the good ones—the vast majority, I have to say—who respond within 21 days would then respond within the 28-day period, and this would slow down performance and affect housebuilding. That said, if the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Bakewell, have evidence, I would be very keen to see it. However, so far as we can see, this area is working well and I would be loath to extend the 21-day period. It would be something of a kick in the teeth for those who are working hard to achieve the 21 days, and it would be seen as geared to those who do not perform as well, who appear to be a small minority.
I certainly accept the point that the noble Lord makes. However, as with all these things, the vast majority of people may act properly but there will always be one organisation that does not. Another example that I can think of is when you get your highway repaired and then along comes the water board the following week and digs it all up to put in a new water main. Those sorts of things drive you up the wall. Reminding these organisations how they should operate may be something that the Minister can look at. There will always be exceptions and it may well be that it is one group of people that is always acting in that way in one particular area. I accept that the vast majority act perfectly properly, but it can be extremely annoying when things are not dealt with properly.
The noble Lord makes a very fair point. However, we do not want to flex the legislation and extend the period for the very small minority that fail to meet the deadline when, as I said, the vast majority perform very well. That would send out the wrong message.
I turn to Amendment 27A, spoken to very ably by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Goss Moor. He was at pains to tell us that, like all the other amendments in this group, this is a very good one. We tend to agree: this is a sensible amendment. It seeks to move responsibility for any town development corporation established under the New Towns Act 1981 from the Secretary of State to the relevant local authority.
I say at the outset that I support the broad thrust of the amendment. This Government are supporting 10 locally led garden cities and towns and 14 locally led garden villages—high-quality new settlements of between 1,500 and tens of thousands of new homes. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has been an influential and important voice in the creation of our garden villages programme, and I thank him for his engagement.
We have seen a strong response locally to our offer of support for locally led garden cities, towns and villages, and we want to do more to help the places that are currently in our programme, and others which may become part of it in future, deliver. The Government recognise that a statutory delivery vehicle, such as a new town development corporation, may in some circumstances be a helpful means of co-ordinating and driving forward the creation of a new garden city, town or village.
The Government also recognise that, in line with our locally led approach, this statutory delivery vehicle, while enjoying significant independence to get on with the business of delivering, should be accountable not to central but to local government. I stress that. That is an argument that has been made not only by the noble Lord but by the Local Government Association and the Town and Country Planning Association.
If there is sufficient local appetite, we will consider legislating to amend the New Towns Act to enable the creation of development corporations, for which responsibility rests locally, not with central government. I reassure noble Lords that the Government recognise and support a locally-led approach to the creation of new garden towns and villages. This fits also with our devolution agenda more generally. As I have indicated, the statutory delivery vehicle of the new town development corporation already enjoys significant independence. However, I believe it should be accountable to local government, not central government.
To that end, should there be sufficient appetite we will look into making local bodies accountable for the new town development corporations, with new legislation should local areas show that they would use it. Discussions stemming from the White Paper would be the first step in exploring local appetite. I hope that with this reassurance and the statement of policy going forward, the noble Lord feels able not to press his amendment. Following the indications I have given, I also ask my noble friend Lady Gardner to withdraw her amendment.
I thank all those who supported what I had to say. I do not think it is at all onerous for the good authorities that are already doing what the amendment suggests, and it is important to help those who are living somewhere where they are not getting the benefit of this. However, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 27 withdrawn.
Amendment 27A not moved.
Committee adjourned at 6.01 pm.