Skip to main content

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Volume 832: debated on Monday 4 September 2023

Report (5th Day) (Continued)

Amendment 192

Moved by

192: Schedule 7, page 335, line 40, at end insert—

“15AAA Assistance from certain local authorities in the preparation of joint spatial development strategies(1) For the purpose of the exercise of their functions under sections 15A, 15AA, 15AE and 15AF the relevant local planning authorities must seek the assistance of each authority in their area which is an authority falling within subsection (4).(2) Each authority from whom assistance is sought must give the planning authorities advice as to the content of their joint development strategy to the extent that strategy is capable of affecting (directly or indirectly) the exercise by the authority of any of its functions.(3) The assistance mentioned in subsection (1) includes advice relating to the inclusion in the joint spatial development strategy of specific policies relating to any part of the joint spatial development strategy area. (4) Each of the following authorities fall within this subsection if their area or any part of their area is in a Travel to Work Area in which the area of the joint spatial development strategy area is located—(a) a county council;(b) a combined county authority;(c) district councils who are not directly involved in the joint spatial development strategy for the purposes of section 15A.(5) The authorities preparing a joint spatial development strategy may reimburse an authority or council which exercises functions by virtue of such arrangements for any expenditure incurred by the authority or council in doing so.(6) Any arrangements made for the purposes of subsection (5) must be taken to be arrangements between local authorities for the purposes of section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972.(7) Nothing in this section affects any power which a body which is recognised as part of a joint spatial development strategy area has apart from this section.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would require participating authorities in a joint spatial development strategy to seek assistance from relevant counties and other councils.

My Lords, Amendment 192, which stands on its own in this group, relates to an issue that we debated briefly in Committee. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Scott for the time and attention that she has given to this subject, and indeed to our friend in the other place, the Housing and Planning Minister, who responded to a letter from me and Councillor Roger Gough of the County Councils Network in the early part of August. In all those exchanges Ministers have been very sympathetic, so I preface my remarks by hoping that I might get a sympathetic reply on this occasion, notwithstanding the hour—or perhaps because of it; who knows?

The purpose of this amendment concerns the point in Schedule 7 relating to plan-making. I entirely support the Government’s intention in enabling local planning authorities to work together to create joint spatial development strategies. They have set this out in a very positive way, and this is a very important step forward. I remember the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, telling us earlier about structure plans; in my area, as I remember it, there was SCEALA—the Standing Conference of East Anglian Local Authorities—and its regional spatial strategies. As we all know, the truth is that in many of our areas individual planning authorities simply do not have the literal geographic, demographic or economic scope to undertake the kind of spatial development strategies that we know we need. They may come together as planning authorities for this purpose, and the joint spatial development strategies in Schedule 7 allow that to happen.

However, a spatial development strategy is more than the combination of the planning responsibilities of local authorities. It encompasses crucial issues relating to the provision of infrastructure, the transport strategies for an area, minerals and waste strategies, and quite often the public health strategies. There is a string of these issues which are not the direct responsibilities of the local planning authority but are the responsibilities of county councils. I will particularly focus on county councils when I come to one or two other tangential issues in a moment.

In our debate in Committee, I think the point we reached was an understanding that, for local planning authorities preparing a joint spatial development strategy to be required before its adoption to make a draft available to a wide range of interested parties—including county councils that are responsible for the area of the strategy—is too late in the process. As the Bill stands, it is quite difficult for the local planning authorities to give a draft to county councils in circumstances where they do not equally make that draft available to other interested parties under that provision of the Bill.

What we are looking for in the Bill is a mechanism by which the county councils can be engaged in the preparation of a joint spatial development strategy—not taking over or in any sense pre-empting the responsibilities of the local planning authorities themselves but enabling those authorities to have the confidence that their joint spatial development strategies will encompass the range of critical issues for making spatial development in an area effective.

The amendment that I have tabled is obviously based on drafts prepared by colleagues in the County Councils Network and has their support. I confess that I slightly amended it at an earlier stage because it is very important.

The House will see that proposed new Clause 15AAA(4) in Amendment 192 is to reference where the following authorities listed

“fall within this subsection if their area or any part of their area is in a Travel to Work Area in which the … spatial development strategy area is located”.

I recall that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, made some helpful remarks in support of that concept. If you are undertaking a spatial development strategy, one of the central things you will look to do to make it effective is for it not just to encompass some of the functional issues of a planning authority but to look at the wider demography and economic geography of a travel to work area.

For example, if you want to think about a transport strategy and the number of jobs that will be created and homes required, in so far as this replaces the duty to co-operate, it is going to be firmly about travel-to-work areas and not just the specifics of the homes required in particular planning authorities.

Okay, there are just two very quick other points I want to raise. I ask my noble friend whether new Section 15AA(5) inserted by Schedule 7—the power for the Secretary of State to prescribe other matters—would stretch far enough for the Secretary of State to prescribe ways in which the local planning authorities preparing SDS have to involve county councils and other authorities in the process. I fear it may not. Only if I can have the assurance will I feel confident that we have what we need.

I turn to my other question. We can now see that my noble friend has tabled Amendment 201B. If I read it correctly, it will allow combined county authorities in certain circumstances to take on planning responsibilities. I would like to understand this a bit better. Under those circumstances, the combined county authorities would presumably be able to become participant authorities in a joint spatial development strategy. It is therefore all the more important that, whether or not they are involved in that process as planning authorities, combined county authorities should be, as proposed in my amendment, designated as authorities with which the local planning authorities must work to undertake their activities. I hope my noble friend will be able to give a very positive response to this amendment and I beg to move.

I support Amendment 192 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. It is supported by my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, who cannot be with us tonight. Clearly, I have chatted to her about it. I declare my interest as a vice-president of the LGA.

As a previous elected mayor of a district council, I can absolutely understand, from sore and bitter experience, how vital it is that all levels of local authorities participate in the development of joint spatial strategies. As mayor, my frustration grew year on year with the lack of collaboration and consultation with the county council. Perhaps more importantly, I was very aware of the gaps that naturally occur within the two-tier system. I genuinely felt by the end that residents got a worse deal through that system—which is not to say that districts and parishes, which are closest to people, do all the right things. Certainly, I had many a time to feel that, if we were not a two-tier system, things might be better.

It led to both tiers trying to pass the buck and duck responsibility and accountability, and it led to a blame game in the development of politically difficult but essential decisions. I think a lot of the decisions that need to be made to level up areas and improve economic development must be taken on that broader level. However, there were also good times, when working in real partnership made improvements to the whole county. I genuinely believe, being a “glass half full” kind of girl, that the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. Indeed, I will say again that it is very necessary for economic development in particular.

In order to have coherent and inclusive provision across an area, all those affected should at least be able to make submissions to the joint spatial development strategy in their area. This not being the case would, in my opinion, be unwise and lead to incomplete provision and, worse than that, conflict, objections and ultimate failure. The authorities are listed in proposed new sub-paragraph (4): “a county council”, “a combined county authority” and

“district councils who are not directly involved in the joint spatial development strategy for the purposes of section 15A”.

If they are not truly engaged, the outcomes will surely be inferior and less effective than an engaged partner.

At the LGA, we have APPGs for the County Councils Network and the District Councils’ Network. The CCN works to support county councils throughout the country and the DCN does the same for district councils, but it is interesting that both are concerned that combined county authorities may overlook authorities operating at a very local level, which is important for success. By their very nature, they really are in touch with their communities. They need more reassurance.

Therefore, I am in favour of joint spatial development strategies, which should make it easier to have a proper strategy to ensure prosperous communities—that is surely what the Bill is about and what we all want. However, as drafted, the Bill does not enable county councils to be involved in a JSDS, despite their role, as the noble Lord mentioned, in transport, infrastructure, social care and education—the more so as spatial planning priorities appear to be the driver for moving ahead with a JSDS. Therefore, it is imperative that the local authorities directly affected should be able to contribute to their preparation and ensure that they are successfully completed.

I will give just one example of where it would be extremely unwise not to have the authorities listed in proposed new sub-paragraph (4) involved and included in the preparation of a JSDS. Many of the infrastructure projects that bring prosperity to an area are large, but others are smaller. There is a world of difference between a cross-country highway or railway and a large housing development or a cluster of 10 new homes. However, if the large development is to attract new residents, it will need access to a sufficient road network and a railway station for residents to get to work—I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, about the issues with getting-to-work areas.

I will share one of the examples that the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, gave from her experience—

My noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville—it is late. Planning at all levels generally requires mineral extraction. In Somerset, many quarries provide both aggregates and stone of various types for housing construction, and we will need more of it. Some of this comes from the Mendip Hills, some from the blue lias quarries at Hadspen and a smaller proportion from the Ham stone quarries. Not to have the authority whose responsibility it is to license the extraction from these quarries involved in the preparation of the joint spatial development strategy is, my noble friend would say, foolish in the extreme. It could lead to divisions among not only the authorities themselves but the residents they represent, because such an operation involves lorry movement, hours of operation and community facilities to compensate local communities for disruption. We could all provide loads of examples of where such collaboration is vital.

Casting a glance at the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, I say that I was probably the only leader in the east of England—there were possibly two of us—who did not celebrate the scrapping of regional strategies. They were abandoned just as I had begun to learn the value of them and how they would enhance everywhere.

We fully support the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, in his efforts to get this amendment to the Bill and hope that he will be successful, for the sake of all local authorities, which have a legitimate role and a right to be involved. On the other, negative, side of the coin, it could impact adversely if they are not. If the amendment cannot be accepted, perhaps the Minister can explain why not.

My Lords, I rise briefly, having attached my name to Amendment 192 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. The case has comprehensively been made by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, so I shall be extremely brief. I note that representations from the County Councils Network over the recess led me to attach my name to this amendment, because I thought that it too comprehensively made the case. At this point, I declare my position as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and the NALC.

I wanted to make a link to some of our earlier debates before the dinner break. In the last group, we were focusing on the need to tackle the problems of unhealthy communities and making communities healthier, and the mood all around your Lordships’ House was very clear, including from Government Benches and even the Front Bench. Of course, health is a county council responsibility. We talked about part of that being walking and cycling networks, for example, and about things being joined up. We also talked very much, in an earlier group, about the need for planning to consider the climate emergency and nature crisis. Local nature recovery networks are very much a growing area that needs to be absolutely joined up.

It is worth saying that this is not a political amendment; it is an attempt to make things work, to make this Bill hang together and to make sure that it works for local communities. I join others in very much hoping that we will get a positive message from the Minister.

My Lords, I, too, remember the days of the regional spatial strategies, and long debates in EELGA over housing numbers particularly. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, I did not celebrate when they got the kibosh, because I thought that there was a lot of good in them—particularly in meeting the housing needs in the east of England but also on the economic development side, which was as important. A great deal of very good work was done in pulling together data and information for the whole region, in order to look at where and how best to develop particular clusters and where they would work well. So there was a lot of merit in that very strategic-level thinking.

It has moved on a bit since the days of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, in Hertfordshire, with the Hertfordshire Growth Board looking at issues outside the remit of the straightforward local planning authority. For example, there is the mass rapid transit system that south and south-west Hertfordshire was looking at, which covers a number of different local authorities. Then, there is working with the local enterprise partnerships, as we did on the Hertfordshire Growth Board. There was a clear drive towards the consideration of travel-to-work areas, which was why I spoke so strongly in favour when we discussed this issue before.

I am convinced that we need to work jointly, with joint authorities, involving them in particular in the early stages, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said. It is no good waiting until a draft strategy has been produced and, if there is a major game-changer in there, expecting local authorities to pick it apart and change it. It is much better for them to be engaged and involved from the very start.

The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, mentioned government Amendment 201B, which we will debate on Wednesday, which will allow combined authorities to take on planning powers. I am not going to start the whole discussion now, but we were very concerned about this. We will have a debate about it, but it seems like a very slippery slope indeed. It is far better to include local authorities and all the component parts that make up the combined authority and their neighbours in the discussion from the early days of the joint spatial development strategy.

I absolutely support the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, on the inclusion of districts and councils in a very real way in the decision-making on JSDSs. I think it emphasises the points we made in earlier debates, in Committee and on Report, about the importance of the full membership of combined authorities—for both tiers in two-tier areas. Those organisations are then involved right from the start, and they have a democratic mandate to be so involved.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, made the important point that there are elements that will be included in joint spatial development strategies that do not stop at boundaries, and so it is very important that we work across those boundaries on such things as climate change, healthy homes, sustainable transport and biodiversity. All those things do not come to an end when you get to the end of your local plan area, so we all need to work together on how we tackle those key issues.

We are very supportive of the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. I am interested to hear the Minister’s answer as to whether the part of the schedule that covers this would stretch to make sure that this very important early-stage consultation could be included as a requirement within the Bill.

My Lords, let me first say that the aim of Amendment 192 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley is sensible and I understand its intention. Other authorities, such as county councils, will be essential for a successful plan, given that they are responsible for delivering a range of critical services such as highways and transport, flood risk management and waste management. Of course, county councils will also have the role of a statutory consultee for the joint spatial development strategies.

We expect engagement with other authorities to be typical good practice for any group of local planning authorities preparing a joint spatial development strategy—an SDS. Indeed, it would appear unlikely that any joint SDS that did not engage appropriately with other local government bodies could be found sound at examination. Let me make it clear that county councils are going to play an important role in the plan-making process. We envisage them not just as consultees but as being closely involved with the day-to-day production of any joint SDS. The Government have set out our intention to introduce an alignment policy via the National Planning Policy Framework to address cross-boundary and strategic issues such as travel to work areas, and this policy will be consulted on in due course.

Both my noble friend Lord Lansley and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, brought up the government amendments in the next group. Just to make it clear, Schedule 4 amendments will mean that combined county authorities will be in the same position that the Mayor of London and county councils and combined authorities are in currently in relation to the ability of the Secretary of State to invite those bodies to take over plan-making, but where a constituent planning authority is failing in its plan-making activities. It is not that they can just walk in and take over, but if the local plan is not being delivered by the planning authority then they have the right to ask the Secretary of State if they can take it over. I just wanted to make that clear, but I am sure we will have the discussion again on Wednesday.

My noble friend brought up the Secretary of State’s powers in relation to the role of county councils. I do not know that, legally. I will make sure that I find out tomorrow and I will write to my noble friend and send a copy to those in the Chamber tonight.

I am not convinced that this amendment is needed to make local planning authorities work with other authorities, notably county councils, on joint SDSs. I hope that my noble friend Lord Lansley feels he is able to withdraw his amendment at this stage.

Before my noble friend sits down, might she leave open the door to the possibility of the Government looking in particular at this question of whether the Secretary of State has sufficient powers, in relation to a joint spatial development strategy, to prescribe in guidance the way in which local planning authorities will go about the process of consulting with counties and combined county authorities? The panoply of guidance is not the same for a JSDS as it is for a local plan and it is not there in statute for a JSDS as it is for a local plan. Maybe some of it needs to be—just enough to make sure that the things my noble friend is describing that a good authority must do are there in the guidance. Maybe we will need something at Third Reading to enable that.

I assure my noble friend that I will continue to look at this one and see whether we can at least get it clearer so that he is happy with it.

I thank my noble friend and all those who participated in this short debate, which demonstrated a truly all-party approach to the issue. We just have to take the Government with us—apart from that it has all been absolutely fine. I think the Government agree with us in principle and in substance; we may just need a bit of an iteration on the mechanisms for doing this. Subject to that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 192 withdrawn.

Consideration on Report adjourned.

House adjourned at 10.16 pm.