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Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Volume 832: debated on Wednesday 6 September 2023

Report (6th Day)

Relevant documents: 24th and 39th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee. Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Legislative Consent sought.

Schedule 7: Plan making

Amendment 193

Moved by

193: Schedule 7, page 347, line 17, at end insert—

“(3A) The local plan must identify the strategic priorities of the local planning authority for meeting housing needs and for addressing the economic, social and environmental issues affecting the authority’s area.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would require plan-making to include the strategic priorities of the authority.

My Lords, I reiterate at the outset that I have a registered interest as chair of the Cambridgeshire Development Forum.

Amendments 193 and 194 introduce this group. We are discussing the structure of plan-making in Schedule 7, which replaces Sections 15 to 37 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 as amended. With Amendment 193, I wanted to take the opportunity to explore some interesting changes—I do not know how significant they are and that is what I hope we can determine—between what is to be found in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act as it stands and what is proposed in Schedule 7.

The amendment would require that the strategic priorities of an authority for development in its area be identified. The key word here is “strategic”. Section 19(1B) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act as it stands says:

“Each local planning authority must identify the strategic priorities for the development and use of land in the authority’s area”,

and it continues in the next subsection:

“Policies to address those priorities must be set out in the local planning authority’s development plan”.

That legislation as it stands leads directly into the National Planning Policy Framework. We will talk about the relationship between the NPPF and the Bill on a number of occasions today. In this instance, when the Government published the consultation draft of the NPPF in December, they retained in it the distinction between strategic priorities and policies and non-strategic policies. For example, paragraph 17 of the consultation draft on behalf of the Government—although we have not seen the final version—states:

“The development plan must include strategic policies to address each local planning authority’s priorities for the development and use of land in its area”.

Paragraph 21 states:

“Plans should make explicit which policies are strategic policies”.

The footnote to paragraph 21 states:

“Where a single local plan is prepared the non-strategic policies should be clearly distinguished from the strategic policies”.

So my starting point is that the NPPF distinguishes between strategic and non-strategic policies but the Bill does not—it just refers to “policies”. New Section 15C(3) in Schedule 7 states:

“The local plan must set out policies of the local planning authority (however expressed) in relation to the amount, type and location of, and timetable for, development in the local planning authority’s area”.

My purpose in Amendment 193 is essentially to ask the Minister the following questions. Why has the distinction between strategic policies and priorities and non-strategic policies been removed from the Bill? That being the case, will the National Planning Policy Framework be redrafted and revised to remove that distinction? My contention is that the distinction is important, not least because we are looking for the local plan to be strategic in nature rather than bogged down in detail.

Strategic policies are needed if the local plan is to look at these 15 years ahead. As the NPPF stresses, where large settlements and new settlements are concerned, this may be at least 30 years ahead, and strategic policies are required for that. That raises the question: why is the requirement for strategic priorities and policies being removed from the statute on which the NPPF should be based? Which way is it going to work? Is the NPPF going to change, or should we not adopt Amendment 193 and include the word “strategic” in the requirements on local planning authorities?

Amendment 194 is a little simpler. It would insert into the requirements for local authorities, when presenting their priorities, a requirement to recognise the importance of economic development. The NPPF as it stands does that but, when it talks about what is to be put into plans, it has housing, employment, leisure and so on but does not specify how important it is that the economic objective of sustainable development be accompanied by strategic policies to identify the need not just for employment sites but for businesses to grow, and the potential for inward investment into an authority’s area.

That is important and is often significantly overlooked in plan-making. To that extent, too great and exclusive attention is paid—not that it is not important—to the allocation of sites for residential and housing development, when often the starting point for whether housing is required in an area is its rate of employment growth. Determining the allocation and spatial strategy for the economy and employment in an area is at least as important as the requirement for housing. Amendment 194 would bring that firmly into the plan-making process as a strategic priority. I beg to move Amendment 193.

My Lords, Amendment 193A, in my name, would require local plans to spell out the housing needs of the locality and set out how, over time, those needs can be met and homelessness and the use of temporary accommodation can be ended. There is a clear problem in that, at present, local plans are not required to factor in homelessness and social housing waiting lists. This means that the extent of housing problems and true housing need in a local authority area are not always reflected. Surely, including provisions to address these housing needs should be a basic component in a local plan; that is common sense.

Without this, there is far less of an incentive for local authorities to address the true extent of housing need in their area. The Bill currently permits local plans to include, among many other things, requirements for affordable housing. This amendment would replace this somewhat vague and light-touch permissive approach with a duty to be clear, both on the scale of local housing problems and the housing provisions that will address them.

I pay tribute to Shelter colleagues for their work on this amendment, which has the backing of a wide range of organisations concerned not only with the nearly 250,000 people who are homeless or living in temporary accommodation, but the 1.2 million households languishing on waiting lists for an affordable home. The planning system must be a key factor in making housing policies work for these households. Recognising their needs explicitly in all local plans would be a positive step forward.

In giving emphasis to meeting affordable housing need, the amendment specifies that provision must be made in the local plan

“for sufficient social rent housing”.

In an upcoming amendment, we will look at the need for a new definition of “affordable housing”. In this amendment, we go with the term “social rent”, which refers to the rents that meet the rent standards set by the social housing regulator. These are the rents for most existing council and housing association homes, rather than the appreciably higher so-called affordable rents linked to market rents.

Social rent homes which are secure, decent and affordable are badly needed, and the amendment gives these the priority they deserve. With this amendment in place, every local planning authority would be empowered to take a firm line with the housebuilders in securing the delivery of genuinely affordable new homes. The authority could be more insistent on all developers meeting their obligations and it would be much more difficult for recalcitrant housebuilders to renege on the delivery of affordable housing agreements. With its local plan clearly establishing the amount and type of affordable housing that needs to be provided, the local authority would have greater credibility and authority in seeking support from central government, Homes England or the GLA for the funding it badly needs for its social housing.

This is not the moment to emphasise the urgency of ensuring that the affordable housing provision in each locality at least starts to match the need for it—there is so much to do—but utilising the key planning tool of the local plan and the delivery strategies that flow from it would represent a vital step in making this happen. This amendment would make a reality of that opportunity. I hope noble Lords will join me in voting for the amendment if the Minister is unable to offer her support for it.

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 199 in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. I apologise to the House for not being here on Monday—another failed transport from the Isles of Scilly. I would have supported Amendment 191, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and Amendment 190, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill.

My amendment follows on from that in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley—and other future comments, I think. It refers to cycling, walking and rights of way and their incorporation, or not, in development plans. We have heard quite a lot already about whether there is or should be a link between plans and strategies for housing, the economy and active travel. It is all getting quite complicated. I want to put the case for walking and cycling to be included in a way which actually works.

This amendment is supported by a long list of eminent organisations: the Bicycle Association, the Bikeability Trust, British Cycling, Cycling UK, Living Streets, the Ramblers, and Sustrans. It covers what we might call active travel in its widest sense—in the city, in the countryside, going to work and school, and for leisure. This very important issue needs to be addressed, partly so that we can encourage more environmentally friendly travel generally.

The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, mentioned the NPPF being a problem. It is a problem for that active travel group and for the Walking and Cycling Alliance, because in the Commons debate the Government suggested that the concern of that group would best be dealt with through the NPPF rather than through legislation. However, as I think the noble Lord referred to, the draft NPPF did not include any new policies on these issues and put it into the further-action box on sustainable transport and active travel. NPPFs have been around for some time, but they take an awfully long time to get through, probably for good reasons. Now is the time to try to find a better way of including these policies in the Bill, and I hope that the Minister, when she responds, will support the concept at least.

I apologise to the House for that. The amendment aims to address the problem of local planning authorities unwittingly, and I think occasionally intentionally,

“frustrating a higher-tier authority’s aspirations for walking, cycling or rights of way networks”.

We must not forget the rights of way, because you cannot walk or cycle if rights of way get blocked. The problem is in not recording those network aspirations in authorities’ own development plans,

“thereby failing to safeguard land for those networks, to connect new development with existing networks and/or to secure developer contributions to implement or upgrade specific routes”.

I will give examples. It is probably worse with two-tier authorities. Where the local transport or highway authority, which is usually a county council or combined authority, is not the same body as the local planning authority, you can have this example, which Sustrans exposed. The alliance says that

“one part of a unitary authority commissioned Sustrans to assess the feasibility of re-opening a disused railway line as a walking and cycling route, yet another part of the same authority then gave permission for a housing development which blocked that disused railway line before Sustrans had completed the study. In another case, planning permission was granted by a local planning authority for development which adversely impacted a section of the National Cycle Network (which Sustrans manages), with planning officers unaware of the existence and importance of this walking, wheeling and cycling route”.

This is confusing for local authorities, especially when they are probably very short of resources, as many noble Lords have said on previous amendments. I think the Government believe that our concerns about lack of co-ordination would best be addressed through the NPPF, but that does not mention it, and it omits other things altogether. Unless we get something here that links granting planning permission with taking account of adequate provision for walking, cycling and rights of way, we are in trouble.

I will give one other example before I conclude. In a recent case in Chesterfield in Derbyshire, the local planning authority considered a housing development close to the town centre and railway station. The council officials pressed for the development to include walking and cycling routes to facilitate access to, from and through the development, and obviously to and from the station. However, when the committee was due to consider the application, the developer made a submission claiming that the walking and cycling routes would render the developments economically unviable, and the councillors accepted that view without really challenging it. I have cycled on many cycle routes that probably suffer from the same failure by a developer to provide a proper, sensible route, because it tried to persuade the planning authority that it would be all right on the night, and it is not always.

I hope that the Government will support this amendment. Active Travel England is involved in this, and I certainly welcome what it is planning to do. However, it will often be consulted only at a later stage, and it would be much better if the relevant authorities’ walking, cycling and rights of way network plans were clearly shown in development plans from the outset.

My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 199 on cycling in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and I will follow briefly in his slipstream, if I may.

I am grateful to the Minister for the Teams meeting that she held on this subject at the end of last month to find common ground. Throughout our debates on the Bill, the Government have suggested that our objectives could be better met through NPPFs rather than through legislation. But throughout the debate there has been some scepticism about that, as there is ample evidence that leaving things to guidance does not actually produce the results.

The NPPF guidance on cycling was last revised in 2018, but there is a real problem with that guidance, and I hope that my noble friend can give me some assurance. One paragraph of that guidance said:

“Development should only be prevented or refused on highways grounds if there would be an unacceptable impact on highway safety, or the residual cumulative impacts on the road network would be severe”.

This paragraph makes it very difficult for local planning authorities to refuse developments whose location or design fails adequately to support walking, cycling and other sustainable transport modes. If we are to rely on future NPPFs, can my noble friend give me an assurance that that provision will be removed, because it stands in the way of many of the Bill’s objectives?

The final point raised in the Teams meeting was one that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has just mentioned: the conflict between upper and lower-tier authorities. At the meeting, my noble friend was good enough to say that she would have another look at this and would perhaps be able to respond on it.

I very much welcome what has been said—that Active Travel England is now a statutory consultee—but it would be better if it could be involved at an earlier stage of the proposals, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, rather than at a later stage, when it would be difficult to retrofit the provisions for cycling that we would all want to see. I hope that my noble friend the Minister is able to provide some reassurance on those two points.

My Lords, in view of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, I will be much briefer than I intended, so we might ramble around a little.

On Amendments 193 and 194 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, I absolutely understand his points and will await the Minister’s answer on the reasons for that omission from the Bill. I have to confess to the noble Lord to having made the assumption that they would be in the Bill. In fact, reading through this section, I thought “Why are people putting down these amendments? Aren’t they what people already do in a good local plan?”, so I am grateful for his attention to detail.

I agree with the noble Lord’s portrayal of the plan as tending to be around sites and location. Unfortunately, this is largely driven by public opinion. On a local plan, most consultation is on the site-specific thing, yet answering the big question—where do we want our towns to be in five, 10 and 20 years’ time?—is surely the most exciting thing you can do with a community. I hope the Bill encourages us to do that. I genuinely do not know how any local authority could begin its plan without the starting point being its strategic priorities.

Likewise, on Amendment 199, on which my noble friend Lady Pinnock will speak, how can you consider land use if you do not know what your major infra-structure needs are—from big schemes such as railway schemes down to walking routes and joining up cycle routes? It is really important. My one question to the Minister is: surely, without those key policies, a plan would not be found sound.

I turn to Amendment 193A. As ever, the case has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, so I will scrap my next bit and say that the evidence is huge. The real need is to deliver at volume and at speed. It is still a surprise to me that the only statutory provision for accommodation that a council has to make is for Gypsies and Travellers. I understand and recognise why there was a need to do that. Some authorities were just denying their obligation to this community and leaving it to others. Of course, we know that still happens, which is why I seek clarity from the Minister on how local need will be assessed in the future and how need will be defined in the plan. Will it simply be a number-of-units game or, being blunt, can we look at how we can avoid the attitude of “We don’t have that problem here, so we don’t need to provide”? The subtext is that they will go to the council next door. Noble Lords can fill in their own groups of residents who are often ignored, which sometimes includes social housing tenants.

I come to my most serious point. Given the scale of the housing problem, surely it is time for a Government to be bold enough to put social housing on a statutory footing and then conceive a plan to deliver at scale and pace.

My Lords, I just wish to speak to Amendment 199 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I repeat my relevant interests at the outset: I am a councillor and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

Unfortunately, our wonderful expert on all things transport, my noble friend Lady Randerson, is unable attend this morning but what I shall say comes after having discussed this with her. On this side, we totally support Amendment 199. It is reasonable and filled with sensible caveats such as “so far as relevant” and “must … have regard to”. It is something that local planning authorities can work with but should stimulate to them to ensure that they think of travel from the start and incorporate it into their strategic policies and the local plan. Tacking it on later is never as effective. Doing it that way also ensures that there is integration between different layers of local government, which do not always work perfectly together, as we have heard throughout discussions on the Bill.

Something has to be done. At the moment Governments are failing on the targets. We will have a further discussion on targets in another group but this is about travel targets—cycling and walking targets. The target set in 2017 is for 46% of urban journeys to be walking or cycling, but all activity levels are now lower than when the target was set. For instance, the number of children who walk to school has fallen below 50%. Public rights of way, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, are constantly under threat from developers who regard them as an obstacle rather than—as they should be—a benefit. PROW diversions created by developers are often far less attractive than the original. That, too, is discouraging for those who want to walk. Urgent attention is needed—not more targets but practical steps such as those proposed in this amendment to incorporate active travel into the fundamental fabric of urban and rural planning for the future.

My Lords, Amendments 193 and 194 from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, introduce sensible additions to Schedule 7 on the content of plans. As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, reminded us on Monday, just because Ministers assume that something will happen, that is no reason for leaving it out of the Bill. One would assume that any local planning authority would include such vital matters as meeting housing need and the economic, social and environmental needs of its area in its plan, as well as identifying appropriate sites. I agree with the sentiment expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, in that regard. Putting this in the Bill makes sure that it happens.

The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, was right to draw attention to the distinction between strategic and non-strategic priorities, which will become ever more important as these strategic policies are considered by a potential combined authority for the joint strategic development strategies. If they are not set out clearly in plans, how will the combined authorities identify them and make sure that they take account of them in the wider plan?

Amendment 193A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, goes to the heart of a huge lost opportunity in the Bill, as currently structured, to make a real difference in addressing the housing emergency we face in this country. The figures have been much debated in this Chamber, in Committee on the Bill and in many other debates on housing, but it is a scandal that over a million families are still on social rented housing registers around the UK. With the current rate of building—just 6,000 a year according to Shelter—few of those families stand a chance of ever having the secure, affordable and sustainable tenancy they need.

This problem is now exacerbated by rising mortgage interest rates resulting in many private landlords deciding to sell the properties they were renting out and their tenants coming to local authorities to seek rehoming. Commentators in the sector say that this could affect as many as one in three privately rented properties. The figures are stark. Worked examples show that rents may have to increase by at least £300 a month. For landlords and tenants also facing other elements of the cost of living crisis, this kind of increase in costs is untenable.

The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Best, proposes that local plans should link the provision of social housing to the provision of adequate housing for those registered with the local authority. This should be a minimum. I think the noble Lord described it as a duty to be clear about the scale of the housing problem and I totally agree. As we all know only too well, the unmet need for social housing also includes many families not on those registers. We will have a later debate about the definition of “affordable housing”, but social housing in particular merits special treatment in how it is addressed by local plans. For some families, it is the only form of tenure that will ever meet their needs. We agree with the noble Lord, Lord Best, about the importance of putting social housing priorities into the planning process, so if he chooses to test the opinion of the House on this matter, he will have our support.

Government Amendment 197 is a helpful clarification that neighbourhood plans cannot supersede the local development plan in relation to either housing development or environmental outcome reports. I was very pleased to see Amendment 199 from my noble friend Lord Berkeley and the noble Lord, Lord Young. As a fortunate resident of a new town designed with the great foresight to incorporate 45 kilometres of cycleways, thanks to the vision of Eric Claxton and our other early designers, I can clearly see the importance of incorporating this infrastructure at the local plan stage.

The experience of Stevenage is that, unless the infrastructure makes it easier to cycle and walk than to jump in a car, the latter will prevail. Our cycleways are only now coming into their own and being thought of as the precious resource that they are, so the vision to include them was very much ahead of its time. It is important that careful thought is given, in all development, to the relative priorities of motor vehicles and cycling and walking.

As my noble friend Lord Berkeley outlined, this amendment is well supported by the Better Planning Coalition and the Walking and Cycling Alliance, which says that embedding cycling and walking in development plans would

“help safeguard land … that could form useful walking and cycling routes, while ensuring that new developments are well-connected to such routes, and securing developer contributions for new or improved walking and cycling provision”.

It cites examples—they were adequately quoted by my noble friend Lord Berkeley, so I will not repeat them—of how this has not been the case in the past. I agree with my noble friend that the consultation on the NPPF makes no mention of, never mind giving priority to, local cycling and walking infrastructure plans. It makes no mention at all of rights of way improvement plans.

On Monday, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, mentioned the new role for Active Travel England as a statutory consultee in planning matters, but surely this amendment would strengthen its role by ensuring that cycling and walking are considered for every development, so that it can focus on the detail of those plans.

Government Amendments 201B, 201C and 201D are very concerning. They represent sweeping powers for combined county authorities to take over the powers of local councils in relation to making and/or revising local plans. Alongside the government proposals that the representatives of local councils will have no voting rights on combined county authorities, this represents yet another huge undermining of the role of local democratically elected institutions in favour of combined county authorities, which are indirectly elected, which may have voting representatives who have no democratic mandate at all and which operate at a considerable distance from the front line of the communities that will be affected by the decisions they are making.

In the debate on Monday, the Minister said that these new powers will be used only in extremis, but one can envisage situations where they could be used for political purposes. I raise the importance of this issue from a background of long experience of plan-making in two-tier areas and the complexities that that brings. On Monday, I mentioned that it was our local MP who held up our local plan for over a year by calling it in to the Secretary of State. Would this, for example, give a CCA grounds to initiate its power grab for the planning powers? If that were the case, you could see this being a very slippery slope indeed. What discussions has the Secretary of State undertaken with the sector on these proposed powers? These powers, like so much else in the Bill, seem to move us ever further away from the devolution and agency for local people that were espoused at the introduction of the White Paper.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has done a tremendously good forensic job of disclosing the fact that there is an omission—possibly accidental—connecting the whole planning process as far as non-domestic strategic direction is concerned. I look forward to the Minister’s explanation for that and perhaps to her coming back with a correction at a later stage.

The Liberal Democrats will certainly support the noble Lord, Lord Best, if he puts his proposition to the House. There is no doubt at all that it is absolutely necessary to tackle the severe problem of the lack of affordability in the rented sector. It is understood clearly by all that developing the social rented sector is the way to go—this surely must be taken into account in all plan-making. The noble Lord made a valid point about those who are homeless. This is a rising number of people and there is a reluctance among many local authorities to undertake the formidable task of dealing with the circumstances that they face.

Certainly, the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and my noble friends Lady Randerson and Lady Pinnock about active travel are important. I await the Minister agreeing that the connection on this between policy and the NPPF, and between policy and plan-making, needs to be corrected in the direction that this amendment sets out.

I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, said about the power grab involved in the Minister’s amendments and I query the wording used. Amendment 201B states that

“the Secretary of State may invite the combined county authority to take over preparation of the local plan”.

Can combined county authorities politely decline that invitation if it is extended? I can imagine a number of reasons why they might do that. Chief of those is resource constraints: many combined county authorities, or components of them, are on the brink of bankruptcy and they might not wish to take on an additional challenging function for which they have no capacity or capability. The authorities into whose territory they would trespass are also often in a parlous situation as far as resources go. Not everyone wants to take over Wilko and it is quite understandable that this “may invite” provision will be regarded askance by not just the district councils but the combined county authorities. I would like to understand more clearly what the Minister intends the process to be. If she says, “They could decline or politely refuse”, then what is the alternative plan? This is a new power that has unforeseen consequences, most of which seem to point in a damaging direction. More uncertainty about this “may invite” provision seems to compound that. I look forward to hearing what the Minister says.

My Lords, Amendments 193 and 194 in the name of my noble friend, Lord Lansley, seek to require plan-making to include the strategic priorities of the authority and to ensure that a local plan can include policies relating to achieving sustainable economic growth. The Government want the planning system to be truly plan-led, to give communities more certainty.

The Bill provides clear requirements for what future local plans must include. This replaces the complex existing framework, which includes the requirement at Section 19(1B) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 for authorities to

“identify the strategic priorities for the development and use of land”

in their areas. There is nothing in the Bill to stop authorities including strategic priorities and policies in future local plans. Indeed, our recently published consultation on implementing our plan-making reforms proposes that plans will need to contain a locally distinct vision that will anchor them, provide strategic direction for the underpinning policies and set out measurable outcomes for the plan period. Likewise, on the specific subject of sustainable economic growth, we are retaining the current legal requirement in Section 39 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 for authorities to prepare plans with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development.

My noble friend Lord Lansley asked why the distinction between strategic and non-strategic was removed and whether the NPPF will be redrafted to reflect this. That distinction derives from previous legislation on plans, which the Bill will replace with clearer requirements to identify the scale and nature of development needed in an area. The NPPF will be updated to reflect the legislation, subject to the Bill gaining Royal Assent. In light of this, I hope that my noble friend will feel able not to press his amendment.

I turn now to Amendment 193A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best. This amendment seeks to require local plans to plan for enough social-rented housing to eliminate homelessness in the area. National planning policy is clear that local plans should, as a minimum, provide for objectively assessed needs for housing. In doing so, local authorities should assess the size, type and tenure of housing needed for different groups in the community, including those who require affordable housing. This should then be reflected in their planning policies. The Government are committed to delivering more homes for social rent, with a large number of new homes from the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme to be for social rent. We are also carefully considering the consultation responses to our proposal to amend national planning policy to make clear that local planning authorities should give greater importance in planning for social rent homes.

Tackling homelessness and rough sleeping is a key priority for this Government. That is why we will be spending more than £2 billion on homelessness and rough sleeping over the next three years. The Homelessness Reduction Act, which the noble Lord, Lord Best, was so influential in bringing forward, is the most ambitious reform to homelessness legislation in decades. Since it came into force in 2018, more than 640,000 households have been prevented from becoming homeless or supported into settled accommodation. We know that the causes of homelessness are complex and are driven by a range of factors, both personal and structural, and I fear that creating a link between local plans and homelessness reduction would add more complexity.

The noble Lord, Lord Best, asked why we cannot recognise housing need in local plans, particularly homelessness and affordable housing. The Bill already requires that plans set out policies for the amount, type and location of the development needed. I feel that it is a local issue, and the best way to ensure that we get the amount of particular housing needed in a particular area is for it to be put into local plans by local councils talking to local people. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, asked how local needs are going to be assessed in the future and how they will be defined. This is another matter that will be considered when we update national policy. We need flexibility to address changes in circumstances, which is why policy is the best approach to this, rather than looking for definitions in legislation.

I move now to Amendment 199 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. I thank the noble Lords for their amendment on this important matter. We recognise the importance of walking and cycling, and the role the planning system plays in enabling the infrastructure which supports active forms of travel. National planning policies must be considered by local authorities when preparing a development plan and are a material consideration in planning decisions. The Bill does not alter this principle and would strengthen the importance of those national policies which relate to decision-making. The existing National Planning Policy Framework is clear that transport issues, including opportunities to promote walking and cycling, should be considered from the earliest stages of plan-making and when considering development proposals. Proposals in walking and cycling plans are also capable of being material considerations in dealing with planning applications, whether or not they are embedded in local plans. Indeed, the decision-maker must take all material considerations into account, so there is no need to make additional provision in law as this amendment proposes.

The Government are delivering updates to the Manual for Streets guidance to encourage a more holistic approach to street design which assigns higher priorities to the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and public transport. We are also working closely with colleagues in the Department for Transport to ensure local transport plans are better aligned with the wider development plan.

The noble Lord, Lord Young, asked if the NPPF policy requiring a high bar to refuse proposals on transport grounds will be changed. As he knows, we have committed to a full review of the NPPF, part of which will need to look at all the aspects of policy, including how best to provide for walking and cycling.

I move now to government Amendments 196C, 196D, 201B, 201C and 201D. These are consequential on Clause 91 and Schedule 7 to the Bill which, when commenced, will introduce a new development plans system. They amend and supplement consequential amendments to Schedule A1 to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 made by Schedule 4 to the Bill relating to the creation of combined county authorities. The Schedule 4 amendments will mean that combined county authorities will be in the same position as the Mayor of London, county councils and combined authorities are currently in relation to the ability of the Secretary of State to invite those bodies to take over plan-making where a constituent planning authority is failing in its plan-making activities. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, asked what will happen if they do not want to do so. I do not think we can force them, but there are a couple of things we can do if local authorities are not producing local plans in a timely manner or at all. For example, there will be a commissioner who could take over the production of the plans, or the Secretary of State could take that into his own hands. We are not going to force them, but it will be an offer they can make in order that their county combined authorities have the correct plans in place to shape their communities in the correct way.

In light of the new plan-making system being introduced by the Bill, a number of consequential amendments to Schedule A1 to the 2004 Act are already provided for by Schedule 8 to the Bill. Broadly speaking, they will update Schedule A1 to ensure that the provisions can operate within the new plan-making system. As such, in light of these wider reforms, these further amendments are needed to ensure that the new provisions which Schedule 4 to the Bill will insert into Schedule A1 are updated accordingly when the new plan-making system comes into effect. I hope noble Lords will support these minor and consequential changes.

Finally, the Bill ensures that neighbourhood plans will continue to play an important role in the planning system and encourage more people to participate in neighbourhood planning. For example, it will mean that future decisions on planning applications will be able to depart from plans, including neighbourhood plans, only if there are strong reasons to do so. While the Bill retains the existing framework of powers for neighbourhood planning, it will also provide more clarity on the scope of neighbourhood plans alongside other types of development plan. It amends the list of basic conditions set out in Schedule 4B to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which new neighbourhood development plans and orders must meet before they can be brought into force.

Amendment 197 would make corresponding changes to the basic conditions set out in paragraph 11(2) of Schedule A2 to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 so that the same conditions apply when an existing neighbourhood development plan is being modified. These changes are necessary to ensure that these neighbourhood plans receive consistent treatment.

I am most grateful to all noble Lords who participated in this rather important debate. From my point of view, in considering whether strategic policies should be distinguished from non-strategic policies in plan-making, I asked my noble friend a question and I got a reply. It is an interesting reply because by simply asserting that the local plan must include, in effect, all policies, my noble friend is saying that that is clearer than the present structure which distinguishes between strategic policies and non-strategic policies.

Noble Lords may say that we are all dancing on the head of a pin—I do not think so. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, made an extremely good point: identifying strategic priorities in a local planning authority’s local plan is a key component of creating spatial development strategies in a broader area. That would be extremely helpful.

None the less, what my noble friend has told me is going to be an interesting conclusion for people to draw. We are now told that the consultation draft of the National Planning Policy Framework, which was published on 22 December following the passage of this Bill in the other place, did not take account of what is in the Bill. This is rather interesting. It means that if we change the Bill, we can change the NPPF—which, from the point of view of my noble friend’s and other amendments, is a very helpful thought that we might take up. I do not think that the revisions that will follow to the NPPF will be as wide ranging as my noble friend implied, because that would mean that they would do away with much of what is written presently into the chapter on plan-making.

In the cycling and walking debate on Amendment 199, it might be helpful for my noble friend Lord Young to recognise that the latter part of the NPPF relating to how development proposals are to be considered, and how walking, cycling and active travel are to be incorporated, will no doubt form part of the new national development management policies. Therefore, how it is written will require local plans and the determination of planning applications to accord with how that is written, so the language of the NPPF, if it turns into NDMPs, is terribly important. They were right to focus on that point.

When they come to write the NPPF, which clearly will now have to be substantially rewritten, I hope that my noble friend and the Front Bench will pick up the point about economic growth and put it into the terms that, I think we are more or less agreed, are required. My noble friend responded to the questions that I asked on Amendment 193, so on that basis I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment 193 withdrawn.

Amendment 193A

Moved by

193A: Schedule 7, page 347, line 17, at end insert—

“(3A) The local plan must identify the local nature and scale of housing need in the local planning authority’s area and must make provision for sufficient social rent housing, to eliminate homelessness within a reasonable period as stipulated in the updated local plan, and to provide housing for persons registered on the local housing authority’s allocation scheme within the meaning of section 166A of the Housing Act 1996.(3B) Subsection (3A) applies in relation to social housing provided both by the local housing authority where it retains its own housing stock and by private registered providers of social housing.(3C) The information concerning the level of housing need recorded on the local plan must be updated at least annually.”

My Lords, I am very grateful to noble Lords for their support for this amendment. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, for their support, and for pointing out the urgency of the need for homelessness and those on waiting lists to be addressed, and the value of using the local plan to help in that process. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, for her eloquent support. She made the point that, unfortunately, things are getting worse for those in the most acute need. I am afraid to say that the urgency for doing more grows daily, and this would be a helpful step in the right direction.

The Minister, who I know believes that local plans are a very important instrument in getting things changed and done, said that she very much agreed that this deserved priority. Indeed, the government consultation currently going on may lead to greater prominence being given to the needs of those who are homeless, in temporary accommodation or on a never-ending waiting list. She hopes that local planning authorities will do their best by that and include those things in local plans, but there is no obligation on them so to do. It is that obligation that this amendment would put into place. I am grateful for the support of all those colleagues, and the moment has come for me to test the opinion of the House.

Amendment 194 not moved.

Amendment 194A

Moved by

194A: Schedule 7, page 347, line 38, at end insert—

“(6A) The local plan must take account of any local nature recovery strategy that relates to all or part of the local planning authority’s area, including in particular—(a) the areas identified in the strategy as areas which—(i) are, or could become, of particular importance for biodiversity, or(ii) are areas where the recovery or enhancement of biodiversity could make a particular contribution to other environmental benefits,(b) the priorities set out in the strategy for recovering or enhancing biodiversity, and(c) the proposals set out in the strategy as to potential measures relating to those priorities.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment requires a local plan to take account of any local nature recovery strategy that relates to any part of the area of the authority preparing the plan.

Amendment 194A agreed.

Amendment 195

Moved by

195: Schedule 7, page 347, line 38, at end insert—

“(6A) The local plan must be designed to secure that the supply of housing through development in the local planning authority’s area meets or exceeds the requirement for housing during the plan period which would be derived from the housing targets and standard method prescribed in guidance by the Secretary of State as applicable at that time.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would require a local plan to meet or exceed the housing need for the authority’s area as specified by Government targets.

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 195 in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Lansley, the noble Lord, Lord Best, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.

For me, this is the most important group of amendments in the whole Bill; they go the heart of the question of whether one of the basic responsibilities of government is to ensure that the nation is adequately housed. I hope that it is common ground that there are some core functions of central government that it should not opt out of: ensuring that the country is well defended, that the streets are safe, that families have a basic income, that children are well educated, that there is access to a decent health service and that people are adequately housed. These are either provided centrally by government—defence, health and income support—or mandated to be provided by others, in the cases of policing, education and housing.

Basically, what happened last December was that housing was deleted as one of those core functions. It was done not as a considered act of policy but as a reaction to a group of Government Back-Benchers who were threatening to rebel. As a former Government Chief Whip, I am well aware of the importance of party cohesion—but not at any price. Yes, the nominal commitment remained with central government—the 300,000 housing target—but, crucially, the means for the Government to secure that target was removed. The targets became advisory, not mandatory: a starting point and not a destination.

The way the system has worked for as long as I can remember—going back to the days of the GLC in the 1960s, and to the 1980s when I was a Minister and SERPLAN—is that central government has formed a view of how many homes the country needs. It has looked at household formation, life expectancy, broader demographic trends, regional policy and net inward migration, and then come up with a global figure. That has then been divvied up between the planning authorities, after consultation, to underpin a credible national housing policy.

It should be immediately apparent that this is not a process that can be left to the discretion of local councillors. They look downwards to their electorate, to whom they are accountable, while national government has a broader responsibility. For example, left to their own devices, local authorities would make no provision for migration, which is a responsibility of national government. The noble Lord, Lord Best, will develop that point. As I have said repeatedly in this House, you cannot rely on the good will of local government to provide the homes that the country needs.

Before the policy was reversed, we were falling well short of our target. New homes granted planning permission declined to 269,000 in the year to March, down by 11% on the year to March 2022. After the reversal, the target becomes less achievable. The starkness of the climbdown was revealed in an article in the House magazine by Theresa Villiers, who referred to her amendment in the following terms:

“This was backed by 60 MPs, and in response, the secretary of state brought forward significant concessions to rebalance the planning system to give local communities greater control over what is built in their neighbourhood. That includes confirming that centrally determined housing targets are advisory not mandatory. They are a starting point, not an inevitable outcome. Changes have been promised to make it easier for councils to set a lower target”.

I believe that my colleagues in the other place have misread the politics. Yes, there is a risk of losing a few votes from those who do not wish to see development in their area—we saw the consequences of that in a by-election in Chesham and Amersham—but there is a much greater risk of losing far more votes in a general election if we are seen to be a party that is insensitive to the needs of those who need a decent home against a background of lengthening waiting lists, more use of temporary accommodation, rising rents in the private sector and home ownership becoming more difficult.

Our opponents in the main opposition party have spotted this weakness and will continue to exploit it until we put things right, which is what the amendment seeks to do—restoring what was government policy when the Bill was introduced, before the policy was ill-advisedly abandoned in December. There is a strong case for giving the other place an opportunity to reflect on this policy change now that we have seen its consequences. My noble friend Lord Lansley will develop that point.

The consequences were made clear in a unanimous report, published in July, from a Select Committee with a government majority. It said:

“The Government’s reform proposals include making local housing targets advisory and removing the need for local authorities to continually demonstrate a deliverable 5-year housing land supply. We have heard evidence from many stakeholders that these measures will render the national housing target impossible to achieve”.

It also said:

“This uncertainty has resulted in 58 local authorities stalling, delaying, or withdrawing their local plans to deliver housing—28 of those since the December 2022 announcement. Contrary to the Government’s objective of facilitating local plan-making, the short-term effect of announcing the planning reform proposals has been to halt the progress of local plans in many areas”.

Several authorities have stated that the reason for delaying their local plans is that they are waiting for the outcome of consultations. On that subject, the report concluded:

“In many cases, this will be on the understanding that they will no longer be required to meet their local housebuilding targets”.

The report further concluded that

“it is difficult to see how the Government will achieve its 300,000 net national housing target by the mid-2020s if local targets are only advisory. The Government has not provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate how the policy of removing mandatory local housing targets will directly lead to more housebuilding”.

Before tabling this amendment, I did what I could to press the Government to think again. My noble friend has answered countless Questions on the 300,000 target; she can look forward to another next Tuesday. She has been generous and patient with her time in many meetings. I have seen the Secretary of State and his special adviser, and my noble friend Lord Lansley and I have seen the Housing Minister—all to no avail. Far from this amendment being contrary to government policy, it is essential if the Government are to meet their manifesto commitment of building 300,000 homes a year. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government will think again. If not, I propose to test the opinion of the House.

My Lords, my name is down in support of Amendment 195, so brilliantly introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. It is also supported by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. The amendment would return us to the position whereby each local plan must be designed to secure enough homes to meet the target for the area set by government. I too see this as a matter of considerable significance.

In essence, this country needs to build at least 300,000 homes each year to ease the problems caused by acute housing shortages: overcrowding, homelessness, poverty and health inequalities. This national target will not be achieved by leaving the supply of sufficient homes to individual councils to determine. On its own, of course, the requirement on all local authorities to have local plans that together make provision for 300,000 homes will not mean that the planned-for number will necessarily be built. Market factors will affect private housebuilding. Insufficient government support will affect social housing output, and so on. If local plans do not plan for their share of the national total, it is certain that it will not be accomplished.

Many analysts suggest that the overall figure of 300,000 homes per annum is not enough. The Centre for Cities has explained that we would have another 4.3 million homes if we had matched the average rate of housebuilding of our European counterparts over recent decades. We have a massive catching-up job to do. The Centre for Policy Studies argues that 460,605 homes should have been added last year. The actual output was barely half this figure—235,000 net additions, including conversions of existing buildings. For the moment, 300,000 homes is a sensible, short-term target.

Why is it so improbable that this figure will be reached unless local planning authorities are obliged to meet housing targets? First, because a number of councils have already made clear that, if the decision on numbers is now in their hands, they will reduce the amount of development previously planned for. Even if only, say, a quarter of authorities opt to see fewer homes built, there will be a big undershoot of the grand total. Reducing acute shortages will then be even more difficult in future than it has been to date.

Secondly, nationally determined targets are necessary because—as I guess we all recognise—it is incredibly difficult for elected Members to champion new housebuilding in their areas. New housing is perceived as meaning more traffic, more pressure on services, disruption from construction and—although this may be an urban myth—a fall in house prices. It is also true that housebuilders have often singularly failed to create quality places. There is a long way to go in reforming that industry. These concerns do not mean that we can simply set aside the need for new homes.

The harsh fact is that where a councillor is likely to be voted out of office if they do not vociferously oppose new development, few will feel able to act in the interests of those who need a home but do not yet have a vote in that area. The structure of democracy at local level makes it nigh on impossible for representatives of local communities to act in the wider interests of those who do not live there.

Our planning system recognises that no one is keen to have a power station, airport or highways project on their doorstep. Nationally significant infrastructure projects are taken outside the remit of the local council. No one is suggesting the same approach for housing developments, even very large ones, but recognition should be given to what is in the national, rather than necessarily the local, interest. Securing sufficient new homes is a national priority and should be part of the national decision-making process.

This important amendment removes the unfair onus on local councillors to determine how many new homes their local plan should be designed to secure. It removes an unreasonable expectation that those who are—or hope to be—elected as local councillors will always do what is right for the next generation, the wider region and the country, rather than what the often vocal local electorate of here and now are demanding. I acknowledge that arguments can still rage over the methodology for setting housing targets and that there will rightly be lengthy consideration of exactly what gets built and where, but these are separate matters and do not affect the amendment before us. Rather, I warn that, without this change to the prevailing position, without decisions on overall numbers of new homes being taken at a higher level than the local planning authority, we will certainly not see 300,000 additional homes built each year. The horrendous housing shortage will get worse. I urge the Minister to accept this essential amendment.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Young and the noble Lord, Lord Best —he is also my noble friend in this context—for introducing Amendment 195 so very well.

I want to add my threepennyworth in relation to not only Amendment 195 but Amendment 196; one might think of them as a package. They would require local planning authorities to meet or exceed the Government’s housing target—in so far as the Government have a housing target; we have debated the figure of 300,000, which is what the Government tell us their target is, but it could of course be different if they chose a different target because of their assessment of the demographic and other requirements—and to do this by reference to the standard method. I emphasise that this means whatever standard method is applicable at the time. Personally, I do not regard our current standard method as fit for purpose. There will need to be change. I have said before—let me repeat it briefly—that the relationship between the standard method process and the prospective increases in employment in an area should assume a greater weight in relation to the objectively assessed housing need.

These amendments are a package. Remember, in addition to Amendment 195, which we are debating first, Amendment 196 would require local planning authorities to have regard to the housing target or a standard method respectively. Of course, if Amendment 195 were to go to the Commons, Amendment 196 would go with it as a consequential amendment. The House of Commons would then have an opportunity to consider the questions of whether local planning authorities should have regard to the Government’s target and standard method—that is a bit of a no-brainer; of course they should—and of whether, in addition, they should be required to meet or exceed the resulting figure of objectively assessed housing need for an area. This is the debate that the House of Commons needs to have.

There are two groups of people who should vote for Amendments 195 and 196. There are those who just agree with the policy; I am among them. My noble friends have well set out the policy objective, which fundamentally comes down to this: if a Government have a target, they need to have a mechanism for delivering it. I have had these conversations, for which I am grateful, with the Housing Minister, my noble friend and the Secretary of State. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State in particular—I love him dearly—is trying to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. He is trying to give local planning authorities, in the minds of a minority of Conservative Members in the other place—I emphasise that it is not a majority but a minority—the freedom to have a different method and to think, “It’s a starting point but we can go south from this instead of north”. It is an opportunity for them to say, “We’ve got green belt, areas of natural beauty, sites of special scientific interest and sensitive areas. We don’t have to have the houses; they can all be somewhere else”.

In some cases, that will be true. Let me pick a place at random. If you were in Mid Bedfordshire and you knew that Milton Keynes, Bedford and Luton wanted development—and, indeed, Tempsford, which is on the new east-west rail link and faces the possibility of taking on a large new settlement of 20,000 homes—you might well conclude that, in Mid Bedfordshire, taking account of the development in all the neighbouring areas, you do not need much development. That would be perfectly reasonable. Actually, the standard method and the way in which the guidance is constructed would allow that to happen because that is precisely what joint spatial development strategies should deliver in an area such as Bedfordshire.

As I say, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State wants those who feel that they have relaxed all these requirements to feel comfortable with that, yet he wants to maintain his target. When challenged, he says, “Well, there’s still an objectively assessed housing need and, if people do not meet it and do not show that they are going to meet that housing requirement, their plans will not be sound”. I have to say, this is not the way in which to conduct the planning system, whereby local planning authorities produce plans and inspectors throw them out. That way lies madness. What we need is for local planning authorities to have the kind of guidance that enables them to produce in the first instance sound plans that are the basis on which local people can rely. That is what we are aiming for: a plan-led system. However, what the Government are moving towards is not a locally plan-led system. In my view, we need to change this.

That is the first set of people who should vote for this amendment, in this case because it is the right the policy. There is a second group of people for whom there is another, different argument. It goes, “How is this supposed to work?” This Bill was in the other place last year. It completed its Third Reading on 13 December. As far as I can tell, there was effectively no substantive debate on the provisions in this Bill relating to the housing target and standard method. Nine days after the Bill completed its passage through the other place, the Government published their consultation draft of the National Planning Policy Framework. In it, they relaxed the housing delivery test; they made the housing targets and standard method an advisory starting point, in effect; and they allowed local planning authorities to have an alternative approach.

As my noble friend Lord Young demonstrated so clearly, all of that added up to local planning authorities thinking that they had been let off. However, none of that was in the Bill. It was not debated by the House. It was not voted on by the House of Commons in any fashion. Today, if we do not send Amendments 195 and 196 to the other place, no such debate will take place in the House of Commons. The issue will go through by default. I agree with my noble friend: the world has moved on and sentiment has changed. He used to be a Chief Whip; I used to run national election campaigns. I used to look carefully at the salience of issues. The salience of housing as an issue has risen and continues to rise. I must advise my Front Bench that the salience of housing as an issue is rising not because we are building too many houses but because we are building too few. The Government may argue, “Well, they’re just in the wrong place”. There are ways of dealing with that but we do need more, which is what the standard method is intended to help us achieve.

We are having this debate today because these amendments are here on Report. If we do not send them down to the other place, the debate will not take place in the Commons. I know that there are colleagues on our Benches in another place who want to have this debate. They think that the Bill needs to show what Parliament thinks about housing targets—the standard method—and how an objectively assessed housing need should be established, and by whom. We need to give them that opportunity. I encourage noble Lords, in looking at these amendments, to realise that this is about not just the policy but the question of whether the Commons should have a chance to look at this matter. I do not mean making them think again, which is our conventional constitutional job; in this case, I mean them looking at this issue for the first time. If we do not send these amendments back, they will not even look at it a first time. We need to give them that opportunity.

I hope that noble Lords will support Amendment 195 on that basis.

I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken so eloquently on this subject already. Amendment 200, in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman, recognises the need to reinstate the provision for housing targets through the NPPF and associated guidance, and through the housing delivery test, which, I agree with noble Lords who have spoken already, is incredibly important. Similarly, Amendment 195, in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Lansley, Lord Young and Lord Best, and my noble friend Lady Hayman, and Amendment 196, in the names of noble Lords, Lord Lansley and Lord Young, see the essential part that local plans have to play in the delivery of housing need. It is, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, said—rightly, in my view—one of the most important amendments to the Bill that we have discussed on Report.

The much-respected organisation Shelter reports that there are 1.4 million fewer households in social housing than there were in 1980. Combined with excessive house prices making homes unaffordable, demand has been shunted into the private rental sector, where supply has been too slow to meet needs. That means above-inflation increases in rents.

On the affordable homes programme, the National Audit Office reports that there is a 32,000 shortfall in the Government’s original targets for building affordable homes. It goes on to say that there is a high risk of failing to meet targets on supported homes and homes in rural areas. Progress will be further confounded by double-digit inflation, soaring costs of materials and supply disruption, yet the Government seem to have no clue how to mitigate those factors, and in those circumstances the decision to scrap housing targets last December seems even more bizarre.

The National Audit Office is not the only one with concerns about the delivery of the programme. In December last year, the Public Accounts Committee outlined that DLUHC

“does not seem to have a grasp on the considerable risks to achieving even this lower number of homes, including construction costs inflation running at 15-30% in and around London”,

although that is not far off what it is in the rest of the country.

We had extensive debates about the housing crisis during Committee on this Bill, but there was nothing in the Minister's responses to reassure us that the vague promises to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s would feed through into the planning process—points made very clearly by noble Lords who have already spoken. I do not need to point out to your Lordships’ House that we are just 18 months away from that deadline and the target has never been met. It is being missed by almost 100,000 homes a year, and more in some years. If they are not in the planning process, what chance is there of them being delivered? According to one estimate commissioned by the National Housing Federation and Crisis from Heriot-Watt University, the actual number needed is around 340,000 new homes in England each year, of which 145,000 should be affordable.

Let us consider the latest figures from the National House Building Council. The number of new homes registered in quarter 2 in 2023 was 42% down on 2022. The number of new homes registered in the private sector in quarter 2 in 2023 was 51% down on 2022. The number of new homes registered in the rental and affordable sector was down 14% in quarter 2 2023—declines across most regions compared to the same quarter last year, with the north-west experiencing the sharpest decline of 67%, followed by the east of England at 56% and the West Midlands at 54%. Only London and Wales bucked this trend.

The consequences of not delivering the right number of homes of the right tenures that people actually need are devastating. Those of us who are councillors or have been councillors all know that our inboxes, surgeries and voicemails are full of families with horrible experiences of overcrowding, temporary and emergency housing, private rented homes that are too expensive for family budgets and insecure resulting in constant moves, more young people having to live with their parents for longer, impaired labour mobility, which the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, mentioned and which makes it harder for businesses to recruit staff, and increased levels of homelessness. All this is stacking up devastating future consequences for the families concerned, and no doubt a dramatic impact on public funding as the health, education, social and employment results of this work down the generations.

There is increased focus on addressing affordability as distinct from supply—subjects that we discussed in the earlier group. In the foreword to a 2017 Institute for Public Policy Research report, Sir Michael Lyons said:

“We would stress that it is not just the number built but also the balance of tenures and affordability which need to be thought through for an effective housing strategy”.

With local authorities charged with the responsibility for ensuring that their local plans drive economic development in their areas, we simply cannot afford to overlook the place that housing development plays in local economies.

Policy Exchange has set this out very clearly in its paper. The housing crisis does not simply have localised effects on regional markets; it is holding back growth everywhere. Addressing the housing shortage offers immense economic opportunities to the country. As in previous historical periods, like the 1930s, the 1950s and the 1960s, expanding housing supply could provide a platform for sustained growth that balances the economy and spreads prosperity widely. It could help to reduce government expenditure on benefits and make our urban areas more productive.

Equally importantly, it could restore faith in the aspiration of home ownership. The fact is that we need a renewed national effort to fix the housing market and fulfil the dream of an affordable, secure and sustainable home for every family and the promise of owning one’s own home to the next generation. That national effort might well have to wait for the election of a Labour Government, but what is certain is that we cannot let that effort be confounded by a few Tory Back-Benchers in the other place, nervous about their majorities.

The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said that if the Government have a target, they must have a mechanism for delivering it. I completely agree with that. Without a clear plan for each area to meet its assessed housing need, there is little likelihood that it will happen at all.

As far as I understand these amendments, they are an intention to return the planning system to the time before 2022 happened—the golden age when the system worked. I must say that I was looking for some fairy dust. I will explain by going back to 2010, when an incoming coalition Government discovered that only 15%—I think it was 15%—of local authorities had an up-to-date local plan. That is when the Department for Communities and Local Government, in which I was then a junior Minister, came up with a way to encourage local planning authorities to speed-up their local plan process.

That was after a 30-year statutory requirement—it is 30 years old—that they should have such a local plan. This was essentially to let developers loose in areas where there was no up-to-date local plan. I have scars from an Adjournment debate in that place, which is a bit like a QSD at this end. As a junior Minister, I drew the always available short straw, and I was faced—or rather I was backed, because they were behind me— by 20, 30, 40, although it seemed like a thousand, angry MPs complaining that the Government were blackmailing their district council by setting developers loose. It was like Dunkirk, only there were no boats.

The coalition Government kept their nerve, and so that system endured until 22 December, I think—the dispatch date given by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. However, whether the coalition Government held their nerve, or whether, like the Conservative Government, they did not hold their nerve, the outcome was still not 300,000 homes a year. The missing ingredient for us was fairy dust. That system does not deliver 300,000 homes a year. I wish the noble Lords good luck with their amendments, and I shall be interested to see what the Government have to say, but even if passed, it will not deliver 300,000 homes a year. That seems to me to be the fundamental point. I absolutely take the analysis delivered so powerfully by the proponents of this. Unfortunately, the lever that they intend us to use for it is already deficient, and we have seen it. So, please, where is the fairy dust?

My Lords, I refer to my registered interests, particularly that I chair a company that advises people on sustainable planning. I must say to my noble friends, with whom I very often agree, that I find this debate extremely difficult. First, this Bill should never have been in this form at all. No previous Government would have provided a long title for a Bill that means that it takes this long to go through Parliament and that, every time they think of something, they can add it to the Bill. We must be very clear about this Bill. Historically, we used to have the tightness of a title which enabled you to keep responsibly and respectably within the subject. So I start with this difficulty.

Secondly, this concentration on the numbers misses the point. Since the Government got rid of the net-zero requirement for houses, we have built over a million and a half homes that are not fit for the future. Every one of them has meant that the housebuilders have taken the profit, while the cost of putting those homes right has been left with the purchaser of the home. That is a scandal which is shared between the Government, who were foolish enough to get rid of the net-zero requirement, and the housebuilders, who knew precisely what they were doing. One of them made so much money that it offered its chief executive £140 million as a bonus. He did not get all that in the end, but that was the situation.

My problem is that in the absence of a proper policy, we are talking about the wrong thing. We should not be talking about the numbers, except to say that we need significantly more homes. We should be talking about the quality of the homes and the places where they should be. I go back to my own experience as Housing Minister. We were very interested in ensuring that we built homes on already used land. We thought it important to recreate our cities. We thought that was just as important a part of this as the numbers. At the moment, I can drive back from my local railway station and see every little village, every little town, spreading out into the countryside, homes being built on good agricultural land and homes being built which are, by their nature, the creators of commuters, as there is nowhere else for people to work.

If I may say so to my noble friend, it is no good ignoring that many district councils have a real problem with the number of places in which they can build the homes that they were asked to build. A lot are NIMBYs, and some I quite agree you would not like, but if you are faced with building homes in a council where most of the area is green belt, areas of outstanding natural beauty or historic areas, you find yourself in a huge difficulty. I agree that many of them do not try as hard as they ought to, but let us not kid ourselves as to what the local issue is—not just wanting to win that particular ward but a matter of real difficulty.

For that reason, I say to my noble friend that I am sad that in this elongated, extended, overblown Bill, we have not had time to do four things: put in the future homes requirements to raise the standards of housebuilding so that they are fit for the future; create a system whereby housebuilders should provide the resources for rebuilding the insides of many of the homes that they built over the last five or 10 years; and understand that we should reuse land and think about place-making where people are within a quarter of an hour of the resources they need. Then, we can talk about how we can have a relationship with local authorities that can build the number of houses that we need.

I intend to support the Government on this amendment because I am not prepared to be put into a position where the answer to our problems is numbers. That is not the answer. The answer is a housing policy which looks at sustainability, the ability to buy and the future, not a collection of odd clauses stuck together and added when it happens to be convenient.

My Lords, I have a much less eloquent and much less exciting question to the proponents of Amendment 195, and certainly no fairy dust. If you are linking national targets to the local plan, what happens when national targets change during the five-year plan period? Does the plan have to be rewritten, do parts of it have to be rewritten, or do you have to wait until the end of the period and then apply the new target? It is a purely technical question and, as I say, much less exciting than some of the material we have just heard, but I would be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, could help me with that.

I know that we are on Report but in response to that, it is exactly the structure that we have seen before. Essentially, in the five-year period between one local plan and the review of that plan, clearly, the housing delivery test is applied to what is adopted in that plan in the first instance. When it is reviewed after five years then clearly, as the amendment would say, the local plan must then be reviewed, taking account of the Government’s targets and standard method as applicable at that time.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, was absolutely right when he introduced his amendment in saying that this is the most important part of the Bill and is at the heart of the housing debate we have been having. I am very fortunate to be following the noble Lord, Lord Deben, who has given this whole debate a new dimension and a new focus for our thoughts, on whether we should be fixated on numbers or considering other elements of housing provision.

There is complete agreement across the House and support for building the homes that people need and the country needs. It means building homes in all parts of our country. I agree with the argument made by the noble Lord, Lord Young, about how we will provide the homes that folk need, and the analysis of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, on how vital it is that homes be provided for social rent so that families can have a stable background, and with a housing cost that they can meet within their tight family budgets. Like her, I am a councillor, and I am saddened by the number of families where I live who are pushed into renting in the private housing sector on short-term lets and every six months are having to post on Facebook, “Is there a home to rent in this locality at this price with this number of bedrooms, so that I don’t have to move schools for my children?” That is not the sort of country we want to create, in my opinion; we ought to be providing stable homes for people whose incomes restrict their housing options to homes for social rent.

The answer that the noble Lords, Lord Young of Cookham and Lord Lansley, and even the noble Lord, Lord Best, give is to provide a big target for housebuilding, which the country needs, and to hope that it will somehow be fulfilled. Unfortunately, history tells us that this is not what happens. We know that the Government have dictated housing targets for many years and failed to achieve them for at least 50. If those targets had been fulfilled, we would not be in the desperate state we are now. Targets do not build homes. Targets do not build the homes that people need; they tend to give power to developers, who build homes that people want, which is why we are so short of affordable housing and housing for social rent. Top-down targets are not the answer. The problem with top-down targets is that communities and, indeed, councillors do not like being told exactly how many homes they have to build. Top-down targets enable arguments about census figures, household sizes and demographic trends, and these cast doubt on the need for new homes. The consequence of that argument is that land allocation for sites is hotly contested. Because the targets are top down, there is no general discussion with communities about the type of homes needed as well as their number. When communities have those discussions, as they do when developing neighbourhood plans, the result is that more homes are allocated in those areas than the targets suggest, because communities have the opportunity to think about it and rise to the challenge. The people in the community—local families—need those homes and communities respond to that by enabling those sites to be allocated for new build.

My other challenge for the advocates of top-down targets is that they can be implemented only where councils adopt a local plan. On Monday, in discussion on another group of amendments, we heard that only a third of local councils currently have an up-to-date plan. That means that two-thirds of councils do not have allocated sites for housing. It is not surprising, therefore, that the top-down targets do not provide the lever for councils to allocate sites. What is needed is for those councils to have those discussions and be encouraged—perhaps not as far as the Minister would like—to step into the difficult territory of a combined county authority dictating to district councils what should be built. That is difficult territory, which I suggest others would not wish to tread in. If, as I think we all agree, we want new homes built, we must be willing somehow to provide the means by which that happens, rather than simply saying, “These are the targets: get on with it”.

Housing targets and numbers do not reflect different types of tenure, types of home and household sizes. Some parts of the country desperately need housing with extra care for older people so that they can retain independence and downsize without having to go into residential care. Where is that in any top-down target? It does not exist, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Best, in an earlier debate about social housing numbers. That is as important as a single top-down target dictated by the Government.

I shall state at every opportunity that the Bill is about levelling-up and regeneration. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said on the previous group about how important it is to link economic investment and housing development. That is how we achieve levelling up in some of our more deprived communities, but that is not what is here. What is also missing is any incentive for local communities to accept new building. As a local councillor, whenever a big housing site is allocated, people say to me, “Where is the allocation for school places, new doctors’ surgeries and new transport, and what about our parks?” I know the Minister will say to me, “You can put them into the conditions of a planning application”. Of course you can but, more often than not, they are not fulfilled within that community—they are off site, somewhere else. That is at the heart of this problem about housebuilding. Incentives must be in place to encourage communities to accept new homes.

Then there is the issue that we have forgotten about: currently, more than 1 million homes with planning consent are not being built. In my small ward, planning consent for nearly 800 homes has been there for two or three years. The homes are not being built because it does not suit the developers to do so. Unless we also overcome the issue that there is too much power in the hands of developers, we miss the whole point about top-down targets. I repeat: top-down targets do not build homes. We need to talk to communities, discussing how inward investment and housebuilding will help them thrive and help their high streets come to life. That is why, if the noble Lord, Lord Young, is moved to press his amendment to a vote, we will be unable to support him. We will abstain. We agree that more houses are needed, which is where I started. There is complete agreement on that, but we disagree on how you achieve it.

My Lords, I am grateful for the contributions made on this important issue. I reiterate at the outset that delivering more homes remains a priority for this Government, as the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State made clear in the long-term plan for housing, which they set out at the end of July.

Local plans play a crucial role in enabling new homes to come forward, which is why the National Planning Policy Framework is clear that all plans should seek to meet the development needs of their area. Nothing we consulted on at the end of last year changes that fundamental expectation. There will, however, be limits on what some plans can achieve, which is where I must take issue with Amendment 195, in the names of my noble friends Lord Lansley and Lord Young, the noble Lord, Lord Best, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock.

Amendment 195 would place local plans under a legal obligation to meet or exceed the number of homes generated by the standard method prescribed by the Government. Amendment 200, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, is designed to have a similar effect. While this is well intentioned, it would be unworkable in practice. Ever since the National Planning Policy Framework was introduced in 2012, it has been clear that plans should meet as much of their identified housing need as possible, but there are legitimate reasons why meeting or exceeding that need may not always be appropriate. For example, an authority with very extensive areas of green belt or which is largely an area of outstanding natural beauty or a national park may not be able to meet its identified housing need in full if we are also to maintain these important national protections. In these cases, there will be a need to consider whether any unmet need can be met elsewhere, which is something that our policies also make clear.

It is for this reason that our standard method for calculating housing need—or, indeed, any alternative method which may be appropriate in certain cases—can be only a starting point for plan-making, not the end. Mandating in law that the standard method figures must be met or exceeded in all cases would do significant harm to some of our most important protected areas and could conflict with other safeguards, such as the need to avoid building in areas of high flood risk.

It is also right that local communities should be able to respond to local circumstances. The changes to national policy which were consulted upon at the end of last year are designed to support local authorities to set local housing requirements that respond to demographic and affordability pressures while being realistic, given local constraints. However, let me make it clear: the Secretary of State’s Written Ministerial Statement, published on 6 December 2022, confirmed that the standard method for assessing local housing need will be retained. To get enough homes built in the places where people and communities need them, a crucial first step is to plan for the right number of homes. That is why we remain committed to our ambition of delivering 300,000 homes per year and to retaining a clear starting point for calculating local housing needs, but we know that the best way to get more homes is by having up-to-date local plans in place.

Amendment 196, in the name of my noble friends Lord Lansley and Lord Young, takes a different approach, obliging local planning authorities to have regard to any standard method and any national housing targets when preparing their local plans. I will put this more bluntly still: there is no question that we are about to let local authorities off the hook in providing the homes that their communities need. They need to have a plan, it should be up to date, it needs to do all that is reasonable in meeting the needs of the local area and, in response to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, it needs to look at different types of housing. They need to know how much housing is required for older people, younger people, families and disabled people. That is what their plan should have. We have discussed this with local authorities and will be working with them to ensure that that will happen.

A need to have regard to the standard method is already built into the Bill, as Schedule 7 requires local planning authorities when preparing their local plan to have regard to

“national policies and advice contained in guidance issued by the Secretary of State”.

That includes the National Planning Policy Framework, its housing policies, including those relating to the use of the standard method, and associated guidance. Adding a specific requirement to have regard to the standard method would have no additional effect as planning authorities will already take it into account and draft plans will be examined against it.

A legal obligation to take any national housing target into account, which this amendment would also create, poses a different challenge as it is unclear how plans at the level of an individual local authority could do so. This could create unintended consequences by creating an avenue for challenges to emerging plans on the basis that they have not done enough to reflect a national target and so could slow down the very plans that we need to see in place.

I hope that, taking these considerations into account, my noble friend Lord Lansley is persuaded not to move his amendment.

My Lords, this has been a long and good debate, and I will not detain the House with a long summing up. I will deal first with the core defence that the Minister has just laid out, namely, that the way to get more houses is to have more up-to-date local plans. That argument was considered seriously by the Select Committee in the other place, which said this about what the Minister has just told us:

“We are sceptical of the Minister for Housing and Planning’s confidence that greater local plan coverage will result in more housebuilding. If there is no longer a requirement for up-to-date local plans to continually demonstrate a five-year housing land supply, and if housing targets in local plans are to be made advisory, then it does not necessarily follow that more local plan coverage will result in the same increases in housebuilding as under the current NPPF”.

In one paragraph, I am afraid that it demolishes the main defence that the way forward is through more local plans.

I am grateful to everyone who has taken part in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Best, pointed out that the Government’s target is very modest by international standards and explained how the imperatives of local politics will always require local councillors to go for a lower target rather than a higher one, so it would not be fair on local councillors to leave this in their hands.

My noble friend Lord Lansley made an important constitutional point that the major changes were made to the proposed NDMP after the Bill had completed its stages in the other place. It has not had an opportunity to consider these major changes in housing policy and will not unless this amendment is carried. He also made the point that housing has risen up the agenda since the rebellion last December, and there has been some evidence of a movement of opinion within the governing party down the other end.

I am grateful for the support from the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, who pointed out the statistics were going in the wrong direction. I was disappointed by the response from the Liberal Democrat spokesman. Only one thing is clear: if we do not carry this amendment, we will get fewer targets. The Government say they want more houses but, again, I quote from the Select Committee report:

“it is difficult to see how the Government will achieve its 300,000 net national housing target by the mid-2020s if local targets are only advisory”.

I was Housing Minister to my noble friend Lord Deben. If I had gone to him and said, “It doesn't matter how many houses we build”, I am not sure that I would have stayed in my post for very long. Numbers matter. Any responsible Government must look ahead: how many schools, hospitals and homes do we need? It is not an irrelevant consideration. That is why my party had a clear manifesto commitment to build 300,000 houses a year.

Yes, we should do more about brownfield sites, but if every brownfield site in England identified on all the local authority brownfield registers was built on to full capacity, this would provide for only just under one-third of the 4.5 million homes needed over the next 15 years.

I am grateful to the Minister, who has been very patient. She has not been able to move in the direction that I had hoped, so I want to restore the position to what it was when the Bill was introduced, before the Government amended housing policy in December. I want to enable the commitment of 300,000 houses that we gave at the last election to be met, and I want to give the elected House an opportunity to consider the major changes in government policy announced since the Bill was introduced. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Amendment 196 not moved.

Amendments 196A to 196E

Moved by

196A: Schedule 7, page 350, line 20, at end insert—

“(5A) The minerals and waste plan must take account of any local nature recovery strategy that relates to all or part of the relevant area, including in particular—(a) the areas identified in the strategy as areas which—(i) are, or could become, of particular importance for biodiversity, or(ii) are areas where the recovery or enhancement of biodiversity could make a particular contribution to other environmental benefits,(b) the priorities set out in the strategy for recovering or enhancing biodiversity, and(c) the proposals set out in the strategy as to potential measures relating to those priorities.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment requires a minerals and waste plan to take account of any local nature recovery strategy that relates to any part of the relevant area.

196B: Schedule 7, page 352, line 33, at end insert “, and

(b) take account of any local nature recovery strategy which relates to all or part of the area to which the plan relates or to an area in which a site to which the plan relates is located, including in particular—(i) the areas identified in the strategy as areas which—(A) are, or could become, of particular importance for biodiversity, or(B) are areas where the recovery or enhancement of biodiversity could make a particular contribution to other environmental benefits,(ii) the priorities set out in the strategy for recovering or enhancing biodiversity, and(iii) the proposals set out in the strategy as to potential measures relating to those priorities.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment requires a supplementary plan to take account, so far as appropriate, of any local nature recovery strategy that relates to the area to which the plan relates or an area in which a site to which the plan relates is situated.

196C: Schedule 7, page 364, line 22, after “authority” insert “, combined county authority”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the Minister’s name amending new section 15HD of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (as inserted by Schedule 7 to the Bill).

196D: Schedule 7, page 364, line 24, after “authority” insert “, combined county authority”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment amends new section 15HD of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (as inserted by Schedule 7 to the Bill) so that it also covers combined county authorities, which are provided for under Part 2 of the Bill.

196E: Schedule 7, page 380, line 16, at end insert—

““local nature recovery strategy” means a local nature recovery strategy under section 104 of the Environment Act 2021;”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment defines “local nature recovery strategy” for the purposes of the amendments in the Minister’s name to Schedule 7 at page 335, line 33; page 347, line 38; page 350, line 20; and page 352, line 33.

Amendments 196A to 196E agreed.

Clause 92: Contents of a neighbourhood development plan

Amendment 196F

Moved by

196F: Clause 92, page 98, line 35, at end insert “, and

(b) take account of any local nature recovery strategy, under section 104 of the Environment Act 2021, that relates to all or part of the neighbourhood area, including in particular—(i) the areas identified in the strategy as areas which—(A) are, or could become, of particular importance for biodiversity, or(B) are areas where the recovery or enhancement of biodiversity could make a particular contribution to other environmental benefits,(ii) the priorities set out in the strategy for recovering or enhancing biodiversity, and(iii) the proposals set out in the strategy as to potential measures relating to those priorities.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment requires neighbourhood development plans to take account, so far as appropriate, of any local nature recovery strategy that relates to all or part of the neighbourhood area to which the plan relates.

Amendment 196F agreed.

Clause 93: Neighbourhood development plans and orders: basic conditions

Amendment 197

Moved by

197: Clause 93, page 99, line 33, at end insert—

“(3) In paragraph 11(2) of Schedule A2 to PCPA 2004 (modification of neighbourhood development plans: basic conditions)—(a) for paragraph (c) substitute—“(ca) the making of the plan would not result in the development plan for the area of the authority proposing that less housing is provided by means of development taking place in that area than if the draft plan were not to be made,”; (b) after paragraph (d) (but before the “and” at the end of that paragraph) insert—“(da) any requirements imposed in relation to the plan by or under Part 6 of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 (environmental outcomes reports) have been complied with,”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment updates the basic conditions which must be met for a modification of a neighbourhood development plan, so that they correspond to those that will apply for making a neighbourhood development plan once the amendments already included in Clause 93 are made.

Amendment 197 agreed.

Amendment 198

Moved by

198: After Clause 94, insert the following new Clause—

“Duty to reduce health inequalities and improve well-being(1) For the purposes of this section “the general health and well-being objective” is the reduction of health inequalities and the improvement of well-being through the exercise of planning functions in relation to England.(2) A local planning authority must ensure that the development plan for their area includes policies designed to secure that the development and use of land contribute to the general health and well-being objective.(3) In considering whether to grant planning permission or permission in principle and related approvals, a local planning authority or, as the case may be, the Secretary of State must ensure the decision is consistent with achieving the general health and well-being objective.(4) In complying with this section, a local planning authority or, as the case may be, the Secretary of State must have special regard to the desirability of—(a) ensuring that key destinations such as essential shops, schools, parks and open spaces, health facilities and public transport services are in safe and convenient proximity on foot to homes;(b) facilitating access to these key destinations and creating opportunities for everyone to be physically active by improving existing, and creating new, walking and cycling routes and networks;(c) increasing access to high-quality green infra-structure;(d) ensuring a supply of housing which is affordable to and meets the health, accessibility and well-being needs of people who live in the local planning authority's area.”Member's explanatory statement

This new Clause would create a requirement for local planning authorities to include policies in their development plans which contribute to a new general health and well-being objective. It requires local planning authorities and the Secretary of State to ensure consistency with this objective when deciding whether to grant planning permission or permission in principle and related approvals, such as reserved matters.

My Lords, on Monday we debated this amendment, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, who is unavoidably detained. The amendment proposes a duty to reduce health inequalities and improve well-being through the exercise of planning functions. I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for his response, in which he put his faith in the National Planning Policy Framework, but I do not think that this goes far enough. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Amendments 199 and 200 not moved.

My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I beg that further consideration on Report be now adjourned until after the further business of the House is completed.

Sitting suspended.