Committee (8th Day)
Relevant documents: 24th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 12th Report from the Constitution Committee
Amendment 184 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
184ZA: After Clause 85, insert the following new Clause—
Local nature recovery strategies(1) A local planning authority must ensure that their development plan (taken as a whole) incorporates such policies and proposals so as to deliver the objectives of the local nature recovery strategy.(2) Any policies or proposals in subsection (1) must be consistent with the proper exercise of the authority’s plan making functions.”Member's explanatory statement
This new Clause sets out the relationship between local nature recovery strategies (LNRSs) and statutory development plans to ensure LNRSs objectives are delivered and aligned with development plans. This is to help secure implementation of Environment Act requirements.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 184ZA and 242I, which are in my name and in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Willis of Summertown and Lady Young of Old Scone, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, cannot be in her place today as she has tested positive for Covid; she is sorry she cannot be here to add strength to the weight of the case.
The point of these two amendments is to do the job that local nature recovery strategies need to do—as the Government set out in their Environment Act in only 2021—which is to help restore our much-depleted nature. As the strategies currently stand, they will not be able to do that unless they are given further significant weight in the planning processes. As we all know, nature is all about place; it is a spatial matter, so we need to protect the areas where our birds, species and ecosystems are placed. For noble Lords who are not familiar with local nature recovery strategies, I explain that they are a new requirement of the Environment Act which are due to come into place next month. They are spatial plans across England that will help us to identify where places are special in terms of biodiversity and habitats, to put together policies to enable us to protect areas, and to encourage our local authorities to build protection into their plans. There are about 40 of them across England, mainly at the county level. As local authorities currently need only to have regard to them rather than take account of them, there is a real danger they will not be able to do the job we need them to do. This is a job that the Office for Environmental Protection said earlier this year was essential because the Government are not delivering at the speed and the level we need them to in order to protect our environment.
All of us in this Chamber—particularly those of us who have been local councillors—know that when push comes to shove, nature often gets pushed aside if there is a planning application for a housing development or some other form of infrastructure. We need these local nature recovery strategies, which are done principally at the county level, to have some purchase on the unitary, district and borough plans of councils, as they seek to ensure that our areas meet the needs of local people and protect our nature at the same time. This amendment is needed because currently local authorities need only to have regard to these principally county-level plans. I think the plans will probably take a year or two to come into force, so there is time for us to get this right.
However, I acknowledge that the plans for county councils and other groups which will be drawing the local nature recovery strategies together were produced last week. For those of us who have had the chance to review that guidance to the local authorities, there are some significant concerns about what is being proposed. I know that we as a House will have our chance to say something on that, because a statutory instrument will have to come forward. This is the guidance to the county councils that will be bringing the local nature recovery strategies together. They will be bringing together different landowners and local people to pull all these elements together so that there is an agreed sense of what, on a landscape scale, our priorities for the future are. Bringing people together as part of that job is really important. It is also important that the plans are evidenced. It is extremely good news that Natural England is going to resource each one of these local nature recovery strategies with a policy officer in support so that the evidence is there, because we have to make sure that these are evidence-led.
So what do these amendments do? They seek to say, effectively, that each of the local plans has to take full account of the local nature recovery strategies—that the local nature recovery strategies have to be a key base of the evidence for their development plans and have to be specifically referenced in them. The amendment does three things. First, it puts a responsibility on local authorities to embed and incorporate the policies and proposals in the local nature recovery strategies in their development plans, so that the objectives of the strategies can be delivered. Secondly, it says that the guidance which the Government have said they will produce for local authorities—the districts, the unitaries, the boroughs—should make it clear to them how they must deliver on the new responsibility that the amendment would put in place. Thirdly, and as importantly, it says that local authorities must report back on how they have delivered the objectives of the local nature recovery strategies. That is important, because we know that, in anything, what is measured matters. So it is important that there is clear feedback about what has been incorporated.
Equally, as I said earlier, these local nature recovery strategies are not just about bringing stakeholders such as landowners and local authorities together; they are about bringing local people together. If the local people put all this work in to produce these strategies and are then ignored, it will further undermine confidence in local government and its ability to deliver for local environments, which all of us know is really important. So the second of the two amendments makes it absolutely clear that there must be a report back on how local authorities have delivered on the local nature recovery strategies. That is important for nature and for people.
I hope the Government think that these are helpful amendments. In the Environment Act, the Government were very clear. They have brought forward a number of new mechanisms—biodiversity net gain, local nature recovery strategies and ELMS—to start finding new ways to ensure that we can start to reverse the tide of decline in nature and bring it forward. As it stands, because local authorities need only to “have regard to” local nature recovery strategies, this is not strong enough. It does not give that purchase on the local plans. These two amendments do just that job, so I hope the Government will see them as a helpful way to help them do the job they have said they want to do and deliver their targets. If we do not agree these amendments, I really do not see how we are going to achieve the Government’s targets for nature, which all of us in this Chamber know we have to do. I beg to move.
My Lords, first, I declare an interest as a non-executive director of Natural Capital Research Ltd. I speak in total support of the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Parminter. I have a few brief points to add. As a country, we agreed last year at COP 15 to a number of international agreements and legislation to enhance and protect nature for the benefits that it provides. It is not just something nice to look at; it provides the most critical ecosystem services we rely on, including benefits for carbon sequestration, clean water, green space and health and education.
We also have our national targets that are set out in the Environment Act 2022. However, when looking at these, there is a huge void in what we say we are going to do and what we are doing on the ground. One of the biggest obstacles behind this large gap is to do with the planning system, where nature is still very firmly viewed as a secondary consideration. Nature is viewed as a thing that can be moved elsewhere, or it can be depleted or fragmented, because it does not matter as much as the other things we are considering. I totally disagree with that. A lot of nature is spatially constrained.
An important step leading on from what the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said, is to move nature into the first tier of the planning legislation, in the sense that it is viewed in the same terms as anything else that we are reviewing. A local planning authority must ensure that its development plan, taken as a whole, incorporates these policies, and that the policies are in the local nature recovery strategy.
The outlines of the local nature recovery strategy were published by Defra last Friday. I have some serious concerns about it. First and foremost, most of the work is based around habitats, whereas a lot of the things we need to consider are to do with species and things such as soils, which are not in the guidance at all. We also have no guidance on how to make existing protected areas bigger or more joined up: the two key cornerstones of how we are going to get nature to recover. However, it is a first step in the right direction and the inclusion of this amendment ensures that local authorities must incorporate these strategies into their planning policy and local plans. As such, I strongly support this as the right way forward for nature in England and the UK more generally.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the other cosignatories on putting forward the two amendments in this group. My only concern is what time commitment and resources would be required of the local authorities, given the fact that they are very heavily challenged at this time. I pay tribute to the lead local authorities, especially on the work they are doing on flood prevention, which is already a major resource commitment timewise. I know it has made a big difference already in areas such as north Yorkshire, which I am most familiar with, where we do have a number of functional flood plains. Across the country, the advice of the Environment Agency is not always pursued.
As regards the habitats directive, we need a firm steer from the Government on how we are going to steer this path, where we have the retained EU law Bill where, presumably, we are going to park the habitats directive on one side. But there is a possibility here, through this group of amendments, for nature recovery strategies to try to achieve a balance.
I end by saying that my noble friend is only too aware of my commitment to farming and ensuring that, within nature recovery, farming is recognised as a major contributor to these strategies.
My Lords, I declare my interest as in the register. I came in to listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, because I thought I liked the wording of her amendment. Having listened to her and the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, I am absolutely convinced of the justice of their case. As my noble friend will know, one of the most crucial parts of the Environment Act is local nature recovery strategies—it is what it is all about in many ways. At the moment, the Bill says merely that local authorities must “have regard to” it. We all know—the lawyers present will explain no doubt ad nauseum and for a reasonable fee—that “having regard to” is fairly meaningless in many ways. A local authority could “have regard to” a local nature recovery strategy and then find a dozen reasons to reject it, because they had regard to it but for this reason or that reason did not wish to pursue it.
I particularly like the wording here, which does not seem to tie local authorities’ hands. It says that they
“must ensure that their development plan (taken as a whole) incorporates such policies and proposals so as to deliver the objectives of the local nature recovery strategy”.
It does not tell them what to do or how to do it; it just says that they have a free hand to invent their own policies that deliver the objectives of local nature recovery strategies. I ask my noble friend the Minister: what is the point of us developing local nature recovery strategies at a national level if they are not going to be implemented locally in local development plans?
I do not think that my noble friend is right that there will be great additional cost to local authorities in doing this—I can see nothing here to suggest that—but, if local nature recovery strategies are to work as every single person in this Chamber wants them to, the wording of the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, is probably the only way to deliver that. I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could explain to me what the problem is with the noble Baroness’s wording.
My Lords, I too support these amendments. The noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Willis, have made an absolutely convincing and compelling case for strengthening the responsibility of local planning authorities to consider local nature recovery strategies.
This is exactly the arrangement that the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, set out when he was trying to persuade us not to press our amendments on this issue to a vote during the passage of the Environment Bill. At that time, he made it clear that the Government viewed local nature recovery strategies as key to identifying where action for nature and the environment would have the most impact. He went on to make it clear that Defra was working with the then Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to develop planning reforms that would contain a defining role for local nature recovery strategies and set them at the heart of decision-making. Obviously, there have been some changes in government and some movement on this since then, but that does not alter the nature of the pledges that were given at that time.
Since then, we have made good progress on establishing a network of local nature recovery strategies around the country. They are getting on with the job of surveying their local biodiversity priorities, providing crucial local data and mapping their local habitats. Their local knowledge and insight are proving crucial in identifying what action and resources can best be targeted. Through their partnership in stakeholder roles, they are also bringing together a wide group of interests to support a local strategic biodiversity recovery plan. However, what is the point of them doing all this work if local planning authorities can simply override their work and priorities? If we are not careful, those involved in drawing up these strategies will quickly become disillusioned and this will be seen as yet another talking shop.
This matters because, as we know, we have crucial statutory targets; for example, to halt the decline of species abundance by 2030, to deliver on our COP commitment to protect 30% of land and nature by 2030, and to deliver the many nature recovery targets set out in the environmental improvement plan. These are simply not going to happen unless local planning authorities put nature recovery at the heart of their decision-making. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, pointed out, there is widespread support for greater weighting to be placed on these local biodiversity recovery plans. There is also a real concern that, when it comes to the crunch, those nature recovery strategies will once again slide down the list of priorities and be seen as a second-tier concern.
I am grateful for the Minister’s letter to me and my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone on this issue. Again, she flagged up that the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 commits to publishing guidance on how local nature recovery strategies can be reflected in local plans. As we have heard, we have received statutory guidance since then; however, it does not answer the central challenge that, unless we have wording along the lines of Amendment 184ZA or something very similar, the current imbalance will continue and local nature recovery strategies will not play their deserved and necessary part in decision-making.
This is not a total determination but about getting the balance right and ensuring that local nature recovery strategies are part of the decision-making. I am very pleased to hear so much support for these amendments from around the Chamber today. I hope that the Minister is hearing that strong case and can reassure us that the Government will take this away and come back with a stronger commitment, along the lines of the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter.
My Lords, local nature recovery strategies are one of the triumphs of the Government’s Environment Act, which I welcomed at the time, as did the whole House. We wanted to ensure that they had a little bit more edge and power than they had when that Bill went through this House. We now have the chance.
Local nature recovery strategies are not a nice to have; they are essential. They are essential not only for nature and the environment but for the future of our economy, which is supported by so many of the ecosystems that I am sure the Minister, given his ministerial experience, is more aware of than I am. This is something that is vital, rather than, as I said, a nice to have. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, was right when she said that we have a problem here if the thousands of people who will be involved in writing these strategies are not convinced that any notice will be taken of their words.
However, I have some really good news here as chair of the local nature partnership in Cornwall and Scilly. Cornwall—not Scilly, although we are now involving Scilly in the final plan—was involved in a pilot local nature recovery strategy, along with four other areas. This was not seen by the various parties in Cornwall as being a pain to do, as something that the local authority and the local nature partnership had to urge, nudge and cajole them to do. It was something that people genuinely wanted to be involved with. The consultation exercise spread right across all sorts of organisations, individuals and households.
A strategy came out that was welcomed and that everybody wanted to happen. The great thing was that it was local. The Cornish aspects were particularly around things such as Cornish hedges, which are very different from other hedges elsewhere in the country. We also involve marine because, for a peninsula such as Cornwall, marine is so important. I was disappointed that the guidance that has come out does not mention marine. Marine is essential. It is part of the same ecosystems for those areas which are coastal.
My message is short: these local nature recovery strategies are vital to our future. We have, as we all know, one of the most nature-depleted areas in the UK. Even Cornwall, the environment of which is loved, has the same problems of retreating nature. This is the chance to have the turnaround in the environmental improvement plan. It is completely within the Government’s strategy. As the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, said, the UK was at COP 15 in Montreal last year. We signed up to the global target of 30% being managed for nature. That is a UK target as well, as put out by the Government. Many local authorities, including in the south-west, have taken that target as well.
I urge the Government to take this step of ensuring that these plans really mean something. Let the thousands of people who will be involved and who will volunteer to participate know that not only will their voices be heard but their policies will be implemented.
My Lords, we have had some very powerful speeches in support of incorporating local nature recovery plans into the planning system. I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friends Lady Parminter and Lord Teverson, and others such as the noble Baronesses, Lady Willis of Summertown and Lady Jones of Whitchurch. They made powerful speeches, so I do not need to add to their arguments.
However, I want to make two points, the first of which is the importance of stitching together different strategies across different government departments. This, in essence, is what Amendment 184ZA is about—that what was agreed in the Environment Act must be incorporated where it matters: in local plans and national development management planning.
Secondly, the Environment Act currently requires local plans and local planning authorities to achieve a 10% biodiversity net gain in any planning application, but it is not that straightforward. If the applicant is unable to improve the site on which it is developing by a 10% net gain—and a recent application I had resulted in a minus 19% biodiversity figure—the next option in the cascade of biodiversity options is for the applicant to purchase a nearby greenfield site and improve the biodiversity there. If that does not work, you get to commuted sums, whereby the applicant has to provide a sum of money for the local authority to improve biodiversity somewhere else entirely. To me, that is not what biodiversity net gain should be about.
As I have declared on many occasions, I am a councillor in Kirklees. Recently, I had a major application in my ward, and the applicant was unable to pursue any of those options. The commuted sum was for somewhere else entirely, and biodiversity was depleted in the area applied for. That is why these local nature recovery strategies are so important: they put that at the heart of local planning policies and outcomes, so that applications cannot fob off a lack of biodiversity net gain into some other part of a council district.
This amendment has my wholehearted support, and I hope that my noble friend will bring it back on Report if the Government will not accede to it now.
My Lords, it has been a very good debate, and there clearly is a lot of support for the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. We also strongly support them.
As has been discussed, the Environment Act created the local nature recovery strategies and introduced the statement of biodiversity priorities for local areas, accompanied by the habitat map, which identifies where people can contribute to enhancing biodiversity. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, these are not just nice to have; they are essential if we are to not simply reverse the decline but improve the situation. We know that local nature recovery strategies have the potential to really drive forward the recovery that is so badly needed. Importantly, they bring local knowledge and expertise into play. Also, as we have heard, the duty to apply the local nature recovery strategies in decision-making such as planning is too weak and will have a negative impact on their effectiveness.
My noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch pointed out that the Government chose not to accept amendments tabled during the passage of the Environment Bill that would have required local authorities to take close account of local nature recovery strategy land identifications when making planning decisions. She also referred to the pledges made by the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith. Some of us who spent a lot of time considering that Bill had expectations in this area, and I am pleased that the noble Baroness has tabled these amendments so that we can debate those expectations.
The noble Baroness made it clear that the guidance for authorities on the application of the strategies is just not strong enough. As a result, despite groups mapping sites that will be essential to nature recovery in a local area, local authorities will not necessarily have to take proper notice if they do not want to. That is the fundamental problem, and we do not want lots of time and effort on the part of local nature recovery strategy groups and supporting bodies such as Natural England to be wasted, and opportunities then completely missed.
These amendments, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and supported by many noble Lords, would rightly prevent any wasted effort and enable the local nature recovery strategies to achieve their full potential. Incorporating them into local planning authorities’ development plans is surely an obvious way to go about this. We do not want them to be weak documents, sitting on a shelf somewhere and not informing proper strategic day-to-day planning decisions. We need them to make a real difference, not just a tangible one.
As we have heard, many people think that greater weight should be given in planning to local nature recovery strategies. The Environmental Audit Committee and the Office for Environmental Protection have supported this approach. The noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, talked about our commitments at COP 26, saying that there is a gap between what we say we will do and what we actually do, and that planning plays a very important role in nature recovery. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, asked, what are our priorities for the future? How will we meet the government targets? Surely, anything that helps deliver the local nature recovery strategies is to be welcomed. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, certainly thought this: he made it very clear that he thinks it important that this be included.
I hope that the Minister agrees with those who have spoken today and sees the absolute sense in accepting these amendments.
My Lords, I start by wishing the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, a speedy recovery, and I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Willis, and others, for bringing forward these amendments. There is a lot of unity in this Chamber regarding what we are seeking to achieve here, and I have listened with great interest to the debate.
On the last point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, this is an attempt to hard-wire nature into our planning system. Many will argue that it already is, but as has been pointed out by many others, nature continues to be depleted. Species decline is now a serious crisis. As the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, pointed out, this is not just an environmental crisis but an economic one, as the Dasgupta review so vitally illustrated.
Amendments 184ZA and 242I in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, provide a revision of the prior amendment, Amendment 184, to set out the relationship between local nature recovery strategies and development plans, to ensure that local nature recovery strategies’ objectives are reflected in development plans. These amendments would require that the Secretary of State’s guidance on how to have regard to local nature recovery strategies must include information on the degree of compliance with them.
Of course I recognise the vital importance of nature and the role that the planning system plays in nature recovery. Local nature recovery strategies will deliver more co-ordinated, practical and focused action to help nature. The noble Baroness, Lady Willis, talked about the fragmentation of nature. Her expertise is much greater than mine, but it is joined by the words she used—
“bigger, better and joined up”—
from the fundamental review of our nature sites by Sir John Lawton over a decade ago. If she looks across the array of government policy, she will see that the desire for a more joined-up approach to our nature sites is fundamental to environmental land management and all the other measures we seek to introduce, and, of course, in this.
I hope I can reassure the noble Baroness with the guidelines published last week. Paragraph 44 is not just about habitats. It says:
“Responsible authorities, with Natural England’s support, should seek to … identify the existing or potential habitats considered to be either locally or nationally important and the practicality of improving existing areas’ condition, or creating new areas of these habitats”,
“identify the existing or potential species (or groups of species) in the area that the strategy could make a particular contribution to enhancing or recovering, and assess the practicality of creating or enhancing habitats to support this.”
Other noble Lords have mentioned that guidance. I just add this line, not with my tongue in my cheek, because this is really important. Paragraph 94 says:
“They should write and present the statement in plain English.”
This is something that has to be understood not just by planning officers and people who work for NGOs but by farmers, land managers, and anybody who has some say in what is happening to the local environment around where they live. The basis of transparency and clarity should be fundamental to them.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his assistance in helping to develop this concept through the pilot project he spoke about in Cornwall and the Scillies. I agree entirely that this is a vital next step in our collective ambition to achieve our targets and, more importantly, as a generation to hand on our natural environment in a better condition than how we found it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, talked about biodiversity net gain. The scheme that she talked about does not reflect how biodiversity net gain is defined in the Environment Act because that will not come into play until November. We are now working this up. It is not necessarily about the developer having to buy land; it can be insetting changes into the development, but also accepting that the vast majority of biodiversity lost through development will not be able to be replaced within the development. That is where the credits trading system comes into play. A good, high-integrity marketplace for biodiversity credits is fundamental to the success of a biodiversity net-gain scheme.
To add to the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I say that the local nature recovery strategy guidelines laid last week create a requirement for all local nature recovery strategies to be agreed by the local planning authorities that the strategy covers, so they need to have regard to something that they have helped create. That will create a new sense of partnership and a balance that will be effective.
Our intention is that responsible authorities will be required to work collaboratively with local organisations, with input encouraged from across the public, private and voluntary sectors to establish shared proposals for what action should be taken and where. I can confirm—as has been said—that, last Thursday, the Government published the regulations and statutory guidance needed to enable the preparation of local nature recovery strategies to begin across England. As committed to during the passage of the Environment Act, the Government will publish guidance on how local planning authorities should consider local nature recovery strategies in plan-making, and this will be published this summer.
Local authorities are also required to publish biodiversity reports, with the first report due before 1 January 2026. Our guidance for this duty will make clear that the reports should include information as to how authorities have had regard to local nature recovery strategies. I assure my noble friend Lady McIntosh that the “new burdens” doctrine will be applied, as has been said, by Natural England, and support for local authorities will be fundamental.
The Government are still of the view that the details of the relationship between local nature recovery strategies and the planning system should be a matter for guidance; however, I thank noble Lords for identifying key considerations for that guidance. For instance, we want all components of local nature recovery strategies to be given full consideration during plan-making, including the maps that will set out both the most valuable existing areas for nature and specific proposals for creating or improving those habitats—precisely the points made by the noble Baroness.
At the same time, there are reasons to avoid a completely binding relationship between local nature recovery strategies and development plans, as plan-making will need to consider all the issues facing the local area and community, tested through rigorous requirements for consultation and examination. It is conceivable that in some cases the plan-making process may conclude that an aspect of a local nature recovery strategy needs to be addressed in a different way, so a degree of flexibility is desirable to allow for that.
With that being said, while I understand the intention behind this amendment and fully support the important role that local nature recovery strategies will play, this is not an amendment that we feel able to support. I will reflect on the debate and we will consider these matters further, but I hope that I have said enough to enable noble Lords not to press their amendment at this stage.
My Lords, I very much hope that my noble friend will reflect. As he started his remarks, I was buoyed with confidence that the Government had taken on board the sheer difficulty of turning what throughout my lifetime has been a process of depleting nature into a process of augmenting nature. It requires difficult internal decisions in all sorts of processes to get this right. Unless we give the process a good deal of strength and power, it will, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said, just be ignored; there will always be an excuse for letting it go. I urge my noble friend that this may be the time for a little too much force on the tiller, to make sure that we make this change. If we find that we are clogging up the development system, we can perhaps let it go a bit, but we have been headed in the wrong direction for so long that we need to be absolutely sure that we are doing enough to turn the corner.
I thank my noble friend for his wise intervention. We have come a very long way. Over a decade ago, the natural environment White Paper created local nature partnerships. Some of those have been incredibly successful but some have not. What we are trying to create here on a statutory basis is something that will see around 50 of these right across the country, with consistency and a determination to draw the threads of the desire to restore nature through the planning system and get good decision-making as a result. I am happy to work with my colleagues and anyone in this House to see whether that can be tweaked but, at this stage, I think we are going a long way towards creating the kind of regulatory and statutory basis that we need to see the proper restoration of nature.
I am straying on to the next set of amendments, but the Minister made it very clear that, regarding building up local plans, there needs to be flexibility and that something statutory in the Bill would stop that. However, under Clause 86, if there is a difference between the local plan and national guidance, statutorily, in the Bill, it says that national guidance must be followed—so there is no flexibility. Can he explain that contradiction?
As the noble Lord says, he is perhaps straying on to the next group. What we are concerned with here is making sure that we are creating a plan that is agreed locally under very clear guidelines, and that has a proper weight in planning decisions across the country. We will then see an understanding of where the nature-rich areas are, where nature can be improved and what the particular features are in those areas that need restoration, all unpinned with an understanding of what species exist and where they can be increased in abundance. That is what we are trying to achieve here. We all want the same thing. I think we have gone a long way to achieving that and I have listened carefully to what noble Lords have said.
It was not a matter of the plans. The Minister has said that, as a matter of principle, the reason to reject the amendment was that flexibility is needed and that statutory provision for the automatic assumption to accept another plan should not be in the Bill. But Clause 86 says exactly that. I am trying to tease out why it is okay for one national plan but it is not okay for these local environment plans. What is the difference, as a matter of principle, if flexibility is required for local plans in every area, as the Minister said?
There are over 200 clauses in the Bill, and what good legislation seeks to do is to achieve the right balance between the needs of society—new houses, energy and the rest of it—and the understanding that we have a serious problem. We think we have that degree of flexibility about right here. There may be other parts of the Bill that are more rigid in what they seek to achieve, but I have tried to explain that if flexibility did not exist here, rather timid plans might be created, and we want ambitious plans to be created for these local nature recovery strategies. That is why we think this degree of flexibility is the right way forward.
I thank the Minister for his remarks, and for the fact that he recognised the strength of feeling right around the Committee. As he said, we all want the same thing; we all want to restore nature from its depleted state, and these local nature recovery strategies are a brilliant tool. As my noble friend Lord Teverson acknowledged, on these Benches and others we think this was a good initiative by the Government. The trouble is that it is not going quite far enough. Like the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and others, I was initially buoyed by the Minister’s comments. In his words, this is about hard-wiring nature into the planning system. It is—that is what we are trying to do. Frankly, it is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to respond to the challenges that nature faces and that the citizens in our country are desperate for us to address.
Guidance alone will not be enough; it will not cut it—we know that. There are enough people in this Chamber who have been or are councillors who know that, when push comes to shove, if there is not some purchase on the planning system—if the local plan is not clear that the local nature recovery strategies are a key evidence base for the local plan—it just will not happen. Nature is not something you can just talk about, and the Government are good at getting plans together on local nature recovery. You can make as many targets as you like but if you do not will the means we will get nowhere.
This amendment is very clear. It does not say that every nature application has to be accepted or that every application for a housing estate, port or new building block has to be turned down. All it says is that the local nature recovery strategy has to be a key evidence base. That would allow flexibility but, as my noble friend Lord Teverson rightly said, would give people the confidence that when they—all these farmers, landowners, local community groups and environmental groups—invest all that time and put the effort in to put the local nature recovery strategies together, they will be listened to. That is what the amendment does. It does not say that nature must be above absolutely everything else. It just puts it on a level—or in balance, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, put it so well.
I am grateful to hear that the Minister is prepared to reflect. I hope that, in the period before Report, he will speak to those of us who feel strongly on this issue about some of the very real gaps in the guidance produced last week, including those on the marine side. As my noble friend Lord Teverson said, there are gaps in that. I know that it will come back to the House as a statutory instrument and we will have our say, but my understanding is that it has not been tabled yet, so it might be wise to have a period of quick reflection before it is.
Be that as it may, I am grateful to the Minister for offering to listen. We would like to take that opportunity up because it is not an issue, as I am sure he will feel, that the Committee is prepared to let go at this stage. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 184ZA withdrawn.
Clause 86: Role of development plan and national policy in England
Amendments 184A and 185 not moved.
185A: Clause 86, page 94, leave out lines 28 to 30
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would remove inserted subsection (5C), which would give primacy to the national development management policies over a development plan in the event of a conflict.
My Lords, the previous discussion highlighted some of the concerns we have about the contradictions between the matters that have been enshrined in the Bill, which some of us might think are not quite so important, and those which have been left out. Getting the balance right is clearly important. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and my noble friend Lady Hayman all said, now really is the time for nature recovery and such issues to be a clear focus and for them to be put into the Bill.
We have had lengthy earlier discussions relating to the unwelcome and centralising shift represented by the introduction of NDMPs. I hope that the Government have been left in no doubt about the deep disquiet in the local government community about this provision. Further to the earlier comments made on those serious planning matters, we believe that the Bill is simply not clear enough about how conflicts between local plans and NDMPs are to be dealt with. Our amendments in this group therefore address these issues.
Amendment 185A in my name seeks to take out the lines from Clause 86 that give automatic primacy to the NDMP where a conflict arises between it and the local plan. It is simply unthinkable that this could happen by virtue of statute, with no dialogue relating to why the local authority or the combined county authority considered it necessary to depart from the NDMP. Let me be provocative and suggest that it would, in effect, mean there was almost no point in preparing a local plan at all, if any conflict arising is to be determined in favour of the NDMP—which is, after all, determined in Whitehall. I will be interested in the Minister’s comments on this. Surely the provision goes against the key principles of devolution.
Amendment 186 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, is similar but refers to “insignificant conflicts” between the local development plans and the NDMPs. If I know local government, I fear that this would involve considerable arguments, perhaps even resulting in legal arguments about what is and is not insignificant.
My noble friend Lady Hayman’s Amendment 187 aims to clarify the situation relating to how conflicts between local plans and the NDMP might be dealt with. It would add a further subsection to Clause 86, setting out how conflicts could be resolved in favour of the local development plan where a CCA had been handed powers over planning, highways, the environment and other functions of public bodies under the circumstances outlined in Schedules 16 and 17 or where the development plan comes under a joint spatial development strategy, or if it is in Greater London.
Amendment 192 is a probing amendment. It would insert a clause in the Bill setting out the primacy of the development plan over the NDMP, should there be a conflict. This amendment sits alongside other amendments to Clause 87 which aim to ensure—I want to be really clear about this—that the voices of local people and their democratically elected representatives have the primacy in determining the development of local areas.
Amendments 193 and 195 probe if there is to be any role for parliamentary scrutiny of how conflicts between development plans and the NDMP are resolved and/or whether Parliament is to be informed of the Secretary of State’s intention to override the local process. They also probe what role there is to be for a CCA whose constituent member or members may find themselves in a conflict between their development plan and the NDMP.
In summary, what is the mediation process to be? Surely there will not be an automatic assumption in favour of the policies produced centrally with no reference to local people. There is not much in the way of devolution in that proposal. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have to inform your Lordships that, if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 186, 187 and 187A because of pre-emption.
My Lords, I want to speak to Amendments 186 and 187B in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. When we concluded the debate last Wednesday, my noble friend the Minister explained the Government’s reason for the introduction of the national development management policies. I reiterate to my noble friend that I very much welcome and anticipate a further response to clarify how the NPPF and NDMP relate to one another, perhaps by particular reference to the example of the chapter on green-belt policies.
If I can paraphrase, my noble friend said that a key reason was to make local plans more local. She said that, when making a determination of a planning application, the local plan policies will “sit alongside” the national development policies. But what if they are not consistent? This group of amendments looks at that question. The present position is that applications for planning permission must be made in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Clause 86 of the Bill inserts
“and any national development management policies.”
Therefore, applications must be made in accordance with the development plan and any national development management policies. The material considerations would need to “strongly indicate otherwise”. We argued that point last Wednesday.
Section 38 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 states that, if a policy
“in a development plan … conflicts with another policy in the development plan the conflict must be resolved in favour of the policy which is contained in the last document”—
so it is simply a matter of which is the most recent. In future, that conflict may be between a development plan and the national development management policies. The Government, to resolve that question, state in Clause 86(2):
“If to any extent the development plan conflicts with a national development management policy, the conflict must be resolved in favour of the national development management policy.”
We have heard from the noble Baroness moving Amendment 185A that it proposes that proposed new subsection (5C) created by Clause 86(2) be deleted. Amendment 192 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would give precedence to the development plan. This turns the Government’s intention on its head. However, I have to say that it runs a serious risk of undermining national policies by virtue of local plan-making and turning the whole problem the other way around.
My Amendment 186, tabled with my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, would add the word “significant” to make the phrase, “if to any significant extent” there is a conflict. That would have the simple benefit of avoiding the disapplication of development plan policies because of an insignificant difference between that and an NDMP. It would run the risk—I have to acknowledge—of debate over what “significant” means. However, if the Minister were to object to the insertion of the word “significant” because of the risk of litigation, I will return to the question of the litigation that might arise through the insertion of the word “strongly”, which the Government resisted on those grounds.
Amendment 187, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would reverse the primacy of NDMP over the development plan where there is a substantial set of devolved responsibilities given to a combined county authority. These are, in effect, the planning powers of the constituent local planning authorities, so I have to confess that I am not at all clear why, if the powers are vested in a CCA, as opposed to a local planning authority, the primacy should be switched simply on those grounds.
Overall, we have a group of amendments here that illustrate the problem but do not offer a solution. The development plan should not be inconsistent with the NDMP. The new Section 15C of PCPA 2004, to be inserted by Schedule 7, states this. On page 294 of the Bill, it can be seen that the intention of the Government is that there should not be any inconsistency between the two. However, in practice, such inconsistencies will arise in relation to specific planning applications. That is where the problem emerges. When they do, as the Minister herself made clear, this is a plan-led system, and a decision should, so far as possible, be made in accordance with the development plan. As the NPPF makes clear, where there is no relevant plan policy or no up-to-date plan—our Amendments 187A and 187B are relevant here about the necessity of an up-to-date plan—then the decision should be made by reference to the national development management policies, which will continue to be given statutory weight, by virtue of this legislation, even if the plan is out of date.
Therefore, I ask the Minister to reflect on this question and whether the primacy of the national development management policies should be achieved through the plan-making process—that is, sustain that question of there being no inconsistencies—but also where no up-to-date plan applies. However, if there is an up-to-date plan, then that should be the basis of the decision. That would retain the principle that those seeking planning permission should do so in accordance with an up-to-date local plan. I hope that the Minister will consider whether, when we come back to this on Report, that might be the basis for amending the Bill.
My Lords, I will speak particularly to Amendment 187, to which my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb has attached her name. She is mostly handling the planning parts of this Bill, but she is otherwise engaged at this moment. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, made a very interesting speech. It comes down to the question of what we mean by “inconsistency”. Do we mean that the local plan is trying to set higher standards than the national guidelines? If that is so, what we should have are national plans that set minimum standards. It should be within the power of local authorities to set higher standards if they so desire and if they think those are appropriate or necessary for the local area.
The noble Lord asked why this should apply particularly to CCAs, given that they are essentially a compilation of existing powers. The situation is that, where you have a CCA that has been created and handed the highways, environmental and other powers, certainly in local perception, in the understanding of people who have elected people on to those local bodies, the power that has been handed to this local body should rest in that local body.
Here, we have to look at the context of what it is like on the ground. I spent the weekend visiting various local areas outside London and hearing lots of complaints about local councillors’ lack of power to do what local residents want them to do. National planning rules have become far too bloated, and local councillors simply do not have the power to shape what happens in their local community in the way that residents expect them to. For example, people are surprised at how little power councils can have over the types of business established on a local high street. Massive international chains such as Starbucks can undermine the character and charm of a local scene, and the local planning authority and councillors are left wrestling over how the signage looks—which is not the issue that local people are most concerned about. There are more than 550 Green councillors around the country now, and this probably gets to the heart of what I hear from them so often: expressions of frustration at how power is centralised here in Westminster.
Amendment 187 would affect the position of the CCAs. The amendment in this group that seems the most powerful is Amendment 185A, which at least seeks to—I am not sure whether it actually does—give the local decision primacy. That is what the people of England are particularly looking for: the phrase “take back control” will be familiar to noble Lords, and there is a great hunger for that around the country. Here, we are down in the detail and the weeds of how the Bill works, but we are actually talking about something really important to how local elected representatives can decide how the future of their community is directed.
My Lords, the main debate on the new plan hierarchy was clearly spelled out in this Chamber last week, but Covid prevented me from joining in, although I listened with interest. I will not waste time going over that debate, but I still want to reiterate certain facts. As was well demonstrated in the debate on the last group, it is a fact that so much detail is still missing and so many important matters are still out for consultation—that is probably why there are so many amendments and why there is so much anxiety around the content of NDMPs. In particular, as was well expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, what will truly be left over for local councillors and their communities to shape their place? The Bill is very strong on the rhetoric of place shaping, but it feels that we are being disempowered to do that.
Before turning to the specifics of the amendment, I will say that it is absolutely clear that the potential for conflict is significant. Without some clarity and legal clout from the Bill—not just ministerial promises that there will be more details in the revised NPPF, or that it will be more clear when we have the NDMPs—what will happen as a result of this is that there will be plenty of work for the planning chambers and litigators going forward. There will be a long transition period—the Government are quite sensibly allowing for that—because this is a new system, so there will be quite some time before we get precedents set, we get used to it and we get to see which way it is going.
The amendments have regard to the obvious potential conflicts between NDMPs and local development plans, and they also question the increasingly all-powerful Secretary of State role and the position of combined authorities. The issues concerning Secretary of State powers have also been well articulated, but, as drafted, Clause 86, which was previously debated, and Clause 87 very clearly—I do not think there is any ambiguity—favour NDMPs over development plans. But they also transfer significant policy-making powers directly to the Secretary of State—this is yet another area of concern and potential conflict because, as we know, NDMPs come with no minimum public consultation or primary parliamentary scrutiny requirements. Despite the Government’s previous assurances that this undemocratic effect was not the intention of the clauses, no legal safeguards have been introduced, so this is an area in which we would certainly hope to see movement from the Government.
My first question for the Minister on this group is on the issue of local plan soundness, as it seems to me that a lot of conflict could and should be avoided if both the NDMPs and the local development plan are very clear about what they are trying to achieve, where the boundaries of their scope are, and where one might take over from another—I was envisaging the Venn diagram and hoping that there was not very much in the middle. It seems highly desirable that the overlap should be almost impossibly small, or as limited as possible, so can the Minister confirm whether a plan would be found sound under the new regime if it contained policies that were at variance with NDMPs?
The proposed introduction of gateway checks, which is an excellent suggestion, would seem to indicate that the intention is, on the one hand, to allow both parties an opportunity to point out unacceptable variance, or, on the other, for the local planning authority to present its evidence as to why local policies should deviate from the NDMPs and therefore receive advice and engage in constructive dialogue. From the thrust of the questions of the NPPF consultations and the subsequent Written Ministerial Statements, it seems that local variance is both expected and accounted for—good.
If that is the case, why do we need new subsection (5C), and why can we not just accept the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor? It is very definite and legally tight—too definite and legally tight to allow for circumstances when it might be absolutely legitimate to give the local plan precedence. Is that deemed to be a bad thing by the Government? If not, under the current system, in which decisions are now weighed and balanced, surely a degree of leeway is desirable—the more so, as has already been mentioned, as the main criticism around NDMPs is the worry that they will set a low floor and stifle ambition and innovation, which has always been, in the main, local authority-led. New subsection (5C) might sound definite, final and firm, and therefore intended to reduce conflict—but at what cost? Could there be unintended consequences?
If the Government do not accept that proposal, the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, provides a more nuanced response to a very complex issue to allow for a time when the NDMP may not necessarily be “Top Trumps” because it is appropriate in those local circumstances. I believe that the weight of new subsection (5C) does not allow that for that discretion, so we will certainly support that amendment. As to the discussion of the word “significant”, I respectfully suggest that planners, inspectors and litigators have always weighed up, and probably always will weigh up, these words. It is part of their bread and butter, it is what they do all the time, and this will be no exception.
Amendment 187 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, is a natural extension of that same logic. She can envisage times when a local plan can and should take precedence, especially if it relates to the additional responsibilities in a larger geographical area. On these Benches, we believe that there is real value in the Government incentivising, encouraging and supporting local authorities to work together to get a larger—and, dare we use the word, regional—spatial strategy of that sort. In effect, we would not want any barriers to be put in the way of that, because there is far more at stake in a local area, such as economic growth, than just meeting housing need.
The noble Baroness’s Amendments 192 and 195 are an interesting extension of this dilemma. I wonder whether her Amendment 193 could be logistically challenging, as the Secretary of State would have to actually hear and know about every single challenge and conflict. But the principle of a feedback loop regarding conflicts seems a good one, particularly during a period of transition, as all this will all new and very different territory for everyone. I think we would all like to know where the pinch points and places with the most disagreement are and, more importantly, how they are being resolved. We will be interested in the Minister’s thoughts on this thread of feedback, reporting, learning and, presumably, revising.
Amendment 187B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, seems very sensible. If the Bill is, as we hear all the time, to truly make the system a plan-led system, it absolutely makes sense that local plans must and should be up to date. My concern, particularly now, is with the removal of the tilted balance and planning by appeal, plus the supremacy of NDMPs. Can the Minister explain how the Government intend to incentivise councils to keep their plans up to date? I cannot see how that will be done, as there appears to be no disincentives to do otherwise.
We will support any amendment to insert a process for the Secretary of State to designate and review a national development management policy, including minimum public consultation requirements and a process of parliamentary scrutiny, as has been set out in the Planning Act 2008 and is already deemed necessary for national policy statements. If local authorities are rightly required to consult on such policies when preparing local plans today, in future it must be right that Secretaries of State be held to account by the public and Parliament in a similar way. As with national policy statements, we ask that Parliament be required to scrutinise NDMPs and that the public be allowed to consult on proposed changes to them.
There are loads of possible advantages of NDMPs, and there seems to be a general acceptance of this in principle, but the devil will always be in the detail. The unprecedented level of central control for planning that they introduce means that safeguards are needed to maintain local consent. These amendments touch on only a few areas of potential conflict, and we had plenty in the previous group. We have yet to touch on street votes versus local plans, neighbourhood policy statements versus the rest, and—one matter that is starting to come to the fore—the turning of supplementary planning documents into supplementary plans and all that this will entail. Those are debates for another day.
My Lords, I want to add a short footnote to the excellent speech made by my noble friend Lord Lansley, and to try to understand in what circumstances the conflict that we have been debating can arise—that is, the conflict between the local plan and the national development management policy.
Page 294 of the Bill—I appreciate that we have not got quite that far yet—describes the process that a local authority must go through when it prepares its local plan. New section 15CA(5) states that:
“In preparing their local plan, a local planning authority must have regard to … any observations or advice received from a person appointed by the Secretary of State … other national policies and advice contained in guidance issued by the Secretary of State”.
If that process has been gone through, the local plan should already be consistent with the national development management policies—it would have been spotted. So is it the case that the only time a conflict can arise is when, subsequent to a conforming local development plan having been adopted, the Government actually change the policy? Is that the only time that a conflict can arise? It cannot arise if a plan has gone through the process under the current NDMP.
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate on the conflicts that will inevitably exist between the national development management policies and local plans. I thank my noble friend for pointing out in great detail the difficulties that may arise.
At the heart of this is the fact that, at the moment, we have no idea what will be included in the NDMP. Frankly, that is fairly critical as to whether or not there will be conflict. It will depend on whether these will be very high-level national policies, as in the current National Planning Policy Framework. It will depend on whether they will set standards, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has suggested. It will depend on whether they will simply reflect what is currently national planning policy but put it into a statutory situation for local planning authorities and local councils to agree to.
In Committee on the Bill last Wednesday, the Minister suggested that we would have a round table to try to tease out the detail and meaning behind the Government’s proposals in the Bill. It is absolutely vital that that happens as soon as possible. Throughout our debate on the plan-led process, it became clear that, if the intentions of the Government for the national development management policies are not understood, there will be conflict—as this group of amendments makes clear—around the degree to which local people have power and influence over local plans at this stage, and around the degree to which planning inspectors who are set to look at the local plans that are drawn up have power and influence over local plans. That is why it is really important that we hear from the Minister as soon as possible. What sort of policies are going to be included in NDMPs? At the moment, it is a fairly blank screen.
I have only one other thing to say, which has been raised by my noble friend. New subsection (3) inserted by Clause 87, which is about revoking or changing the NDMP, says that
“the Secretary of State must ensure that such consultation with, and participation by, the public or any bodies or persons (if any) as the Secretary of State thinks appropriate takes place.”
I hope the Minister will be willing to take away “if any” in that clause and reflect how important it is for local plans to be accepted by local residents. That means that the NDMP has to be acceptable to and accepted by local residents, as it is going to dictate the content or the direction of travel of local plan decision-making. There is a lot that hangs on the content of the NDMP, so I hope that when the Minister replies she is able to give us some hints as to what it will be.
My Lords, I begin by addressing Amendments 185A and 192 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Taylor of Stevenage and Lady Hayman of Ullock, which seek to remove or reverse the precedence given to national development management policies over the development plan in planning decisions where there is a conflict between them. I welcome this further opportunity to explain the objectives behind this aspect of the Bill.
As I indicated in our debate on this issue last week, national development management policies are intended to bring greater clarity to the important role that national policy already plays in decisions on planning applications. A clear and concise set of policies with statutory weight will make sure that important safeguards, such as protections for designated landscapes and heritage assets, are taken fully into account, without these basic matters having to be repeated in local plans to give them the statutory recognition they deserve.
These amendments deal specifically with what to do in the event that there is a conflict between national development management policies and the development plan when a planning decision must be made in accordance with both. The amendments would remove the certainty created by the Bill that up-to-date national policies on important issues, such as climate change or flood protection, would have precedence over plans that may well have been made a long time ago.
Some local plans are woefully out of date; for example, some date back to the 1990s. Only around 40% of local planning authorities adopted a local plan within the last five years. It would, in our view, be wrong to say that, in the event of a conflict, national policy does not take precedence over out-of-date policies in these plans, which is what these amendments would achieve. This point is particularly crucial because we wish to use national policies to drive higher standards, especially on good design, the environment and tackling climate change, and it is important that these take precedence in the event of a conflict with out-of-date policies in plans.
Nevertheless, I expect such conflicts to be very limited in future as we are making it easier to produce plans and keep them up to date, and because the Bill makes sure that new plans will be drawn up consistently with national policies, including the new national development management policies. Given the important role that national development management policies will perform and their benefits in providing certainty, I hope noble Lords understand that we are not able to support this amendment. I agree with my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham that few, if any, conflicts should arise under this new way of working.
Amendment 186 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley would give national development management policies precedence over the development plan only where there was a “significant” conflict between the relevant policies. Where a local policy and national development management policy are both relevant considerations but not in any conflict, it will still be for the decision-maker to decide how much weight is afforded to these policies based on their relevance to the proposed development. Our clause sets out only what should be done in the event of a conflict between policies where they contradict one another. My noble friend brought up the green belt. Policies controlling development in the green belt are standard nationally and will be set out in the NDMPs. Local plans could—will—define the boundaries of the green belt, as they do now, so I do not think there should be any conflict between those two issues.
We have explained why we believe it is important that NDMPs are prioritised in the event of such a conflict, and we expect such conflicts to be limited, as I have said.
I fear I was not clear enough about what I asked about last week and hoped to hear more about. Chapter 13 of the NPPF describes the green-belt policies. It forms two parts: the first relates to plan-making and the second, from new paragraph 149 onwards, to how these policies should be applied in relation to development in the green belt and the determination of planning applications. My assumption has been—partly answering the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, that we do not know what the NDMPs are; this is a good illustration—that the latter will be NDMPs, the former will not. There will continue to be guidance in the NPPF. If I am wrong, I would be glad to be advised; otherwise, it would be helpful to understand how these things divide up.
I am sorry. Obviously, I got the issue slightly wrong in the last debate. I thought that we were talking about a conflict between two green-belt policies. I will go back to Hansard. Obviously, my answer is not relevant, therefore, but I will check that out and give my noble friend a proper answer in writing. I think that is the best way to do it, as we got it wrong.
Additionally, the suggested wording of Amendment 186 would also generate uncertainty and associated litigation, because the term “significant” would be open to considerable interpretation. Therefore, as the amendment would cut across the greater certainty which we hope to bring to planning decisions, it is not one that we feel able to accept.
My noble friend Lord Lansley also brought up the decision-making role of the NDMPs being constrained by matters not covered by an up-to-date plan. NDMPs will focus on matters of national importance that have general application. This will enable the local plans to be produced more quickly so that they no longer move to repeat the things that are in the national plans. It is important that there should not be—as there is now—this duplication in plans. I think this makes it simpler and less open to conflict.
Amendment 187 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, which relates to higher-tier authorities with planning powers, would give precedence to the development plan over national development management policies, where a mayor or combined authority has strategic planning powers, or where a group of local planning authorities have produced a joint spatial development strategy.
As I have set out, we believe that there are good reasons why, in certain cases, national development management policies may need to take precedence over those in the development plan. National development management policies will underpin, with statutory weight, key national policy protections in cases where plan policies, including spatial development strategies, become out-of-date.
I note that the Secretary of State already has powers to direct amendments that must be made to draft versions of spatial development strategies before they are published, where he thinks it is expedient to do so, to avoid any inconsistency with current national policies. These powers have been used sparingly in the past, although they have been used where important national policies were duplicated but inappropriately amended.
For these reasons, we believe it is right that national development management policies would be able to override the development plan in those cases where it is absolutely necessary, even where there is a strategic plan-making body in place. Thus, this is not an amendment that we feel able to support.
I think I answered my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham in a previous debate, but I will repeat what I said for those Members who were not here last time. Amendment 187B in the name of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham aims to ensure that decisions on planning applications are taken in line with an up-to-date plan, with an up-to-date plan being defined as less than five years old.
As previously mentioned, we know that, for local plans to be effective, they must be kept up to date. Currently, plans must be reviewed to assess whether they need updating at least once every five years and they should then be updated as necessary. We intend to replace this current review requirement, which is a source of confusion and argument. It has been described in this place as a loophole and I have some sympathy for that characterisation.
In the Bill policy paper published last May, we committed to set out a new, clearer requirement in regulations for authorities to commence an update of their local plans every five years. It is, however, important that we do not create a cliff edge in law that forces important aspects of plans to be out of date for decision-making purposes just because they are more than five years old; this would, for example, have the effect of weakening green belt protections very considerably.
I should also make it clear that we are retaining the current provision that gives precedence to the most up-to-date development plan policy should conflicts occur between plans. For example, where there is a local plan that is out of date but, on the other hand, a more recently approved neighbourhood plan, the neighbourhood plan would take precedence.
I fully understand the intention behind these amendments; they would certainly focus the minds of the authorities on plan-making. However, I believe that the legislative and policy provisions for keeping plans up to date that we are putting in place strike a better balance so, as with the other amendment, we are unable to support that.
I am sorry to interrupt again, but my point relates to having an up-to-date plan. My noble friend has made clear her rather compelling points about the national development management policies taking precedence over an out-of-date plan but, if there is in place an up-to-date plan that works and is both recent and relevant, why should an NDMP seek primacy over an up-to-date local plan?
What I am trying to explain to noble Lords is that there should be no conflict because they deal with different things. The national development management policies are likely to cover common issues that are already being dealt with in national planning policies, such as the green belt, areas at risk of flooding and heritage areas. They would not impinge on local policies for shaping development, nor would they direct what land should be allocated for a particular area. They are totally different things. Looking to the future, therefore, I cannot see what conflict there would be.
I just want to explore this further, if the Minister will agree to it. The question from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, is at the heart of this issue. Where there is an existing, up-to-date local plan, why should that not have primacy over the national development management policies, because it will have taken cognisance of those in developing the local plan?
Can the Minister help me here? In the NPPF, there are 16 national planning policies. Does she anticipate that those will be translated into the NDMPs? It is at that level that we need to understand this because, when it comes to local plans, the NPPF is part of them; as the Minister rightly argued, it is put into local plans. But then they are then interpreted locally, for local reasons, which is why I am concerned about an NDMP having primacy over up-to-date local plans.
The national development management policies are dealing with the top-level issues. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that we are out to review those issues of consultation. These issues have come back. We have not got the list yet, but your local plan will accept those as being there and will then deal with issues that are local. As my noble friend said, there will be issues such as the green belt, but they will take into account the national policies on green belt and deal only with very localised policies on it, so there should be no conflict. I do not see where that conflict can be. But we are going to have a meeting on this to further discuss and probably have, not arguments, but strong debates—those are the words—on these issues.
The point is to make clear that there is no conflict.
Amendment 193, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would require the Secretary of State to
“lay a Statement before both Houses of Parliament”
if there is
“a conflict between the national development management policy and a development plan”.
As I have noted, actual instances of conflict between national development plan policies and those being included in the plans should be relatively unusual, as the Bill makes clear that planning policies should avoid such conflicts—something that will, in cases of doubt, be assessed transparently through public examination of those emerging plans as they are made. Should any conflicts arise when considering individual planning applications or appeals—for example, where the local plan has become very out of date—this will need to be made very clear through the report on the application, or the evidence before the planning inspector. These procedures will ensure transparency for communities. At the same time, it would be impossible for the Government to track every instance of such a conflict arising and to report to Parliament on it. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, will understand that this is not an amendment we can support.
Amendment 195, also tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would require the Secretary of State to consult county combined authorities if it is deemed that there is a conflict between the national development management policy and a development plan. As I have already explained, where any inconsistencies arise between an emerging plan and the national development management policies, these will be evident during the plan preparation and examination. We expect that any county combined authority will be engaged in this process at the local level. There is no need for an additional statutory requirement to be placed on the Secretary of State in the way the amendment would do.
I have also pointed out the impracticality of applying a requirement of this nature in relation to any inconsistencies which might arise in the handling of individual planning applications, the great majority of which will not be cases that the Government are party to. Consequently, I hope that the noble Baroness will understand that we are unable to support this amendment. I hope that I have said enough to enable the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, to withdraw her Amendment 185 and for other amendments in this group not to be moved as they are reached.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, asked what intervention powers the Government will have to get involved. We think that local authorities know their area best and, unequivocally, are best placed to produce their own local plans. However, if local plans are not produced or are failing, or if something is absolutely wrong with that plan, the Secretary of State will retain the power to intervene if necessary.
My Lords, one of the problems that those of us who have been very involved in the planning system are having is that we cannot see how this all fits together and works in practice. In her last statement, the Minister said that local authorities know their area best, and those who have been involved in this system would certainly agree with that but, as we go through the process of looking closely at the Bill, it is getting more rather than less confusing.
We had a good discussion and some key issues have emerged, first around how little detail there is about the hierarchy of this new planning process. I accept that the Minister has offered to have a round table with us to discuss what that structure looks like and to listen to more of our concerns about how this is going to work in practice. There was a great deal of consideration of the issues around the strategic development plans for these new CCAs. A lot of work will go into the joint working on those strategic development plans, with their constituent members and partners. They reflect the significant new powers that they will have over transport, environment and issues relating to some other public bodies—potentially health, policing and so on. Some of us are struggling to understand why, after all the work that has gone in, there may be an intervention from the Government via the NDMPs to say that the planning process has to be intervened in or overturned. That is also of concern.
Another element was the consideration of whether this would be different depending on whether an up-to-date plan is in place or not. That is a key consideration and I accept the point from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that it may make a great difference as we go through the consideration of how these plans will work and what the review requirements are. We made the point in previous discussions, and I will make it again, that the big difference between the NPPF and the new NDMP is that the NPPF is guidance. As we have discussed previously, it can be flexible to local needs and often is, whereas the NDMP is going to be statutory. For example, how would it deal with applications made within the green belt? These are some of the practical issues with which some of us are wrestling, and I hope that a round-table discussion helps clear some of that up.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, gave a very clear exposition of how he sees the word “significant” making a difference. I appreciate that. Of course, lawyers will be lawyers—I know there are some in this Chamber, so I will not take this line too far—but they embrace any words that can be interpreted in different ways, as we know. Those of us who have been in legal battles around these things before have the scars to show for it. My concern about that amendment was simply that it would result in a great deal of litigation.
We were discussing the planning powers of constituent local authorities and, of course, the role of these new CCAs will be very different from the role of either district councils, when they are doing their local plan, or county planning authorities, when they do things such as mineral and waste plans. I think we need some careful consideration of how those much more strategic plans will relate to NDMPs.
I have commented on the point from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, about up-to-date plans; I think, where we have one, they should take precedence. The Minister also talked about how, if the neighbourhood plan is more up to date than the local plan, the neighbourhood plan would take precedence. By logic then, if the local plan is more up to date than the NDMP and there is a conflict between them, the local plan should take precedence. I cannot see why one would apply and the other would not.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, referred to the issue around councillors’ powers over planning, and lots of them feeling that these have been diminished over the years. She referred specifically to businesses in the local high street. We all suffer the pain of that, as we see the use classes widen out and councillors almost unable to make any decisions about what is or is not in their local high street.
I have a particular case in my own borough around housing development. We had a very beautiful and attractive building, which everybody loved, and a developer put in a housing application. It ended up at the High Court and, in spite of the wishes of local people, councillors and everyone else at a local level, planning law meant that it could not be determined locally, and it was found in favour of the housing developer. These sorts of things happen. I am not quoting my example particularly; I know that this happens all over the country. Local decision-making should have primacy. From what I have heard in this Chamber, everybody wants to see this new system ensure that that is the case.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, as ever, for her very detailed explanation of how she has been thinking through these aspects, particularly of Clauses 86 and 87. The fact that the NDMPs are drawn up with no consultation or parliamentary scrutiny is a key point in all of this. She raised the important issue of whether local plans could be found unsound if they are not in compliance with NDMPs, which goes to the points of the noble Lord, Lord Young. We are not talking about application stage here; we are talking about the point at which there is a local plan inspection going on, and how that would work. If local variance can be taken into account, to what extent is that the case with the difference between the local plan and the NDMPs? She mentioned the importance of having a feedback loop for tackling issues where there have been conflicts between different plans at different levels.
Importantly, the noble Baroness raised the issue of how the Government will incentivise councils to keep plans up to date. My concern is that NDMPs may prove to be the exact opposite—a disincentive. If the NDMPs will always take precedence, local councils may decide that that is another reason not to proceed with the renewal of their local plan when it is due. I agree that safeguards will be needed for such a centralised system.
This has been a detailed and really useful debate—even though, as I said before, as we go further into discussing the aspects of planning, it brings up more questions and confusion. The Minister said that she expects such conflicts between plans to be limited. If they will be as rare as hen’s teeth, it will surely not be too onerous to report on them and have them determined, or at least explored, by some kind of parliamentary scrutiny.
At its heart, the issue around conflicts is leading to concern because of not understanding how the plans fit with one another. I hope that, at some point in the very near future, we will have the opportunity to have a discussion around how the parts of the system will fit together. I look forward to that. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 185A withdrawn.
Amendments 186 to 187B not moved.
Clause 86 agreed.
188: After Clause 86, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to promote health and well-beingThe Secretary of State must ensure that national planning policy and guidance are designed to secure positive improvements in the physical and mental health and well-being of the people of England.”
My Lords, in moving the amendment in my name, I am very grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Young of Cookham, Lord Blunkett and Lord Stunell, who have added their names to my amendments in this group. I very much look forward to their contributions today.
Amendment 188 sets out that:
“The Secretary of State must ensure that national planning policy and guidance are designed to secure positive improvements in the physical and mental health and well-being of the people of England.”
There is currently no provision for promoting health and well-being in planning legislation and guidance. Even in the key paragraph 20 of the National Planning Policy Framework, where the Government set down requirements on strategic policies in local plans, there is no mention of promoting health and well-being but simply a reference to the provision of healthcare facilities. This seems to be a very old-fashioned view of health which equates health with healthcare.
If nothing else, the pandemic has accelerated public understanding that health in the broadest sense, and well-being, are central to place-making, communities and the levelling-up missions. Our homes and neighbourhoods deeply influence our health, for good and for bad, and this all influences our life chances. If we want to level up and create the circumstances in which people can flourish, health and well-being must have central roles in our planning system.
I recognise that this is a big change. The amendment is very carefully worded to say “designed” to secure positive improvements. This is not just an add-on: it places health and well-being at the heart of the system. There is an opportunity here to create the conditions for levelling up and for people to flourish. We can use the planning system to ensure that we are providing healthy environments and healthy homes that are fit for purpose.
I refer briefly to the amendments in this group that are not in my name. They cover very similar territory. While I will not speak to them, I support them.
I turn to Amendments 394 to 399, which are specifically about healthy homes. I will briefly explain the background to these and why I think they are necessary, before going into some detail.
I am delighted that the Government recognise that housing and health are key to levelling up, and that, in the Minister’s letter to Peers on 27 January, she wrote that the Government support the objective within the Healthy Homes Bill. However, she went on to say that this is dealt with by existing laws and/or alternative policy. With respect, I do not believe that that is the case. There is no overall statutory duty with regard to healthy homes, and it is clear to all of us that existing laws and guidance are simply not producing the results that we all want. There is some existing policy—for example, in the National Planning Policy Framework—that addresses some of these issues, but even this is not mandatory and can be set aside by local decision-makers.
More directly, we can all see that existing policies are not working—we need only to look at some of the results. I have a photo book, which I will send to the Minister, of some of the worst examples around the country. I am happy to send it to any other noble Lord who wishes to have a copy. It contains examples of some recently developed homes. Many of them are permitted developments with, for example, redundant office blocks on industrial sites providing appalling accommodation, but this is not just about PDR.
It is reasonable to ask, and I have been asked, whether the requirements proposed in these amendments will add cost. The argument goes that you could perhaps get a larger number of homes for the same sort of money. But that is the wrong question. This is not about higher or lower cost or quality. The purpose is to eliminate homes being developed that are simply not fit for purpose. It is not about the relative cost.
I know that there are other objections around this being extra regulation, although this is not the principal barrier to development generally. I have met with high-quality developers around the country and looked at how they are developing homes and neighbourhoods. There is very little in this that they are not already doing, and they have internal processes to ensure that it happens. More generally, for the regulation system as a whole, I believe that an overarching requirement to promote health, safety and well-being will help align planning and building regulations better and could be used to reduce complexity.
Turning to the detail of the amendments, I think they provide a very sensible structure. I do not claim credit for it; it was proposed by Dr Hugh Ellis of the TCPA. In essence, they set out a duty on the Secretary of State to secure health, safety and well-being in new homes in accordance with 11 healthy homes principles, which the Secretary of State can then establish the policy on. This is not set in stone but can change from time to time as appropriate and can be interpreted differently by the Secretary of State for different areas, such as country and town areas. There is also a duty to report on progress. The key point is that this is all mandatory and that it should be reported on regularly.
Amendment 394 would introduce a duty on the Secretary of State to secure healthy homes. Amendment 395 would require the Secretary of State to prepare a policy statement explaining how the healthy homes principles will be used. Amendment 396 sets out the principles. Amendment 397 would require a draft of the statement on interpretation to be available to Parliament for possible comment. Amendment 398 describes the effect of the statement on different authorities. Amendment 399 would require the Secretary of State to publish an annual progress report.
I commend these amendments to your Lordships as a way of securing new homes that are fit for purpose, which would also enhance health and reduce the burden on the health and care system, because we should note that unhealthy homes, far from being a cost-neutral or light-cost option, cost the NHS roughly £1.4 billion every year. Most importantly, the amendments would provide homes that offer a secure foundation for the lives of individuals and families, helping them to thrive. They would also play a significant role in levelling up. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 188, headed as it is by the noble Lords, Lord Crisp and Lord Young, sounds like an advertisement for a supermarket lettuce. Along with the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Stunell, I supported the Healthy Homes Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, on 15 July, along with many other noble Lords who all spoke in favour at Second Reading. When the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, replied to the debate, after expressing his disappointment that the Government were not supportive of his Bill, he said:
“I will take the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and look for opportunities for this in current legislation.”—[Official Report, 15/7/22; col. 1707.]
He then did what did not always happened when I was Chief Whip in another place: he followed my advice. His amendments would simply insert his Bill into this one, so today we have an opportunity to build on what was said on that occasion in July and take the debate forward.
I looked again at what the Minister said in reply to that debate:
“The Government oppose this Bill, not because they take issue with the premise of noble Lords’ arguments, but rather because they believe that the problems highlighted in the Bill are already being dealt with via alternative policy routes … Many of the proposed healthy homes principles are already covered by the National Planning Policy Framework, which sets out the Government’s planning policies for England and how these should be applied. The NPPF must be taken into account by local authorities in the preparation of their development plans, and it is a material consideration in planning decisions.”
She went on to say:
“We are intending to review the NPPF to support the programme of changes to the planning system. This will provide an opportunity to ensure that the NPPF contributes to sustainable development as fully as possible.”
So two options are available. One is to do what the amendments would do and incorporate the Healthy Homes Bill into primary legislation. The other—and I hold no negotiating brief for the noble Lord, Lord Crisp—is for the Government to undertake that the revised NPPF will incorporate the relevant commitments in Amendments 394 to 399.
Those amendments build on what is already in the NPPF. In the Minister’s own words:
“The social objective focuses on supporting strong, vibrant and healthy communities by fostering well-designed, beautiful and safe places with accessible services and open spaces. More specifically, the framework is clear that planning policies and decisions should aim to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places. This should support healthy lifestyles, especially where this would address identified local health and well-being needs.”
The Minister went on to say:
“This means that all plans should promote sustainable patterns of growth to meet local need, align growth and infrastructure, improve the environment, mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects.”—[Official Report, 15/7/22; cols. 1702-03.]
But that is not a million miles away from what is in the noble Lord’s amendments. The Minister may want to reflect on the precise wording and have a dialogue with the noble Lord, but her objective of mitigating climate change, which I just referred to, is not a million miles from proposed new paragraph (f) in Amendment 396, that
“all new homes should secure radical reductions in carbon emissions in line with the provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008”.
If my noble friend the Minister has “resist” on the top of her speaking notes, is she prepared to discuss with the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, how his agenda can best be taken forward?
I will say a brief word on Amendment 241, which is in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, Lord Stevens and Lord Foster. In 2021, the Public Services Committee, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, conducted an inquiry into levelling up. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and I sat on that inquiry. The committee emphasised in its report the need to reduce regional inequality in healthy life expectancies.
I was pleased that the Government took this forward by announcing levelling-up mission 7: that these inequalities will be reduced by 2030. However, improving an outcome as fundamental as that cannot be achieved just by instigating a target. There are measures in the Bill that will contribute directly to meeting the aims of other missions, so it is a particular gap that there is none that addresses this mission. Reforms to the planning system provide the opportunity to put this right, so that geography is not destiny and we can reverse the widening gap in health inequalities over recent years. As the White Paper said:
“One of the gravest inequalities faced by our most disadvantaged communities is poor health.”
Our physical environment has a significant effect on the length and quality of our lives.
A similar amendment was dismissed in the other place because the NPPF already emphasises “healthy places”. Since then, a revised NPPF has been put out to consultation, but that does not address the points made in either that debate or the debate on the Healthy Homes Bill, and we are still building new communities which do not meet this basic requirement. Something clearly is not working, and we need to do better.
The proposed new clause proposes to match the levelling-up mission with a new objective for local planning authorities to reduce health inequalities. How exactly they do this would be left up to them, as every area is different. It would empower planners, giving them a mandate to consider what is right for current and future residents. It provides powerful levelling-up tools to those best placed to use them: local authorities, whose experienced planners know the importance of healthy communities.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister will consider concrete measures such as this to deliver on the missions. That can be done only if we work with local councils and give them the mandate and flexibility to succeed.
My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendment 484. I thank my supporters: the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. I also declare my interests as a director of Peers for the Planet, and as a project director working for Atkins.
It would be helpful if I started with some definitions; I hope I am not teaching too many noble Lords to suck eggs. There are two types of emissions from buildings: operational carbon, which is those emissions due to energy and water use; and embodied carbon, which is those emissions related to construction materials. Operational carbon emissions are already limited by Part L of the Building Regulations, but there is no such parallel regulation limiting embodied carbon emissions.
For a long time, operational carbon emissions have accounted for the majority of buildings’ emissions. However, with decarbonisation of the grid, operational carbon has reduced in recent years and that trend is set to continue, particularly with the introduction of electric heating. As such, the embodied carbon emissions in construction contribute an increasing proportion of the whole-life carbon emissions for most buildings, with one study indicating that over two-thirds of a low-energy new building’s emissions are embodied.
UK embodied carbon emissions represent some 50 million tonnes of emissions per year, which is more than aviation and shipping combined—a huge quantity of emissions that is completely unregulated and has increased in recent years. We think of the huge effort that is going into mitigating the carbon emissions of aviation and shipping: we have a sustainable aviation fuels plan, jet zero and plans for corridors for emission-free shipping based on ammonia and hydrogen. But for embodied carbon the current plans in place are sparse—although industry is making some good progress in reporting—so we have a problem.
Lord Boyce, who sat on these Benches but passed away, sadly, late last year, had a saying which went something like, “There is no such thing as problems, only solutions in disguise”. The solution here is a fantastic campaign, which has been under way for a number of years, to add a new part, Part Z, to the building regulations; this would start with reporting and then move on to regulation of embodied carbon emissions. It has wide support across industry; 200 of the country’s leading developers, clients, contractors, architects, engineers and institutions have written statements of support. These include organisations such as British Land, Willmott Dixon, Sir Robert McAlpine and Laing O’Rourke—I could go on—and industry bodies such as the Construction Industry Council, the Concrete Centre and the Steel Construction Institute; so there is wide support right across industry.
Industry already has the tools necessary to respond to Amendment 484 and, indeed, is voluntarily using them. Regulation would simply unlock the final door to enable the existing mechanisms to run smoothly and to ensure a level playing field. It has already been the subject of a Private Member’s Bill put forward by Jerome Mayhew in another place, which has enjoyed wide cross-party support.
Many countries in Europe are already proceeding with the approach outlined in the amendment. These include France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark and Norway. It is not only about the emissions cost; we risk being left behind in the opportunities that the amendment will unlock if we do not proceed with it soon. These opportunities include the benefits of a standardised approach to reporting—rather than the patchwork quilt of the many approaches that exist currently—which would reduce overall costs to industry, and the treasure trove of data that would be generated and could then be used to inform further decarbonisation efforts, both in voluntary targets and in leading towards eventual regulation.
To add to this, the policy signal provided by this amendment would mean that the UK could then develop in growing markets such as steel recycling, an important area that could be developed in the UK. Rather than exporting scrap and importing recycled steel as we currently do, we could invest in that industry in the UK, as is currently done in the US and Europe. Low-carbon cement is another example; if the signal were given, attracting investment and moving that from lab scale to implementation would be much more of a priority—likewise, low-carbon building materials such as non-plastic insulation and the retrofit and reuse market.
So what is currently going on within government? The Government’s construction playbook calls for carbon assessments on all public projects. However, it provides no details as to how that should take place or what an appropriate carbon emissions level is. This leads to many inefficiencies in differing approaches to assessments, increasing overall costs to the taxpayer.
The key ongoing activity is a DHLUC consultation on embodied carbon reporting, which is due to report later this year. Our amendment has been drafted to align with that consultation; it states that regulations must be made within six months of the Act being passed. This amendment would give the Government a ready-made legislative vehicle to implement these regulations once the outputs of the consultation have been defined. All the pieces of the puzzle would then be in place; otherwise, I fear that we would have much longer to wait to make parliamentary time available—we need to move quickly and seize the opportunity here.
Working in business myself, one area of concern that I am very conscious of is to avoid placing additional burdens upon small and medium-sized enterprises. Whole-life carbon assessments will involve some additional costs to businesses, at least initially while tools and approaches are being refined. This is why we have placed limits within the amendment; it applies only to building works with a total useful floor area of 1,000 square metres or over and to developments with more than 10 dwellings. This shields smaller developers from the initial costs of undertaking whole-life carbon assessments.
Finally, I will go into a little more detail on how the amendment would work. The overall strategy is to “report first, limit later”. This follows the precedents set elsewhere in Europe and makes the transition towards zero-carbon construction easier, while sending a clear signal that legislated limits are coming. The amendment deals with the initial reporting aspect, with the intent that later regulations would cover embodied carbon limits, which would in themselves be informed by the initial reporting phase. As I alluded to earlier, approaches to many of the aspects in the amendment have already been developed and are being used voluntarily by industry; for example, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has defined a methodology for calculating embodied carbon.
The emissions footprint that embodied carbon represents means that we need to move forward with urgency and help to enable industry to bring forward solutions. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill is an ideal and timely enabler to make this happen.
My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 484 in the name of my noble friend Lord Ravensdale, which was so comprehensively and expertly laid out before us. I declare my interests as president of the Sustainable Energy Association and a member of the Peers for the Planet coalition.
This amendment would require housebuilders and other developers to produce an assessment of the amount of carbon for which the construction of a proposed project would be responsible over its life. This includes the carbon embodied in the building materials used and the construction processes deployed.
Everyone recognises the necessity of building in ways that limit carbon emissions once the building is constructed, but that is only half the story. Half of total emissions—possibly more—associated with new building come from the carbon embodied in its construction. Concrete, steel and other materials use vast quantities of fossil fuels, as does transportation, sometimes across continents, of heavy building materials.
The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has shown that—as the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, said—the embodied carbon in new buildings accounts for more emissions than aviation and shipping put together; that is a great statistic. Yet this huge contributor to climate change is virtually invisible. Measuring and assessing embodied carbon alongside the subsequent emissions over a building’s lifespan should make all parties think harder when choosing building materials. There are many alternatives to the worst-offending components. This amendment will provide the basis for eliciting the evidence for more sophisticated decision-making.
The amendment could also lead to greater priority being given to making the best use of the buildings we already have before demolishing and replacing existing structures and adding to landfill. Demolition and construction also create dust and air pollution on a massive scale, amounting to some 30% of harmful particulates in urban areas. Retaining—rather than clearing and replacing—existing housing can also have social and community benefits. Demolition of Victorian terraced streets in the 1960s and 1970s is now seen to have been, in many cases, an unfortunate mistake. The amendment forces us to pay more attention in the wider levelling-up agenda to the regeneration of the homes we have today, rather than concentrating, as the Bill does, on the planning and delivery of new homes.
Action to upgrade existing properties—with green grants, regulations on energy efficiency for lettings, tax incentives and more—does not only address the decarbonisation challenge, it improves quality of life, reduces fuel poverty and saves NHS budgets. Recent research by the Building Research Establishment found that excessively cold homes, for example, are costing the NHS £540 million a year. The improvement of existing housing would also be accelerated, and the stock of available affordable homes increased, by the introduction of a national housing conversion fund to finance acquisition and modernisation of poor-quality, privately rented properties.
As the levelling-up programme moves onward, these regeneration measures will demand more of government’s attention. In the meantime, this amendment would achieve a more credible basis for judging the environmental impact of building practices and I strongly support it and the creation of a new Part Z to the building regulations.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, in his amendments, and join the noble Lord, Lord Stunell and Lord Young, in doing so. I spoke on the Healthy Homes Bill on Friday morning, so I will try to not repeat all of it, because some Members here in Committee will have been there on that occasion. I will just say that designing for the future and retrofitting for the present go hand in hand. It is a no-brainer that homes need to be both warm and well ventilated. It is a no-brainer that the community around the dwellings we have and those we build needs to be both sustainable and a contributor to the health and well-being of those living in those homes.
I recall one small occasion when my predecessor as leader of Sheffield City Council was getting deeply frustrated at the cost of building. He decided to design his own bungalow on the back of fag packet. This bungalow’s heating was to be provided by a gas fire that was strategically placed so that when the door of the one bedroom was open, it would heat the lounge, the bedroom and, if you were lucky, might get some heat into the small kitchen as well. When I took over, I am afraid we decided not to go ahead with these mini-dwellings, but we tried to put in standards that would be lasting, supportive of the well-being of individuals and their families, and sustainable in terms of the different uses to which they would be put.
In the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, the word “safety” is also used. We should be planning, as we age, to stay in dwellings—as well as moving to more suitable accommodation—because they have been planned or redesigned to allow that. Doing it from the beginning is obviously a great deal more affordable, but doing it now will save an enormous amount of resources in future. I said, on the Healthy Homes Bill, that if in Lanarkshire and west Yorkshire, Rowntree and Cadbury, and even Wedgwood—who was not the greatest of employers but understood entirely that his workers could not come to work and be able to work if they did not live in healthy homes—could do that all those years ago, surely we can get it right now. It is beholden on us to ensure that the guidance and support from the centre encourages the best possible practice at local level.
To finish, one of my very long-standing friends was canvassing in the local elections in Sheffield a week or two ago. He came across a Labour Party member who said she was not going to vote Labour on this occasion. When he asked why, she said it was because the Labour Party would impose 15-minute neighbourhoods in which people would be forced to live in a very confined area, and she was against it. Well, I am against it as well; it is not Labour Party policy. So I will put a word out as a vice president of the TCPA. When planners come up with very good ideas about how we should be able to reach good facilities easily and in a carbon-neutral way, and when we encourage people to rebuild the communities of the past in new ways—as people would aspire to do in villages if, as we discussed last Monday, they were not being taken over by holiday homes—we have to be very careful in the language we use, because there are people on the internet who believe that the best intentions of many people are somehow a conspiracy. We live in a crazy world; we need to get it right.
My Lords, I am glad that today we have the opportunity to consider the health and well-being dimensions of planning. It is my view that development planning cannot be truly successful if it does not also enhance health and well-being. I speak first in favour of Amendment 188 and Amendments 394 to 399 from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. The right reverend Prelates the Lord Bishop of London, the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford, the Lord Bishop of Manchester and the Lord Bishop of Carlisle, who have previously spoken on these issues, regret they cannot be in their place today. However, I have no doubt they would want to give their support to these amendments were they in the Chamber.
I am sure noble Lords will recall stories of what can happen when living conditions deteriorate. Awaab Ishak’s death in December 2020 from a respiratory condition caused by “extensive mould” was an incredibly tragic story, as was that of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah’s death, partly caused by toxic air near where she lived. It is welcome that the Government are working to deliver Awaab’s Law through the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill and that Ella’s Law, the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill, continues its journey through Parliament in the other place.
Today, we have the opportunity to put health and well-being at the heart of regulating our built environment: an essential step to preventing such awful outcomes and instead facilitating the flourishing of individuals and communities. The amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, set out the healthy homes principles for new housing stock. Those 11 principles range from safety
“in relation to the risk of fire”
“year-round thermal comfort”
and more. Surely these are planning standards that we all can agree are good to uphold.
Not only that but, as we have heard, these principles would significantly benefit the public purse. Research by the Building Research Establishment found that 2.6 million homes in England—roughly 11% of them—were of poor quality and hazardous to their occupants. As a result, those poor-quality homes cost the NHS, as we have heard, up to £1.4 billion every year. My view echoes that of the Archbishops’ housing commission that
“good housing should be sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying”.
Such housing would significantly reduce the strain placed on the NHS. I believe these amendments to be a valuable addition to this Bill.
The Government have acknowledged that housing and health are key to the levelling-up agenda. However, the Bill as it stands contains no clear provisions that achieve that objective. I echo the challenge to the assertion made by the Minister’s all-Peers letter of 27 January that the healthy homes provisions are being dealt with by existing laws or alternative policy. While the NPPF and national technical housing standards cover some elements of issues addressed by these principles, these are not mandatory legal duties for local decision makers, and nor is there an overall statutory duty on the Secretary of State to uphold the healthy homes principles. Therefore, I hope the Government will accept these amendments.
Amendment 241, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Young, would also be an invaluable addition to the Bill. Its introduction of a new statutory duty to reduce health inequalities and improve well-being would also help the Government to address poor health, described in their own levelling up White Paper, as we have heard, as
“One of the gravest inequalities faced by our most disadvantaged communities”.
By requiring local authorities to include policies that meet this objective in their local development plans, his amendment will help to transform our built environments into spaces that help create good health and well-being, and, as such, reduce health inequalities.
As pointed out by the Better Planning Coalition, this proposed new clause is a necessary addition given that pre-existing documents and provisions have not been sufficient to stop the growing health inequalities in recent years. I refer to research by Professor Sir Michael Marmot of the Institute of Health Equity, which found that the health gap between wealthy and deprived areas grew between 2010 and 2020. I therefore hope that the Minister will consider this amendment.
My Lords, I declare my interest as co-chair of Peers for the Planet and the fact that I have a family member currently working in the energy efficiency space. I added my name to Amendment 484, which was so comprehensively explained by the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Best. It concerns an important and underrecognised area in terms of climate change and the reduction of emissions. I hope that the Minister will take it very seriously.
I have tabled Amendment 504GF in this group, which deals with the urgent need to make progress in energy efficiency through a warmer homes and businesses action plan. The contributions already made today show clearly the synergy between the amendments on healthy homes and my amendment on energy efficiency. The health of those who live in the UK’s housing stock which is damp, cold or leaky, and worse than the housing stock in most of Europe, is impacted day in and day out by the conditions in which they live. We should all be concerned about this, but it is not only the health of those of our fellow citizens that would be addressed by taking action on energy efficiency, such as insulation or new forms of heating.
Investing in insulation and decarbonisation has many other benefits for individuals and society. It reduces costs not only for bill payers but for the taxpayer, who is currently spending vast sums subsidising energy bills through the energy price guarantee. It helps to reduce greenhouse gases and improve our air quality. It contributes to our net-zero target and, in an increasingly unstable world, electrifying the heat in our homes and making them energy efficient has become an issue of national security as well. Yet we appear as a nation to be in a position of stasis on energy efficiency.
Short-term scheme after short-term scheme underdelivers, damaging confidence that the wider task can be achieved. Scandalously, hundreds of thousands of homes are being built every year which will require future retrofitting because we did not implement the standards early enough. We have our most vulnerable citizens living in fuel poverty in cold and leaky homes. We have an industry largely waiting for confirmation from the Government before they get on with what will be a huge job of scaling up the market and developing the skills we need. Insulating, retrofitting and installing low-carbon technology all play a significant role, but so too do the planning system, funding and government leadership. We need to make the progress that will bring with it good jobs, economic security and benefits in reducing our carbon emissions.
I fear that the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, will think that she is experiencing Groundhog Day because many of these points were made in relation to the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill. She knows my concerns in this area: that we need a consistent long-term approach and to follow the advice of many committees, not least the Economic Affairs Committee of your Lordships’ House. There is never much dissent from the proposition that this needs to be done; rather, there is the idea that we do not need another strategy as we have lots of those. I cannot deny that: there has been strategy after strategy and consultation after consultation. There have not been so many responses to consultation, but we have had many of those things.
My amendment is phrased in terms of an action plan, setting out what we actually need to see the Government do and achieve in the short term. Rather than repeating what I have said in the past, and boring the Minister stupid, I will only quote from a report published today. It is the National Infrastructure Commission’s Infrastructure Progress Review, published in relation to energy efficiency, and it makes a compelling case. It criticises the
“negligible advances in improving the energy efficiency of UK homes, the installation of low carbon heating solutions or securing a sustainable balance of water supply and demand”.
The report points out:
“The government has set an ambition for at least 600,000 heat pumps to be installed each year by 2028, but only around 55,000 were installed in 2021”.
Meanwhile, 1.5 million gas boilers were fitted.
The report also proposes
“Fewer, but bigger and better interventions from central government”.
with tighter strategic focus on the areas where they can make the most difference. Rather than expending
“too much effort on many small scale funding interventions and repeated consultations, trying to maintain optionality in all areas”.
The conclusion I take from it, and the quote that I am trying to implement in my amendment is that
“A concrete plan for delivering energy efficiency improvements is required, with a particular focus on driving action in homes and facilitating the investment needed”.
I believe that this amendment fits absolutely with the amendments that we have been debating on healthy homes and the health of individuals. I hope the Minister will be able to support it.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, has put before the Committee a powerful programme, which is actually a renewal programme for our country and for every community and household within it. He set out a compelling case for doing so, obviously based on a lot of campaigning skill and professional skill as well. Other noble Lords have added a lot of detail about the benefits that would come.
I have put my name to seven of the amendments. I do not plan to say everything that has already been said. However, I will pick up one or two points that have already arisen. First, we can anticipate that the Minister is going to say, “Don’t worry, it is all fixed. Everything is already included”. I say to the Minister that our confidence in that would certainly be improved if we did not have a record of permitted development rights which have put into play not just a few but tens of thousands of homes that are deliberately below the standards mandated for and expected of all other new homes. The Government apparently support the Healthy Homes Bill in principle, but you have to get past the principle. All the work has been done by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. It is all here. All the Minister needs to say is, “That’s fine, we will accept the amendments”.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby spoke about the impact on health in communities. I would add life expectancy in communities. There is a very significant connection between well-being and life expectancy and the number of healthy years that people can expect to live. It is surely the essence of the levelling-up agenda that those discrepancies and disparities are put right. I hope to hear some favourable words from the Minister, particularly as it is the next big step needed at a time when the traditional reliance on economic growth as the sole measurement of a country’s strength and resilience is losing traction.
It is losing traction not just with pale green fringe operators such as me but with tens of thousands of ordinary households around the country, which have seen all the economic growth bypass them completely. They have seen a standstill in their living standards, with little hope of progression. Building their resilience and well-being, leading to community growth, is the way ahead. It is, surely, a direction of travel that the Minister can accept. Almost by definition, the biggest losers of the mirage of growth of the last decade are those most in need of levelling up, which this Bill is supposed to be delivering. I urge the Government to listen to this debate with great care and convey to their colleagues in Whitehall the urgency of responding in a positive way to all that they hear today on this pivotal issue.
I have also put my name to Amendment 484 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale. The noble Lord made a compelling case for improving our 23 million homes and all other buildings in England to support the health and well-being of those who live in them and to make them carbon-neutral. If I had spotted it in time, I would have certainly added my name to Amendment 504GF in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. I agree with every word she used.
I remind noble Lords that I am an honorary fellow of the ICE and an honorary president of the National Home Improvement Council. I also lay claim to steering through the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act 2004 in the other place, which set in train the subsequent uplifting of building standards on energy performance. However, that does not give me any grounds for complacency.
As the noble Baroness said in introducing her amendment, we have been building homes to a lower standard in energy-efficiency terms than we needed to, because in 2016 the new Conservative Government scrapped the move to zero-carbon standards which the coalition Government had signed off. We have built, pretty slowly and with lots of hiccups, 1 million new homes since then to lower standards than would have been the case if those proposals had come into force in 2016. That means that those 1 million homes themselves will have to be upgraded before we get to the standard required by 2050.
Of course, I have already mentioned the rush of converted homes under permitted development rights. It is not just energy performance that is bad but even basics such as daylighting may be missing in their case. The Town and Country Planning Association drew attention to that in its brief. Again, I have been pre-empted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby quoting the Building Research Establishment figures of the millions of people living in unhealthy homes with hazardous conditions far away from the well-being that should be the case—all of whom would be beneficiaries of a fresh start with a healthy homes policy.
The noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, pointed out that the existing regulations are not tough enough even to capture all operational carbon emissions, which are responsible for about 30% of our carbon emissions. It is not a small slice, but he is also right in saying that the slice is declining because slowly we are decarbonising the way that we run our homes. However, the still provisional date of 2025 to finally catch up with the standards that were going to come in 2016 means that every lost year is adding more poor-quality housing stock and building in costs for the future.
Amendment 484 aims higher and goes further in requiring the Secretary of State to get cracking on the regulations to measure and limit the whole-life carbon emissions of buildings. The noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, has laid out very clearly what that is and how it can be achieved. This is not a wild swing at an impossible task; it is based on serious and important work by those who have been developing the Part Z initiative to be a new part of the building regulations. It has, as he said, the backing of the industry as well as many others. I hope again that we can hear the Minister say that there will not be any more dilly-dallying in the department, that it is moving forward to see what its version of Part Z would be and will be bringing it to us in the form of regulations very shortly. Just for once I will not make my traditional complaint about too many regulations. This is one that is needed, and it is needed very quickly.
That is a practical first step to cutting carbon emissions from our built environment. It opens the way to thinking in new ways about how to use and reuse existing buildings—a point that the noble Lord, Lord Best, also made. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say and I look forward to hearing that he is going to take back to the department and to his officials that the route to zero carbon needs to be taken seriously and that the need to level up by adopting the healthy homes standards set out in these amendments should be followed through. If, in response to all of this, the answer is no and the intention to act is “not at all”, Ministers can expect to hear more about all these issues on Report.
My Lords, I was pleased to add my name to Amendment 241 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. I support the various amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, has tabled on healthy homes, and other amendments in this group.
I start by taking my cue from the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who said, rightly, that we need to be open and explicit in what we are asking for. That is quite a straightforward challenge. I suspect that most people in this country want to live in congenial and liveable neighbourhoods where kids can walk to school, where there is somewhere to play outdoors in the holidays, where older folks can pop along to a local shop, perhaps bumping into a neighbour along the way; neighbourhoods in which we design out pollution, obesity and crime. All of that is the art of the possible. Not doing so, even though in the short term it may appear that it will be more costly to get it right, has hidden long-term costs for the taxpayer, which a number of noble Lords have mentioned—whether that is obesity, pollution or crime. The fact is that these decisions, when they are made in the built environment, have consequences which last for a generation. Bad decisions have consequences which spill over for many years to come.
I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, is going to speak shortly. I hope he will not regard it as unpatriotic of me to say that, perhaps in the mid-20th century, our shared fair city of Birmingham might be an example that still lives on of how to get it wrong. Herbert Manzoni was the city surveyor and engineer for nearly three decades. He was the man who got rid of trams, gave us three ring roads and ensured that, by the early 1970s, nearly two-thirds of the tower blocks—the new estates—were built on the outer ring road or beyond it. That is a sort of worked example down the generations of what we do not want.
On the other hand, we have the example set by Nye Bevan, who, as noble Lords will recall, was a Minister not only of health but of housing. He insisted that the designs for new homes would include space standards, heating and indoor toilets at a time when nearly two-thirds of the houses in the Rhondda valley had no indoor toilet. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, has promised to share with us a photo album of disastrous developments that are occurring in the here and now. So this is not merely of historic interest; it is quite obvious that, right now, the planning system is not giving us the neighbourhoods and homes that we require.
I am not naive enough to think that the amendments in this group are, by themselves, such that if we do not have them we will have disaster and if we do have them we will have triumph. However, were these amendments to see their way through into legislation, they would put our fingers on the scale and increase the probability that we will get better planning decisions in the future. Certainly, in the recent past, the NHS has tried to engage in this agenda through the so-called Healthy New Towns initiative—with only limited success because, frankly, the planning framework was weighted against incorporating these kinds of decisions into what is required.
As this Bill has gone through Committee, we have come back time and time again to the question as to whether it is more than just a recitation of missions. We have had a debate about metrics, but I would argue that we are missing a third M, which is “mechanisms”: mechanisms by which things will actually improve in the real world. I suggest that, rather than regarding this group of amendments as exploratory or testing amendments, the Government might regard them as substantive propositions that, hopefully, the House will return to on Report, because they provide one such mechanism for bringing about real-world improvements in health and the congeniality of living across our country.
My Lords, I rise to support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, but am also attracted to others in this group. I note what the noble Baroness said about the synergy of the amendments in this group, which relate to health, housing and energy efficiency, and I think that is quite true. I declare my interests as set out in the register and note that I am also a member of Peers for the Planet.
The amendment in my name and in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Foster of Bath and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, is not overly prescriptive. It simply requires the Government to set out details of how buildings can be decarbonised and become more energy efficient. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has set out, this can be achieved in a variety of ways. It is for the Government to set out the precise trajectory, but it is important that that trajectory is set.
Your Lordships have debated similar amendments to other Bills, as the noble Baroness has said. There might be an element of Groundhog Day, certainly for the Minister; but I think there is an element of Groundhog Day for the rest of us as well, because it is normally met with the cry of either “It is already being done”—which I think is open to question—or “It does not need to be done”, which is certainly open to question. I hope, therefore, that we can, ahead of Report, agree some constructive moves on how we can improve some of the oldest housing stock in Europe; the need to update and enhance that housing stock is very clear.
The benefits of fixing the old and leaking properties are not limited to simply helping people with their bills, although it will of course do that. It is not simply a question of creating more jobs in the green economy, although it would do that too. It is also, in an increasingly unstable world, with geopolitical complexities that we see every day, important that we modify our buildings, that they become more energy efficient and that we are able to be more energy self-sufficient. Also, as has been noted by the noble Baroness, we are looking at this in terms of pressure on public resources. This will enable the Government and the country to spend less on subsidising people’s energy bills if those bills come down. So it is a win-win in just about every situation.
Homes with good insulation, a heat pump and solar panels will pay 60% of the average UK energy bill. That is a considerable achievement and something that we should be looking to do. We need progress in the area. The Government should demonstrate leadership in this area at a time when we have seen leadership fail elsewhere, notably in the United States when President Trump withdrew the US from the Paris climate change agreement. That now has been rectified by the current President, but there is every need for action internationally on climate change. There is a pressing imperative for us to do more. So I hope the Government will accept this amendment—certainly the spirit of this amendment—and sit down and discuss how we can achieve things, not just on this amendment but on others in this group. I lend my support to the noble Baroness’s amendment.
My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group. I particularly want to speak to Amendments 241 and 504GF, which essentially seek to embrace the planning system within wider health and well-being and health-inequality policies. I hope that the noble Earl will be able to be positive in his response.
I must say that the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, rather took me back when he mentioned Herbert Manzoni, who was city engineer in Birmingham from 1935 to 1963.When I became a councillor in Birmingham in 1980, I was reliably informed in the induction programme that the Manzoni plans were kept in the safe in the city engineer’s office, and that policy on roads in the city continued to be dictated not by the political control of the city council but by what Manzoni had drawn in his plans.
I have seen academic arguments that suggest that, by the late 1970s, the city had started to change; but I think it was actually in the 1990s when the proposals to bypass Kings Heath/Moseley with a huge dual carriageway, along the lines of the Aston Expressway, were defeated by a group of people, including my wife Selina Stewart, called Birmingham United Against the Motorway Plans. When the noble Lord described the kind of neighbourhood that he thought we would all want to live in, he was, of course, describing Kings Heath as is, as a result of that campaign. Later in the year, of course, we will see the reopening of Kings Heath railway station, which will be the pièce de resistance of the wonderful community that I live in, in the most beautiful city in this country.
I want to make three points just to echo what the noble Lord, Lord Young, said. We know that the scale of health inequalities in this country is frighteningly large. The work produced by Oxford University and the London School of Tropical Medicine last week showed that, in 1952, the UK had one of the best life-expectancy records of any country. We have now slipped down to the low 20s, and the widening gap between the poorest and the richest people is really quite frightening and extraordinary. In the context of a levelling-up Bill, surely we have to focus on it.
Secondly, we know that local authorities have long had a tradition of seeking to improve public health. Prior to 1974, they were the principal public health bodies; from 2012, they resumed that position. During Covid, the directors of public health in particular showed their mettle when they had to take some very tough decisions at the local level.
Various mechanisms enable local authorities to influence health: health and well-being boards and, under the new arrangements of the integrated care system, integrated care partnerships. Those are all designed to give local government more say in the direction of health and, by definition, in dealing with health inequalities. The issue is whether they have enough beef: do they have the levers to make their potential influence felt? We obviously know their role in planning, air quality, the environment, leisure and various other facets. We know that they can have a really important role for health, but so far that influence has been patchy. We are seeking here to put some levers in place to use the planning system to enhance the promotion of good public health and tackling health inequalities.
There will be discussions between now and Report because it is clear that warmer homes comes within that wider context. In the end, I hope the House can assert itself to ensure that, within the planning system and guidance, a reflection on the need for planning to contribute to overall health will be part of local authorities’ responsibilities in the future.
My Lords, I support all the amendments in the group and will speak briefly in favour of Amendments 188 and 241, on reducing health inequalities and improving well-being. These excellent amendments pick up the theme of Amendment 28, ably spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, and to which I added my name. All of these amendments emphasise the importance of walkable neighbourhoods and safe walking and cycling routes in nature to improve health and well-being, which is one of the themes of this debate.
I declare an interest as a member of the South Downs National Park Authority, which is collaborating with local health providers and volunteers to encourage not only disadvantaged groups but individuals with specific health challenges to make better use of the downs.
There is an increasing body of evidence to show that access to nature and green spaces has a positive impact on health and well-being outcomes. It can help to address a range of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and loneliness. The Government themselves have accepted the health benefits of access to nature in pursuing the idea of social prescribing pilots, which also have the benefit of cutting back on expensive and often ineffective drug prescriptions. The NHS has supported social prescribing being rolled out on a local basis, but this can work only if there are the facilities and infrastructure to expand access to nature and walking therapies. These amendments would enable joined-up government policies, in a way that is all too often lacking. That would require local planning authorities to have special regard to the desirability of 20-minute neighbourhoods and access to nature.
This is not just an issue of health outcomes; it is also fundamental for inequalities. In her earlier contribution, the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, quoted a Public Health England report which says that
“the most affluent 20% of wards in England have five times the amount of parks or general green space compared with the most deprived 10% of wards”.
We know that those living in the poorest and most nature-depleted areas also suffer the impact of premature death and illness from air pollution.
There is an urgent need to rescue abandoned and neglected community areas to recreate green space and plant more trees. There is also a need to create green pathways and networks that can lead out to larger areas of green parks and waterways. We should encourage communities’ rights to reclaim unused and derelict land for microparks and growing spaces to feed their neighbourhoods. This should be built into the planning system in the way that these amendments require, and I very much hope that the Minister will feel able to support them. If the Government do not feel able to provide that support today, I hope that the noble Lords, Lord Crisp and Lord Young, will return to this on Report.
My Lords, I feel compelled to say, “Hear, hear”, every time a noble Lord gets up to speak on this. As a chartered surveyor, I am, in effect, a witness of evidence to the fact here, having spent a very large part of my career looking at and advising on older buildings, defective modern buildings and everything in between. I support all the amendments in this group, which are at the heart of what we know needs to be delivered by way of appropriate housing standards. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, for his untiring efforts on the healthy homes standard; he deserves all of our appreciation for that.
The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, referred to one of the typical government answers: that it is covered by current practices and regulation, to paraphrase what he said. I wish. I share what I believe is his scepticism about this. The intentions are not reflected in the delivery of the product—its design and durability are not delivered. There are some very good and conscientious designs, where the whole thing has been very well overseen and really useful and good neighbourhoods have been created. However, there are other developments whose quality, frankly, is like Tinseltown. When you talk to some of the residents, they say, “This building is never going to last”—that seems a terrible indictment, for the reasons that the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Ravensdale, made clear. It is one thing to reduce the components for energy conservation to a respectable minimum, but it is another thing to shorten the life by one-third, two-thirds or maybe more. When you think of the mass-produced Victorian buildings that are still in use today, you wonder whether some of these modern buildings will last anywhere near as long. There is a disconnect here.
The healthy homes principles fundamentally pivot on the provision of security, satisfaction and comfort to occupiers in dwellings that do not challenge or undermine their work/life balance—the right reverend Prelate made that point, and I say hurrah to that. The daily existence of occupiers must at least be secure and unfettered by external concerns—they have enough trouble with bringing up their children, their daily work and that sort of thing without being challenged and destabilised by what is concerning them in their home and its construction, and in their immediate environment. We need neighbourhoods and layouts that work and we need homes that are cherished; if they are cherished, they are looked after and then they last longer. If they are not, it almost does not matter how well they are constructed; deterioration and dereliction will set in, which is an attrition of the built environment. Maybe there is a disconnect between planning control on the one hand and the design and construction of the delivery systems on the other. These amendments seem designed to close that gap, which is fundamental.
I will concentrate on a few of the problems; I stress that they are not universal but they are frequent enough to warrant concern in my view. I am thinking of condensation, noise and spatial conflicts such as bin storage interfering with parking space and so on—such things that could be designed out. One needs to consider badly designed artificial lighting, and perhaps poor daylighting, and areas in developments that are in some way conducive to criminal activity of one sort or another, as was mentioned. I point out also components in installations that seem to fail prematurely, and finishes on the outside of buildings that seem to have quite a short life expectancy—I am not talking about timber weatherboard or something like that, which will deteriorate over time; I am talking about cementitious products that you would expect to have a 25-year or 30-year life, but which are not meeting anywhere near that standard.
To that, we can add things such as bad conveyancing, where there are built-in conflicts in the very legal title and the entitlement somebody feels they have. These are the sorts of things that create totally unnecessary disputes between neighbours.
While I am talking about that, I will address the problem of rent charges on common-realm areas that have to be managed. Very often, these occur because the process of the common realm now, in some of these developments, is such that local authorities do not want to adopt common realms as part of their remit, so something else has to be set up. But because they are complicated—they may involve surface water attenuation and other things like that—they are inevitably likely to create cost centres. The rent-charge management companies are then passed on to companies that specialise in this area, and that is where we can get the increases in cost that then affect people’s ability to sell and to get mortgages, because the cost is more than the proportion of the value of the building that lenders will accept. This is not just a bad conceptual design but a bad legal conceptual design. I believe that local government has a role and some control here, so we need to deal with these things to create robust standards.
To close the circle, I will say that I live in a house that was built in 1678. When I first went to live there, many would have regarded it as a rather large heat sieve. I have gone around plugging most of the bigger rat holes that have occurred in the interim, post construction. But this is not just about energy use, although that is a very important thing. Energy use is probably the major net present value of energy component; that tends to be the situation. I see my noble friend Lord Ravensdale nodding at that. But, if we can make sure that the buildings we build today will last at least as long as some of those Victorian buildings—so they are built in a robust style with things that do not fall apart, so people feel that they are not then threatened by continual recurring costs of making good and patching up—we will tick boxes in terms of energy, on the one hand, and human satisfaction and commitment for the long term, on the other. That must make a lot of sense.
My Lords, there appears to be a clear consensus across your Lordships’ House that we need to improve the mental and physical health and overall well-being of citizens, and that we can do that, in part, by improving the area around where people live and the homes in which they live.
Amendment 241, to which I have added my name, and which was powerfully introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, deals with the issue of the area around people’s homes and how it could be improved. A very good example of that is access to nature, and it is worth remembering that the Environment Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, very recently said:
“Nature is vital for our survival, crucial to our food security, clean air, and clean water as well as health and well-being”.
So access to nature is important for health and well-being purposes, as well as the other things that she mentioned.
When I was a Minister in what was then the Department for Communities and Local Government, I had a responsibility, for a while, for green spaces, and I had an opportunity to see some tremendous work being done by some planners. However, I was very acutely aware of the enormous pressures that they were under to achieve further access to green spaces. They faced huge conflicts, where many other issues often took priority over access to green spaces, and therefore priority over citizens’ health.
As part of the Government’s recently announced plans for nature recovery—which, in part, we were discussing in relation to earlier amendments—the House will know that the Government have set a target to ensure that everyone will live within 15 minutes of a green space or water, but, unfortunately, there is very little detail expressing how that will be achieved. So one of the benefits of Amendment 241, it seems to me, is that it will help the Government achieve that particular objective. However, as others have said, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, this is about more than just access to green spaces: it is about access to amenities and being able to get to them easily by walking, wheeling or cycling, which are all forms of exercise that improve health.
It is worth noting that in 2021 Sustrans carried out a survey that found that walking, wheeling and cycling together prevented almost 130,000 serious long-term health conditions every year. Yet we are still building developments that are far from existing settlements, and where you cannot even buy a pint—perhaps I should say a litre these days—of milk, or at least you will not be able to until a later phase of development. So people have to resort to using their cars or, where it is available, public transport, thereby again reducing exercise opportunities.
Planning departments can play a role in enabling people to exercise as part of their everyday lives, but they need help. We know from the Sustrans survey that 64% of planners who responded called for “robust … guidance or regulation” to help them prioritise health and well-being. I believe that this amendment—which is based, as we have heard, on the 20-minute neighbourhood approach—would help achieve that, while also providing the flexibility that planners need because they know their area best.
As we have heard, subsequent amendments in the group look at ways in which we can improve the housing in which people live in order to improve their overall well-being. Like others, I pay enormous tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, for the work he has done leading so many of us in the direction he has taken us with his string of amendments, which I very much hope will be incorporated, in some form, in the final version of the Bill.
I will pick up on one aspect that is not covered by his amendments, but is covered by Amendment 504GF, which was very well introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and to which I have added my name. It does not deal with new homes being built but looks at existing properties and how they could be improved to help the health and well-being of their residents and to achieve our net-zero target.
One of the reasons I am particularly attracted to this amendment—there are many others—is that it introduces into legislation targets for improving the energy efficiency of existing properties. As the Minister knows, this is an issue that I have raised on very many occasions in your Lordships’ House. I am always pointing out that there are 17 million homes that are currently below the acceptable energy efficiency level. In one of my many attempts to do this, I referred three years ago to the report by the Climate Change Committee, UK Housing: Fit for the Future?, which assessed the preparedness of our housing stock for the challenge of climate change. It concluded that the measures to reduce
“emissions … from the UK’s 29 million homes”—
responsible for 17% of all carbon emissions—had
“stalled, while energy use in homes”
had increased, and adaptations of housing stock to meet the impact of climate change were
“lagging far behind what is needed to keep us safe and comfortable”.
Three years on, the CCC’s most recent report shows that the situation is still dire. The decline in work to retrofit existing properties has hardly been halted. It says:
“Installation rates for building insulation have plummeted over the last decade, and are far below the level they need to be”
to deliver on UK climate targets.
Of course, as I have said in your Lordships’ House on previous occasions, I welcome a number of recent initiatives by this Government—ECO+, for example, and the announcement only three days ago of £1.4 billion to improve energy efficiency in social housing, although it is from a pot that was previously announced—and I look forward to hearing plans from the newly established Energy Efficiency Taskforce.
However, whatever that task force does, it will come up against a significant problem, because the latest research by the New Economics Foundation has shown that anyone hoping to cut their energy bills by adding insulation, solar panels, double-glazing or heat pumps face years-long waits to upgrade because there is now a shortfall of 200,000 installation workers. There are simply no longer the people out there to do the work: however much we all want them to do it, they simply will not be there. That is the problem I raised several years ago, when I warned your Lordships’ House that we had to take action and listen to what the industry wanted. At that time, I quoted the chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, who said:
“On far too many occasions the energy efficiency industry has been made promises by Governments, only to see them withdrawn. This has resulted in the laying off of staff, the loss of investment and the closure of factories.”
As the Climate Change Committee has argued, there needed to have been greater policy certainty, since the absence of such certainty has led to skill gaps and lack of investment in the construction, design and development of new technologies for the urgently needed major refit programme. What the industry said it wanted several years ago and has consistently said year in, year out, is that if it is going to invest in skills, training and the equipment and the technology, it needs to have the certainty that the work is going to be there for it to do. It says the way it will get that certainty is by having the targets the Government keep repeating placed into legislation.
Placing targets in legislation is something the Government have said time and again they believe in. They have done it for a whole range of things, including for the Climate Change Act itself, yet they refuse to do it for the energy-efficiency target. The amendment that the noble Baroness introduced places those targets into legislation and offers an opportunity to get together to find and work on a way forward to help the industry rapidly build up the number of staff to do the work. I hope that, on this occasion, the Government will listen.
My Lords, I hope the Lords spiritual will forgive me for borrowing from their script, but I feel like I am in green heaven, because everything I have just been hearing from all sides of the Committee is what I and the Green Party have been banging on about for the last decade and, indeed, much longer. I was looking back at an interview I did with Red Pepper just after I was elected as Green leader in 2012, talking about how people were being left in cold homes, mourning something that has not been mentioned tonight but that we really should talk about: the hideous level of the UK’s excess winter deaths. That picks up the point from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, about the way our society is going backwards in life expectancy, particularly healthy life expectancy.
Green policy for decades has said that environmental and social justice are indivisible. By environment, we mean the physical built environment as well as the natural environment. So you will not find any Green names on any of these amendments, because we did not need to be there. Nearly all these amendments have full cross-party backing, including from the Conservative Party, and non-party backing—and I join many others in applauding the huge amount of work done by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, on the issue of buildings. All this fits together. In Oral Questions earlier today, in a debate about diets, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, said that it is not just about diets; it is also about exercise. Well, how about we have homes built with active transport in mind; how about we have walking paths, cycling paths and safe ways to get around?
The noble Lord just referred to access to nature and a children’s right to nature. How about we write that into law and say that every child has that right? The proposals in this amendment point us in that direction and put them, crucially, into the Bill. I am not going to repeat everything that has been said, because so much has been said. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, picked up something I have long been banging on about, and that is security by design. Rather than talking about bobbies on the beat, rather than trying to deal with the problem we have already created, let us build out the problem of neighbourhoods that work for people and that are secure.
I am going to really restrain myself here, because I could just get so excited hearing so many things that I agree with from every side of the Committee, but I will not: I am going to do the classic Green thing and point out some hard truths. One of these is that, while I said this was green heaven, the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, put some silver sprinkles on that heaven by bringing up growth. We have had growth for decades; we have chased GDP growth and look where it has got us. Look at the actual fabric of our society, the utter ill health, mental and physical, of our society. I say to both of the largest parties, who are currently waging a political duel about who can offer more growth: let us talk about the healthy society that the amendments here would collectively put together in the Bill.
The other awkward truth is what is behind all this. Who is building these homes that immediately need to be retrofitted to be even basically liveable and healthy? Who is building these homes in places where there is no public transport and no provision for active transport? We have a handful of mass housebuilders who are driven by profit. It is the legal responsibility of the directors to maximise profit, which is why we need these amendments to the Bill. All parts of our society need to see that there are controls on the profit motive, so our society works for people and planet and does not keep being milked for profit at the cost of the rest of us.
We have to have these controls and rules, and these rules have to come from government, and from Parliament if they are not going to come directly from government. I would say that your Lordships’ House has a huge opportunity with this Bill, and not just this Bill: tomorrow, we will be on the Energy Bill; and how about Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, who has a big drive on for solar panels on every suitable new home? Why on earth not? We need to join all this up and make it happen: this is our responsibility to the people of today for the climate, and our responsibility to the people of the future.
My Lords, I have been listening to an excellent debate, and I just want to say one thing that relates to Amendment 484 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and others. I just hope that, when my noble friend is responding or takes some of these very important points away, he responds not simply to the question of what is required in Building Regulations but what is achievable in terms of the sustainable framework for buildings. I declare a registered interest as counsel to Low Associates, which, between 2018 and 2020 was working with the European Commission on Level(s), which is a European Commission sustainable framework for buildings.
Such certification schemes exist. In this country, we have the Building Research Establishment’s environmental assessment method; the Americans have Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design; in France, they have gone further and legislated in RE 2020. The point I want to make is that, yes, we should focus on what is needed in order to secure an assessment of whole life-cycle carbon emissions in a building, but actually that is not enough, in my view. We should be increasingly looking at greenhouse gas emissions in total, at a circular economy and the reuse and recycling of materials, including in the demolition of buildings or the repurposing of buildings. We should be looking at water use and water resources. And we can put these, as many organisations increasingly do in certification schemes, in formats that are also very relevant to the performance assessment, including the cost assessment, of buildings, for those who have to invest in buildings, and indeed, in the public sector for those whose job it is to procure buildings.
We have structures that are available. We can see both voluntary schemes and—in the case of France and one or two others—legislative schemes that can focus on the broader environmental, health-related and social objectives of our buildings. These schemes recognise that, across Europe, 36% of greenhouse gas emissions are derived from our building stock. We have to deal with this; it is a central part of our environmental objectives. I hope Ministers are looking at both the statutory minimum requirements and a certification process that encourages the whole industry to move to a higher level of performance.
My Lords, yesterday I had the privilege of walking along a body of water called Frenchman’s Creek, which—some noble Lords may know—was made famous by the novel of Daphne du Maurier. I was walking through what is one of the remains of the UK’s temperate rainforest. I was in a green space, and I was next to a blue space, which fed out into the Helford River, which went out into the channel. You could see the ocean beyond that. That is why I support Amendment 241, in particular. This amendment is all about giving everybody access to those green and blue spaces, which is a privilege I have, living in the far south-west of this nation. I was walking, but I might have been running or cycling, although I do not think I would have been wheeling. All those types of exercise are absolutely vital to everybody.
To me, the theme of this debate has been that if we really want to level up, as my noble friend Lord Stunell mentioned, health and life expectancy are fundamental to that. That is why I support Amendment 241 and many others here as well. I hope that the Government will be able to positively respond to that.
My Lords, this has been a very important discussion—a very long discussion—with an awful lot for the Minister to consider, both in his summing up and afterwards. It has been important because it is about how our planning system affects our health. It has also brought some specific tangible changes which could be prioritised to make a difference, and which are currently ignored in the Bill and in the National Planning Policy Framework review. This is despite the fact that there are not just missions on decent homes but missions on narrowing the gap of healthy life expectancy and on improving well-being. If this is a levelling-up Bill, these threads need to go through it. The planning section is an important area whereby we can make changes to health and well-being. I think the link to planning is particularly relevant when you look at homes, home standards and the standards of our future homes. The amendments here address these gaps. If we are genuinely going to make a difference here, we have to put people right at the centre of our planning system.
First, I will look at the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. I have an amendment in this group to probe the supply of healthy homes, but the debate around the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, have clearly covered what my amendment was looking to probe, in a far more effective way. As has already been said, we need to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, on his tenacity and refusal to give up on the fact that people’s health and well-being need to be put right at the heart of how we regulate the built environment. We should also congratulate the Town and Country Planning Association and its campaign to do the same. This is a very important issue.
We know that since the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, started his campaign a couple of years ago, the medical evidence surrounding the relationship between the condition of someone’s home and neighbourhood and their life chances has become even stronger. That evidence is there. We supported his earlier Private Member’s Bill on this, and I am very proud to support the amendments he has put forward today. We also know that evidence is growing of the often shockingly poor standards of some new homes that are coming through the deregulated planning system—that is what it is. We know that the Government have acknowledged that housing and health are key to the levelling-up agenda, but we need clear provisions in the Bill to actually achieve that objective.
According to the Building Research Establishment, 2.6 million homes in England—that is 11%—in 2021 were poor-quality and hazardous to occupants. It estimates, as we have heard from others, that the NHS has a huge cost to carry because of the state of some of our homes. We need to recognise that there is an obvious regulatory failure right at the heart of our approach to the built environment. As my noble friend Lord Blunkett said, having healthy warm homes is a complete no-brainer.
The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, referred to the letter that the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, wrote to Peers at the end of January. In it, she recognised that housing provision is vital to the mission of levelling up. I will not read from the letter as other noble Lords have done that. It is also important to reiterate that the letter said that the Government should support the objective within the Healthy Homes Bill. If this is genuinely what the Minister and the Government believe, surely they should be accepting these amendments instead of dismissing the specific approach that is taken in the Healthy Homes Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. The provisions are not already being dealt with by existing rules or alternative policies, as the Minister said in her letter. If they are, why are our homes in such a poor state?
The noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Birmingham, talked about the fact that we need mechanisms to bring change. These amendments would bring those mechanisms. He talked about how bad decisions last a generation and beyond. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, talked about good and bad design from his experience. These are the things that the Government should listen to. While we have the existing policy contained in documents—such as the National Planning Policy Framework or national technical housing standards, which cover some of the elements addressed in the healthy homes principles—they are not mandatory legal standards. As such, they can be set aside by local decision-makers.
My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath articulately outlined how our built environment affects our health. He talked about the widening gap between richest and poorest and the impact of health inequalities. This refers back to that mission. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, mentioned the high number of excess winter deaths. These are all things that can be tackled if we improve our planning regulations. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, suggested that perhaps a revised NPPF could include some revised commitments in this area. It would be a very straightforward thing for the Government to commit to do. The problem is that building regulations are focused on minimum standards of physical safety rather than the proactive promotion of people’s wider health and well-being. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby mentioned the terrible outcomes that can result from this particular focus.
Planning law, as we have heard, has no overall legal duty for the Secretary of State to promote health and well-being. It contains very weak provisions on the promotion of sustainable development, but none of them refers to human health and well-being. My noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch discussed how we can make walking and cycling more readily accessible, as well as the importance of access to nature and green spaces and reclaiming derelict land. The problem is that, because the framework is advisory and discretionary, we do not make any progress. That alone should justify the approach in the Healthy Homes Bill. The need for fundamental change is reinforced by the lack of priority given to health and well-being in national policy, and by the fact that where policy does exist, it is often expressed as a “nice to have”, rather than an essential requirement at the heart of what we should be doing. Will the Minister consider meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, to look at how these proposals can be taken forward? I think there is huge support in this House for what the noble Lord is trying to achieve.
As usual, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, very readily and clearly introduced his Amendment 241. I thank him, because it is extremely important to have an amendment on health inequalities in this debate; it picks up the mission I mentioned earlier and looks to plug that gap in the Bill. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby mentioned Professor Sir Michael Marmot. I understand—the noble Lord, Lord Young, may have told me this—that he supports the noble Lord’s Bill. He supported greater use of the planning system to address health inequalities in his landmark Fair Society, Healthy Lives review. The planning sector has taken his work to heart since then, to some extent, but it needs concerted government backing if it is to deliver on what he is proposing.
The noble Lord, Lord Foster, spoke to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Young, and highlighted some specific tools that planners have to address health inequalities. He talked about improving access to nature, allowing for exercise and so on. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, also talked about access to green and blue spaces and the importance of that on our health. Professor Marmot said that reducing health inequalities was a matter of fairness and social justice, and I absolutely support those comments. Again, will the Minister take a look at his findings and see if the Government could support them?
I was very pleased to add my name to Amendment 484 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale. We have heard that embodied carbon emissions in construction are not regulated, even though they can constitute the bulk of emissions from new buildings. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, the substantial portion of UK carbon emissions that buildings and construction hold are kind of hidden; they are not talked about enough. It is important that this is better recognised and that we look at how we can take action to tackle this.
The noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, explained operational carbon emissions and embodied carbon emissions, the difference between them, and why one is recognised in particular and the other is not, even though the embodied carbon emissions in construction now contribute to an increasing proportion of the whole-life carbon emissions for most buildings. As he said, the problem is that they are not regulated as operational carbon emissions are. That is why his amendment is important, because it recognises that things are moving and changing.
The noble Lord mentioned the Part Z campaign, and I congratulate it for the tremendous work it has done. There is work being done voluntarily in the construction industries on this. The Greater London Authority now requires a whole-life carbon assessment as part of planning for projects over a certain size. As we have heard, this is already happening in other countries. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, talked about schemes that are already available—for example, the sustainable framework for buildings. So, there is precedent for things to happen in this area.
Finally, we absolutely support Amendment 504GF in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. She talked about the synergy between healthy homes and energy efficiency and the impact of damp and cold homes on residents’ health. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, who is no longer in his place, talked about the fact that we have some of the oldest housing stock in Europe, so we need to do something about this. The noble Baroness explained clearly the importance of her amendment. We believe that the Government need to change their approach to energy efficiency and how they prioritise it going forward. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I declare my interest as the owner of let residential property. As we have heard, all the amendments in this group draw attention in their different ways to the healthy homes agenda, whether relating to the health of the population or that of the planet, as regards both planning policy and the physical delivery of new homes. There is a lot to cover, so I hope noble Lords will forgive me if my response is fairly lengthy.
I begin by paying tribute, as other noble Lords have, to the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, for the assiduous work he has done in championing the healthy homes agenda—including through his Private Member’s Bill, which is currently proceeding through your Lordships’ House. Amendments 188 and 395 to 399, which articulate the key principles for healthy homes and are supported by Amendments 241 and 281D in this group, transport us back to the Second Reading debate of that Bill, which took place last July. Members of the Committee will recall from that debate that what separated the noble Lord’s position from that of the Government was not any issue of principle around the desirability of healthy homes. Where we had to part company with him—and, I am afraid, must continue to do so—was on the extent to which new legislation should duplicate legal provisions already in place, and, to the extent that it does not duplicate it, how much more prescriptive the law should be about the way in which new housing is planned for and designed.
Healthy homes and neighbourhoods are important for our communities, and it is because of this that our existing laws, systems, planning policy and design guidance all focus on achieving that objective. Indeed, the whole purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. That is why the National Planning Policy Framework already contains very clear policy on sustainable development. It includes good design; how to plan for sustainable modes of transport, including walking and cycling; an integrated approach to the location of housing; economic uses; and the requirement for community services and facilities. It recognises the importance of open space and green infrastructure for health, well-being and recreation, and it contains policies on how to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places.
One part of achieving sustainable development is ensuring that a sufficient number and range of homes can be provided to meet the needs of present and future generations. Local planning authorities should set out an overall strategy for the pattern, scale and design quality of places and make sufficient provision for housing. The framework is clear that planning policies and decisions should promote an effective use of land in meeting the need for homes, while at the same time ensuring safe and healthy living conditions.
The framework sets out that the planning system should support the transition to a low-carbon future. It should help to shape places in ways that contribute to radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, minimise vulnerability and improve resilience, encourage the reuse of existing resources and support renewable and low-carbon energy. Plans should take a proactive approach to mitigating and adapting to climate change, taking into account the long-term implications, in line with the objectives and provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008.
One of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, during the debate on Second Reading of his Healthy Homes Bill—a comment that has been made again this evening—was that a lot of government policy was enshrined in guidance rather than being mandatory. I will just make the point that the National Planning Policy Framework must, as a matter of law, be taken into account in preparing the development plan, and is a material consideration in planning decisions. Our proposals for national development management policies in the Bill will ensure that national policies directed at decision-making have clear and explicit statutory weight in future.
Of course, we want to look for ways of improving the NPPF. That is why the recent consultation on reforms to national planning policy makes it clear that we are intending to review the NPPF to support the programme of changes to the planning system. This will provide a good opportunity to ensure that the NPPF, as well as the new suite of national development management policies, contributes to sustainable development as fully as possible.
In addition, the NPPF does not sit in isolation. Alongside it, the National Design Guide and National Model Design Code illustrate how well-designed places that are beautiful, healthy, greener, enduring and successful can be achieved in practice. Yes, both are guidance documents, but it is appropriate that they should be. They advise local councils on how the 10 characteristics of well-designed places can inform their local plans, guidance, design codes and planning decisions. This includes detailed advice on providing for resource efficiency, climate mitigation and adaptation, safe, inclusive and accessible buildings and public spaces, prioritising walking and cycling, and green space and biodiversity in new development.
On liveable space in new homes, the Government believe that ensuring a good standard and quality of internal space is vital to achieving well-designed and healthy homes for all. National planning policy includes a nationally described space standard, which means that councils have the option to set minimum space standards for new homes in their local area.
To come back on a point raised by the noble Lords, Lord Crisp and Lord Stunell, among others, the Government also recognise the importance of enforcing these standards in homes delivered through permitted development, so new homes in England, which are delivered without the need to apply for planning permission, must meet this space standard as a minimum.
The National Design Guide reminds local councils of many of the things that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bennett, among others, talked about, that the quality of internal space needs careful consideration in higher-density developments, particularly for family accommodation, where access, privacy, daylight and external amenity space are also important. In addition, the National Model Design Code asks that in preparing design codes, consideration needs to be given to internal layouts that maximise access to natural daylight.
Therefore, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, that I entirely understand the spirit of his amendments and the importance of their subject matter, but we are clear that those matters are already being considered and addressed through existing laws, systems, national planning policy and associated design guidance, and that the balance between those is broadly appropriate.
Amendment 394 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, makes particular reference to the safety of new and existing buildings. The Government have been clear that there must be a strong regulatory regime in place to ensure that buildings are built and maintained safely, and we are undertaking a series of measures to do this. This includes providing £5.1 billion to address the fire safety risks caused by unsafe cladding on high-rise residential buildings. We are taking forward the Building Safety Act by consulting on a range of regulatory reforms, which will ensure accountability is strengthened and will establish a national building safety regulator, at the heart of our reformed building regulations and fire safety system, in the Health and Safety Executive.
The building safety regulator will make buildings safer by enforcing a stringent new regulatory regime for high-rise residential and other in-scope buildings, overseeing the safety and performance of all buildings, and increasing the competence of those working across the built environment. The building safety regulator will have its own robust new enforcement powers in relation to high-rise residential and other in-scope buildings, and in exercising these will work closely with local authorities, fire and rescue authorities and other regulatory experts.
Building regulations in England set requirements for a range of matters relating to the health and well-being of people in their homes. Building regulations standards for ventilation in homes were recently updated and introduced a new requirement to reduce the risk of overheating. They also contain requirements for ensuring that new buildings are made secure against unauthorised access. In July 2022, following a public consultation, we set out our plans to raise the accessibility standard for all new homes. We intend to consult further on the technical changes to the building regulations to mandate a higher accessibility standard. Research has also recently been completed on the prevalence and demographics of impairment in England, ergonomic requirements and experiences of disabled people. The evidence gathered will enable us to consider what updates are needed to statutory guidance.
We have clear plans for ensuring that new homes meet the highest standards of energy efficiency. From 2025, the future homes standard will ensure that new homes will be future proofed for net zero, with low-carbon heat and high levels of energy efficiency.
Much of what I have just set out applies equally to the matters covered by Amendment 241 in the name of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, but I would like to say a bit more about greener transport, which he mentioned, as did the noble Lords, Lord Foster of Bath and Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. The Government’s transport decarbonisation plan, which sets out the actions needed to decarbonise the UK’s transport system, makes it clear that through good design and proper consideration of the needs of our communities, we can better connect people as well as promoting the principles of 20-minute neighbourhoods.
Gear Change sets out the Government’s vision for making England a great walking and cycling nation and highlights its importance for improving health and well-being. This has also led to the establishment of Active Travel England, a statutory consultee within the planning system that will press for adequate cycling and walking provision in all developments over a certain threshold and provide advice on ways in which such provision can be improved. Furthermore, there is a commitment to update the Manual for Streets, expected later this year. This key guidance document on street design places consideration of the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, and public transport at the top of the hierarchy of street users.
The levelling up White Paper made it clear that ensuring natural beauty is accessible to all will be central to our planning system. This includes improved green belts around towns and cities, supported by local nature recovery strategies reflected in plan-making, and woodland creation supported across the UK.
Amendment 484 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, would introduce a new building regulation to mandate whole-life carbon assessments in building developments above a certain size. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his powerful speech, and took note of all that he said. The Government agree that measuring and reducing the embodied carbon in our buildings is an essential step on the path to net zero. The problem here—I have covered this issue in earlier legislative contexts—is that there is not yet agreement on the exact means, mechanisms and timings to achieve it, which is why the Government cannot, I am afraid, support this amendment.
Carrying out whole-life carbon assessments to better understand the state of play across building types is a key part of the process. When done properly, though, these assessments are not small things. We do not yet understand enough about the impacts on either individual projects or on the wider industry—in particular, on small and medium-sized enterprises, which the noble Lord rightly emphasised—to commit to mandating them through the building regulations, as this amendment would do.
The noble Lord will be aware of the Environmental Audit Committee’s report, Building to Net Zero, and its recommendations. In the Government’s response, we set out our work in this area. This includes researching the practical, technical and economic impacts of potential interventions, as well as consulting this year on our approach to the issues. It is vital that this work and the accompanying analysis happen before any intervention is committed to.
Finally, I turn to Amendment 504GF, which would impose
“a duty on the Secretary of State to bring forward a plan with timebound proposals for low carbon heat, energy efficient homes and non-domestic properties and higher standards on new homes.”
A number of speakers pressed the need for solid action in this area, and I hope to show that we are indeed taking such action. In the heat and buildings strategy, the Government set out the actions we are taking to reduce carbon emissions from buildings in the near term and provided a clear long-term framework to enable industry to invest and deliver the transition to low-carbon heating. The strategy sets out several key commitments for how different building sectors will achieve transition in a way that is affordable and achievable for all. These commitments were further iterated through the net-zero strategy and the energy security strategy. In the context of our existing net-zero strategy and the heat and buildings strategy, as well as our forthcoming response to the net-zero review, the proposed action plan would be duplicative.
In the 2022 Autumn Statement, the Chancellor announced plans to establish the Energy Efficiency Taskforce to support a 15% reduction in energy demand across the whole economy in 2023, with the group meeting for the first time in March. The Government have already set out their ambition to phase out fossil fuel boilers from 2035 and scale-up heat pump deployment to kick-start the transition to low-carbon heat, as noted in the heat and buildings strategy.
I really appreciate the detail that the Minister is going into but would he concede that these initiatives are all by way of announcements rather than actual programmes for action? Every week, I hear from people who work in the industry about their uncertainty over the actual programme that the Government have and the strength of belief that they should put into the assurances issued because there have been so many false dawns. I do not want to rejoin the debate completely but I urge the Minister not just to read out a catalogue of initiatives and press releases but to tell us some hard news about progress planned and delivered.
I have already spoken for rather a long time. If I can add some further detail to what I have already said, I think it would be appropriate for me to write to noble Lords about that. I hope and believe that the Committee will welcome the announcements that the Government have made and the direction of travel that we have set. We could be criticised if we had not announced such a direction of travel because there is no disagreement in principle between any of us as to how important this agenda is.
On the goal that I have set out—the phasing out of fossil fuel boilers and the scaling up of heat pump deployment—we are currently taking steps towards decarbonising heat, including through the £450 million boiler upgrade scheme and a new market mechanism in the heating appliance market, along with heat network trials zoning. The Government are already working with industry and local authorities to develop new heat networks and improve existing ones, investing more than £500 million in funds and programmes. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that real money is being put behind these programmes.
The Government agree with the principle of increasing the ambition for minimum energy efficiency standards to lower energy bills and deliver carbon savings in order to meet our net-zero targets. This is reflected in our ambition in the heat and buildings strategy to strengthen our existing private rented sector regulations. In relation to minimum energy efficiency standards for domestic buildings, the Government agree with the ambition of reaching EPC band C by 2035 for as many homes as possible where that is cost-effective, practical and affordable. The Government also consulted on our proposed future trajectory for the non-domestic private rented sector minimum energy efficiency standards, with an ambition for properties to meet EPC band B by 2030 where that is cost-effective. We also aim to consult on a similar long-term policy for non-domestic owner-occupied properties.
The Government need to have sufficient opportunity to review the outcomes of the non-domestic private rented sector regulations consultations and to reflect the changing policy landscape in policy design. It is our intention to reflect on the valuable feedback to ensure that any policy is fair and proportionate for businesses and property owners. The Government have already set out their timeline to deliver the future homes standard by 2025, and we plan to consult on the technical details of the standard later this year.
Finally, both the Climate Change Committee and its Adaptation Sub-Committee already play a key role, providing independent advice and scrutiny of the Government’s long-term net-zero policies and proposals. They hold government accountable by publishing a statutory progress report to Parliament. We do not therefore consider this additional requirement necessary.
With these explanations and assurances, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, will be happy to withdraw Amendment 188. I am sure that these are matters to which we will return on a regular basis, but I hope that noble Lords will not feel the need to press their amendments in this group when they are reached.
I want to make one point on the quality of building, in particular the safety of new-build homes. In 2021, the average new-build property had 157 defects, up 96% from 2005. Would the Minister care to tell me when he thinks we might get back to the defect levels of 2005 and how the Government will achieve that?
My Lords, there have been many tremendous debates in your Lordships’ Chamber, and this has certainly been one of them. I am very grateful to everyone who spoke in support of the amendments that I and other noble Lords tabled. I am also grateful for the personal comments that noble Lords have made, and I will pass those straight on to the TCPA, which actually did the work behind the scenes on this entire campaign.
I was thinking of how to sum this up without going through everything. If the Government will forgive me, in today’s debate were the makings of a very decent levelling up Bill. If we could bring these things together, it would have ambition and vision, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, and others, talked about. It would also be strategic and systemic; the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, made a point about the environmental and energy issues being deeply integrated with health and well-being. We need to see some systemic change if we are to make the differences that we are talking about. There are also practical things that can be done here—people have talked about levers and specifics. They are also guided by experience. I was very heartened to hear very experienced Members from different backgrounds, including noble Lords who understand these issues because they meet them in their professional lives. So, such a Bill would have a lot of important ingredients and a broadly shared vision.
I was struck by another thing, which planners will be pleased about. Planning is often seen as a negative, but all noble Lords described it as something that could enable the creation of the flourishing individuals, society and communities that we all want.
I will not take up any more time, except to respond to the noble Earl’s response. At Second Reading of the Healthy Homes Bill, I got a very similar response from the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield. My response was that:
“I was not necessarily surprised and therefore not necessarily disappointed”.—[Official Report, 15/7/22; col. 1706.]
I am not surprised, but I would like to think that there is some route for discussion. The big difference here is between guidance and what is required. In my comments, I have been trying to hammer in that we need to build houses that are fit for purpose. We also need to return to the health and well-being issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and by me. I would be very happy to meet the Government if it were useful to discuss these things further. Maybe there is some useful discussion to be had around the NPPF. I am not sure whether there will be but, if not, I expect us to debate this again in this Chamber sometime after the Coronation—I am not quite sure when. I suspect that we may also be debating health and well-being.
I finish by returning to the noble Lord, Lord Young, who was kindly encouraging me to negotiate. I will look to him for advice on how best to do that, but I cannot resist replying to his very first comment, which noble Lords may remember—two hours and 17 minutes ago or whenever it was—that, as “Young and Crisp”, we sound like a supermarket selling lettuces. It reminded me of another Member—the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich—making a similar comment a few years ago. In a debate on Africa, he said something similar about sandwiches and crisps. I can only say that I am extremely fortunate in my business partners.
On that note, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 188 withdrawn.
Schedule 6 agreed.
Clause 87: National development management policies: meaning
Amendments 189 to 191B not moved.
Clause 87 agreed.
Amendments 192 to 196 not moved.
Sitting suspended. Committee to begin again not before 8.35 pm.
Clause 88: Contents of the spatial development strategy
196A: Clause 88, page 95, line 24, leave out “are” and insert “the Mayor considers to be”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is intended to remove ambiguity about whose opinion is relevant in relation to whether or not a matter is of strategic importance to more than one London borough.
My Lords, my Amendments 196A, 197 and 197A relate to implications from clauses in the Bill that impact specifically on London. The devolution proposals are, perhaps understandably, focused on areas outside London, with an emphasis on mayoral authorities, and do not always recognise the unique governance arrangements within London. London councils continue to make the case for further devolution to London and that boroughs should have a central role in this alongside the mayor.
Amendment 196A would clarify the ambiguity in the current wording of the Bill regarding the spatial development strategy for the development and use of land in Greater London. Policies that the mayor considers to be of strategic importance are included in that statement.
Amendment 197 would ensure that there are no unintended consequences of precluding policies that may apply to other urban areas or are not specific to Greater London uniquely.
Amendment 197A refers again to an issue that we discussed extensively last week. We were very clean to clarify it, but I am not sure we did to any great extent. It would remove the words that specifically preclude any clause from the NDMP being put into the spatial development strategy. In the case of London, as elsewhere, the Bill is saying that the strategy must neither be inconsistent with nor repeat anything in the NDMP. Surely all development plans will necessarily set out how they are using the NDMP and adapting it for their local context. In some cases, this may mean repeating what is in the NDMP.
My next amendment in this group, Amendment 199, would remove the restriction in Schedule 7 that a combined authority may not prepare a joint spatial development strategy. Combined authorities set up under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 may have established working arrangements that could well be used to work constructively towards developing joint spatial development strategies. I am interested to hear the Minister’s view about why they should be explicitly excluded from doing so in this clause.
I am interested to hear the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, in relation to her Amendments 198A and 198B, but to confer powers to develop spatial development strategies on county councils would be yet another major change to the current planning system. Combined authorities will already have authorities within them that have planning powers. County councils, as the system stands, have powers only over mineral and waste plans. Is it the noble Baroness’s intention that we should also have this major restructuring of the planning system in two-tier areas?
Amendment 200 from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, would include a permissive clause to enable the joint spatial strategy to include strategic employment sites. This goes over and above the more general provision in Schedule 7 for new Section 15AA(2)(c), which is a general power to promote or improve economic well-being in the area. This seems a very sensible inclusion for the Bill.
Similarly, my noble friend Lady Hayman’s Amendment 200A is a permissive amendment to Schedule 7 to allow the inclusion of specific sites for health and social care purposes—including, importantly, palliative care services—in joint spatial strategies.
The amendments by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, point to the need for those preparing joint spatial strategies to identify sites for vital infrastructure needed to support development at an early stage in strategic planning. This helps communities that are engaged in considering developments to be reassured that the infrastructure has been considered in detail and gives certainty, in the case of employment sites, to investors, and, in the case of health and social care sites, to both public and private providers, that their needs are being fully considered.
Amendments 202 to 204, my next three in this group, refer to the sub-paragraphs in Schedule 7 on consultation and engagement with all those who may have an interest in the plan. Amendment 202 is designed as a catch-all to ensure that all community groups are considered. The current provision refers to voluntary bodies; groups representing racial, ethnic or national groups or religious groups; and business organisations. Every area is different and has its own network of community organisations, so this would make sure that every relevant group is included.
Amendment 203 is very important. It removes the inexplicable sub-paragraph in the Bill that states:
“No person is to have a right to be heard at an examination in public.”
The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 contains specific provisions relating to when representations may be disregarded, but it seems a singularly swingeing provision for the Bill to suggest that no one has a right to be heard. I suspect that the intention is that the emphasis is on “right” rather than “no one”, but, at a time when we are trying to encourage more engagement of the public in planning and democracy generally, the wording here is particularly off-putting.
One of the huge issues that councils face is that the public often do not engage with the planning process at all until an application that immediately affects them is submitted. We should be encouraging more public engagement at a time when, for example, sites and land uses are being designated, so that the public feel that they have been able to contribute their local knowledge and views. I have another amendment in a later group on this. Will the Minister reflect on this wording?
People should absolutely have a right to be heard at an examination in public. For that reason, we have included Amendment 204, which adds an additional subsection to proposed new Clause 15AC, after proposed new subsection (7). At the moment, it states that only
“participating authorities, and … any person invited to do so by the person conducting the examination in public”
may attend. We believe that this should be amended so that people who have made representations to the inquiry in public and wish to attend should be able to. We appreciate that consideration may have to be given so that the examiner can decide not to hear representations, for example where they are not legitimate planning matters or are vexatious. In those cases, the individual should be informed of the reasons why they are not invited to appear.
Amendment 205, from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, sets out a new provision in the Bill to ensure that all relevant authorities in a travel to work area of a joint spatial development strategy are engaged in the preparation of the strategy. It has been a feature of planning in recent years that, increasingly, travel to work areas are a key consideration of the planning process. Indeed, as far back as 2014, in a letter addressed to the Planning Inspectorate, the then Minister for Housing and Planning, Brandon Lewis, urged that local plans take account of travel to work areas for their strategic housing market assessments. As borders between authorities become more fluid due to their economic profile, housing markets, transport and infrastructure; because the factors associated with climate change mitigation cannot operate within tight boundaries; and because of the strategic nature of joint spatial strategy preparation, it makes sense to us to incorporate this provision, which we would support.
In a similar vein, for the reasons that I have just explained, my Amendment 206 writes into the Bill a duty to co-operate where there is no joint spatial development strategy in place. In effect, most areas are already undertaking such joint planning exercises, and it would be unusual for a planning inspector or public inquiry not to look at this in some depth. It seems sensible to ensure that this is now enshrined in the Bill to give it the necessary foundation in law, and certainty to local authorities. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak in particular to Amendments 200 and 205 which are tabled in my name. I will also talk about one or two other amendments in this group, which were very helpfully introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, who set out not only the purposes of her amendments but gave a very straightforward description of all the other amendments. I am most grateful for that.
As noble Lords will have heard, Amendment 200 would enable a joint spatial development strategy to
“specify or describe employment sites the provision of which the participating authorities consider to be of strategic importance to the joint strategy area”.
The reason for this is that at this point in Schedule 7 there is reference to infrastructure that is relevant to the joint strategy area as a whole, not just to one participating authority. There is then a reference to affordable housing. I am not quite sure where that came from, since it is not obviously the case that affordable housing necessarily has implications of strategic importance beyond the participating authority in which the affordable housing is to be provided, but leave that on one side.
If one is to identify and specify in this part of Schedule 7, which is about making a spatial development strategy and looking at what is of strategic importance, it seems fairly obvious that employment sites—which, by their nature, will be the large employment sites—absolutely give rise to a need for them to be identified in a joint spatial development strategy. That links directly to the question of infrastructure and, in due course, to housing need. The infrastructure point is where the SDS really comes from. The SDS is about enabling that strategic planning to be achieved.
On a later group I will reiterate a broad point, which I will return to on a number of occasions in our debates, which is that, if we do nothing else, I hope we can identify and move towards opportunities for the planning processes to be co-ordinated, not just land use planning but transport planning, utilities planning, power supply and water supply. These all need to be properly integrated to have the best overall effect.
How is this to be achieved? I should remind noble Lords again that I chair the Cambridgeshire Development Forum; that is a registered interest of mine. Back at the beginning of the year, we had a very good presentation by Graham Pointer from WSP, who worked on the integrated planning processes in New South Wales. The essence of it was very straightforward: integrated planning of land use, transport, power, water and the environment and ensuring that these plans were then able to be funded together. We are not going to get into the funding mechanisms, but we can certainly ensure that there are integrated plans, ideally on integrated timetables.
One would imagine that this is very straightforward and it should be possible to make it happen. It almost never happens in the places I go to. There are constantly different tiers of administration in local areas that are conducting different aspects of planning at different times and with different parameters. We really need to try to integrate planning. If my noble friends on the Front Bench can push that forward, using spatial development strategies, that would be really useful. At the Westminster Social Policy Forum, I chaired a discussion on the OxCam corridor the Friday before last. It was one of the strongest messages to come out. Here is a key economic area. On travel to work areas, as a consequence of, for example, the east-west rail development, those areas may well be extended, so that the travel to work area for Cambridge extends potentially to new sites and settlements in Bedfordshire, and the travel to work area for Oxford and Harwell might well extend increasingly to settlements in and around Milton Keynes.
Increasingly, we have different authorities in different counties whose planning processes need to be co-ordinated and integrated together. Spatial development strategies are a way of doing that. I am old enough to remember when we had the Standing Conference of East Anglian Local Authorities and we used to do planning processes through regional mechanisms. We do not have regional planning now but that does not mean that we need to abandon the concept of strategic planning. Strategy does not require us to have integrated and large-scale authorities; it just means that the authorities need to come together.
Amendment 200 is specifically about employment sites, because of their relative strategic importance to an area or combined areas. Amendment 205 is about bringing additional authorities with a role to play into the process. I am grateful to the County Councils Network for its assistance in shaping an amendment for this purpose. I added the reference to travel to work areas, so I am particularly pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, commended that it should extend specifically to those authorities within a travel to work area, even if they are not one of the participating authorities. That is why we want to focus particularly on district councils, which may not join in the SDS but need to be consulted in the process. Also, counties and county combined authorities should be included in the consultation.
This engagement and consultation is in relation to their functions but it does not make them participants in the spatial development strategy itself. It does not give them a veto over the spatial development strategy but is confined to their bringing to the party the things that they can do. Given that for counties it includes something as integral as transport planning, this is fundamental to a spatial development strategy being able to work effectively. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for signing that amendment. I confess that I cannot see that we can put counties into the spatial development strategies as such, because of the difficulties of their not having planning powers—this is a combination of those that do have the planning powers—but it is absolutely right that they should be involved.
Apart from my own amendments, I want to say a word about Amendment 199. When I read it, I asked myself why the combined authorities are not part of this. The only reason I can think of is that they already have a non-statutory spatial strategy power. Frankly, I think that should come to the party. If noble Lords have a moment, I suggest they look at pages 288 and 299 of the Bill, and the new subsections at 15AI to be inserted. This is about what happens when a combined authority is created, and where these areas are already engaged in a joint spatial development strategy. It is awful. Basically, it collapses and it is cancelled; it is all withdrawn. That is the last thing you want. Where participating authorities are working together on a spatial development strategy, the creation of a combined authority should supplement that and enable them to accomplish it more effectively, not cause it all to be withdrawn or cancelled. The language is terrible, but the intention seems to me to be wrong too. I would much rather combined authorities joined in.
In the Cambridge area, we have the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority. The need for planning in that key economic hub extends out from Cambridge to Royston in Hertfordshire, to Haverhill in Suffolk, to Thetford in Norfolk, and to Bedford and Cranfield. It is obviously a candidate that is not only economically important but requires the joint working of local authorities and integrated planning across a wider region. It seems to me that spatial development strategies are a good thing, designed to enable that to happen, but we need the legislation to be more permissive. I would particularly focus on Amendment 205. I hope my noble friend will indicate that Ministers are sympathetic to the ability of counties, and other county combined authorities, to get involved in this way.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow 11 minutes of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, explaining the amendments. I have tabled amendments in this group and supported others because of the potential importance of strategic planning in tackling the climate emergency. We need to embed it in everything that councils do, alongside solving the acute housing crisis in this country.
Mine are probing amendments to find out how the Government see the role of county councils within the production of a joint spatial development strategy. County councils sit one tier above planning authorities, but many have strategic functions—for example, transport, health, social care or education. It seems slightly odd that they do not have a planning role as well.
Schedule 7 as currently drafted would need participating planning authorities to consult the county council once a draft strategy has been produced. It seems to me that this perhaps misses the opportunity to involve county councils actively in the development of the strategy, which I think they could very much contribute to. Taken to its highest level, the county council could even initiate the process and convene the planning authorities to work together. It seems to me that that is likely to happen anyway.
I would like to know the Minister’s thinking on how the Government see the role of county councils in strategic planning and whether they might explore the opportunity of more fully involving counties in spatial development plans.
For most Bills, the more I get involved the more fascinating they become. This Bill is an example of that not working at all. I am finding it incredibly difficult, and I sympathise with the Minister dealing with it. It is very difficult to find a coherent thread through this whole Bill. I applaud her and the Labour Front Bench for toughing it out.
I wonder if my noble friend would accept that it sounds a bit odd to those of us who live in the countryside that counties should be left out. I know why it was; I can see the civil servant saying to her, “Well, you know, counties don’t have planning powers, except for minerals, so it really doesn’t count here. It’s the district councils that have it”. I know what they have said; they would have said it to me all those years ago—that is what they would do. I say to my noble friend that I will not easily be dissuaded from the fact that the county council is crucially important if you go in for spatial planning. I do not see how you do it otherwise.
Take the planning authority for Ipswich. Several of the housing developments and industrial sites that anybody else would have thought were in Ipswich are not; they are outside it, in another district council. The county council has to provide many of the services that service the whole group. If the county council is excluded from this, it is not just a bit odd but it will not work—the county council is crucial.
The second reason why I ask my noble friend to look again is a simple matter. We had the welcome announcement of a new relationship between national and local government. I am distressed by the way that national government often treats local government as if it is a sort of incubus, and I am afraid that civil servants often have a view of local government officers which is other than entirely polite. They say, “Better not, Minister—you never know what they might they do. Therefore, don’t give them any powers without us being able to pull them back.” I am afraid that is the view of many of the civil servants who serviced Ministers and continue to do so, so I want to break into that.
I am pleased to hear of the deal which has been done with Manchester and that with the West Midlands. It seems to be the beginning for a participational democracy, which is so much more effective. But I say to my noble friend that the fact that no country areas are involved in this at the moment is a great mistake, because country people are increasingly of the opinion that we have a metropolitan Government making metropolitan decisions and that we who are in the country do not have a say at all. The counties are very useful for making sure that there is a balance between the town and the country.
This is particularly important for the third reason. We know that what happens now is that more and more people are working at least part of the week from home. That is very true in the countryside and modern technology has made it possible. In general, it is a good thing and I get fed up with superior people who say that everybody ought to be in their offices, otherwise they will not do any work. I declare an interest in that I run a business which, I am happy to say, is successful. We get better productivity and much happier people because they do in fact work from home for two or even three days a week. The reason is that they are part of their local community: they can, in a way, look after their families; they are happier people; they work longer and produce better. I am proud of that but if they live in the country, they want their interests to be carried through in spatial planning. They need that and we have to think of it in a way which we have not had to before.
My last reason is this. If you do not have the counties, spatial planning becomes much less big. It is tiny in many of these areas and now that we have associations between district councils, because they have discovered they are not big enough to do things, you need somebody to come in who brings them all together. The counties have a particular role in doing that.
This is not a real point, because I should not make it, but I just remind my noble friend that the counties have large numbers of people who might just be willing to vote for her party. They do not much like being left out, and they are beginning to think that is what often happens, so there may be some self-interest in rewriting this part of the Bill.
My Lords, how do I follow that? I will not, as it is dangerous territory.
This is a very interesting and important debate because it is about creating part of the hierarchy of a plan-led process. At the moment, we have quite a mixed pattern across England. Obviously, London has the ability to make a spatial strategy policy and plan; so do just some of the metro combined authorities, as they are known. In 2018, there was a statutory instrument which enabled three combined authorities to create spatial strategic plans: they were Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region and the West of England. The others do not. Why not?
Here is an opportunity to create a more coherent approach to spatial development strategies across the country. I am speaking as someone living in a metro area, in West Yorkshire. It does not have the ability to make a spatial development plan but is getting round it by creating lots of plans which it hopes will be adopted by the constituent authorities so that it, in essence, has one. That is not satisfactory because what is needed is an overarching approach that all the constituent authorities can agree on. At the minute, it is a series of plans for different elements—for example, flooding, transport or economic development.
It is not just the county areas which are being omitted from a coherent approach. I hope that, given this debate, the Minister will be able to give us some hope that there will be a bit more coherence attached to this for all the metro mayors and—as has quite rightly been argued—for the counties. It is a nonsense otherwise. I do not know how you can plan, certainly for economic development and transport infrastructure, unless you have an overall approach which a spatial development strategy would enable.
I was very taken with what the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said about thinking about which elements we would want included in a spatial development strategy. He quite rightly included economic development in Amendment 200. I do not know how you could have a spatial development strategy without thinking about economic development and setting aside sites for business development. That must be included.
Having said that, you need to include transport infrastructure. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, climate change must be a part of that as well. Alongside that, if you have housing sites and a broad approach to spatial development and business development, you need to think about public service facilities. At the moment, even in a big metro area such as where I am, these are often so piecemeal, and it is so frustrating. Why can we not have people think about what you need for schools, hospitals, and local general practices, for instance? What about thinking about provision for nature, which was the subject of the first group of amendments this afternoon on local nature recovery plans? That ought to be integrated into an approach to spatial development, as well as leisure facilities. All that needs to be there.
I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, who talked about using travel to work areas as the boundary. That makes it extraordinarily difficult if those are not coterminous with the local authority boundaries which are being used. I will give noble Lords an example from my own experience. Travel to work areas in West Yorkshire include York, Barnsley in South Yorkshire and even Doncaster. People from Manchester come and work in West Yorkshire and Leeds and vice versa.
One of the challenges for the Minister is to try to come up with an answer to what boundaries are used because Schedule 7 talks, quite rightly, about the constituent authorities and members of a combined authority, a combined county authority or even—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Deben—just a county council. You need to know what boundaries you are using.
I am sorry to interrupt, but I think it is actually a bit simpler than that. The participating authorities that choose to be in the spatial development strategy choose to be in it and bring their territory with them. Everybody else, from my point of view in Amendment 205, are other authorities that are consulted. They are not making the strategy, they are consulted about it, so their geography does not matter so much.
My experience is that that was not quite how it worked. In West Yorkshire, Harrogate—which is just north of Leeds—was included, even though it is in North Yorkshire, because it is part of what they call the “golden triangle”. I think it is a challenge, and I hope the Government will just decide which boundaries they use—I presume it will be local authority boundaries, because that makes sense—and the others are just part of a negotiation.
Those are the key points I wanted to make. It is an interesting group to think about how it all works. I notice in the schedule it says that spatial strategies have to be mindful of, and consistent with, the national development management plans. I would like to hear from the Minister how spatial strategies will operate across a wider region, because if you are talking about transport—the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, picked up on this—you need to think in a wider area than just a small combined authority area.
My Lords, this group of amendments concerns strategic planning and spatial development strategies. As these are to date a very rare form of plan, it might be useful to set out some background. The Government recognise that it is often desirable to plan over areas, as we have just heard, wider than a single planning authority in order to properly address the strategic and cross-boundary issues that have been brought up in this debate so far. However, it is important to stress that a spatial development strategy cannot allocate sites; instead, it can set broad indications of how much and what type of development should go where.
Once a spatial development strategy is adopted, local plans within its area must be in general conformity with it; that is, they must generally follow that strategy and its policies. Most of us will not actually have dealt with a spatial development strategy, because only one exists at the moment, and that is in London, which the mayor refers to as the London Plan. Other combined authorities are able to request the equivalent spatial development strategy powers as part of their devolution agreement. Three areas have done so already—Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, and the West of England, as noble Lords have heard—but for various reasons, none has produced a strategy as yet. Moreover, the Government have agreed to give a spatial development strategy power to the West Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority.
Through the Bill, we are extending the powers to produce a spatial development strategy, on a voluntary basis, to other local planning authorities, as we are aware that in other parts of the country—such as Hertfordshire, Essex, Leicestershire and around Nottingham—some of them have already sought to progress strategic plans over recent years. The Government would like to support and enable these efforts at more strategic planning.
Having set out that background, I will turn to the amendments, beginning with Amendment 196A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. This would state that it is for the Mayor of London alone to consider what constitutes a matter that is of strategic importance to Greater London. During the preparation of the London Plan, the mayor’s opinion on what does or does not constitute a strategic matter will of course be essential. However, other people and organisations, including the boroughs, will have a legitimate view on this issue. Through the independent examination that takes place in public on the London Plan, those examining it will also give an opinion on whether a matter contained in the draft plan is of strategic importance.
The clause to which the noble Baroness’s Amendment 197 relates reaffirms the vital role of the London Plan in setting strategic policy for the capital. The text that is proposed to be removed underlines that such policies should relate to the particular characteristics or circumstances of London. Nothing here would prevent the Mayor of London considering matters during the preparation of the London Plan that affect London but relate to areas outside Greater London, if necessary. However, it must be right that the policies themselves relate to the area for which the mayor has jurisdiction.
The noble Baroness’s Amendment 197A concerns the London Plan’s ability to repeat the content of national development management policies. Noble Lords will recall that we discussed these matters extensively earlier in Committee, and I therefore do not intend to reiterate our thinking on this matter, in order to save some time, if the noble Baroness does not mind.
Amendments 198A and 198B, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, seek to enable county councils to be participating authorities in a joint spatial development strategy. I strongly agree with her that county councils should play an important role in plan-making—I expect them to have significant influence over the development of joint spatial development strategies, and I envisage them being closely involved in their day-to-day production. To make sure that this happens, we are giving them the formal status of statutory consultees, so that they can bring their expertise on a range of issues, particularly transport, as we heard, to the development of a joint spatial development strategy.
I thank my noble friend Lord Deben for supporting this. I reassure him that, through the Bill, the rural county areas will now have the opportunity to have powers similar to those of Manchester and the West Midlands, as they can go forward to a county combined authority—CCA.
I disagree. The district councils, about which we have been hearing, are the planning authorities in those areas, and the county council is not. So it is important that we make sure that this is district-led but that the county has the important role of statutory consultee. But that will be different in different counties, depending on whether they are unitary authorities; in which case, they will of course be the planning authority and therefore can lead on this spatial strategy.
The county authority is the mineral planning authority, so how can we talk about spatial planning if we exclude the things for which the county authority is a planning authority. Making the distinction between being consulted—having a consultant role—and being part of the decision-making seems to me to be a false distinction. As the planning authority for minerals and similar things, it has to be part of such a spatial plan. I just do not understand the distinction.
I do not think that there is a distinction. They can be, and will be, part of it. I am sure that they will be part of whether that particular geographic area or group of councils will decide to go to a spatial strategy in the first place—that is how local government works. But I will give it some more thought; I am sure that we will come back to the issue on Report.
Before my noble friend moves on from this point about counties, can she confirm whether, when she says that they are a statutory consultee, she is referring to new Section 15A), to be inserted by Schedule 7, where they are consulted after the preparation of a draft, which is then deposited with various people? That is substantively different from securing the advice and participation of counties, related districts and others in the preparation of that draft spatial development strategy.
Before we move on from this topic, I will add another observation: the county members are the ones that have the places on the combined authority. The districts do not have voting rights on those combined authorities. So I do not understand how it will work if the counties will not be included and cannot make decisions over planning when they are the constituent members with the powers to put the plan through. I think that this needs a little more thinking through.
I quite agree, and that is why I will take the point back and think further on it. As a county person myself, I have a lot of sympathy.
To make sure that our plan for a joint spatial development strategy happens, we are giving county councils the formal status of statutory consultee, as I said, so they can bring forward their expertise, particularly on matters relating to transport, highways, flood risk management, education, and minerals and waste, as noble Lords have said. Planning inspectors examining a joint spatial development strategy will want to see evidence that the work on these key issues has been done, and to make sure that any views expressed by the county council have been properly taken into consideration.
Amendment 199, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, would leave out new Section 15A(2)(b), which is inserted by Schedule 7. This would enable local planning authorities within a combined authority to be eligible to produce a joint spatial development strategy. In an area with elected mayors, we believe that it is vital that the mayor is formally involved in the production of a spatial development strategy to provide clear and accountable leadership for it. That is why the authorities within a combined authority should not be eligible to produce a joint spatial development strategy. In such cases, the mayor, with the support of the member authorities, can approach the Government to ask for the spatial development strategy powers to be conferred on them as part of their devolution deal. Obviously, we do not want to see competing spatial development strategies in any area.
Amendment 202 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, would extend the list of groups that local planning authorities must consult to include community groups. Although I understand the reasons for this, the list of bodies in new Section 15AB(3) that participating authorities should consider sending a draft joint spatial development strategy to is already comprehensive and can reasonably be assumed to include most community organisations. It is not, however, an exhaustive list, and authorities are free to send drafts to whichever organisations they feel necessary.
The noble Baroness’s Amendments 203 and 204 would give people a right to be heard at an examination in public in relation to a joint spatial development plan. The current procedure for the examination of a spatial development strategy is now well established and, although it is true that, unlike for local plans, there is no formal right to appear in person, we are confident that the current arrangements are fair, proportionate and effective. Experience shows that planning inspectors ensure that a broad range of relevant interests and views are heard at examinations for spatial development strategies.
The final amendment in this group in the name of the noble Baroness is Amendment 206. This would introduce a new clause mandating a duty to co-operate where no joint spatial development strategy exists. Unfortunately, the duty to co-operate is widely agreed to have been an ineffective mechanism for achieving co-operation. It has been criticised as an inflexible and burdensome bureaucratic exercise, causing significant delays to the production of local plans. We intend to replace the duty with a more flexible policy requirement within the revised National Planning Policy Framework, providing local planning authorities with greater flexibility.
Clause 93 introduces a new requirement to assist with plan making to ensure that the key stakeholders whose involvement is vital to production of plans, including the delivery and planning of infrastructure, are required to be involved. This places a requirement on specific bodies with public functions—an example would be Historic England—to assist in the plan-making process if requested by a plan-making authority. Taken together, these measures mean that there is no need to revert to the duty to co-operate in any circumstances.
I foresee that their views would go up through the stages, and any good district council would ask for their views. Also, of course, they would probably be involved in any neighbourhood planning that is happening as well, so those plans would also move on up into it.
Amendment 200A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, addresses the provision of sites for health and social care within a joint spatial development strategy. There is already broad provision for considering these needs in a joint spatial development strategy, through new Sections 15AA(1) and (2) which the Bill will insert into the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. These provisions are written deliberately broadly to enable planning authorities to consider the full range of land use and infrastructure requirements that are important to an area. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness will accept that the current wording in the Bill continues to enable the consideration of issues relating to the provision of health and care services in an area.
Amendment 200, in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley, is intended to ensure that any joint spatial development strategy includes provision for employment sites which are of strategic importance for the economic development of an area. I can reassure my noble friend that new Section 15AA(1) already provides that a joint SDS may include policy relating to
“the development and use of land in the joint strategy area”.
This is a flexible provision that allows the planning authorities to include whatever policies they feel are necessary, with some caveats relating to those policies being of strategic importance and relating to the characteristics or circumstances of the area. For this reason, I do not think that we need a more specific provision at this point.
Finally, I turn to Amendment 205 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley. The aim of this amendment is to ensure that proper cross-boundary engagement is undertaken when preparing a joint spatial development strategy. This is laudable and something that I see as essential to making good planning. The Government have committed to including an alignment policy within the National Planning Policy Framework. The aim of such a policy is to ensure that the policies and proposals of plans are aligned, or if not aligned that there is a very good justification for different approaches. This policy approach is being taken because of the failings of the current duty to co-operate contained in Section 33A of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004—I spoke about this in relation to Amendment 206—which this Bill revokes. I assure my noble friend that, in line with the Government’s commitments, the detail of the alignment policy will be consulted upon as part of a wider package of changes to the NPPF to support this Bill. I hope my noble friend will not press his amendment.
I am grateful to noble Lords for a good debate on these topics relating to spatial planning. They are very important issues, and this is a key part of the Bill.
There are some key themes that have emerged as part of this discussion. The first is the integration of plans and timetables and how important that is going to be as we move forward with these proposals.
Secondly, we have had long discussions around the services that county councils deliver and their engagement in the process of the strategic development strategies. As well as transport, highways, minerals, waste and so on, we had an earlier discussion in the Committee about healthy homes. Our county councils look after a huge range of services that relate to social care provision and so on, and that is another reason why it is essential they get involved in strategic planning at this level. I should have referred to my interests in the register as a county councillor and a district councillor; I wear both hats in this respect.
The third overall point was around the inclusion of combined authorities. I know it is late but I want to relate the experience in Hertfordshire. Without having any of the processes of the Bill in place, the 10 Hertfordshire authorities and the county council have got together, separating Hertfordshire into two clusters, to work on employment, housing sites, climate change, transport—including a new mass rapid transit facility that we have been planning for—community wealth-building, town centre regeneration, digital infrastructure and a number of other things. In Hertfordshire, we are helped by having coterminous boundaries with both the local enterprise partnership and policing. We do not have coterminous borders with health, but I do not think anybody does—that is a little more complicated. We do not necessarily need legislation to do this. However, I am anxious that, as a part of the Bill, we do not stop people doing things which are ambitious and have vision for their areas.
I think that is an important point. That is what I was saying: the Bill will not stop that; it will give the opportunity to do something. Many authorities do great things informally, but sometimes, if there is a formal agreement to it, other doors are opened. That is part of what we are trying to do.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reassurance.
We had some discussions around borders—I will say more about that in a moment—but Herts has boundaries with London in the south of the county and with very rural areas in Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire in the north of the county.
The other key point we mentioned was the urban-rural split, on which the noble Lord, Lord Deben, spoke very powerfully, and the value of counties understanding how this helps move the development agenda forward for rural areas as well as urban ones. I echo the point that people feel that this is largely related to urban areas. It is important for us to make sure that people in rural areas feel that their interests are taken into account in both levelling up and regeneration.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, spoke about opportunities for the planning processes to be co-ordinated. I have referred to the points on healthy homes that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, made earlier in the debate. We need to give some more thought to that before Report and to how we can make sure that we take the opportunities the Bill might offer to better co-ordinate planning processes. The point about timetables is very well made. We have lots of different plans that run on lots of different timetables in local government and in other parts of the public sector, and it would be helpful if we could think about how we might bring some of that together.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, spoke about the very important potential of the Bill to enable us to tackle climate change and the housing emergency in a more co-ordinated way. I do not want to miss those opportunities, which is why these points about planning are so important. She mentioned the ability of county councils to convene councils to work together. That has certainly been my experience, and I hope we can find a way to develop that.
I have mentioned the points that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, made about making sure that we focus on rural as well as urban areas.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, spoke about the travel to work areas. The point is not that we do not want to make plans for boundaries, but you have to think beyond the boundaries and take them into account, particularly with employment sites—otherwise, for example, you will not be planning properly for your transport arrangements. We have to think about what we are doing in a wider sense than the boundaries of local authorities as they would appear on the Boundary Commission register.
To summarise briefly, we have to be careful. We could miss opportunities for combined authorities and for the ambition we all have for levelling up to reach right across the huge areas of our country that are covered by two-tier local government—or three tiers in some cases, as we know. I know the Minister wants to reassure us that rural areas will be included, but the picture in this planning realm can still be a bit confused, particularly with the way that there are different plans for different places, which do not seem to be particularly well co-ordinated. I hope we can give that some more thought.
I am very grateful to the Minister for her detailed answer to all our amendments. That said, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 196A.
Amendment 196A withdrawn.
Amendments 197 and 197A not moved.
Clause 88 agreed.
Clauses 89 and 90 agreed.
198: After Clause 90, insert the following new Clause—
“Deliberative democracy: local planning(1) Before preparing any development or outline plan, a local planning authority must undertake a process of deliberative democracy involving the community to set—(a) the balance of economic, environmental, infrastructure and special plans,(b) the type of housing to be delivered,(c) the infrastructure that is required to be hosted,(d) the type of economic space, and(e) environmental considerations, including making sites sustainable.(2) A process of deliberative democracy under this section must—(a) invite all residents of the local authority area to apply to be a representative in the deliberative democracy process,(b) include measures to try to ensure that there will be a diverse representation of that community in the process, and(c) provide for a forum of representatives that—(i) will determine its terms of reference, number of meetings and agenda at its first meeting, and(ii) will produce a report from the deliberative democracy process.(3) A report under subsection (2)(c)(ii) may determine the scope of development on a site.”Member's explanatory statement
This new clause would introduce a deliberative democracy forum comprised of members of the public prior to the formation of a new development plan or outline plan.
My Lords, I am sorry that we come to these amendments so late in the evening. Amendment 198 and the subsequent amendments are things I feel particularly strongly about. Amendment 198 would introduce the principle of deliberative democracy as part of the planning process. Recent years have seen a wave of interest in doing democracy in a more deliberative way, enabling citizens to participate in a reflective and informed discussion about key policy questions before any of us, who are decision-makers, reach those decisions.
The Constitution Unit at University College London has been at the forefront of applying such approaches in the UK. In two recent projects, it took part in running citizens’ assemblies to explore how such bodies could help resolve complex policy problems. In other projects, the unit has examined ways in which deliberative approaches to politics could be applied in the UK context. Rather than go into the realms of theory and testing everyone’s patience at this time of night, I shall briefly give the rationale and two quick examples of how this type of engagement with complex issues can help develop understanding and buy-in with complex policy decisions.
In terms of planning, as I said earlier, residents often do not engage with planning at the stage of the local plan and by the time they are faced with a planning application they object to, the land use, housing numbers, infrastructure requirements, environmental policies and so on are already set out and have been through the extensive local plan process. They have often been through the inspectorate and a public inquiry as well. This leads to a great deal of frustration for residents, who may feel that the process, in this case the local plan, has been done to them, rather than with them. Even where residents do engage with the local plan process, the formality of proceedings can be daunting and impenetrable.
The introduction of a deliberative democracy element into the planning process would give the opportunity for local people to get more involved in a meaningful way much earlier in the process. The format can be designed to encourage debate and contributions and careful facilitation can draw out the minority views as well as those with the loudest voices. All this can help inform the local authority or the combined authority as it goes into the formal stages of developing its plan. This approach also enables participants to be provided with information that is accurate, relevant, accessible and balanced. It helps to tackle misinformation and enables deliberations to be informed by accurate, fact-checked data; for example, that provided in the UK by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
In Stevenage, we have used this method to enable debates on our budget process. As the cuts to local government funding deepened, we wanted to hear our residents’ views on how we should tackle the subsequent budget exercise, so we asked an independent agency to pull together a group of around 50 people from a mixed demographic. Using independent facilitators, we took them through an exercise of information sharing on the challenges we faced and carried out exercises of budget prioritisation with them, to see what their preferences would be. The learning was considerable on both sides. Some participants told me at the end of the day that they were glad it was not them who had to make the decisions. The other impact was that a group of people was then out in our community with all the facts of decision-making to take into conversations at work and in social settings, et cetera.
The Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change involved a randomly selected representative sample of 50 Oxford residents, who learned about climate change and explored different options to cut carbon emissions through a combination of presentations from experts and facilitated workshops. Oxford was the first city in the UK to deliver a citizens’ assembly on climate change. As the evidence around man-made climate change is clear and overwhelming, it was treated as a given, and the assembly was not asked to consider whether or not that was a reality, but participants considered measures to reduce Oxford’s carbon emissions to net zero and, as part of this, measures to reduce Oxford City Council’s carbon footprint to net zero by 2030. In that case, Ipsos MORI was appointed to undertake the recruitment of participants and provide overall facilitation for the Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change. Following that approach, Oxford has been able to undertake an ambitious programme of climate change mitigation and adaptation.
We want the Bill to be ambitious in the way that it tackles levelling up in all its aspects. We believe that a move to deliberative democracy in the planning system will create a whole new dimension for community engagement and provide a channel for our residents to contribute to tackling the complex challenges of the modern planning process.
Amendments 209 and 211 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Lansley and Lord Young, set out requirements for plans to include strategic references to meeting housing needs, land use and sustainable growth for business. We do not disagree with the merits of placing these in the Bill. We are interested to hear the Minister’s response as it may help clarify what is currently a confusing situation between what is to be included in NDMPs and what will be in the NPPF. These are important distinctions, as we have already heard many times this evening. The NDMP has a statutory role, whereas the NPPF is guidance.
My Amendment 212 is a technical amendment to ensure that local authorities have the capability to bring outline planning permissions in line with requirements that they set out in their local plans where there would otherwise be a conflict between them.
Amendment 219 in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock is a key amendment; I am sure that it will be discussed extensively when we reach other groups. It is vital that, for a Bill that will set the direction of planning for the future, the precedence we accord to environmental outcome reports is right at the heart of the preparation of local plans.
Amendment 223, also in the name of my noble friend, would give local authorities the ability to renew and amend local plans after a local election—a provision that would enhance local democracy by enabling councillors to enact any commitments that they have made in their manifesto through a review of the local plan. This provision could be restricted to those local authorities that have elections every four years; if you are in an authority that has an election every year, having a review of the plan every year might be a bit chaotic if you change hands frequently. However, we should have the provision in place to enable the electorate to exercise its voice over the planning process.
Our Amendment 224 once again expresses our view that the widest possible engagement is essential in the planning process. My noble friend Lady Hayman suggests in this amendment that it should be a requirement that key stakeholders are consulted in the preparation of local plans. This should certainly include: local bodies, the NHS, the police service, the Environment Agency, and so on; the private sector—both businesses and their representative bodies, such as local enterprise partnerships, chambers of commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses; and the whole range of voluntary and community sector bodies, which will vary from place to place but also have a key role to play in setting the spatial agenda for the future of an area.
It is difficult to see why Schedule 7 abolishes the duty to co-operate, but we had a long discussion about that previously. This schedule also seems to exalt the continued need for engagement between plan-making authorities and prescribed public bodies when planning development to enable the delivery of infrastructure at a local or strategic level. I am anxious that we do not lose all the benefits of co-operation between public bodies as we consider the Bill.
Amendments 237 and 238 in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hayman are probing amendments to determine whether a private body will be able to assist a local authority in the preparation or revision of a local plan.
Amendment 239 in my name is a belt-and-braces amendment to ensure that, if an authority fails to deliver its local plan and has that function taken over by a government department or its appointee, that body must undertake the necessary local consultation that would have been required had the local authority carried out the exercise. The body would not have the ability to bypass that engagement.
I beg to move.
My Lords, I will contribute to this group in relation to the two amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. In existing legislation, Section 19(1B) and (1C) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 states that:
“Each local planning authority must identify the strategic priorities for the development and use of land in the authority’s area… Policies to address those priorities must be set out in the local planning authority’s development plan documents (taken as a whole).”
Therefore, the legislation has it that strategic priorities must be set out and policies must be set out to meet them.
Paragraph 21 of the National Planning Policy Framework in the consultation document recently issued says that:
“Plans should make explicit which policies are strategic policies. These should be limited to those necessary to address the strategic priorities of the area”.
Paragraph 17 states that the development plan
“must include strategic policies to address each local planning authority’s priorities for the development and use of land in its area.”
Therefore, the legislation is carried through into the National Planning Policy Framework. Also, the NPPF is clear that there is an important distinction to be made between strategic and non-strategic policies. I will not dwell on those now, as it is not relevant for this purpose. Suffice to say that “strategic” in front of policies seems important.
However, the Government have decided to omit “strategic”, to omit any reference to strategic priorities or a requirement that the local plan in a plan-making process should identify those priorities and show how policies meet them. I cannot for the life of me understand why. I admit that these are probing amendments to find out why. I do not think that, as a proposition, the structure of the NPPF in paragraphs 17 and 21 should be left stranded, with the relevant legislative provisions in Section 19 of the 2004 Act being omitted and not being substituted with anything in the current legislation that gives rise to that part of the NPPF.
The Government may say, “Well, it’s guidance and that’s fine—that’s what we’re saying”. Until now it has been perfectly understood that there is a legislative structure, and that the guidance follows it. I am not sure that we should arrive at a position where there is guidance with no legislative structure underpinning it. I cannot see any mischief in putting the strategic priorities and strategic policies back in. I see no mischief in putting “strategic” in front of “policies”. It avoids any lack of clarity about what kind of policies we are talking about. I cannot see why the Bill should not be amended to put it in line with where the current situation is and where the NPPF intends to go.
My Lords, I briefly follow-up on that question which the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has left hanging.
We seem to have several moving parts here. I do not want to detain anybody any longer than necessary. We have the guidance of the NPPF, and the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has outlined its current impact on how local plans are developed. We now have the statutory NDMPs. Eventually we will get used to that acronym, I guess. Earlier this evening, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, told noble Lords that she thought that the occasions of conflict between the NDMPs and local plans would be very rare, so rare that they did not need referencing but, on the other hand, possibly so onerous that it would be burdensome to make every one be referred back to your Lordships.
However, the political context of the NDMPs is of trying to retrieve a situation that was created last year by multiple changes in direction within the department, and by Ministers, about what they wanted local plans to achieve. Do they want them to achieve a very large number of houses, no houses at all, or as many houses as the local area thinks are appropriate?
All that will be resolved when—eventually—the NDMPs are published, because that is when we will be told what the Government intend local plans to produce. At that point it seems foreseeable—I say only foreseeable, not certain—that there will be areas of conflict between the citizens’ assemblies brought forward by the noble Baroness’s amendment and the common consultation process that we have traditionally followed, as the local plan emerges and the NDMPs dictate a different course of action. Where does the guidance to which the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred fit into that? Which fits into what and at which part?
In an earlier debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, also said, perhaps not with the conviction that I had hoped to hear, that, in the event of a neighbourhood plan being more up to date than a local plan—hence in date—it would stand up against an NDMP central government directive. I would be delighted if that is true, but I would be substantially surprised if she says that she did say that; I must have misheard something.
We have some moving parts here, and it is a terribly inconvenient time of the day to resolve those difficulties. A lengthy letter may be the solution, but I just pose those questions. This is the fundamental way in which the current Government are aiming to square a circle out of their national planning policy. Whether they want more houses, where they want them and how fast—all those things—are driven by what comes out of local plans, and they will be framed by what is in the NDMPs, which are not published. Forgive me if I am jumping to a conclusion here; perhaps the planning management policy that comes out will say, “It is okay, guys; do your own thing and send your local plans in when they are ready”, but I have a feeling that that is not the context in which they are being drawn up.
Anything that the noble Earl or the noble Baroness can say to clarify that situation, either this evening or in a subsequent written report, would be gratefully received on this side, because we are baffled and bemused by how this is all supposed to hang together, as things stand.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 209 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley and myself but, before I do, I will speak briefly to two amendments mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor.
Amendment 198 is about deliberative democracy or citizens’ forums as they are sometimes known. When I, as somebody who has been a councillor and an MP, first heard of this, I was slightly suspicious of this alternative form of problem-solving. It struck me as slightly random and unaccountable. But the more I looked into it, with the help of Graham Allen, the former Labour MP who championed the cause of deliberative democracy, I began to change my mind. The Government have actually been funding three experimental projects using deliberative democracy—one in Dudley looking at the future of two shopping centres, one in Cambridge looking at how to solve congestion, and one in Romsey looking at how to solve problems around a local bus station. It struck me that these were actually ways of complementing and reinforcing local democracy, rather than substituting it.
At a time when democracies are struggling to retain public confidence, we should look at every possible means of refreshing democracy in a way that is relevant to the modern world. This is what that amendment wants. Like others, I have been to planning meetings where people have been shouting at each other; there must be a better way to find a way through. I look forward to working with the noble Baroness who moved this amendment, as she obviously has considerable experience. Perhaps the Minister will let me know, following the three trials funded by the DCMS, whether her department will engage with the Local Government Association to see how we can best take that debate forward.
I am afraid that I disagree entirely with Amendment 223 and the suggestion that the adopted plan should be up for review after a local election. The one thing going through this debate since it began is the need for certainty and clarity about the local plan. It has to go through a process to become adopted. If there is a local election just after it has been adopted and control changes hands and it is up for review, what then is the status of that local plan? I very much hope that my noble friend will resist, perhaps more politely than I have done, the suggestion in Amendment 223.
What I really want to speak to is Amendment 209. This is one of the most important groups in the whole debate and in all of the 80 groups that we have in front of us—however many groups we deal with, there always seem to be another 80 ahead of us. This amendment and Amendment 211—and two other amendments which are in another group for some reason—go to the heart of a major challenge facing this Government: how to deliver the homes that the country needs.
In 2021, we were an estimated 2 million homes short of what was needed, or 2.4 million short if we look at the European average of homes per capita. We announced the target of 300,000 homes a year in 2018, and we are already 200,000 homes behind that target. Home ownership is increasingly unaffordable: in 1997 house prices were 3.5 times average earnings and in 2021 they were nine times average earnings; tenants in London are paying 40% of their average pay in rent, and one London borough, Lambeth, has 36,000 people on its waiting list; planning consents in the year to June 2022 were the lowest since 2016, and so on. There cannot be anyone in any doubt that we need to massively boost the supply of homes in every single tenure.
There is much in the Bill that I welcome and that will help achieve this objective, such as simplifying and streamlining the planning system, commencement orders facilitating CPOs, and the rest. However, I am afraid that these are all overshadowed by policies not in the Bill but proposed in the document published over Christmas to head off a rebellion in the other place. The starkness of the Government’s climbdown is revealed in an article in last week’s House magazine by Theresa Villiers, who referred to her amendment in the following terms:
“This was backed by 60 MPs, and in response, the secretary of state brought forward significant concessions to rebalance the planning system to give local communities greater control over what is built in their neighbourhood. That includes confirming that centrally determined housing targets are advisory not mandatory. They are a starting point, not an inevitable outcome. Changes have been promised to make it easier for councils to set a lower target”.
As I have said before, you cannot rely on the good will of local councils to deliver the homes that the country needs. Central government has a mandate. In our manifesto in 2019 we said that this will be achieved through continuing
“our progress towards our target of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.”
So what a local MP may regard as an arbitrary target set by Whitehall is actually a goal from a democratic Government delivering their election manifesto. I believe that the votes that an individual MP may lose if an unpopular development goes ahead will be massively outweighed if the country as a whole does not believe that the Government are taking housing seriously.
The consultation document weakens or removes the levers that the Government have to deliver their target. These amendments, and Amendments 215 and 218 in a later group on land supply, push back against those policies and give back to the Government the levers that they need. This is vital because, as you go through the document, there are 15 proposals that impact negatively on housing supply and only two that improve it. Between now and Report, the Government should publish their own assessment of the impact of the proposed changes on housing delivery. We know it can be done, because it has been done by Lichfields, which estimates that the changes proposed would reduce the number of homes built by over 70,000, to 156,000 a year—roughly half of the Government’s commitment.
The impact of the document is already being felt. Since it was published in December 2022, 47 local plans have been delayed, with the clear intent of delivering lower numbers than was previously proposed, using the flexibilities set out in the document. I will not go through all the concessions because it is late, but it suggests that buffers should no longer be needed. That is like the Treasury saying that it does not need any reserves. Buffers will be needed because things do not always work out. There is a suggestion that the green belt should not be reviewed. The green belt has no necessary environmental quality, visual impact or public accessibility requirement. Many award-winning housing schemes have been built on the green belt.
However, the main concession is in the chapter headed:
“Introducing new flexibilities to meet housing needs”.
Targets become a starting point, with flexibility to take account of local circumstances. Paragraph 4 refers to changes to
“how housing figures should be derived and applied so that communities can respond to local circumstances”.
The document states that local authorities do not need to meet housing needs if it could mean
“building at densities significantly out-of-character with the existing area”,
although elsewhere the Secretary of State proposes “gentle densification”. I think we can all break the code.
I very much hope that, on Report, noble Lords will ask those in the other place to think again about these changes and restore the Government’s policy to what it was when the Bill was introduced, rather than what it has become since those changes were proposed over Christmas.
My Lords, I have been trying not to get into a lot of the groups on the Bill but I regret not getting into this one. Amendment 198 makes such good sense because politics is a fairly dire arrangement these days. A lot of voters have lost interest and do not trust us. Getting people involved at the local level is an excellent way of stimulating their appetite for more politics at different levels, so I very much support Amendment 198.
I quite like Amendment 209, but somehow “environmental issues” is just thrown in—you have to say it, do you not? I do not know what it means. I would like it to mean a lot but I am not sure that it means very much at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, quotes to us the Conservative Party manifesto when the Government have broken so many promises and back-tracked on so many things. I hardly think it is a very good example for any of us to hold up as something we need to follow. Plus, his comments about the green belt were absolutely outrageous. It is not for people with gardens or people with country estates; it is for people who live in inner cities, who have no gardens or green space to walk about in. The green belt has a huge value for them, so please let us not forget that.
Amendment 211 is from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, for whom I have huge respect, by the way. My telling him that the Conservative Party manifesto might as well be thrown in the bin—as it has been by the Conservative Party—does not mean that I do not have huge respect for him. Again, this amendment is about economic growth. We went through this in the Budget. Growth is not about well-being or prosperity; it is about grabbing more and more of the earth’s resources. It is not necessarily something that we want to keep promoting. If we are going to talk about growth, can we please talk about well-being, green spaces and environmental support, and not just constantly about businesses, inward investment and that sort of thing?
Let us please try to remember that we have a climate crisis. It does not matter whether you believe it or not; the fact is that the IPCC has published a report that was gone through by dozens of Governments and hundreds of scientists. They all quibbled over it, but they finally came to a report that is absolutely devastating. We really should be looking at that. Every time we put down an amendment, we should have that at the back of our minds, so that we say things that will help us in the future and help our children and grandchildren. At the moment, we are not doing that.
My Lords, I was not going to speak, but the noble Lord, Lord Young, summed up one of the problems with this Bill in general: we have an important Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill that does not tackle the crisis of housing supply—something I talked about at Second Reading.
I want to clarify at this stage in the evening that, while the points made by the noble Lord about the green belt are not by any stretch of the imagination that every part of the green belt should be built on or concreted over, it is a misnomer to suggest that the green belt is a beautiful green area for people who do not have country homes, gardens or parks to go to. Lots of it is actually unusable by the public. What the noble Lord suggested was a review. If the review indicated that it was valuable for the well-being of the nation, that would be fine, but it would be able to show that huge swathes of the green belt are misnamed and could be productively used for housing for young people and people who are desperately in need of homes.
My final quick point is that economic growth has to be the solution for austerity and the cost of living crisis. You cannot tackle the fact that people are too poor unless you produce more. That is called economic growth. Austerity is unpleasant, nasty and brutish, even when dressed in eco clothes. We need more growth, not less, especially at this time. People’s well-being will not be tackled or helped if they do not have the proceeds of economic development and growth.
I appreciate that we disagree. I thought the point was that we would disagree well in Committee. I have sat and listened to this debate for many hours. I just wanted to clarify why I think economic development is important: we will not be able to build any houses and nobody’s well-being will be helped if we stand still economically or go backwards. I do not relish austerity for the masses. Therefore, I think we need economic growth, mass housebuilding and the supply side to be tackled.
It is with trepidation that I follow the last two speakers, the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Fox. I will say just one small thing about the green belt. The green belt, as part of local plan making, is reviewed and, as appropriate, areas are taken out of the green belt for housebuilding and development. That is what happens. It happens at the right time and place when there is proper public consultation.
I start with Amendment 198 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. I have lots of sympathy with the idea of deliberative democracy. It is always worth exploring new ways of engaging with local people, involving them in developing ideas and understanding about what is going on, and helping to inform decisions before decision-makers finalise plans. I am concerned that the plan the noble Baroness lays out in Amendment 198 will probably work okay in a district council, but in an area such as the one where I am a councillor, for 450,000 residents, it becomes more challenging.
One of the elements the noble Baroness omitted in her amendment is the idea of using town and parish councils more fully to engage in local plan making at district council level. First, they are accountable. I think the noble Lord, Lord Young, said he had thought about it and thought perhaps that was not so important, but I am not sure. If there is a decisive view from an unaccountable group, and it is controversial, that could make it difficult for the participants in the deliberative democracy and for the decision-makers. Having said that, the idea of getting more engagement with local people is a very positive one. I know that when my council made its up-to-date local plan, I think there were three—it could have been four—rounds of public consultation. Every household had a document to look at: a summarised version through which they could access the full version.
On Amendment 223, I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, that I am not going through the pain of making a local plan and agreeing it, only for a new council to rip it up and start all over again. Those decisions are politically hard decisions to make. Whichever council is in control at the time has to make those decisions and live by them. So I am afraid I do not support that amendment.
I agree with Amendment 211, from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that plans must recognise strategic policies and promote economic growth.
That brings me to Amendment 209, where the noble Lord, Lord Young, talks about housing numbers. One million homes currently have planning consent, and 1 million homes are not being built by developers. They are not being built because it is not, at this moment, profitable for them to do so. Sometimes, a little cabal works in a neighbourhood—I have experience of this—where planning consent is given to two or three fairly large sites, and they make an agreement about phasing, so not too many houses go on the market at the same time. There is more to this than just dictating numbers.
I would like to ensure—and I think I have seen this somewhere; maybe the Minister will remind me—that developers build out within a short period of time after getting consent. I know they have to put a stake in the ground or something after three years, but I think actually building it out is important. With one of the planning consents that has just been given in my ward, they are planning to build out in 10 years. It is not surprising that development is not occurring as fast as we would like. These 300 homes are going to take 10 years to build because it is very profitable to do it that way. There are questions of that nature that we need to address as well.
The only other point I would make about housing numbers is that we all ought to be concerned that there are too many people in this country who do not have access to a home that they can afford, or sometimes a home at all. We ought to think more about not just the numbers but the types of homes that we want to build. In last Wednesday’s debate, the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Young, had an amendment talking about homes for older people. I totally supported the amendment that we debated then but, equally, we need to consider having many more homes for social rent. Unless we do that and are able to determine what house types are wanted, all this country will get is more and more four-bed exec homes that are unaffordable to many local people—and certainly to those who need social rented accommodation.
Of course, I agree with the general thrust of what the noble Lord, Lord Young, said. With those comments, I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response.
My Lords, this group of amendments addresses local plans: the critical planning documents that local planning authorities prepare with their communities to plan for sustainable growth.
Amendment 198, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, would require deliberative democracy forums to be involved in the early stages of plan-making. Yes, I have seen this work, and very successfully, but there are other ways of doing it as well so I do not think we would want to be too prescriptive. However, I thank the noble Baroness for this amendment because it provides me with the opportunity to talk about community engagement.
The English planning system already gives communities a key role so that they can take an active part in shaping their areas and, in so doing, build local pride and belonging. We are not changing this; in fact, we are strengthening it through the Bill. Communities must be consulted on local plans and on individual planning applications. However, we know that current levels of engagement can sometimes fall below our ambitions. That is why, through the Bill, we will be increasing opportunities for communities to get involved in planning for their area to ensure that development is brought forward in a way that works best for local people.
As I mentioned earlier, the Bill reforms the process for producing a local plan so that it is simpler, faster and easier for communities to engage with. A number of measures in the Bill will create wholly new opportunities for people to engage with planning in their communities. Neighbourhood priorities statements will make it easier and quicker for local communities to set out the priorities for their area. Similarly, mandatory design codes will ensure that communities will be directly involved in making rules on how they want the new developments in their area to look and feel.
Measures to digitise the planning system will also transform the way that information about plans, planning applications and the evidence underpinning them is made available. We have funded 45 pilots, including in councils that have some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country, to demonstrate how digital approaches to engagement can make the planning system more accountable, democratic and inclusive. We have also committed to producing new guidance on community, which will show the different ways in which communities and industry can get involved and highlight best practice, including the opportunity that digital technology offers.
I hope that I have made clear the work that we are already doing to drive forward progress in improving community engagement. With regard to the three pilots from DCMS, I will undertake to ask that department where they are and what they intend to do with them, including discussing them with the LGA. I will come back to the noble Lord when I have an answer.
On Amendments 209 and 211 in the names of my noble friends Lord Lansley and Lord Young of Cookham—I keep thinking that we are getting to the 2000s of these because we have been going so long—the Government want the planning system to be truly plan-led, to give communities more certainty that the right homes will be built in the right places. To achieve that, plans will be given more weight in decision-making. They will be faster to produce and easier to navigate and understand. We expect that future local plans should continue to provide a positive vision for the future of each area, and policies to deliver that vision. However, as was remarked in the other place, currently communities and applicants can face an alphabet soup of planning documents and terms, leaving all but the most seasoned planning professionals confused; so the Bill introduces a simple requirement for authorities to prepare a single local plan for their area, and provides clear requirements on what future local plans must, and may, include. Authorities may wish to include strategic priorities and policies in future local plans. There is nothing in the Bill to stop them.
There was quite a discussion provided by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham on homes, and also the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, on things such as build-out. I have looked forward, and these issues will be discussed in much more detail in future debates, so if those noble Lords do not mind if I do not answer them today, I might answer them on Thursday. Perhaps we could wait for the relevant groups of amendments on those two things.
On the specific subject of local plan polices to deliver sustainable economic growth, I make it clear that we are retaining the current legal requirement at Section 39 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 for authorities to prepare plans with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development.
I turn to Amendment 212, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. This amendment would amend Schedule 7 to the Bill to allow a local planning authority—
My noble friend said that there was nothing in the Bill that stops local authorities specifying what are strategic policies. My point is a completely contrary one to that. It is that the NPPF says that they should set out what their strategic priorities and strategic policies are; so why does the Bill not say that?
My point is that we know what the Government are proposing to say in the NPPF. The Bill is inconsistent with that. Is my noble friend suggesting that she has already decided that the NPPF will not make a distinction between strategic and non-strategic policies? Frankly, that is not going to happen. If she looks at the green-belt section, the distinction between strategic and non-strategic policies in relation to green-belt designation is an absolutely central distinction.
No, I am saying that we have not made that decision yet, but this is as it is in this part of the Bill.
Amendment 212, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, would amend Schedule 7 to the Bill to allow local planning authorities to use their local plan to amend the details of existing outline planning permissions, so that they are in accordance with the adopted local plan. Our planning reforms seek to ensure that plans, produced following consultation with local communities, have a greater influence over individual planning decisions to ensure that development reflects what those local communities want. In particular, our new decision-making framework under Clause 86 will deliver to a more plan-led system, providing greater certainty for these communities.
Enabling local plans to effectively revise existing outline planning permissions, even where development has already started, undermines this certainty. It also runs counter to the long-standing position that the grant of planning permission is a development right that also provides the certainty that developers need to raise finance and implement the permission. I fear that small and medium-sized builders would be especially impacted by such a change and would face significant wasted costs and delays at a time when we need to support them.
Local planning authorities already have powers to revoke or modify existing planning permissions under Section 97 of the Town and Country Planning Act. However, importantly, these powers cannot affect works previously carried out. They also require the local planning authority to pay compensation in respect of that expenditure, loss or damage, and they should therefore be considered a last resort.
Furthermore, as developers often seek, in practice, to amend outline planning permissions, local planning authorities already have the opportunity to take account of new local plan policies when considering Section 73 applications to vary planning conditions. This will also be the case under our new route to make minor variations to planning permissions, as set out in Clause 102.
Amendment 219 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, seeks to require local planning authorities to have regard to environmental outcomes reports in preparing local plans. The Government are clear that environmental outcomes reports will be an integral part of the new local plan-making process. Clauses 139 and 140 include the powers to define which plans will require environmental assessment and how such assessments should be considered. This will include local plans.
Our commitment to the non-regression of environmental protections in Clause 142 makes clear that any process of environmental assessment that replaces strategic environmental assessment would require the local planning authority to produce an environmental outcomes report as part of its plan preparation process. The environmental outcomes report process will ensure that environmental outcomes are taken into account as local plans are developed, and it will ensure that environmental considerations are an integral part of decision-making when preparing and examining plans. Thus although I agree with the intention behind the amendment, the Bill already provides for this, so we cannot accept it.
Amendment 223 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, would allow newly elected councils to amend local plans following an election. New Section 15GA in Schedule 7 to the Bill already provides the ability for a local planning authority to revise its plan at any time once it has come into force, irrespective of whether the authority has recently changed political control. For some authorities, rewriting plans on the basis of election results could lead to updating three times every four years. Our reforms will provide welcome predictability to local plan-making processes, with a requirement for the plans to be prepared within 30 months and for them to be updated every five years. That is the right balance.
I turn to Amendments 224 and 239 tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Taylor of Stevenage. As I mentioned, it is vital that communities are given every opportunity to have their say on draft local plans and supplementary plans. The English planning system already gives communities a key role, so that they can take an active part in shaping their areas and, in doing so, build local pride and belonging. We do not seek to challenge that; in fact, we are strengthening it through the Bill.
I provide reassurance that, if the Secretary of State or a local plan commissioner, were to take over plan preparation by using the intervention powers in new Section 15HA in Schedule 7, the plan would need to undergo public consultation just like any other plan. Like other procedural requirements, this will be set out through secondary legislation, using the powers set out elsewhere in the Bill.
Amendments 237 and 238, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Taylor of Stevenage, respectively, would enable plan-making authorities to require private bodies to assist in relation to the preparation or revision of a relevant plan. The Government support giving local authorities the full range of powers necessary to prepare robust plans. I offer reassurance that this is our intention and that the power, as drafted, will apply to those private sector bodies which authorities are likely to need to involve in plan making.
Subsection (6) of new Section 39A of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 sets parameters for prescribing bodies. It requires them to have
“functions … of a public nature”.
That might include, for example, utilities companies, which are privately owned but serve an important public function and should be proactively involved in plan-making processes. The clause does not exclude relevant private bodies where they are involved in public provision. These amendments could potentially extend that requirement to private individuals, voluntary groups and unrelated businesses, which may be disproportionate and where they do not have public functions that are likely to be relevant to plan making.
With those explanations, I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, to withdraw her amendment and other noble Lords not to move theirs.
My Lords, once again I thank noble Lords for a very interesting debate on very important aspects of the Bill. I am grateful to the Minister for her detailed response on all the amendments that have been discussed in the debate.
I will address the key themes coming out of the debate, starting with my first amendment in this group on deliberative democracy. I was very grateful for the comments on this from the noble Lord, Lord Young. Like him, I was a bit of a convert to this; I was a bit sceptical about it when I first heard about it. However, the intention of deliberative democracy is to complement and support the work of decision-makers, not to take it over, and it can provide a very useful technique. Now that we have all been through Covid and we all know how to use things such as Teams and Zoom, it can be greatly assisted and facilitated by digital engagement as well. So it is a good technique for developing a wider picture and for engaging our citizens in the important aspects of planning.
On the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, on this subject, from my understanding of how deliberative democracy works, it does not matter what size your authority is, because you would engage a representative group and there are plenty of places where you can go to get help to draw together your representative group. There is nothing in deliberative democracy that excludes the contribution of parish councils; they have their own methods of communicating and engaging with the planning process. While I accept there are a variety of techniques to engage local citizens in the planning process, I think that it will be important for us all to consider how we will refresh and review not just the ability for people to get involved but the methods we use to engage them. We all know that there are flaws at the moment in the way we try to engage people, and anything that can help to improve that would be useful.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to having a legislative structure which should underpin what is in the guidance, and we would certainly support that. All the way through our discussions on the Bill, we have seen that there are not always clear links. We are told that one aspect is in guidance and that another aspect will be in the Bill, but the links between the two are not always as clear as they should be. We should be using the process of the Bill in Committee to help to resolve some of those issues where it is not as clear as it should be. I think that a clear distinction between policies which are strategic and not strategic will be quite important for those people tasked with delivering the plans going forward, so I hope that some thought might be given to that.
We had some comments on the need for certainty and clarity on the local plan in response to my noble friend Lady Hayman’s amendment on the possibility of amending after local elections. There were some fair points made there, and we will go back and look again at aspects of the Bill that enable local authorities to review parts of their plan. Although we do not want to overturn the plan every time there is an election, it will be important that people can look at things. As the picture changes in a local area, it may be necessary to undertake reviews for that reason, not just because there has been an election. I think we need to have another look at that as the Bill goes forward.
It really rang a bell with me when the noble Lord, Lord Young, talked about the need to boost the supply of homes. We have further groups of amendments that cover that topic. He referred to not weakening or removing levers for housing. Those of us who have been trying to deliver more housing over the last few years feel as though sometimes we have had our hands tied behind our backs on housing delivery and that that has gone on for too long.
We must be ambitious and work on delivering the housing we need, but the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is quite right to say that growth must incorporatethe issues that we have discussed many times in your Lordships’ House on the environment, sustainable employment and sustainable housing growth. However, that makes planning more important, not less. Communities should be planned, not just the delivery of housing. After the Second World War, at a time when more than 100,000 homes a year were being built, there was still time set aside for master-planning and building for communities, not just delivering housing in dormitories. I suggest that deliberative democracy might play a part in that process.
The other aspect that was discussed extensively in this short debate was environmental outcome reports. I hear the Minister’s words of reassurance around how they might be incorporated in the planning process, but I think we would want to go through some of the other discussions around climate change to make sure we understand how that works. The Minister described the plans as an alphabet soup, which is probably a good description. We heard her talking about neighbourhood priority statements. This aspect of the Bill is another layer of planning that sits in this new hierarchy. It is difficult to understand from what is in the Bill exactly where it sits, so we look forward to the round table that will help clarify some of these issues. As for neighbourhood priority statements, it saysthat any of the authorities involved can make these neighbourhood priority statements, but it is not clear exactly how that works.
This has been a good debate on these very important planning issues. As I said, I am very grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions, and I am sure that some of the issues we raised will come up again in future debates. That said, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 198 withdrawn.
Schedule 7: Plan making
Amendments 198A to 200A not moved.