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Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Volume 829: debated on Monday 24 April 2023

Committee (11th Day) (Continued)

Clause 115: Duty to grant sufficient planning permission for self-build and custom housebuilding

Amendment 281CA

Moved by

281CA: Clause 115, page 148, line 30, at end insert—

“(iii) for “arising in” substitute “in respect of”;”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment inserting a new paragraph (ab) at the end of line 30 of Clause 115 in the minister’s name.

My Lords, I will speak also to Amendments 281CB to 281CE. These amendments are aimed at creating greater opportunities for those people who want to build their own home by ensuring that local authorities make sufficient provision for self- and custom-build sites in their areas.

The Government believe that self- and custom-build housing can play a crucial role as part of a wider package of measures to boost home ownership and diversify the housing market, as well as helping to deliver the homes that people want. Self and custom build improve the design and quality of homes as they are built by the people who will live in them.

We are aware that, under the current legislation, some development permissions that are not necessarily for self- and custom-build housing are being counted towards a local planning authority’s statutory duty. This has meant there is an incomplete and inaccurate picture of self and custom build at a local and national level, which can distort the market and have wider impacts on small- and medium-sized enterprises and developers.

In the other place, the Government introduced Clause 115 to ensure that a development permission will count in meeting the duty only if it is actually for self-or custom-build housing. The Government have brought these additional amendments forward to further tighten up the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 to ensure that the intended policy aim of the original legislation is being met in practice.

Amendment 281CB ensures that only land made available explicitly for self-build and custom housebuilding qualifies towards the statutory duty to grant planning permission et cetera and meets demand for self and custom build. We have tabled the amendments to give the power to the Secretary of State to define in regulations the descriptions of types of development permissions that will count towards meeting this duty. This will ensure that only development permissions that are intended to be built out as self or custom build will be counted. The regulations are likely to require any permissions granted for self and custom build to be characterised by a condition or planning obligation making that requirement explicit. Amendment 281CE specifies that any regulations made under this new power will be subject to the negative resolution procedure.

Amendment 281CC ensures that any demand that a relevant authority has accrued for self and custom build through its self and custom build register that has not been discharged within the three-year compliance period will not dissipate after this time, but will roll over and remain part of the demand for the authority to meet under Section 2A of the 2015 Act. Amendments 281CA and 281CD are consequential, minor and technical amendments that amend the 2015 Act to ensure that Amendment 281CC works in practice. Overall, the amendments proposed ensure that the 2015 Act works as intended, without ambiguity.

These amendments, accompanied by our other interventions, including the launch of the Help to Build equity loan scheme and the Government’s response to Richard Bacon MP’s independent review into scaling up of self-build and custom housebuilding, will help to mainstream the self- and custom-build sector. This will allow more people to build their own home, help support SMEs and boost housebuilding. I therefore hope that noble Lords will support these amendments. I beg to move.

My Lords, I rise to support this group of government amendments aimed at increasing the number of homes built or commissioned by their future occupiers. I had the pleasure of piloting the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 through your Lordships’ House. It started as a Private Member’s Bill from Richard Bacon MP, who has tirelessly—I would say relentlessly—pursued his campaign to get the sector to scale up. Most recently, he has produced an independent review to boost the building of self-commissioned new homes across all tenures, and these amendments flow from the Bacon review to which the Minister referred.

In countries as diverse as Germany and New Zealand, much of the new housebuilding is done in partnership with its future occupiers who, if not actually building the homes, are specifying the form they take and working with an SME builder to meet individual requirements. The result in other countries is that homes are more varied, personalised, affordable and energy efficient. These amendments attempt to give this still fledgling sector further impetus by helping self-builders and custom housebuilders to get their hands on the land on which to build, rather than leaving the volume housebuilders to gobble it all up. The sector would be an important beneficiary of my earlier amendment on diversification on larger sites, but a shift to that Letwin-inspired development model is not going to happen immediately. Bolstering the existing means to get local authorities allocating land for self-build and custom housebuilding is eminently sensible. I congratulate Richard Bacon on his continuing tenacity, the Right to Build Task Force on getting the Government to take forward these amendments and the Government on accepting them.

My Lords, these amendments support moves that will enable self and custom build, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, said. It is an important sector that is not especially helped by previous legislation, but these amendments may help. I have a question. I have an example where planning consent was given, with some concessions made, by the planning department to a small number of people who wanted to build out the site as a self-build project and then failed to do so. As the site had previous planning consent on it, a new developer was able to come in and gain consent for a non self-build project. I just wonder if there is a bit of a loophole there that the Minister may have come across and that perhaps needs to be closed.

I thank the Minister for introducing these government amendments. We have no problem at all with them. They seem fairly straightforward in what they want to achieve, but I would like to make the point that this is going to help provide only a small number of homes. I wonder what estimate the Government have made of the number of homes this will provide and what the demand is for this sort of housing. It would be quite interesting.

We are concerned about the number of houses being built, full stop, particularly since the Government abandoned their mandatory housing target. We feel that this Bill should be used to help the Government to concentrate on providing sufficient quality housing that includes both affordable-to-buy and social housing. Perhaps the Government could then bring forward an amendment on properly defining “affordable housing”; that would be a very useful amendment to see going forward.

As I said, I have absolutely no problem with this; I am quite happy to support the government amendments. However, we feel that the Government need to balance their interest in progressing this with their progress in meeting their stated target of 300,000 new homes.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Best, and both noble Baronesses, for their comments and questions. The noble Lord, Lord Best, is perhaps this House’s foremost expert on housing matters, saving my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham who is now looking at me.

To answer for now the question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on the number of self-build and custom-build houses that we expect to flow from this, it is very difficult to estimate. We do think that those categories of housing have a definite place in the system. If I can enlighten myself, and her, further, I will be happy to do so. I hope she will have gained a sense that these amendments are designed to remove the barriers that have been identified in this area; certainly, we fully expect that to happen having engaged with the sector.

As regards a definition of affordable housing, I think that will have to be a long debate for another day—although we have touched on that subject before during these Committee proceedings.

As regards the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, I think the instance that she cited will be addressed, in part at least, by Amendment 281CC. What we want to achieve in that amendment is that, where you have a register of self-build and custom-build applications that have not been discharged within the three-year compliance period, that demand will not dissipate after this time but will roll over. I will, however, write to her about enforcement on these particular applications and clarify that.

Amendment 281CA agreed.

Amendments 281CB to 281CE

Moved by

281CB: Clause 115, page 148, line 30, at end insert—

“(aa) after subsection (5) insert—“(5A) Regulations may make provision specifying descriptions of planning permissions or permissions in principle that are, or are not, to be treated as development permission for the carrying out of self-build and custom housebuilding for the purposes of this section.”;”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment allows the Secretary of State to specify descriptions of planning permissions or permissions in principle that will count as development permissions for the purpose of a local planning authority complying with its duty to meet the demand for self-build and custom housebuilding in its area.

281CC: Clause 115, page 148, line 30, at end insert—

“(ab) in subsection (6), for paragraph (a) substitute—“(a) the demand for self-build and custom housebuilding in an authority's area in respect of a base period is the aggregate of—(i) the demand for self-build and custom housebuilding arising in the authority's area in the base period; and(ii) any demand for self-build and custom housebuilding that arose in the authority’s area in an earlier base period and in relation to which—(A) the time allowed for complying with the duty in subsection (2) expired during the base period in question, and(B) the duty in subsection (2) has not been met;(aa) the demand for self-build and custom housebuilding arising in an authority’s area in a base period is evidenced by the number of entries added during that period to the register under section 1 kept by the authority;”;”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment provides that the demand for self-build and custom housebuilding in an authority’s area in a particular 12 month base period should be treated as including any demand from an earlier 12 month base period which has not been met within the time period allowed for complying with the duty to meet that demand.

281CD: Clause 115, page 148, line 31, at end insert—

“(c) in subsection (9)(b), for “arising in” substitute “in respect of”.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment inserting a new paragraph (ab) at the end of line 30 of Clause 115 in the minister’s name.

281CE: Clause 115, page 148, line 31, at end insert—

“(2) In section 4 of the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 (regulations), in subsection (2), before paragraph (za) insert—“(zza) section 2A(5A),”.” Member's explanatory statement

This amendment provides that regulations made under section 2A(5A) (see the amendment inserting a new paragraph (aa) at the end of line 30 in Clause 115 in the minister’s name) are subject to the negative resolution procedure.

Amendments 281CB to 281CE agreed.

Clause 115, as amended, agreed.

Amendment 281D not moved.

Clause 116: Powers as to form and content of planning applications

Amendment 282 not moved.

Clause 116 agreed.

Clauses 117 and 118 agreed.

Amendment 283 not moved.

Clauses 119 and 120 agreed.

Amendment 284

Moved by

284: After Clause 120, insert the following new Clause—

“Directions under section 35: review(1) The Planning Act 2008 is amended as follows.(2) After section 35ZA (directions under section 35: procedural matters) insert—“35ZB Directions under section 35: reviewWithin three years of making a direction under section 35(1) and annually thereafter, the Secretary of State must consider progress with implementation of the development contemplated in it and, if the Secretary of State considers that it is unlikely to proceed, the Secretary of State may withdraw the direction.””

My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of the board of the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation.

Designation as an NSIP, a nationally significant infrastructure project, has a blighting effect. It differs from a normal planning permission in that the Government become something akin to a co-partner in a project that is designated an NSIP, supporting it because of its national significance. But what responsibilities fall on the Government as a result of this co-partnership, sponsorship or promotion of a particular project? In particular, what obligations fall on them to avoid or mitigate any persistent blight that might ensue?

An egregious example is the expansion of Heathrow Airport. Noble Lords may not know that I have been a long-standing opponent of the expansion of Heathrow Airport for over 10 years. More importantly, not only do I oppose it but I think it is unworkable and undeliverable: it involves either moving the M25 or building a runway over it, its cost would exceed £18 billion when the whole market value of the airport is significantly less than that, and so on. But there it is: the designated status remains present for Heathrow Airport’s expansion, and the blighting of the area—the effect that it has on the surrounding villages, on housing and on other land uses—remains.

An example from Ebbsfleet relates to the Swanscombe peninsula, a large triangle of land that, so to speak, protrudes into the Thames. It is within the red line of the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation as a planning authority, but the corporation does not own it. Proposals for a privately funded resort, of the character of a Disneyland or whatever, were given nationally significant infrastructure project status as long ago as 2014. Very slowly, the company promoting it advanced to a position in 2021 of being able to submit a DCO. In the meantime, it suffered the bolt from the blue of Natural England turning up out of nowhere—or, specifically, out of Ebbsfleet International railway station—and designating it a site of special scientific interest. This ability of Natural England to appear out of nowhere and designate sites as SSSIs at the same time as they are nationally significant infrastructure projects is worth exploring in a different debate. Then the DCO was rejected by the planning inspectors for, among other things, not having a transport plan attached to it—a point that had been made repeatedly to the company by the corporation in its role as planning authority. Now I read in the newspapers that the company recently went into administration.

However, the blight on the land and—while there are not many of them—on the existing industrial occupants of the land continues. I do not mean by this any criticism of the developer and I do not regard its failure to deliver the project, at least to date, as a criticism of it. Private sector projects inherently involve the taking of risk. It is right that we have an economy where risk is taken, but one of the corollaries of taking risk is that not all businesses or projects succeed, so the fact it has have not succeeded is not a criticism of it.

However, that is not my point; my point is to ask where the Minister is in all this. Where is the department that agreed to the designation, all of nine years ago? It is true that the Minister has written recently to the company, asking how it plans to progress. But since the company is in administration, I am not sure what answer he expects to get. Apart from that, it is hard to see how the Government have engaged with furthering this project, which they regard as nationally significant.

My amendment is intended to be very gentle. It places very little obligation on the Government but it would require them, three years after designating an NSIP, to review progress—that is all—“and annually thereafter”, with a view to seeing whether the project is actually going to be delivered. It then says that the Secretary of State may decide to cancel the designation. That power to cancel is already in existing legislation—the Planning Act 2008, as amended—so I am not conferring a new power. I am simply implying that he or she should consider it as a result of a review of progress. This would at least show that the Government share a responsibility for the progress of projects which they have designated as nationally significant. It would help to mitigate the blight that they cause, in effect, by showing that degree of engagement, review and possible cancellation.

I regard this as a very modest amendment, and one that it would be easy for my noble friend on the Front Bench simply to accept as drafted. I look forward to her response and hope that that is indeed what she agrees to do.

My Lords, I give three-quarters support—I was going to say half-hearted support—to what the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, has moved by way of his amendment. The nationally significant infrastructure projects programme was quite a radical change when it was introduced. It was seen as a way of what one might call railroading—except that would perhaps be unfortunate given some of the projects—or delivering national projects which would be perpetually trapped in the local planning system should they go by the conventional route.

It is something of a planning bulldozer, and I absolutely share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, about the expansion of Heathrow; we are on the same page as far as that goes. It is equally clear that, if a project such as Heathrow was ever to go forward, it would not survive the local planning processes, so the existence of a nationally significant infrastructure project mechanism for delivery is certainly well justified in the legislation. The question is: what happens when a project begins to fade from the priority list of the Government or, for that matter, that of investors in a private project? The noble Lord has produced two examples, known very well to him from his personal work experience and career, which illustrate the point.

I say to the Minister that surely there should be some process of project review in central government. The Built Environment Select Committee—I was a member until January—considered that in some detail, in looking at some evidence that we received in relation to reports. The committee took evidence from various parties. Who is actually in charge of the oversight of whether projects will proceed, are proceeding or are making progress? The committee was not convinced at that time that the Government had a viable and clear process for deciding that a project was or was not a priority, what that priority might be or what its consequences might be. The idea that there is a national pipeline, with projects neatly lined up going in at one end and coming out completed at the other, is fanciful. However, that is the way that the thinking, and often the public expression, about having a national infrastructure plan is expressed.

I am with the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and this amendment, but I see it much more as being about hearing from the Government that they have a review process, that the review process is capable of taking a hard decisions, and that, when it takes a hard decision, it makes it operational on the ground so that we do not have huge areas, such as those around Heathrow, that are blighted. Indeed, on the peninsula on the Thames estuary, to which the noble Lord, Lord Moylan referred, progress is going in no direction. In the presence of a Section 35 designation, nobody else can go there either. It is essentially a dead development area, which I would have thought the Government would be anxious to avoid.

I am keen to hear what the Minister believes the mechanism is and whether, in the judgment of the Government, it is effective. If it is effective, it should be quite easy to answer the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, on how long it will be before the Ebbsfleet peninsula is de-designated. I suspect that it would be difficult for the Minister to de-designate Heathrow at the Dispatch Box today for a variety of reasons, but I hope that it is clear the direction from which I am coming, and that the Minister in replying can give us some satisfaction on this before we proceed further.

I will come in very briefly. I certainly see the point of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and of the three-year review. I am not convinced that yearly after that is necessarily the right way to go; it could be a longer period between the reviews. However, I see the point he is making, and the problems it causes if things do not happen in an area.

I will leave it there, other than to say that I have always been a backer of Heathrow expansion. I want to put that on record because we have had a couple of people opposed to it. I think it would be good for the economy and that we should get on with it.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for his amendment and for enabling a short debate on NSIPs, because I think it is pretty important.

I ought to say that, before I was elected to the other place, my job was to work on various national infrastructure projects, or NSIPs—when I started working on them, they were not called that, of course, but that all changed—mainly around energy and water. I remember vividly when the new regime came in, back in 2008, under the Planning Act. At the time, it was a big change but very welcome because, as people have said, projects just got stuck all the time. As well as establishing statutory timescales and a streamlined DCO process, it brought more attention to the importance of public consultation. This helps local communities to understand why a project is happening near them and can unpick some of the problems and help move projects on.

It is worth pointing out that, since the NSIP system came into force in 2010, 113 transport, energy and wastewater projects have been considered, which shows a huge difference from the system we had before. It has sped up the planning process between submitting an application and the DCO being granted. We know that in the national infrastructure strategy in 2020 the Government committed to the NSIP reform programme, which aimed to speed up timescales by up to 50% for projects entering the system from the end of this year. It is really good to see this included in the levelling-up Bill, because projects can still get horribly stuck.

One that springs to mind from personal perspective is Hinkley Point C. I think that I started working with National Grid on the connections into Hinkley Point C in 2007, and one of my jobs was to do the timeline for the project. Every six months I would add another year or two on—and so it continues. It is getting there, but it is many years behind, and the trouble is that you then have an enormous amount of extra cost. Anything that can be done to support that fast-track consenting that the Bill suggests—faster post-consent changes—is really to be supported.

I am also interested in the fact that there is the section on charging developers for expert input, so that government agencies providing the technical expert advice on DCO applications can charge developers for their NSIP services. Developers should be able to afford to do that, if it speeds up the process and helps to get that expert advice. Delays are what cost developers the most money, so we need to keep those things moving.

One thing that I am particularly interested in is the innovation and capacity building for local authorities affected by NSIPs. We know that the levelling-up White Paper recognised the need for the inclusion of local leaders to have the power and accountabilities to design and deliver effective policies for driving infrastructure projects. In the NSIP policy statement, local authorities representing the needs and views of local people are identified as being right at the forefront of delivering local impact reports, working with developers and ensuring that all the plans are properly integrated with local infrastructure. Having worked on NSIPs and knowing people who continue to work on them, I know that the capacity issues in key agencies and within local authorities can still seriously hold up granting a DCO for major projects. While the section on NSIPs in the Bill is good and will help, until we improve capacity issues we will still get stuck.

I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, that it makes sense to review progress and for that to be part of keeping things moving forward. However, if it is down to capacity issues, the Government really need to look at how that affects delivery of DCO consent—that is what we are talking about—and how the numbers of qualified staff and staff training can help to increase capacity so that local authorities and statutory agencies have the right people, and enough right people, to move this forward.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Moylan for tabling Amendment 284. I shall not be commenting on any individual planning case at all. Obviously it would not be correct for me to do so.

Amendment 284 seeks to ensure that the progress of applications, in circumstances where a Section 35 direction has been made, is monitored and kept under review by the Secretary of State. I agree that developments, especially nationally significant infrastructure projects, should enter our planning system efficiently, and doing so is crucial for ensuring that local communities and businesses can express their views on the real impacts that these projects can have on them.

The NSIP consenting process has served the UK well for more than a decade for major infrastructure projects in the fields of energy, transport, water, waste and wastewater, and has allowed these projects to be consented within an average of around four years. Some of these projects enter the NSIP planning system under a Section 35 direction. This is the beginning of the planning process for some projects and offers prospective applicants certainty that they can take their projects through the NSIP consenting process. This consenting mechanism has been used successfully by 18 developers and allowed them to capitalise on the benefits that the NSIP regime offers.

Very occasionally, applications for development consent can be delayed or even withdrawn. This applies to applications that either automatically qualify as an NSIP under Part 3 of the Planning Act or are directed in through Section 35. This often occurs to allow developers time to ensure that applications entering the system are of the standard needed to efficiently and robustly undergo the scrutiny required. I acknowledge that this can translate into uncertainty for some communities, businesses and investors that have the potential to be affected by such projects.

Under Section 233(2) of the Planning Act, the Secretary of State already has the power to revoke a direction to treat a project as an NSIP, and thus no longer allow the project in question to enter the NSIP planning system through these means. The Secretary of State may consider using this power, for example, if it becomes clear that the rationale or basis on which the Section 35 direction was made has changed, so this is no longer the correct and appropriate consenting option for the project in question. I appreciate why my noble friend has raised this amendment, and I hope he will withdraw it following the reassurances I have provided.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and others brought up the interesting issue of oversight. We are currently working to set this up. Minister Rowley is setting up an IMG which will look at the cross-cutting issues on projects, but he cannot get involved in the specifics on projects, in order not to prejudice, obviously, future decision-making, particularly as a Planning Minister. I will also take on board the issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, brings up about the capacity within local planning authorities to deal with these very big projects. I think it is something we can feed back in and I will do so.

I thank the noble Baroness for a very helpful answer. Will she say something about the actual timeline for this group formally starting work? She suggested that it was going to start work in the fairly immediate future: perhaps some sort of timescale could be provided.

I do not have a timescale tonight, but I will talk to Minister Rowley and try to get one for the noble Lord and let him know. As I say, I hope my noble friend will withdraw the amendment following the reassurances I have provided.

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. I shall start briefly with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, being keen to fly. He said at the end about Heathrow expansion, “We should get on with it”. I am not necessarily a believer that textual exegesis is the right way to approach a winding-up speech, even in your Lordships’ House, but this question of what “we” is in that sentence is at the heart of this. If it were purely a private planning application, it would mean the developer, but I do not think that is what he meant when he talked about Heathrow. He meant either “we” as a Government or “we” as a nation: we, somehow bigger than just the private sector developer, should be getting on with it, and it is that blend that is involved in nationally significant infrastructure projects, where, as I say, the Government make themselves a co-partner with private sector developers in the case both of Heathrow and the other example I gave. It is that confusion about who is responsible that I am trying to get to.

We know the Government are responsible, to some extent, with a project such as Heathrow expansion, but what are their responsibilities in relation to the consequences of it and are they actively monitoring? That is really my question. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, I am sure understood that I was not in anything I said criticising the process as such or saying that there was not the need for a process that would speed large applications through the system, although it is undoubtedly the case that the speed with which the DCO process is handling applications is getting slower and slower, and everybody involved in it knows that. It may well be that the time for a refresh is coming. I do not think it is simply skills; it is also demand for additional up-front information and so forth: this is something the Built Environment Committee, which I chair, may well look at again.

I do not know why the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, said that he was only three-quarters in support of my amendment, as I thought he gave a 100% endorsement. I do not know what reluctance prevented him from coming out wholeheartedly, because he also put my purpose very well. Although I invited my noble friend to accept the amendment, the noble Lord recognised—as I am sure my noble friend does—that it is essentially a probing amendment to try to find out what the Government do and how they take their responsibilities for these projects forward.

I welcome my noble friend’s response, but it was slightly on the disappointing side. Of course, it is wonderful that an inter-ministerial group is being set up to look at these issues—I did not know that—but she slightly took away from the benefit of that in saying that it should not look at individual projects, which are precisely what I would like Ministers to look at. I appreciate that a Planning Minister, who may have to take planning decisions—

It will look at cross-cutting issues on projects but cannot get involved with the specifics of a project, in order not to prejudice decision-making. I did not say that it could not look at individual projects, just their specifics.

I am grateful for that but, thanks to a judgment—I cannot remember the name—in the courts a year or two ago on the Holocaust memorial, local planning authorities have been required in the past year or two to put in place rigorous separations, called Chinese walls, between those officers who work on developing councils’ own applications and those assessing them, in a way that always existed to some extent but is now very much more rigorous. If Ministers, including the Planning Minister, are understandably inhibited from getting into the details of why a project is not happening, perhaps a similar arrangement could be achieved within government; maybe someone in the Cabinet Office or wherever could take on the responsibility for getting into the weeds of projects that are not happening and either helping them to do so or cancelling them.

I am grateful to my noble friend for acknowledging that Ministers have the power to remove an NSIP designation. I would like to think that they could remove it on grounds more expansive than the one she mentioned—that it was no longer an appropriate designation—such as it simply not happening and therefore being, in practice, an irrelevant designation. She did not say that but perhaps it was implicitly encompassed in what she did say. I would like to think that any ministerial involvement now getting going, which I wholly welcome, could be structured in such a way that Ministers could get involved in the weeds.

I am very grateful for this debate. It has flushed out some issues that we would not otherwise have debated and I am grateful to my noble friend. With the leave of the Committee, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 284 withdrawn.

Clause 121 agreed.

Clause 122: Regulations and orders under the Planning Acts

Amendment 285 not moved.

Clause 122 agreed.

Amendment 285A

Moved by

285A: After Clause 122, insert the following new Clause—

“Power for appointees to vary determinations as to procedureIn paragraph 2 of Schedule 6 to TCPA 1990 (powers and duties of appointed persons), in sub-paragraph (10)—(a) for “does not apply” substitute “applies”;(b) at the end insert “only for the purposes of subsection (4) of that section”.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment inserts a new Clause into Chapter 6 of Part 3 of the Bill to amend the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to enable a planning inspector (as an appointed person) to vary the procedure of certain proceedings under section 319A of that Act.

My Lords, planning appeals are currently decided by three potential routes: written representations, hearings or public inquiries, or a combination of all three. Government Amendment 285A will enable an appointed planning inspector, rather than a case officer, as is currently the case, to change the mode of procedure for a planning appeal. The Government believe that an appointed inspector is best placed to decide the most appropriate mode of procedure for an appeal case as they will be familiar with the facts of the case and the views of all parties. The new clause will facilitate a more streamlined procedure and have a positive impact on the operational delivery, leading to more efficient and timely appeal decisions. I therefore request that the amendment is supported. 

I turn to government Amendment 285B. During the pandemic the Planning Inspectorate pioneered the use of virtual events with great success. It enabled appeals and other Planning Inspectorate procedures to progress more quickly and efficiently. The enhanced accessibility of virtual events has also allowed members of the public to join events which they previously may not have been able to do. This has helped to make the process more representative and reflective of the communities that the inspectorate represents. Amendment 285B is designed to put the Planning Inspectorate’s ability to use virtual events beyond doubt. It does not represent a change in policy or to the inspectorate’s current approach of operating in-person or virtual events as appropriate. It is necessary, though, in order to clarify this existing practice following recent legal challenges. This amendment clarifies existing practice and will enable the Planning Inspectorate to continue to facilitate fair and accessible events for its users. It will also help to support greater efficiency and streamlining of its procedures.

Finally, government Amendment 509B provides that these new clauses will come into force two months after Royal Assent. I hope I have demonstrated to noble Lords that the measures proposed through the three amendments in this group will enable appeals and other Planning Inspectorate procedures to progress more quickly and efficiently. I therefore request that these amendments are accepted. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these three amendments, which enable planning appeals to be heard virtually, where the choice is being made by an appointed inspector. I wholly support the opportunity for virtual hearings. Currently, as the Minister explained, there are two options for appeal hearings: one is by written procedure and the other is by a full public hearing. It is usually the choice of the appellant which procedure they use. So someone appealing against, say, a planning refusal can ask for it to be heard in a public setting. I would like reassurance that that will still be the case.

Some members of the public find it easier to join virtually, and that is a really positive move. I accept the argument the Minister has made that it opens it up for more people to take part. Equally, though, there are always some who find that difficult, especially if they live in more remote areas where access to good-quality broadband is not possible. I am thinking of colleagues I have who live in North Yorkshire; when I have Zoom calls with them, it is hit and miss. I would just like reassurance that those people would be able to engage if they wanted to.

Now I have a question about the future. Some planning appeals are so important that, in my view, they are better heard in a public session. If there is a wide interest in the locality, a public hearing in person gives more reassurance to a local community than one that is held virtually or by the written procedure. The reason I argue this is that if you are in a room full of people, you feel the mood and sense what is going on much better than you do in a similar virtual hearing.

I support what has been said, with those provisos. Lastly, local plans have, obviously, planning inspector involvement. Is it anticipated that these too could be heard virtually, or will that still be largely in person?

My Lords, I know it is not the practice in your Lordships’ House to have long discussions on government amendments. I do not intend to do that, but I want to make some comments on these amendments, because I think they are interesting.

On Amendment 285A, I make the point that varying proceedings should always be the subject of very effective communication, not only because we have professionals engaged in these processes but because the public are involved and need to understand exactly what is happening. Where there are changes, even more effort should be made to communicate why they have been made. I raise again the issue of resourcing of PINS. A lot of clauses in the Bill are putting another heavy burden on the Planning Inspectorate, and those issues need to be taken into account.

Secondly, as we have heard, Amendment 285B indicates that the Government wish the planning process to allow people to participate remotely in planning proceedings at the grant of the Planning Inspectorate. If the Government can see the value of this—I am very pleased that they can—I ask the Minister why what is good for planning proceedings is so inappropriate for the rest of local government? We have had debates on this previously in the Bill.

The Minister made the point that participating virtually increases diversity of participation, which I completely agree with. It also saves unnecessary travel; we have had those discussions on previous clauses. We are all trying to get down to net zero, and people do not have to travel if they can participate virtually. In addition, it helps those who live in bigger geographical areas. My borough is very small geographically, so it is not really a great hardship for anyone to have to come to the town hall for a discussion on a planning application or anything else. However, if you live in some of the parts of the country where that is not such an easy journey, particularly at certain times of the year, it can be much more difficult. So, I am confused about why we seem to think that this is a really helpful process for one part of local government activity but not for the rest of it. I also probe why the amendment says, “require or permit”. I am concerned about “require” and whether the planning inspector is going to be able to insist that this happens virtually, and how that is going to work.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, referred to feeling the mood in planning meetings. That is a variable experience, from my experience in local government. Sometimes it can be useful to do that, and sometimes you would not want to be anywhere near feeling the mood in a planning meeting—but that is another matter. I echo the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, about whether the intention is that this should apply to local planning inquiries. That is a whole other issue that needs further consideration.

By the way, I know that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, responded quite extensively on the ability to have local government proceedings virtually, and that is on the record. I would just appreciate a response from the Minister on why this is right for planning but so wrong for everything else in local government.

Let me respond to a couple of those points. On the difference between a case officer and a planning inspector and how you bring in the appellant, at the moment the case officer handles the administration of a planning appeal case, which includes the appointment of a planning inspector, but they also determine the mode of the procedure after seeking input from the parties and the inspector. Therefore, at the moment it is the case officer who talks to the parties and the inspector, and who then makes a decision taking all of that into account. We are suggesting that the planning inspector, who is the decision-maker or recommendation maker for called-in and recovered cases, will assess the details of the case and representations received from all parties in just the same way, so they would be seeking input from all parties before they made that decision.

On local plans, the major party in that will be the local planning authority or the local authority, and I cannot see those discussions being taken online. I suppose a local authority could ask for that, but those are usually quite long and arduous meetings that sometimes go on for weeks, so I am pretty sure they would be public.

My understanding, then, is that in the instance of a local plan hearing, the local planning authority would decide whether it should—the Minister is shaking her head, so I have misunderstood. Therefore, the appointed planning inspector makes the decision whether it will be in public or online.

I therefore seek assurance that those members of the public—and in some cases members of the council, presumably—would be able to ask for it to be held in person if that was more relevant and appropriate.

That is exactly what I was saying. Although the decision would be made by the inspector, it would be taken only after speaking to the person asking for the inspection, which would be the local planning authority. So it is important that it has a large input into that, just as any appellant in a normal planning appeal would have input into the discussion on how it was going to be dealt with. However, I cannot see a local plan inspection being held online. As I said, as with the current procedure, the appellant will be asked and the council will have a chance to comment on the appellant’s choice of procedure. That is because we need to make sure there is fairness to all parties, but the inspector will have the final decision.

On how Planning Inspectorate meetings, hearings or inquiries differ from local authority meetings—I think that is the question the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, asked—the measure clarifies the Planning Inspectorate’s existing practice of operating in-person and virtual proceedings as appropriate. This is necessary just to reduce the risk of challenge. We are not changing anything in the legislation; it can do this anyway without us changing anything. That is unlike some local authority meetings; Planning Inspectorate events through hearings or inquiries do not represent decision-making forums but allow interested parties to make representations. Hearings and inquiries enable planning inspectors to gather evidence, which they use to inform their approach to a case with a view to issuing either a decision or a recommendation to the Secretary of State, whereas planning meetings are decision-making meetings.

Amendment 285A agreed.

Clause 123: Pre-consolidation amendment of planning, development and compulsory purchase legislation

Amendment 285AA

Moved by

285AA: Clause 123, page 156, line 37, leave out lines 37 to 39 and insert—

“(d) a Combined Mayoral Authority with devolved planning powers.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment removes the power in the bill to make incidental provisions in relation to devolved competencies, and inserts combined Mayoral Authorities with devolved planning powers into the exemptions that regulations may not make provision in relation to.

I speak to Amendment 285AA, which refers to Clause 123. It is by way of a probing amendment, and I would have explained to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, had he been here, that the missing quarter last time was about how probing or speculative it was. I make no secret of the fact that mine is a probing amendment. The first few lines of Clause 123 were the red flag that made me put down this amendment. It reads:

“The Secretary of State may by regulations make such amendments and modifications of the relevant enactments as in the Secretary of State’s opinion facilitate, or are otherwise desirable”.

There follows a long list of things to which the Secretary of State may, if in their opinion it is useful, make changes. It is another clause with very wide-ranging powers given to the Secretary of State, and the purpose of giving them to the Secretary of State is not at all transparent.

What is perhaps relevant, and is certainly the reason for tabling the amendment, is that subsection (7) contains some exceptions. It reads:

“Regulation under this section must not make any provision which is within”—

Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland,

“unless that provision is a restatement of provision or is merely incidental”

and so on. It is a clause with wide-ranging powers which do not apply in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, unless, again, the Secretary of State has the opinion that they are a restatement or merely incidental.

My amendment removes the exceptions to that, so there is proper devolution to the three national legislative bodies in those three nations, and adds a fourth exception to the application of the clause, which is for combined mayoral authorities. I could have added a whole lot more as well, but the amendment is in the spirit of devolution and making sure that we do not allocate to the Secretary of State powers which are not needed and which, in the hands of a different Secretary of State, might be abused or misused and might have unforeseen bad consequences.

I want to hear in clear terms from the Minister: why we need the clause at all; why it has to be in such wide-ranging terms; and, with regard to the exceptions for the three national Administrations, why even within that, there is an exception built in which allows him or her to impose powers. Why does he not take the opportunity to make devolution in England mean something more substantial by saying that, in combined mayoral authorities, such powers as may be needed in Clause 123 may be exercised within that authority and not simply cascaded down from Whitehall?

I see that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has given notice of his intention that the clause do not stand part of the Bill, and I would say that that is very much of a piece with my amendment. We have here a clause which is neither necessary nor useful and absolutely not contributing to levelling up in any way. I beg to move.

My Lords, I declare my interests in farming and land ownership as set out in the register. I agree with every word that the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, has said; I would perhaps go a little further in some areas.

My understanding of Clause 123—and, therefore, my reason to seek its removal—is that, through its inclusion in the Bill, it seeks to give authority to any Government to amend primary legislation that underpins planning and compulsory purchase legislation through the means of secondary legislation. Such changes might have a profound impact on the way planning is delivered. It is not appropriate that this legislation gives such a wide remit to the Government to change primary legislation for an objective that is yet to be determined without the full scrutiny of Parliament through debates in both Houses.

In other words, Clause 123, which gives the Government the ability to consolidate and amend compulsory purchase legislation, should be deleted from the Bill as it gives the Government too wide a remit to encroach on property rights without a clear objective. It could lead to changes in compulsory purchase legislation that tip the balance further towards the developer and away from protecting the home owner’s and landowner’s rights. The ability to amend more than 25 key pieces of primary legislation, described as “relevant enactments” in Clause 123(2), in any way that any Government see fit—potentially with limited consultation or scrutiny—must raise very serious concerns.

Additionally, it is premature to propose amending compulsory purchase legislation before, as I understand it, the Government have received the outcome of the Law Commission’s review into compulsory purchase reform. There is also the matter of the lack of a government response to the consultation on compulsory purchase compensation, which is still awaited despite the Government including some of these controversial measures in this Bill. The department is clearly in breach of the consultation principles, which state that it should:

“Publish responses within 12 weeks of the consultation or provide an explanation why this is not possible. Where consultation concerns a statutory instrument publish responses before or at the same time as the instrument is laid, except in very exceptional circumstances (and even then publish responses as soon as possible). Allow appropriate time between closing the consultation and implementing policy or legislation”;

that last point is relevant in this particular case. Planning legislation is the foundation of so much, particularly in the rural economy. There is a real risk that growth of the rural economy and housing delivery could be held back by amendments that have gone through without proper scrutiny.

I look forward to hearing the Government’s response and reasons.

My Lords, regarding Clause 123, we believe that this provision was added to the Bill subsequent to consideration in the other place, so it has perhaps not had the same scrutiny as other parts of the Bill.

Amendment 285AA, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, seeks to have the status of combined mayoral authority with planning powers added to the list of exemptions. A distinction was drawn previously in your Lordships’ House between the devolution powers conferred on mayors and the legislative powers devolved to Administrations, but what meetings and discussions have been held with devolved Administrations in this respect?

I express our concern, alongside that of the noble Lords, Lord Stunell and Lord Carrington, about the implications of this clause in any case. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, argues that the clause should not be part of the Bill at all. I can understand this view as in this part of the Bill, as in others, there are very significant powers being taken by the Secretary of State to amend these long lists of 25 pieces of primary legislation, with limited scrutiny or consultation and without reversion to either House. That would give us great cause for concern. I hope that the Minister can respond to this, but we support the clause stand part notice.

My Lords, I have listened carefully to the concerns expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Stunell and Lord Carrington, and hope and believe that I can fully reassure them both. I will respond to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in a second, but will begin by addressing Amendment 285AA, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell.

This amendment would restrict the nature of amendments that can be made under the power contained in Clause 123 so that the Secretary of State could not use it in relation to matters within a devolved competence or where a mayor has planning powers. Noble Lords will be aware that under Clause 123(6) any changes made by regulations under this section do not come into effect except where Parliament enacts a relevant consolidation Act and that Act comes into effect. In practice, these regulations will smooth the transition of the law from its current unconsolidated state to its future consolidated state. To do this, they have legal effect for only a moment, immediately before the relevant consolidation Act comes into effect.

Noble Lords will know that consolidation is a highly technical exercise restricted to the clarification and restatement of the existing law. This power is likewise restricted. It cannot be used to change the terms of devolution, nor to interfere in policy matters which are devolved. The power to make incidental provision in relation to a devolved competence is included here to reflect that much of planning and compulsory purchase law pre-dates devolution. Without this power allowing the Secretary of State to disentangle the law in England, we would be unable to ensure that in substance the legal position within devolved competence would be unchanged when the law applying in England was disentangled. In relation to the second—

I thank the noble Earl for giving way. The provision in Clause 123(4) says:

“For the purposes of this section, ‘amend’ includes repeal and revoke”.

That sounds like a sledgehammer being used to crack a nut if it is a matter of consolidation.

Consolidation in this area of the law is immensely complex. Frankly, we do not know the full extent of the relevant planning provisions that must be considered in any common consolidation exercise because the exercise has not been commenced.

My apologies, but if it is that complex, is it not more likely that mistakes could be made, making it even more concerning that something could just be repealed or revoked without full comprehension or sufficient time? It is quite concerning.

The noble Baroness should not be concerned, if I may suggest, as I shall go on to try to explain, because I have a little bit more to set out for the Committee. The power does not allow the changing of the terms of devolution once given effect in law, nor does it allow any changes to what planning powers can be conferred on any area as part of such a deal.

Finally on the amendment, I reiterate that in relation to the planning powers of mayors, there is no intention to remove the powers of district councils through devolution deals. I therefore hope I have persuaded the noble Lord that, as expressed, the amendment is not necessary.

I turn to the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, relating to this clause. Noble Lords will know that there are now more than 50 Acts which deal with planning or compulsory purchase. That figure does not include innumerable other Acts which cross-reference those 50 Acts. This makes it almost impossible to fully understand these systems. As with any opaque system, trust is undermined and the potential for dispute increased. In practice, this causes barriers both to participation in and decisions regarding planning and compulsory purchase, all of which makes these systems harder for the public, authorities and all but the best-resourced developers to navigate.

As we have been discussing in relation to much of the rest of this part, the Government want to give more clarity to participants in the planning system. As I have said, these amendments start addressing the legislative barriers to this by providing powers to make technical changes to prepare for future consolidation. Any changes made under these powers can come into effect only where there is a subsequent consolidation Act, and the use of these powers would be subject to the affirmative procedure before your Lordships’ House and the other place. I hope I can reassure noble Lords that this is not an attempt to circumvent the proper scrutiny of this highly complex exercise. I repeat: these powers are to support consolidation, which does not extend to changing the policy effect of legislation. Noble Lords can be reassured that the regulations cannot come into effect without a connected consolidation Bill being enacted.

I thank the noble Earl for taking us through what for some of us is a kind of grade 1 learning experience, which he has dealt with very effectively. I have some considerable concerns which remain. I wonder whether he could go back to a point that he made in response to the noble Baroness a few minutes ago: that it was so complex and there were so many different pieces of legislation that it was not possible to give a list of all the complexities and so on which were involved. He also spoke about trust, and how the whole system might be undermined by opaqueness. If I connect those two remarks, he will perhaps see that to some extent the opacity means that the trust is not present on this side of the Chamber at the moment.

I am sorry to hear that. The point I was seeking to make is that the general public need to trust the law and know what the law is, as does anyone dealing with the planning system. That is why the Government’s ambition is to put in train a consolidation exercise, which may take a considerable time. I have been quite frank with the Committee that there are not only 50 Acts that we know about which deal with planning and compulsory purchase, but—as my notes say—innumerable other Acts which cross-reference those 50 Acts. It will require a major legal exercise to bring all the threads together.

I cannot commit to a timescale for consolidation from the Dispatch Box today. There is a large amount of work to do before we can get to that stage and that will naturally have to be balanced against the wider legislative programme. It is for that reason that we are asking for this power to prepare the way—I think that is the best way of putting it—to make the ultimate consolidation a more achievable exercise.

I am sorry to keep pursuing this point but it is really very important indeed. Any of us who has worked on this Bill knows the difficulty of how many crossovers there are with other Bills. On the previous group of amendments, from my perspective and I am sure from those of colleagues on these Benches, we ended up referencing back through various Bills to get to the point that the amendments referred to. That does not make life easy, and I am sure it makes it very opaque for professionals and the public trying to deal with the system. That simply underlines yet again, as we have done many times through this process, that a planning Bill might have been a better option to get to the rationalisation of the planning system, but we are where we are with that.

We remain concerned about just how this exercise will be done. Will a whole series of statutory instruments come through? Will it just be for the Secretary of State to make the decisions and then change the legislation—I am not entirely sure how that works in process terms—or will we have a whole other Bill that will be the “consolidation of planning Bill 2025” or something? I am interested as to what the process will be for this, because we have 25 Acts here at least—there are probably more than that, in truth—that need amending.

As I said, the exercise is an enormous one. It requires legal brains to get their heads around the statutes before we can even think about putting a consolidation Bill together. I am afraid I cannot be precise in answer to the noble Baroness but I will see whether I can clarify and distil what I have tried to say—obviously not very adequately—by writing to her. I will of course copy my letter to the noble Lords, Lord Stunell and Lord Carrington. In doing so, I hope I can provide complete reassurance about the intent behind these regulation-making powers.

My Lords, I have listened with great care to my noble friend. I understand about consolidation and legislation; it is immensely complicated. He used a phrase that I half wrote down—I missed the last bit because I was listening to the next sentence. He said that there is no intention to change. Does that mean that, when my noble friend and my noble friend Lady Scott leave their jobs, the next Ministers could have an intention to change, or does it mean that there will be no change, only consolidation?

My Lords, I think the noble Earl will have detected a degree of unease right around the Chamber about how this clause will take effect, not just in the course of this Administration but in the hands of a different one at a future date. I have heard the discussion and learned a lot. I will need to read Hansard and the noble Earl’s letter when it comes and take a view on whether this is something to take further forward. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 285AA withdrawn.

Clause 123 agreed.

Amendments 285B and 285C

Moved by

285B: After Clause 123, insert the following new Clause—

“Participation in certain proceedings conducted by, or on behalf of, the Secretary of State(1) The Secretary of State may, to the extent not otherwise able to do so, require or permit a person who takes part in relevant proceedings conducted by the Secretary of State to do so (wholly or partly) remotely.(2) The references in subsection (1) to the Secretary of State include references to a person appointed by the Secretary of State.(3) “Relevant proceedings” means any inquiry, hearing, examination, meeting or other proceedings under an Act (whenever passed or made) which relate to planning, development or the compulsory purchase of land.(4) Relevant proceedings include, in particular—(a) any proceedings to which section 319A of TCPA 1990 applies (see subsections (7) to (10) of that section);(b) any proceedings under section 20 of, or paragraph 6 of Schedule 3 to, the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990;(c) any proceedings under section 21 of, or paragraph 6 of the Schedule to, the Planning (Hazardous Substances) Act 1990;(d) any proceedings under section 13A of, or paragraph 4A of Schedule 1 to, the Acquisition of Land Act 1981;(e) any proceedings under Part 10A or Part 11 of the Planning Act 2008;(f) an examination under Part 2 of PCPA 2004;(g) an examination under Chapter 2 or 3 of Part 6 of the Planning Act 2008 (including any meetings under Chapter 4 of that Part) in relation to an application for an order granting development consent;(h) an examination under Schedule 4B to the TCPA 1990 in relation to a draft neighbourhood development order.(5) For the purposes of this section a person takes part in relevant proceedings remotely if they take part through—(a) a live telephone link,(b) a live television link, or(c) any other arrangement which does not involve the person attending the proceedings in person.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment inserts a new Clause into Chapter 6 of Part 3 of the Bill. The Clause confers a power on the Secretary of State to require or permit a person who takes part in certain proceedings relating to planning, development or the compulsory purchase of land to do so wholly or partly remotely. The power can be exercised by a person appointed by the Secretary of State and it is intended that the Planning Inspectorate will be appointed for this purpose.

285C: After Clause 123, insert the following new Clause—

“Power of certain bodies to charge fees for advice in relation to applications under the planning ActsAfter section 303ZA of the TCPA 1990 (fees for appeals) insert—“303ZB Power of certain bodies to charge fees for advice in relation to applications under the planning Acts(1) A prescribed body may charge fees for the provision of advice, information or assistance (including the provision of a response to a consultation) in connection with an application within subsection (2) that relates to land in England. (2) An application is within this subsection if it is an application, proposed application or proposal for a permission, approval or consent under, or for the purposes of, the planning Acts.(3) A prescribed body may not charge fees under subsection (1) in respect of—(a) a response to a consultation that a qualifying neighbourhood body is required to carry out under an enactment;(b) the provision of advice, information or assistance to an excluded person, unless the advice, information or assistance is provided in connection with an application within subsection (2) by that person;(c) the provision of prescribed advice, information or assistance or advice, information or assistance of a prescribed description.(4) In subsection (3)(a), a “qualifying neighbourhood body” means—(a) a qualifying body within the meaning given by section 61E(6) (and includes a community organisation which is to be regarded as such a qualifying body by virtue of paragraph 4(2) of Schedule 4C), or(b) a qualifying body within the meaning given by section 38A(12) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.(5) In subsection (3)(b), an “excluded person” means—(a) the Secretary of State;(b) the Mayor of London;(c) a local planning authority;(d) a mayoral combined authority (within the meaning given in section 107A of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009).(6) A prescribed body may charge fees under subsection (1) only in accordance with a statement published on its website which—(a) describes the advice, information or assistance in respect of which fees are charged,(b) sets out the fees (or, if applicable, the method by which the fees are to be calculated), and(c) refers to any provision in an enactment pursuant to which the advice, information or assistance is provided.(7) Subsections (8) and (9) apply where a prescribed body decides to charge fees under subsection (1) for advice, information or assistance which the body provides pursuant to a provision in an enactment.(8) If a person fails to pay the fee charged under subsection (1), the prescribed body may, notwithstanding any requirement to provide the advice, information or assistance, withhold the advice, information or assistance until the fee is paid.(9) The prescribed body must secure that, taking one financial year with another, the income from the fees charged under subsection (1) does not exceed the cost of providing the advice, information or assistance.(10) A financial year is the period of 12 months beginning with 1 April.(11) Before making regulations under this section, the Secretary of State must consult—(a) any body likely to be affected by the regulations, and(b) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.(12) In this section, “fees” include charges (however described).”” Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment inserts a new section 303ZB into the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which provides a power for certain bodies to charge fees for the provision of advice, information or assistance in connection with applications for a permission, approval or consent under the planning Acts in relation to land in England.

Amendments 285B and 285C agreed.

Amendments 286 and 287 not moved.

Amendment 288

Moved by

288: After Clause 123, insert the following new Clause—

“Public consultation on planning and women’s safety(1) The Secretary of State must, within 90 days of the day on which this Act is passed, open a public consultation to establish the impact of proposed changes to the planning system on women’s safety.(2) Section 70 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (Determination of applications: general considerations) is amended in accordance with subsection (3).(3) After subsection (2A), insert—“(2B) In dealing with an application for planning permission for public development, a local planning authority must establish a review of how the proposed development would impact women’s safety. The review must, in particular, consider the impact of proposed development on—(a) open spaces,(b) layout of buildings,(c) unlit or hidden spaces,(d) visibility of entranceways, and(e) blind spots.(2C) The local planning authority must prepare and publish a report setting out the results of the review.””Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to open a public consultation to establish the impact of proposed changes to the planning system on women’s safety and would require local planning authorities to review the impact of new developments on women’s safety.

My Lords, we have discussed for many hours now the importance of a plan-led process and the outcomes of planning. Planning has the power to create great, safe, appealing places. Equally, poor planning has the ability to create places that do not feel safe and do not appeal to many of our fellow citizens. Amendment 288 asks the Government to have a consultation once the Bill is enacted in order to consider in the planning process the particular angle of women’s safety. In saying that the focus is on women’s safety, I do so in the knowledge that anyone who is particularly vulnerable, be they old, less able, or children or young people, would benefit from a focused look at safety in public places in the planning process.

I equally acknowledge that, during a planning application, the safety unit of the local police force will often be asked for advice and commentary on what is being proposed. Frequently in my experience, that considers fencing, alleyways and so on, but this amendment is trying to extend that. The consultations that I am seeking would have a broader look at whether the places that we create will be safe for women, particularly on their own, to use. There have been a number of recent tragic examples where clearly walking across a park at night is not safe.

I was particularly alerted to this issue when I read a research report published by Turley, a planning consultancy. Its argument, which I summarise, is that women are disproportionately impacted by poor design in public spaces, which makes women feel more vulnerable. I guess that, if I asked the women in this Chamber whether they cross the road at night when the other side is better lit, the answer would be yes. Do they avoid overgrown hedges where it is particularly dark? Yes. Do they avoid going down the shortcut of the alleyways, or the ginnels, as we call them? Yes. Our planning process has resulted in places where women feel less secure, and if they feel less secure, they are less likely to use public places. If public places are public places, they ought to be safe for everyone.

What I am seeking is that, by giving greater thought to women’s safety, we plan out, before places are built, areas which are less safe for women. In a survey, 55% of women stated they would not use public transport after dark and 34% stated that feelings of insecurity have stopped them travelling at times. A report by UN Women UK found that 70% of women have felt harassed in public spaces due to the issues that I have just raised of dark places, poor lighting, overgrown hedges, high fences and that sort of situation.

It has consequently been argued that women cannot fully enjoy towns and cities, especially, if they do not feel that they can travel through them safely. The sad fact is that there have been several recent terrible examples where women, even though they were not alone, were viciously attacked. If it were within our grasp to avoid creating places where this happens, surely we would want to grasp that and deal with it very quickly.

Further research published by Turley shows that planning and design can improve safety and reduce crime. It states:

“Urban planning can reduce the vulnerability of people to crime by removing opportunities that are provided inadvertently by the built environment”.

This is more or less what I have just described from my own experience.

UN Women published a report, Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces, which—the wording is perhaps a little strange—identified

“a gender approach to urban planning”

as one of the four key ways to improve women’s safety. It is basically saying, “Have a woman’s-eye view on safety in public places”. It is not rocket science; it is about having a tick list about lighting, blind corners, underpasses—I will not use an underpass on my own at night—snickets and ginnels, or alleyways as they are called in the south. They should not be used unless they are well lit, you can see from one end to the other and you can see that there is an escape route if need be. All these things can be dealt with in the planning process. At the moment the police take a bit of a tick-box approach when they look at a planning application and advise on areas where crime can take place. I would hope that we could be a bit more positive than that.

I end by saying that, while it seems like a bit of a marginal issue to raise, if we are going to create what the Secretary of State called “beautiful places”, safety is really important. If the safety of women and, therefore, of other vulnerable groups, can be planned into new design, that will be a positive approach to the future of new areas that are being created. With that, I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for introducing her amendment and indeed for tabling it in the first place. This important issue is not talked about enough. I am aware that in the other place a PMB was brought forward on this subject at some stage, but it is something that is not considered sufficiently.

We heard some figures and stats from the noble Baroness. The consultation on the safety of women and girls found that 71% of all women in the UK had suffered some form of sexual harassment in public spaces. I wonder whether the figure is higher, because I wonder whether every woman admits to it—so it is at least that number. If I think back to my own life experience, I remember that when my daughters became teenagers I could not help myself: I started to worry about them, because I did not want to happen to them the things that had happened to me. To be in that position when there are other things that could be done is frustrating.

To me, this is an opportunity where simple things could be done if they were better understood by designers and planners, so I am completely behind the noble Baroness’s amendment. If we are improving the safety of women and girls, it is about putting positive societal values right at the heart of our planning and design—particularly urban planning, as the noble Baroness mentioned—and we know that new approaches to this could ensure that outcomes improve for women, particularly those who are working and living in urban areas.

Something that I find frustrating about this issue is that women are often made to feel entirely responsible for themselves to be safe. They are told, “Carry alarms. Don’t do this or that. Don’t go there”. It should be not just women’s responsibility but society’s responsibility to look after women and the vulnerable in that society. We need to think not just about the planning of new developments but about their delivery. As the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, said, women need to feel safe. She talked about streetlights, pavements, secure walkways and the things in her amendment that would make a huge difference.

Perceptions of safety are just as important here. That is one of the reasons why the part of her amendment that says the local planning authority must prepare and publish a report, setting out the results of the review that she suggests, is important. It is only when you do that review and prepare and publish a report that you can see accurately what needs to be done.

We know that 36% of women state that they feel unsafe walking in their local area at night. The consultation that was done on safety asked women to pinpoint specific areas where they do or do not feel safe. That has highlighted common characteristics between places where people either feel safe or do not feel safe. Those statistics and other findings are highly significant, because they are then available to inform research and enable the future design and development of buildings to explicitly and specifically consider safety issues and therefore to adopt the kinds of measures that we need to allay safety fears—and much of this is in the noble Baroness’s amendment.

So what should city planners and developers consider when looking at how they can improve this situation in their areas? Clearly, there is never going to be a one-size-fits-all approach, which again is why it is important to have these reviews and reports done. Planners locally need to be able to determine what is needed in their locality and have that as their starting point.

There are some interesting findings. For example, warm light is better than harsh lighting. Light can evoke a range of feelings and has a different impact on people at different times of night and day. There are interesting ways in which things could be improved that we might not even think of straight off. We know that people put CCTV up and think it will help safety, but actually it often has the opposite effect; if there are CCTV cameras everywhere, they can make you feel unsafe. Even if that perception is not reality, it adds to the feeling of not being safe. Basically, it sends out the wrong message and so can discourage people from going into that area, even though in theory it might actually be the safest place to be.

Development can also create temporary spaces which are in a constant state of flux, and create anxiety in people. If we think about the interface between a public space and adjacent land, how does that all join together? How do you get from one to the other? The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, talked about subways, for example—underpasses. What might look fun during the day can look very different at night-time.

Again, we need to think about how buildings are designed. If you have worked in a large building, you can often feel very isolated in it. I have worked in a building where I knew that there was somebody who worked in another part of it who had, shall we say, not been too pleasant to me in the past. If I was in that building on my own, that made me feel extremely vulnerable but I did not want to leave my job. We also need to think about how car parks are lit outside workplaces, for example. This is probably going to sound a bit daft to the men, but one thing that I have always got really frustrated about—and worried about if I had to suddenly leg it, to be blunt—is when you are in area full of cobbles and you have heels on. It sounds silly but very small things can make a difference to your perception of safety when you are out at night.

Architects, developers and urban planners really need to ensure that women and girls’ experiences are involved in building safer environments. It should not just be about women; men need to contribute to the process and demonstrate that they are committed to working with women to improve building design and planning. Back in March 2021 Priti Patel, when she was the Home Secretary, said:

“Every woman should feel safe to walk on our streets without fear of harassment or violence”.

Accepting the noble Baroness’s amendment would be an excellent place to start.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for that debate. Short it may have been, but it was full of some interesting facts.

Amendment 288 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, would impose a duty on the Secretary of State to publicly consult on changes to the planning system to establish the impact on women’s safety. The amendment would also require local planning authorities, when determining a planning application for public development, to establish a view on how that proposed development would impact women’s safety.

The Government recognise public safety for all as a priority, and that it is critical that the planning system plays an important part in addressing that effectively in new development. The National Planning Policy Framework is already clear that a council’s planning policies and decisions should aim to create safe and inclusive places for all. It explicitly states that both planning policies and decisions should promote public safety. This is in line with the Government’s strategy on tackling violence against women and girls.

The Government have recently consulted on the proposed approach to updating the National Planning Policy Framework. The consultation acknowledges that this important issue is already addressed within national planning policy. However, it sought views on whether to place more emphasis on making sure that women, girls and other vulnerable groups feel safe in our public places including, for example, policies on lighting and street lighting. As we have heard, the consultation closed on 2 March this year. We expect to consider this subject area in the context of a wider review of the National Planning Policy Framework, to follow Royal Assent to the Bill. The Government will consult on the details of these wider changes later this year, reflecting responses to the prospective consultation.

The supporting planning practice guidance on healthy and safe communities spells out that planning provides an important opportunity to consider the security of the built environment and those who live and work in it. This specifically references Section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which requires all local, joint and combined authorities to exercise their functions to do all that they

“reasonably can to prevent … crime and disorder”.

The guidance further underlines the role of good design in crime prevention. The National Design Guide reinforces this approach, demonstrating through 10 characteristics for well-designed places how new development including street works and public spaces can build in safety and security for all. The National Model Design Code is clear that local authorities should pay particular attention to protected characteristics, including gender, when developing places.

Ultimately, safety should be embedded in the design process to have the most impact. If this important matter is considered at the planning application stage alone, this may lead only to minor changes to final designs. Therefore, while I appreciate the spirit of this amendment, the Government must oppose it as national planning policy guidance and the law already require local planning authorities to take the issue of women’s safety into serious consideration when plan-making and decision-making are taking place.

My Lords, I thank particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for her full-hearted support for this amendment and the approach that it is taking. I thank the Minister for her full reply. Yes, planning applications are currently considered in relation to safety, but the difficulty is: through whose eyes is safety being considered? What I am trying to suggest to your Lordships’ Committee in this amendment is that women have a particular perception of safety which probably is not shared by many men.

Earlier I asked a general question: how many women here would cross the road to somewhere that is better lit? There were nods all around. That is not because planners previously had deliberately designed something that was going to be unsafe. They designed something they thought would be safe, but they did not see it through the eyes and perceptions of women. That is particularly what I am pointing to. It is a shame that the Minister, who I am sure would have agreed with much that I said, did not feel able to support this amendment.

Finally, we have the wonderful reference to the NPPF— as yet unpublished. The NPPF, says the Minister, will make reference to women’s safety and has particularly considered the safety of women and girls. But, unfortunately, we will not see the content of the NPPF until the Bill has been enacted. If you ask me, that is not acceptable. This amendment and others have asked particularly for issues of general importance to be thought about. The answer is that it may well be in the NPPF, but the Government are not publishing this until they have made all the decisions on this Bill. I urge the Minister yet again to get this NPPF before the House by Report because that will enormously aid our discussions. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 288 withdrawn.

Amendment 289

Moved by

289: After Clause 123, insert the following new Clause—

“Wildbelt(1) Local planning authorities must maintain a register of wildbelt land in their local areas (see section 106(3)(c) of the Environment Act 2021).(2) Wildbelt land must be recognised in local plans based on areas identified in the local nature recovery strategy.(3) Local planning authorities must act in accordance with local nature recovery strategy wildbelt designations in the exercise of relevant functions, including land use planning and planning decisions.(4) Wildbelt land may not be subject to land use change that hinders the recovery of nature in these areas.”Member's explanatory statement

This new Clause would secure a land designation in England that provides protection for sites being managed for nature’s recovery, identified through the Local Nature Recovery Strategies created by the Environment Act. Sites designated as wildbelt in Local Plans would be subject to only moderate controls, precluding development but allowing farming and other land uses which do not hinder the recovery of nature.

My Lords, in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, who is unable to be here, sadly, as he is unwell, I will be moving Amendment 289, to which I have added my name. I also support Amendment 386 in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman.

Amendment 289 would deliver a new planning designation to protect wild spaces for nature, climate and people. We have some effective nature designations in the UK, but there is currently a gap in the protection they offer; for example, there are sites where nature is not yet in full health but is getting there or where nature is, in effect, recovering but is not protected.

These sites can vary from land on the edge of built-up areas, where nature has been allowed back in, such as community orchards, to habitats undergoing restoration to boost carbon storage, such as rewetted peatland. Wherever they are located, these recovering sites provide vital spaces for wildlife—for wild animals to feed, shelter and thrive. They are often the green spaces closest to our homes. However, the lack of planning protection for those spaces means that they are vulnerable to development pressures and other damaging land-use changes, threatening the biodiversity benefits that they provide. With nature in decline, and the crucial Environment Act target to halt the decline by 2030 needing to be met, we cannot afford for more wild spaces to be lost. The wild-belt designation proposed by Amendment 289 would protect sites with growing biodiversity value and ensure that investment of time and money over recent years to restore nature on these sites is not wasted.

The amendment allows for wild-belt sites to be identified by the Environment Act’s local nature recovery strategies and recognised in local plans. They would then be protected through the planning system by a presumption against land-use change that would hinder the recovery of nature. This would enable these sites to continue to support wild species. Existing sustainable land uses, such as nature-friendly farming or habitat restoration for carbon offsetting, would be allowed to continue. That would allow these precious sites to continue to contribute to nature’s recovery and be used to connect up other sites important for the natural world, creating lifelines for nature across the country. It would also provide more access to green and blue spaces for people, greening green belts and restoring neglected blue spaces.

In the words of the Wildlife Trust, which first came up with the wild-belt concept,

“it would help create communities where people can enjoy healthier, happier lives through on-your-doorstep access to nature and ensure we hand over our natural environment in a better state to the next generation”.

We can level up planning protection through the wild-belt designation, securing places for more abundant wildlife and more nature-filled lives for all of us. I hope that noble Lords and the Minister will feel able to support the amendment.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I have a similar amendment in this group; it requires that the Secretary of State must publish draft legislation to allow local authorities to propose wild-belt designations for the purpose of improving the results of environmental outcome reports.

Amendment 289 would create a new planning designation to support land for nature’s recovery, known as wild belt. As we have heard, the Wildlife Trust first proposed this designation to enable land that is being restored or has the potential for restoration to be protected to see the nature recovery that we so desperately need to see. We want to see from this legislation that the new wild-belt designation gets taken up by the Government so that it is included in planning reforms. If you are going to protect land to allow it to be restored for nature, it has to be tied into our planning system; otherwise, it will just get unpicked in various places.

The Wildlife Trust has warned that the proposed changes to the planning system, which the Government say are to tackle the shortage of homes and support sustainable growth will, unfortunately, increase the threats to nature. It has raised concerns about the fact that we have inadequate data, which then means that the Government, local authorities and planners are not properly informed about the impact on wildlife. That leads to a bias towards development that weakens environmental protections—and I am sure that none of us wants to see that.

As my noble friend said, the trusts want to see recovery of wildlife and easy access to nature for people put right at the heart of the planning system. This wild-belt designation would secure an area against future changes to land use, so that efforts to recreate or restore natural habitat actually become more meaningful and long lasting. We also know that the RSPB has released analysis showing how the UK has missed almost all its targets in this area of conservation, including failing to protect or manage enough land for nature. We know that proposed government planning reforms include zoning land for growth where major developments could take place, renewal areas where small-scale building could occur and protected areas where there would be more stringent controls. But one thing we really need to think about is how our sites for nature join up, because nature travels.

There has been a lot of discussion for a number of years about wildlife corridors. If we are going to have these local recovery strategies for local nature through our authorities, they need to join up. The wild belt would be a good way to do this, alongside the green belt and other proposals the Government have put forward, such as the new ELM scheme. It is about bringing all this together in order to make it absolutely as meaningful as possible. Designation of land as wild belt could be a requirement for receiving public money, for example, through ELMS; it could be part of the new schemes that are coming in.

The Wildlife Trusts have proposed five principles to ensure that the planning system helps nature. They want to see a bold new designation to protect the new land that is put into recovery, which is what they are calling wild belt. So, I hope the Minister has understood why wild belt is so very important and will look to support these amendments. If they were accepted, wild-belt sites would be identified by local nature recovery strategies and actually recognised in local development plans. That would make all the difference, because then they would be protected through the planning system. If we can secure more sites and protect them, we will start to make the difference we need to make in recovering our wildlife and biodiversity.

My Lords, I am sure my noble friend Lord Harlech agrees with me that the idea behind these amendments is absolutely right and that we all want to see an increase in nature and biodiversity, but I urge him to take a slightly jaundiced view of them. The way they are drafted and the bureaucracy involved is of concern to me. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, made a powerful case for designation, saying that wild belts—whatever wild belts are, because there is no definition, as I will come on to in a moment—will be protected. So were national parks; so are AONBs; so are SSSIs, since the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which I took part in; but that has not stopped nature declining. The problem is that we are focusing too much on designation rather than on management. It is management of land that will increase biodiversity and wildlife.

It should be second nature to farmers to farm in a way that will benefit wildlife. Good commercial farming can work hand in hand with nature. Anyone saw the recent David Attenborough programme “Wild Isles” will have seen that, in the last episode, he gave examples of farmers on hill land and on rich grade 1 land farming for wildlife as well as commercial farming. The farmer on the commercial land has to rotate his crops on a regular basis and will therefore rotate some of the wildlife’s habitat. If a field that he has put down to wildflowers is designated, there will be bureaucracy to change that from one field to another; whether it is a slightly bigger or smaller area will involve a whole lot of bureaucracy and make the farmer’s job a whole lot harder.

For example, a beetle bank might be considered a wild belt. A beetle bank is two to three metres wide. In theory, it is a very good place for wildlife, but in practice it is also a very good place for predators. It is not the beetle bank that is important per se; it is the at least 15-metre minimum strip on the side of it laid down to wildflowers or bird-food producing plants that saves the wildlife. The birds and creatures that live on the beetle bank get into the strip and away from the foxes, badgers, stoats and other predators that come along. That is management with a holistic approach, which has proved very successful. It was invented some 40 years ago by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, together with Southampton University, and has proved a really good way to improve biodiversity on a farm.

How will we define a wild belt? Unless there is a strict definition of what it actually means, and that the land will not be subject to use change, as under proposed new subsection (4), this will not work in practice. The idea is lovely; it is a good theory but in practice it will not work for the practical, nature-friendly farmer who wants to get on, improve biodiversity and farm commercially. This will be another step in the opposite direction.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville was unable to remain in your Lordships’ House to this late hour and has passed me some notes to which I will speak, if that is okay. She wished to speak in particular to Amendment 289, to which she added her name, and wishes the noble Lord, Lord Randall, a speedy recovery.

As others have said, the wild belt definition was proposed by the Wildlife Trusts. Any Government committed to nature recovery, biodiversity and our environment ought seriously to consider what they have to say. As we all know, biodiversity is at an all-time low. Our previous desire to see neat and well-kept hedgerows, farmland and gardens has had a devastating effect on our wildlife, of all types and sizes. To help biodiversity recover, it is necessary to ensure that areas of the countryside, both rural and urban, are maintained in a “wild” state. These will be included in the local nature recovery strategies for each area and easily identified in these plans.

A wild-belt area must be protected as such, from planning use and planning decisions. It is too easy to refer to a piece of scrubland as unsightly and of no particular use and to concoct a plan to turn it into something else. This misses the point altogether. That which is wild—and therefore unsightly, in the eyes of some—is likely to attract wildflowers and insects and become the home of small mammals and birds, all of which will increase the biodiversity of an area and protect and enhance nature’s recovery.

The Environment Act makes provision for the creation of local nature recovery strategies. By ensuring that wild-belt areas are included within these strategies, we can protect them from predatory development. They can, however, be used for farming and other land uses which will protect and not hinder nature recovery, such as nature-friendly farming and habitat restoration for carbon offsetting.

Amendment 386 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, also proposes wild-belt designations by local authorities, which would enhance the local environmental outcomes reports. Everything possible must be done to ensure that biodiversity is increased across the country. I support Amendment 386 from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.

My Lords, as this is the first time I have spoken in Committee on the Bill, it is probably appropriate that I declare my farming and land management interests, as set out in the register.

I turn to Amendment 289 in the name of my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, and so eloquently introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and Amendment 386 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock. I thank all noble Lords for laying these amendments and provide assurances that I share the same view as my noble friend Lord Caithness on the importance of helping nature to recover.

While these two amendments both refer to wild belts, they take somewhat different approaches. I will begin by addressing Amendment 289, which seeks to secure a land designation of a wild belt. This would provide protection for sites being managed for nature’s recovery, identified through local nature recovery strategies. I thank noble Lords for the recent constructive debate on local nature recovery strategies, which covered quite similar ground. As my noble friend Lord Benyon reassured the Committee, the Government share the desire for local nature recovery strategies to be reflected appropriately in local plans so that the planning system can play a more proactive role in nature recovery. This is something we committed to explicitly in the recent environmental improvement plan.

Where we differ is on the necessity of making amendments to this Bill to achieve this. Instead, we will rely on existing duties created under the Environment Act and the guidance which the Government have committed to produce. The language of this proposed amendment—to “act in accordance” with a new designation based on the local nature recovery strategy—would be more binding than previous amendments. While the Government are determined that the planning system should play an important role in nature recovery, the system still needs to balance this priority with other priorities. Requiring, in legislation, that planning must “act in accordance” with plans for nature recovery would hamper the ability of planning authorities to strike this balance.

Last month we published the regulations and statutory guidance needed for responsible authorities to begin preparation of local nature recovery strategies. We are now working to put in place the guidance on how local authorities should consider LNRS in their local plans. This will be published this summer and will deliver on the commitments we have made. Therefore, while I appreciate the intention of Amendment 289, the Government are not able to support it. I hope that the noble Baroness, on behalf of my noble friend, will be able to withdraw it.

Amendment 386, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would require the Secretary of State to publish draft legislation to allow local authorities to propose wild-belt designations for the purpose of improving the results of environmental outcome reports. EORs sit alongside the Government’s commitments to support nature’s recovery and are intended to ensure that decision-makers have the facts they need when deciding whether to move forward with a specific plan or to permit a specific development. EORs will consider a range of environmental factors, including the influence of protected or designated spaces on the effects of the development, and the model of outcomes and indicators will allow the Government to reflect environmental priorities, including matters such as the preservation of wilderness.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, talked about the need for a joined-up approach. The local nature recovery strategy statutory guidance explains how areas for nature recovery should be identified, including how conditions should be spatially connected for nature recovery and existing areas of importance for nature. I know from my own experience on the Select Committee for land use—my noble friend Lord Caithness also raised this—about management. We need to see much better management, particularly of green-belt spaces which are neither very green nor have much biodiversity in them. This is a real opportunity for those areas to do a lot of what these amendments are proposing.

Noble Lords also referred to the commitments the Government have made on this issue. The recent levelling up White Paper reinforced that local nature recovery strategies will be reflected in plan-making. It has been mentioned several times, but the National Planning Policy Framework expects plans to identify, map and safeguard components of local wildlife-rich habitats and wider ecological networks, including the hierarchy of international, national and locally designated sites of importance for biodiversity, wildlife corridors and the stepping stones that connect them, and the areas identified by national and local partnerships for habitat management, enhancement, restoration and creation.

While the concept of a wild belt is intriguing, introducing a designation that is required for the purpose of improving the results of an EOR risks distorting the purpose of environmental assessment, which is to provide relevant environmental information in a digestible way to support effective decision-making. Therefore, I am not able to recommend that the Government support these amendments, but I hope I have provided noble Lords with the assurances they seek in order to withdraw them.

While Amendments 386 and 289 take different approaches from each other, and from the Government’s stated position, I hope I have reassured noble Lords that we are working towards the same aim—nature’s recovery—and that the approach we are taking through the powers under the Environment Act and subsequent guidance will achieve that aim.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have added their support, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who agrees, normally, with so much of what we are debating. I am sorry we have a slight difference at this late point in the debate, but I am sure we can iron it out.

My noble friend Lady Hayman was quite right to emphasise the essential link between nature recovery and the planning system. This comes up in other amendments we will deal with during the course of the Bill, but this amendment deals with one specific part of that relationship. My noble friend also rightly emphasised the need for wildlife corridors. We are learning so much more about the fact that you cannot have little isolated pockets of nature recovery and expect it to work. We need that broader viewpoint and a way for nature to travel around the country to provide a wider benefit.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, was quite right to stress that, in order for that to happen, the less special and the less beautiful places need to play their part as well. An awful lot of nature recovery activity can go on in places which we do not necessarily see as being particularly beautiful, although they nevertheless have a role to play in nature recovery.

All that leads to the concept of the wild belt. I disagree with the noble Earl, Lord Caithness; it is not a bureaucratic proposal because we already have the structure here—we are just giving an extra tool to the local nature recovery strategies and the people working on that to take a wider look at what is going to make nature work in their area. As I say, it is about finding new pockets or areas which are not necessarily the ones that people might think of, which will help with this nature recovery plan.

Therefore all the powers are already there—they already exist in the Environment Act. All we are doing is providing greater scope for those people to really deliver what we are asking of them. I disagree about whether it is bureaucratic; I think it is actually quite a simple ask. It is quite a popular ask; a lot of the NGOs and campaigners out there recognise the benefit that this can bring, so I hope noble Lords will not disregard it as it is a proposal worth pursuing. In fact, I have had a number of noble Lords from the Government Benches talking positively about this, so it is a concept that has legs, and I think we will return to it.

Having said all that, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, has a speedy recovery and that he will be able to be here for us to plan our next steps on what we will do with this amendment. However, in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment 289 withdrawn.

House resumed.