Consideration of Lords amendments
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendments 4, 5, 23, 40, 44, 48 to 50 and 84. I also remind the House that certain motions relating to the Lords amendments will be certified as relating exclusively to England, or to England and Wales, as set out on the selection list. If the House divides on any certified motion, a double majority will be required for the motion to be passed.
After Clause 12
Change of use of drinking establishments
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 22.
With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu of Lords amendment 22.
Before I get into the detail of the amendments, I would like to put on record my thanks to my noble Friend and ministerial colleague Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, who ably steered the Bill through the Lords. I would also like to thank one of my distinguished predecessors as Housing Minister, Lord Young of Cookham, who led on the compulsory purchase provisions, which we will touch on in the third of the three groups we are discussing this afternoon. Finally, I thank all peers who contributed positively to the debate in the other place. The Bill has benefited from their constructive challenge and scrutiny. For my part, I am pleased that the Bill received a warmer reception than the Housing and Planning Bill did a year ago.
I wish to turn to permitted development rights for the change of use or demolition of pubs, and to update the House on the steps we are taking in respect of the permitted development rights for the change of use from office to residential. First, I will speak to the Government amendment in respect of permitted development rights for the change of use or demolition of pubs. Let me start by assuring hon. Members that we have listened to both Houses and to the support that Members have expressed for valued community pubs. They will see that we have accepted the principle of the amendment introduced into the Bill in the other place. Our amendments in lieu therefore set out the detail of how we will take that principle forward.
The amendment commits us to update the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 to remove the permitted development rights for the change of use or demolition of drinking establishments, including pubs. In tabling the amendments in lieu, I reassure hon. Members that we have continued to engage through the passage of the Bill with interested Members and bodies, such as the Campaign for Real Ale and the British Beer and Pub Association. I can confirm that we will remove the permitted development rights to change to a restaurant or cafe, financial or professional service, or a shop. We will also remove the permitted development rights to change to an office for up to two years and to a school for a single academic year.
In making these changes, the Government are keen to avoid any potential unintended consequences. As such, we are clear that the best way to support pubs is to retain the A4 “drinking establishments” use class for pubs, wine bars and other types of bars. Doing so will allow pubs to innovate and intensify their use, for example by opening a pub garden or starting to provide live music, without facing a risk that this will be a change of use that requires a full planning application. Our intention in retaining the A4 use class is to allow pubs to develop within this use class without having to seek planning permission, thus avoiding unintended consequences, and unnecessary cost and bureaucracy.
CAMRA campaigners in my constituency have campaigned for the removal of permitted development rights for 10 years, so I welcome the Government’s new clause that will implement Labour’s amendment in the other place. However, the question of timing is crucial. If the time window before the regulations come in is too large, developers will simply bring forward their plans and pubs will continue to become car parks, retail or housing. Will the Minister make clear when the regulations will be implemented?
If the hon. Lady bears with me for a few minutes, I will make that crystal clear and, I hope, provide the reassurance she is looking for.
The changes in respect of permitted development rights for the change of use or demolition of pubs mean that in future a planning application will be required in all cases. This will also be the case for premises in mixed use, for example as a pub and a restaurant. This addresses the long-standing call that there should be local consideration and an opportunity for the community to comment on the future of their local pub. It is important that local planning authorities have relevant planning policies in place to support this decision taking. Once we have made the changes, the current provisions, which remove permitted development rights for the change of use or demolition of pubs that are listed as assets of community value, are no longer necessary and will fall away.
Will there be any provision or requirement with regard to the viability of the pub in that premise, so there will be some kind of case that those who wish to change could mount?
Clearly, those are arguments that could be made by an applicant in respect of a particular planning application, but the Government are not proposing to allow any permitted development rights in that regard. It would require the local authority to consider the planning application and to reach a decision. I am sure that in respect of what my right hon. Friend and others have said, those arguments will be considered when planning applications are being made.
Importantly, we have listened to the points made about the need for pubs to be able to expand their food offer in order to meet changing market need and support their continued viability—the issue that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) is concerned about. Therefore, at the same time as getting rid of the permitted development rights that allow for demolition or change of use, we will introduce a new permitted development right to allow drinking establishments to extend their food offering so as to become a mixed A4 pub and A3 restaurant. The Government believe that this will ensure that pubs have nothing to fear when it comes to requiring planning permission or enforcement against the change of use where a pub is extending its food offer. This will give them vital additional flexibility.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and to the Government for listening to the powerful case that was made by CAMRA and many other organisations. The new mixed A3/A4 class is an elegant solution to the issue raised in respect of the amendment in the other place. Will the Minister nevertheless clarify on the record that, in keeping with his proposals, the same removal of permitted development rights that is now going to operate in the A3 and A4 classes will also operate in the mixed use A3/A4 class, which has not been specifically clarified?
If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I think he will get exactly the clarification that he is looking for—but the simple answer is yes. I shall come on to it again later in my speech. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. The Government’s intent is very much to honour the principle behind the Lords amendment, but we believe we have a better solution that will provide pubs with more flexibility and do a better job of ensuring their viability in the long term.
I congratulate the Minister on his flexible approach to the Bill. Given that he has previously agreed to visit my Bassetlaw constituency, will he offer a date very soon, so that I can consider whether to include a pub in his itinerary?
That has got to be one of the kindest invitations that I have received so far in my ministerial career. I have already given an undertaking and I very much look forward to visiting the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I am trying to combine it with an event in the Sheffield city region, looking at housing. The hon. Gentleman served on the Public Bill Committee and he is a passionate advocate of neighbourhood planning. I know that he has worked hard in own constituency to encourage neighbourhood planning. I am very much looking forward to meeting some of the community groups with him. Members of my private office are in the Box and will have heard that commitment. I hope that we can get the hon. Gentleman a date as soon as possible—with or without the benefit of a visit to a local pub.
At the same time as making these changes, we also want to protect local planning authorities from any compensation liability arising from the removal of national permitted development rights. We will do this by amending the compensation regulations to limit to 12 months the period of any potential liability on local planning authorities when the rights are removed.
Let me now take the opportunity to update hon. Members on the outcome of the debate in the other place in respect of the permitted development right for the change of use from office to residential. This was an issue debated at some length in Committee, and I know that there are differences of opinion in the House. Hon. Members will know that the permitted development right is making an important contribution to housing delivery, with over 12,800 homes delivered—thanks to this right—in the year ending March 2016. The Government have always recognised that in certain areas there have been concerns about the local impact of this right, so we have outlined an approach that provides flexibility for those areas that are meeting their housing requirements to have a greater say over where the permitted development right for the change of use from office to residential should apply.
For those areas that are delivering 100% or more of their housing requirement—the figure identified in their local plan—that can continue to do so after removal of the right, and that are able to demonstrate that it is necessary to remove the right to protect the amenity and wellbeing of their area, the Secretary of State will not seek to limit article 4 directions applying to that area. We intend to publish the first housing delivery test data in November. For those who are not familiar with it, this was one of the key reforms set out in the housing White Paper. We will now hold local authorities to account not just for producing a glossy plan, but for delivering the houses set out in the plan on an annual basis. This will indicate to local authorities in November whether this additional article 4 flexibility would apply to directions brought forward after that date. For those interested in further information about this change, it can be found in House of Lords Library in a letter from my ministerial colleague Lord Bourne, dated 18 March. We shall provide detailed guidance before November.
We are making a further change by bringing forward regulation to enable local planning authorities to charge planning application fees when permitted development rights have been removed by an article 4 direction. This recognises the resource commitments in those areas that have removed the permitted development right for sound policy reasons. The Government’s position remains that although the permitted development right makes an important contribution to delivering the homes that we desperately need, we have with these two small changes demonstrated a degree of flexibility to allow those local authorities that are delivering the homes that are needed in their area to apply an article 4 direction if they wish, and then to be able to charge planning application fees in the relevant areas.
St Albans has lost 157,000 square feet of office space recently, a lot of that because demand in St Albans is so high. Does the Minister share my concern that this may provide a perverse incentive not to deliver on housing? If the area does not mind losing office space—I am not saying that this is the case—it seems a quick and easy win to allow offices to shrivel on the vine. I am very concerned to ensure that that does not happen in St Albans.
I think my hon. Friend shares my concern that we need to ensure that St Albans gets an up-to-date local plan in place as quickly as possible to provide the housing that is so desperately needed in that part of the world. My hon. Friend has spoken to me about it several times, and I know that other Members who represent the local authority area share her concern. We need to avoid perverse incentives, and my reassurance to my hon. Friend is that the Government will be doing plenty of other things to make sure that local authorities deliver the housing that is required in their areas. Where people have legitimate concerns about the impact of permitted development rights on the level of office space in their area—my hon. Friend is clearly one of them—provided that the council is delivering the required housing, we want to allow some flexibility. I know that she will work closely with me to try to make sure that St Albans makes progress on that issue.
To conclude, and returning to planning for pubs, I hope that hon. Members will accept the assurances I have given today—indeed, that seems to be the case—and agree that we have reflected the will of Parliament. I have met the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) who is in his place, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie), who is not in her place but who has lobbied me extensively on this issue. Indeed, Members of both Houses have spoken with great passion about the need to allow for local consideration of the change of use or demolition of all pubs. Our amendments in lieu set out how we will ensure the successful delivery of these changes, and I can commit today to laying the secondary regulation by July—essentially as soon as we can after the Bill hopefully receives Royal Assent. On that basis, I hope that all hon. Members will support this amendment.
I am pleased to speak in support of Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu of Lords amendment 22. I think they will make a material difference to the fortunes of many of Britain’s 48,000 pubs; give certainty to investors in the pub trade; and, crucially, put communities back in control of decisions that have a real bearing on their community. I speak as chairman of the renamed all-party parliamentary pub group, and as a real pub enthusiast.
I would like to record my appreciation of many people and groups in securing this important victory, including Lord Kennedy who tabled the amendment in the House of Lords and was very successful in ensuring such overwhelming cross-party support that the Government were persuaded to adopt the amendment in lieu. I also thank the pub-supporting campaign groups such as CAMRA and the British Pub Confederation, and my fellow members of the all-party parliamentary group on pubs, who held a really informative round table last week on the many different approaches across the country to using the planning system to save pubs.
I would also like to acknowledge, as did the Minister, the important work done by my predecessor as chair of the APPG, the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland), who proposed the motion in Committee that was subsequently supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon).
I also think it right to acknowledge that the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) originated the process with an amendment to a different Bill. Although the case she made was unsuccessful, it has proved important in bringing about this change.
As I said a moment ago, I am grateful to the Government for broadly adopting a motion to which there had been some hostility. It takes courage to change one’s mind. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), came to the CAMRA reception and assured us that the Government were listening, and the Government’s actions on this occasion suggest that he was as good as his word. All due credit should be paid to him.
There is nothing quite like the first visit to any British pub. I know that I am not alone in feeling that little frisson of excitement when I step through the door of a pub for the first time—pushing open that creaking door, and wondering what will be waiting for me behind it. It is, one might say, an adult and real-life version of an Advent calendar: behind every door is a different surprise.
As one of those doors creaks open, we wonder how the pub will be laid out. Will we be able to get a table? Who will be in there, and how many people will be in there? What will be on the walls, and what will the bar look like? Each pub is different. Will the bar steward’s face be a picture of welcoming joy—or maybe not? Will there be a log fire in the winter? Will there be a garden in the summer? Will there be a dartboard, a pool table, a pub dog or cat? Will a loudmouth be propping up the bar, commenting on topics on which he has assumed a level of expertise from a programme that he once saw on television? Will someone be commenting on the performance of his Member of Parliament and asking, inevitably, whether that Member of Parliament will be claiming his pint back on expenses? That one never really grows old.
Finally, of course, there is the question of what the pub will be serving. There is so much more to visiting a pub than having a drink, and that is the magic of it. I know my own favourite beers, and I can pop into Morrisons just down the road and buy as much as I like, far more cheaply than I can in many pubs. However, the drinks are just a fraction of the experience; the magic comes from the entire ensemble. Just as there is a magic to visiting any pub for the first time, there is a joy in having a local where you really feel at home, and where the characters, the beers, the landlord or landlady and the décor seem almost as familiar as if you were indeed in your own home.
We live in different times, and—let us be candid—in difficult times for the pub trade. The days when a single publican, running a single pub for decades at a time, was a staple of every high street are long gone. The long-standing publican is now becoming a rarity, and our communities are the poorer for it. However, many of those communities still have long-standing connections and relationships with their local pubs. Whether they are regular attenders or occasional visitors, the pub is a part of their community—one that we all too often take for granted, and a feature that is only really missed when it is under threat or gone.
Let me assure the House that none of us is suggesting that unpopular or poorly run pubs have a right to exist. Communities that do not back their local pub cannot assume that it will always be there. When I bought my house back in 1998 the Terminus was my local, but after a string of landlords within just a few years, it is gone. The only reminders of it are a plaque on the wall that reminds us where it once stood and the local bowling green, which is still called the Terminus Bowling Club although the pub from which it took its name is long gone.
In a small town like Chesterfield, I have to walk a mile to reach what you would call my local, and that, I think, is a comment on the times in which we live. If we do not get out and support our pubs, it is no good complaining when they are gone. Similarly, the industry knows that it is living in an ever more competitive world. The competition for the leisure pound has never been fiercer. From satellite television and a bottle at home to an array of takeaways and restaurants to suit every palate, the alternatives to a pint in the local are multitudinous.
Pubs will continue to close on occasion, but I think that it really sticks in the craw of communities when popular and well-used pubs—or even pubs that play a central role in a community—which may well be under poor management at a particular time are lost for good without the community having any say. The tenant in a pub is not just a business owner but the guardian of something precious in that community, and the duty of the pub-owning business to ensure that the guardians it appoints have the wherewithal to protect the precious assets that they are responsible for running is very important.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words earlier. The main purpose of the amendment that we are all supporting today is to tackle the scourge of predatory purchasing, especially by supermarkets. The Co-op is the worst in that regard. Does the hon. Gentleman think that it is time for CAMRA to look again at its agreement with the Co-op, and to say, “This must stop, because it has not worked”—as, hopefully, the amendment will?
I certainly support the amendment, and I agree that it is necessary because previous measures were not working. I met representatives of the Co-op recently, and their approach was pretty constructive. They said that they would be making a planning application in every case.
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman met those Co-op representatives recently. As he knows, last year the Save the Pub group was misled by the Co-op, which gave a clear assurance that it would not take pubcos’ view of viability as fact, but, as has been made clear by local CAMRA branches and the British Pub Confederation, it has continued to do so. The Co-op speaks with forked tongue, as the Save the Pub group has proved before, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will stick with holding it to account.
We certainly will stick with holding it to account. If the hon. Gentleman has evidence that, since those reassurances were given, the Co-op is going down that road without seeking planning permission, I will definitely support him in what he has said.
In Chesterfield, we organised a huge public campaign which, although it does not relate specifically to the Co-op, is relevant to the issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised. We campaigned to save the Crispin Inn in Ashgate Road when EI Group, previously known as Enterprise Inns, wanted to sell it to Tesco. The campaign was won and Tesco pulled out, only for a new developer to come along and demolish the pub, and then start consulting on what should happen on the land where it had stood. Eventually, housing was built there.
In my previous role as shadow pubs Minister, I met so many groups all over the country who were fighting so hard to save the pubs that they loved and on which communities depended. It was wrong that a developer could turn a pub into a supermarket without planning permission, but could not do it the other way round. It was wrong that a building that was potentially a precious community asset could be knocked down before the community was even able to have a say. The coalition Government did take steps to reinforce the right of communities to have a say, but, although well intentioned, their efforts were a bit like trying to catch a flood in a cup.
The great attribute of the amendment proposed by Lord Kennedy and subsequently adopted, with further amendments, by the Government is that it gives certainty to everyone involved in the industry. We must never forget that Britain’s pubs are a business, an industry with investors who need certainty. The danger of going too far down the localism route was that when a business was considering an investment decision, it was faced with potentially dozens of different legislative approaches and hurdles across its portfolio. That approach also left councils at the mercy of aggressive legislation, and they were expected to incur the legal expense of defending the measures that they had introduced to protect their pubs.
The “asset of community value” approach has given some communities a precious opportunity to fight for the pub that they love, but it did mean that often the only way to save a pub was to agree to become its owner. There is some value in that sort of community activism, but it should not be necessary to be willing to buy a pub in order to have a view on it.
Last week, the APPG heard from the community team that had successfully bought the Antwerp Arms in Tottenham, having used the ACV legislation to save their pub. We also heard from Wandsworth Council, which had placed a requirement for article 4 directions on about 220 of its locals. It deserves credit for its efforts, but the danger of using article 4 directions is that the landscape is different in each local authority. That led to some publicans having to obtain planning permission just to paint or decorate their pubs, which is a positive disincentive to improving or investing in the pub estate. The approach that is being advocated today will bring the certainty and clarity that everyone connected with the industry needs, and it will not prevent the owners of buildings from adopting the needs of their buildings to maximise new opportunities.
While we commend local authorities for taking the trouble to exercise the procedure that my hon. Friend has outlined, it was difficult for a number of authorities in other parts of the country that did not have the necessary capacity or the ability to meet the potential costs that would have enabled them to build up the case for doing so. This measure will be enormously helpful in ensuring that local authorities need not embark on that potentially expensive route.
I could not agree more; it meant that different authorities with different priorities brought forward measures at different times, and some of them never regarded this as a priority, even though they might have had sympathy with the intentions of the legislation. What this measure does is ensure that, rather than local authorities having in effect to use legislation for an entirely different purpose than intended and place blanket conditions on all their pubs, there is a simple and clear method whereby developers will know that, quite simply, if they want to make a change to the use of a pub, they will have to get planning permission.
We know that pubs will open and pubs will close, and this Bill will ensure that all the evidence is considered before such decisions are made. As I have said, it is sensible of the Government to create the new A3/A4 mixed use class, and I am glad they have made it clear that it is their intention that the mixed use class should enjoy the same protections as the A3 and A4 classes.
I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response to the question of what might happen until the Bill is passed. He has set out the Government’s wish to have secondary legislation in place by July, which is a sensible timescale. However, there is a worry that this is going to lead to a rush of businesses or developers buying pubs and levelling them before the regulations are in place, so everyone must take all the steps they can to prevent a rush of conversions or demolitions. I shall be interested to hear the Minister suggest steps that the Government or local authorities and communities may take to prevent that from coming to pass.
I am very pleased to have been able to take a few moments to reflect on the value of the 48,000 British pubs to our communities. When visitors come to the United Kingdom, one of the first things they want to do is have their first pint in a British pub. The British pub is a tremendously important asset to our country, and I will be very pleased to welcome the Government’s adoption of this amendment. I am pleased that this important step will be taken to help communities save and preserve the great British pub for many, many years to come.
It is a delight to speak at this point in the debate, because I want to say to the Minister that the whole point of the other place is to make us think again, and he has thought again and he has listened. This is a wonderful solution that will protect areas such as mine.
I have the most beautiful constituency, and it is rumoured that I have the most pubs per square mile, although other areas dispute that. St Albans is an historical pilgrimage city and a coaching town, and we have pubs on just about every corner—if you can’t find a pub in St Albans, you’re not trying.
We have many historical pubs that have found it incredibly difficult to make their living in today’s hard times. I went to see the Chancellor about the effect of business rates on pubs. I am hugely glad that he listened, because many of the pubs in my constituency are incredibly small—almost the size of people’s front rooms—as they came along in a different era, and many are listed as well, which adds another dimension to the problem of making them viable. The owner of The Boot pub spent five years working with the planning system to try to get various alterations to his kitchen, because the pub’s listing made it very difficult for him to get that work done. I therefore welcome enormously anything that can make our pubs more viable and give them a sounder footing for the future.
The headquarters of CAMRA is in Hatfield road in St Albans, and it has been wonderful in this matter. I pay tribute to CAMRA and all those who have worked with it to ensure that the Minister listened to the thoughts expressed in the Lords and the representations of Members of Parliament, and came up with a solution that is pragmatic and elegant, as I think the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) described it. It now builds on the intentions expressed in the Lords, which is hugely important.
May I point out to any Members who have not visited my constituency that we are having a big tourism week from 31 March? One of my jobs that day will be to visit Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, an immensely historical pub. It is one of the pubs that claims to be the oldest pub, and they all contribute to the tourism offering. Not knowing that this elegant solution was going to come through today—which I am pleased to welcome and support—I wanted to make sure I went along and gave all my support to my pubs, which contribute enormously to our tourism offering. One of the pubs in St Albans, the White Hart immediately opposite the entrance to the cathedral, featured on “Most Haunted Live!”; another part of our tourism offering is that we have a very good ghost run, as St Albans is so historical.
I encourage people to go and visit their pubs. As the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) said, they are so much more than a place to buy a particular beer; they offer a huge historical pattern, and if they were removed it would in some regards be the death of my constituency. I can honestly say that people come to my constituency and say they cannot get over what a marvellous impression the pubs give, and I pay tribute to the many operating in St Albans to the highest possible standards.
I also want to make a few comments on what the Minister said about the permitted development rights on office space. I am concerned that we are losing so much office space. In an area such as mine, where the average house price is £550,000, there is nothing more lucrative than turning pubs—which we are now protecting—and offices into housing, and there was a rush to do so under the permitted development rights. I acknowledge that there were lots of areas of the country where offices were lying idle and it was difficult to convert them, but I do not have that problem in St Albans. We have lost 150,000 square feet of office space already, with another 50,000 or 60,000 square feet of office space in the offing to go, and businesses are telling me that they cannot find alternative premises. When businesses’ leases are running out, they find that they cannot have certainty about renewing them, and there is a worry that offices will disappear.
We in St Albans do have a lot of work being done online, and I also have a lot of small businesses, but AECOM in Victoria street has 70,000 square feet of office space with the lease coming up for renewal, and if such companies cannot secure an article 4 direction because they in any way become rationed, that will be a worry to me. I understand why the Minister says a local authority needs to show that it has its housing allocation sorted before it can put on an article 4 direction, but, sadly, we in St Albans, with a 1994 district plan, have the worst of all possible worlds: I do not have my housing allocation sorted and I have offices disappearing. When I addressed the chamber of commerce about two months ago, business after business told me that they would have to consider their future position in St Albans if this hollowing out and selling off of the family silver, as it were, continued.
I therefore make a plea to the Minister. In areas such as St Albans, the most lucrative thing anyone can ever do is close a business and make it into a house or a block of flats. I do not want to have a city that is devoid of the vibrancy of businesses or office space. I have made representations to the Minister about this before, and I thank him for listening about the pubs, and I thank the Chancellor for giving an additional £300 million to help support pubs, but I do not want my constituency to fall in the gap between the new thought processes under the article 4 direction and the permitted development rights removal on offices.
I welcome the new drift from the Government towards supporting pubs. Too often they have been seen as not important parts of our heritage, but they are vital to places such as St Albans. I am delighted that the Government have been listening all around—well done to the Minister for that.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main). She does indeed represent one of the great pub cities—I think it is a city, not a town. It is a wonderful area for pubs—I live in another one, in Otley in Yorkshire—and this is a wonderful piece of good news to have so near the beginning of English tourism week, when we will celebrate all that England has to offer, including our wonderful pubs. I believe I have visited every pub in the town centre of her constituency—she might like to test me later to see if that is indeed the case. I have certainly been to The Farriers Arms, where those wonderful pioneers set up CAMRA all those years ago. I have also had a pint with Roger Protz, a real hero, who has supported this campaign.
I am aware that the hon. Gentleman’s party has found my constituency incredibly attractive and that its members have visited many of my pubs. I am sure that that was just in support of the pubs and the beer, and I am pleased that they visited none the less.
I did not see the hon. Lady in any of the pubs when I visited, but I assure her that those visits were partly personal and partly due to the work of my all-party group. None of them were political or part of my work as an MP. However, it is great to have support from Government Members. Many Members on both sides of the House have campaigned and persuaded the Minister in this case.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his campaign—he has been trying to get this measure through for years—and the Minister on accepting the amendment. My only concern is that the new business rates system could affect pubs and must be looked into. We also cannot forget working men’s clubs.
I warmly thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He is quite right. Rates have been mentioned, and while we have had some positive news, more needs to be done about some of the extraordinary and damaging rises. Indeed, we need another system of taxing pubs altogether.
I thank the Minister for allowing us to get there in the end. Finally, we have been listened to. He has shown what an excellent Minister and gentleman he is. I thank him for his approach. He has engaged consistently on this issue, as has his colleague the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy)—the community pubs Minister and a good Yorkshire MP. He genuinely listened to me and—I have to call her an hon. Lady, but I can also call her a friend—the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie). There is something about MPs with “North West” in their constituencies when it comes to this issue. Her campaigning has been dogged over many years and also deserves commendation.
While we are having this cross-party pubs love-in, I want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland), who has been a staunch campaigner on this measure for many years. Back in January 2015, I made what I thought at the time was a distinctly career-limiting decision to table a similar amendment with him, and I want to put on the record my thanks for his work. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell), who has been an outstanding Minister. Many pints will be raised in his name and in the name of his colleague the community pubs Minister this weekend.
I thank the hon. Lady for her support and echo her comments. The Minister has genuinely listened and was interested in looking for solutions when the hon. Lady and I met him on 30 January. He offered that meeting and we were delighted to have it. He actually went to the trouble of inviting me into his office last Thursday to hand me a copy of the amendment and to say exactly what the Government were going to do. That is an example of how Ministers can work with MPs from across the House to achieve things, and I warmly thank him for that.
Following my tabling of a similar amendment on 7 December, I thank Lord Kennedy of Southwark for taking up the baton excellently, ably and enthusiastically, and for showing his support by taking it through the House of Lords, which presented us with this great opportunity. I thank Protect Pubs, which is now the pre-eminent organisation campaigning for better protection for this country’s pubs. It is a member of the British Pub Confederation, which I also congratulate. I must declare an interest as I am the chair of the British Pub Confederation, and I am delighted to continue to work with all publicans and pub representative organisations within the confederation. I also thank the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), because he introduced a private Member’s Bill with the same aim back in 2010. That is sometimes forgotten, but I told him that I would mention him and thank him in the Chamber today.
Although I tabled a similar amendment back in December, it was also tabled during the passage of the Localism Act 2011. My point then was that localism is phony if we continue to allow valued pubs to be demolished or turned into supermarkets or offices without the community having any say. That is all that we are changing today—no more, no less. We are not getting into pub protection in great detail. The amendment simply gives communities the right to have a say through a planning process, just as with anything else. It should have happened a long time ago—it is common sense—but I am delighted that it is happening now.
Echoing the comments of another pubs campaigner—the hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey)—I thank the brave pro-pub councils that have brought forward article 4 directions and other pub-protection policies. They have shown that they can do certain things, but we needed this change from the Government. I also thank the Otley Pub Club from my constituency. Again, I have to declare an interest in that I am the club’s honorary president. When Ministers wrongly rejected this change back in 2015 by not accepting the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Bristol North West, the club took Ministers at their word when they said, “If you value your local pubs and if you want protection against predatory purchasing by supermarkets, list them as assets of community value,” and listed all 19 pubs in the centre of Otley to show that that was the only way communities could protect them. Communities no longer have to list all their pubs simply to remove permitted development rights. If Otley Pub Club had not had the courage to go ahead and do that, and prove that Ministers were wrong in rejecting that amendment, we may not have been here discussing this today. Asset of community value status remains important, but it no longer needs to be used in all cases for all pubs simply to end permitted development rights.
I thank the wonderful CAMRA branches and members that have engaged in the campaign over many years. It was disappointing that CAMRA headquarters did not support the amendment in December. The reasons for doing so were rather strange—perhaps there had been a particularly good Christmas party—but we are delighted that the change has finally come through after many years of campaigning. It was slightly bizarre that CAMRA was still sending messages yesterday to its members, myself included, urging us to contact our MP about a vote when there was no vote. Several MPs have said to me, “Don’t worry. We’re going to vote with you,” but I have had to tell them not to. I even had one MP say that they were going to vote against me because of the email from CAMRA, so luckily there will be no vote. However, it is rather odd that CAMRA carried on lobbying after the event. I have mentioned the Co-op issue, but CAMRA really needs to look at the failed agreement with the Co-op, which has been an appalling predatory purchaser and destroyer of pubs up and down the country. CAMRA needs to disassociate itself from the Co-op in the interests of its members and of pubs.
I must put on the record and draw attention to a significant and brave decision by the Minister. When my amendment was considered in December, a false briefing was circulated by the representatives of the large pub companies. The reason they were lobbying so hard to stop communities having the simple right to have a say was that they wanted their large pubco members to continue to be able to sell pubs to supermarkets, who can demolish them without the community having a say. People have been losing viable pubs as a result. I raised that matter on the Floor of the House and wrote to the Minister, and that was when I realised the kind of Minister he was. Rather than the usual response from civil servants, he wrote back to me, and I want to quote from the letter because it was so nice and refreshing to have an acknowledgment from a Minister. It said:
“I recognise that in doing so I referenced briefing that was made available more generally by the British Beer and Pub Association in relation to existing permitted development rights for pubs. You are right to point out that their briefing contained inaccuracies, and therefore I am pleased to confirm for the record that it is the case that the removal of permitted development rights for the change of use or demolition of pubs, as a result of the nomination or listing as an Asset of Community Value, has no effect on a pub’s ability to make internal changes.”
It was great to have that confirmation, but it is a serious matter that a clearly interested party was sending false information to hon. Members, misleading them about something that was extremely simple.
The Government have clearly decided not to accept my original amendment of 7 December, nor Lord Kennedy’s of 28 February, but I understand their reasons for doing so and have made it clear to the Minister that he has my full support for the new amendment and that I am delighted with the outcome.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) raised the concern that the Government decided to include the mixed use category of A3/A4 because they did not want to stop publicans serving food. In actual fact, there is no need for the category because we know that food is served in many pubs in category A4 but not in others, and sometimes that changes from week to week. There is no need for the change, but the first concern that has been raised is whether the same permitted development rights will be in place for the mixed category. The Minister has made it clear that that will be the case, which is fairly clear in the Bill.
However, I flag up the genuine and very serious concern about article 4 directions because, to use the Minister’s words, there is an unintended consequence whereby many councils have decided to introduce important and impressive article 4 directions to bring in strong protections for pubs—stronger than will be offered by the amendment, as he knows—including stopping the predatory developers that the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) mentioned, but those protections apply only to A4. There is a real danger that it could create a loophole whereby unscrupulous owners or developers can seek a mixed use designation to get out of the strong pub protection that exists in some areas.
Now that is on the public record, and now it is understood in a way that perhaps it has not been by some organisations, I urge the Minister to consider introducing a statutory instrument, in addition to this amendment, to ensure that the new mixed use A4/A3 category, which is for pub restaurants that should clearly have the same protection, does not fall foul of another loophole by no longer being covered by existing pub protection policies. That should be easy to address with a statutory instrument, and then everyone will be happy with the amendment as a whole. In a sense, he has done something remarkable because, despite their opposition and misleading briefings, both the British Beer and Pub Association and one of its large pubco members, Punch Taverns, have said that they are perfectly happy with the amendment. He has done something significant but, now that it has been spotted, he needs to plug the potential loophole with a statutory instrument to ensure that it does not become a problem.
Finally, I thank the Minister and all hon. and right hon. Members who have taken part in this campaign over many years. I raised the issue as far back as 2008, and it was one of the key aims when we set up the all-party Save the Pub group. It has taken longer than expected and hoped for, but we have got there now, with the caveat of closing the loophole that has been identified.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that organising such an open, accessible and cross-party campaign that has allowed all of us to be involved, with him taking the lead throughout, is a good model for securing change in this place?
The hon. Gentleman is kind, and it is nice of him to say so. It has been a pleasure working with him, and with Members on both sides of the House, because that is how, as parliamentarians with an interest and a zeal for campaigning, we can change things. We can all do it in different ways, and I look forward to doing so in the future. The changes we have had, including on pub companies, show that we can succeed and that all-party groups and campaigning in this place, when done well, can be successful. I have been nearly 20,000 feet up a mountain with the hon. Gentleman, but I have never been to a pub in Bassetlaw with him, which we might have to put right. If he would like to do that, I would be delighted to join him.
There is a real threat from unscrupulous developers, owners, pub companies and supermarkets that seek to offload pubs, demolish them and get supermarkets in place before planning permission is needed, and I remind the House of the utter absurdity that communities currently have no right to object to the imposition of a supermarket and the loss of a viable pub, but have the right in the planning process to complain about the supermarket’s signage. The amendment is finally reversing that nonsense, but it will continue to happen until the amendment is enacted. Now that the Government have made clear their intent, which has the full support of both Houses—that is very unusual—and of all major parties, the Minister should seriously consider a moratorium on any demolitions or conversions. A moratorium would be extremely useful in stopping the continued loss of pubs.
Will the hon. Gentleman expand on his suggestion? Many of us share the concern, which I raised a moment ago, about a rush towards demolition. He proposes a moratorium, but is he proposing that the industry commits to such a thing or that the House passes something to bring it about?
I am asking the Minister and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The Secretary of State’s name is on the amendment, so I take this opportunity to thank him because he has clearly listened and accepted the proposal. As he knows, I also go to pubs in his constituency because I have family in Bromsgrove.
It is for the experts in the Department to consider the possibility of introducing a moratorium, because there is no possibility of it being done externally. This is not a matter simply for the industry. The Co-op is probably the worst pub killer of all the supermarket chains, others of which have been pretty bad. The supermarket chains are not part of the pub sector, and they see pubs as fodder for imposing their unwanted stores on communities. The supermarket chains will clearly not jump to do this, and nor will developers that are seeking to exploit high land values in London, St Albans and other parts of the country. From that point of view, it would be great if the Minister said that there should be a moratorium and, in the spirit of this change, called on people not to pursue such conversions now that they are deemed by Parliament to be wrong.
This is not the end of the matter. Ultimately, it has not been about securing great protection for pubs; that is one of the things that has been rather misunderstood and misrepresented, sometimes by both sides of the argument. It is simply about giving communities a say and about removing absurd permitted development rights that created a loophole that has been exploited by large pub-owning companies and large supermarkets for too long. There will still be predatory developers, and pub companies will still seek to undermine pubs to secure development or to go through the planning process for building a supermarket.
As I have said, the assets of community value scheme remains important, but it is now time to consider strengthening it. Giving communities a genuine right to buy, as communities in Scotland have, is long overdue and would represent genuine localism. I have had a conversation with the Minister, and it is now time to consider a separate category in the planning and tax system for community pubs, which are the ones that we really care about. They are the ones that have the community value, which many Members have mentioned, in a way that other licensed drinking establishments do not.
CAMRA has so far said that it does not want to engage in this, but it is now time to crack the nut of defining a genuine community pub that does the things we have talked about and that has value to the community. The British Pub Confederation and Protect Pubs certainly wish to do so. If we do that, in addition to creating the extra layer of genuine planning protection for those pubs, and only those pubs, against predatory development, and only when the pubs are viable, we can crack the nut of having a different system of taxation, and we will never again see the disastrous headlines for the Treasury such as of one pub in York facing a 600% increase in its rateable value. I was in that very small pub, the wonderful Slip Inn, a couple of weeks ago during the Liberal Democrat conference. As I did at the meeting with the hon. Member for Bristol North West, I offer to work with the Minister to find a way of doing that, which could offer the security we need for our hugely important, viable community pubs.
This wonderful news is the start of a conversation, and I thank the Minister and all those involved. This is a hugely significant day in pub campaigning. As this is English Tourism Week, I know that every Member here today, and many more who are not, will want to raise a glass to this win for pubs and to the Minister for listening to all the campaigners who have helped to make it happen. They will want to toast this victory and the importance of the great English and great British pub.
I, too, am happy to support the Minister on his amendments. Like other Members, I have been lobbied by constituents who think that they should have the right to intervene, with a proper planning process, in the unique case of a pub. It will be a great pleasure to write back to them to say that we have a listening Minister who has heard their representations and the strong lobbying by colleagues here who have been campaigning on this issue for a long time. However, when we make this legislative change, we must also remind people that it does not save every pub. As the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) made clear, those who are keenest to save their local pub need to make sure that enough people use it. The only ultimate guarantee that it can continue to serve is that people like and support it, or that they in a friendly way influence the owner or manager so that it provides the service and range that they wish and it will thereby attract sufficient community support. This is a welcome legislative change but we need to remind people that local government will be no more able to save a pub than national Government if there is not that strong body of support in the local community and an offer that people want.
The Minister is right to give the pubs the maximum flexibility to change what they do. If pubs are to serve the evolving communities of our country, they sometimes need to move on what they offer by way of the balance between food and drinks, the ambience and the surroundings, because people’s tastes and people change, community by community. I therefore welcome the extra flexibility he is giving.
The main point I wish to make relates to the wider issue of changes from offices to homes and other changes of use class. The Minister is right to say that he needs to preserve flexibility. Any Member visiting a high street or centre in their own or another community knows that an avalanche of change is taking place. The internet, digitisation, robotics and automation are making a huge difference to the way business is conducted and services are delivered. A lot of change to the shape of the high street and the adjacent streets, and some of the office areas, will be required to make sure that the property there is updated and flexible so that it can meet the requirements of these evolving businesses.
We need flexibility, as in some cases we will have too many shops or offices, and it would be much better if they were converted to housing, because there is considerable need in town and city centres, as well as elsewhere, for additional housing. If some of that could be at prices that young people can afford, that would be an excellent bonus, as we still face a huge problem, with a new generation of potential homeowners priced out of many parts of the country by the very high prices. We need to understand that many of the new businesses and the new service offers will be internet-based and will come from new service centres that do not have to be in the town centres, and that the kind of things that people do need physical property for in the town or city centre will be different from the more traditional uses to which we have been accustomed.
Does my right hon. Friend think that the transformation of shops and offices into homes can regenerate town centres?
Yes, it can, with the right mixture. Some offices may need to be transformed into homes and a broader retail offer, with a higher proportion of coffee shops, restaurants and so on, may need to be made. If more people are living in flats or smaller properties that they can afford in the town centre, they may well then make more use of the town in the evening, and the range of services and the life of the town is thus extended beyond the traditional shopping hours during the day. I am sure the Minister understands all that. I hope he will see how he can develop other ways to ensure that our planning system for commercial property is sufficiently flexible to allow residential use where that is the best answer and to ensure flexible use patterns in the commercial property that we have, as massive change will be needed.
The planning system of course has to protect the things that the community legitimately wants to protect, so we do not want non-conforming uses in certain areas and we certainly do not want bad or noisy neighbours, who may be regulated by planning or by other general laws on nuisance. Within that, we need maximum flexibility so that commercial owners and managers can adapt or change the use of their premises, or swap them for a more appropriate property for their use. If the planning system can facilitate that, it will greatly improve our flexibility as an economy, meaning that we can modernise more rapidly and move on to a more productive world, which is the main feature of the Chancellor’s policies for our economy.
First, may I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a shareholder of a small family business which for the past 40 years has included a single pub? Today, there has been a huge amount of agreement on the appropriateness of the Government’s amendments to Lords amendment 22, and I pay tribute to a lot of people who have been involved in that process. I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland), who is also, in effect, the Member for CAMRA in this House. I know how seriously he takes his duties in that respect. He rightly highlighted English Tourism Week, but even more importantly this weekend we have the Gloucester beer festival. It runs from 31 March to 1 April, which, appropriately, some may say, happens to be my wedding anniversary, and takes place in the historic setting of Blackfriars, the world’s best-preserved Dominican priory. So I invite all Members to come to Gloucester this weekend, as there will be 100 beers, 30 ciders and perries, and an unbelievable atmosphere, in a great and noble old setting.
That deals with the preamble, so I come on to what I really want to say. I seek to strike a slightly different note, mild caution, and ask the Minister whether he has thought carefully about the possible unintended consequences of his amendment—I am sure he has. It would be a cruel irony if, in trying to protect pubs, this addition to the Bill triggered sales of pubs by small owners and increased the stranglehold on pubs of the large pubcos and very large brewers.
The Minister will know that there is a long history of unintended consequences in the brewing and pub sector. If we go back in time, we find that this House legislated against individual brewers owning more than 2,000 pubs, which inadvertently created large pubcos. The wheel has now almost come full circle, with Heineken proposing to buy back 2,000 pubs from a pubco. So there are times when, by trying to manage too finely what happens to our pubs, we end up with unintended consequences.
My concern, which I have also heard expressed by one or two small owners of pubs in my constituency, is that this sort of change could threaten the covenant with the banks that finance them. Lenders may lend more willingly on the understanding that in the unfortunate event of the pub failing there will always be value in the buildings for other uses, as that then underpins the security on which they lend to small owners. As in our pub, it is the small owners of pubs who tend to develop their own brewhouse and produce the real ale that CAMRA is all about. On the whole, the large pubcos and large brewers, who have their own entirely tied arrangements, are not going to produce the creative, small beers and the brewhouses which have regenerated this whole sector so effectively over the past 10 or 15 years.
Therefore, my question to the Minister is: has he thought carefully about the possible unintended consequences? Has he had any discussions with some of the individual owners of pubs or with their bankers and lenders? Will he reassure us that he believes that these changes are a compromise that do give enough flexibility to retain the support of those who lend to small owners of pubs and to provide that variety—what the hon. Member for Leeds North West was calling the “community pubs”? That is hard to define, but it is often when a pub is family-owned.
All of us present for this debate are huge fans of pubs —probably of beer, too—and want to see them continue. We want to know that the listing of assets of community value matters, and we certainly do not want to see large supermarkets preying on pubs at the cost of the community. In my community, there is currently an issue with the future of the former Ridge and Furrow pub, which is on a site owned by Morrisons, the supermarket, but tenanted to Trust Inns. There has been an effective stand-off between Morrisons and Trust Inns, meaning that the building has been abandoned for some years and is a very unsightly contribution to the Abbey ward community in Gloucester. Situations such as that one cannot be resolved entirely through legislation and need heads to be knocked together and people to come to pragmatic solutions.
Generally speaking, I absolutely support all the intentions of this House and the campaigns led by CAMRA to ensure that our community pubs thrive and that we have lots of pubs offering all sorts of different real ales. The individual family owners of pubs have a crucial role to play. I just hope that the amendment will not inadvertently threaten that part of the sector.
This is a topic very close to my heart, as it evidently is for Members from both sides of the Chamber. We know how important pubs are to the fabric of our communities. They are more than just a place that sells alcohol; they are a meeting place and a community heart. In many areas, they are the one bit of heritage of historical value in the local area in terms of architecture. In my own town, Oldham, where terraced streets were thrown up to house the millworkers, very little attention was paid to the architectural quality of the buildings. The architectural quality generally stands out in the local church and the local pub.
I am pleased that the Government are acknowledging the role that pubs play in the local community, not only in the way I just described but through their economic value. Pubs are worth £22 billion a year to the economy, and £13 billion is raised from them in taxes and duties which, of course, funds our vital public services. They support nearly 1 million jobs. Just in the time I have been on this planet, since 1980, 21,000 pubs have closed, and 21 pubs close every week. It is urgent that we get the changes we are discussing, and quickly, because we do not want developers to try to move fast and aggressively in the knowledge that change is coming, looking to demolish or change use in the meantime. While we are having this debate, three pubs will close—every day, three pubs close in this country—so there is a sense of urgency about ensuring that community rights are protected.
I listened with great interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins). I give him credit for the work he has done on the all-party parliamentary pub group to expose the importance of local pubs in giving a community a voice. I must admit that I had a smile on my face listening to his romantic description of that first experience of walking through a pub door. Depending on the pub’s proprietor, we do not always get a welcome—sometimes we feel as though we have walked into somebody’s living room—but at their best pubs are open and welcoming and they make us feel like part of the family, even if we are perfect strangers. That is why it is so important that they are maintained. We live in a time when people are becoming more socially disconnected and when families spend very little time together, so places where people come together are important.
This Friday and Saturday, I am sure Members will have the time on their hands to come up to Oldham, where we will be celebrating the Oldham beer festival, at which more than 60 real ales and ciders, many from the north-west, will be on display for people to test. There will be a fantastic example of local British produce. That is one way the community comes together.
The debate has been very positive, but if I may be slightly critical—though this probably goes beyond the current Government—we have not seen a compelling vision of what the British pub will be for this country and how the Government will offer support to the pub industry across different policy areas.
The hon. Gentleman made an enormously important point about architecture and heritage. On the point that he has just made, I could not agree with him more. He has considerable expertise in local government, which he showed in a recent meeting on business rates, so we need him to contribute to this debate and it is great that he is doing so. Will he consider seriously the idea put forward by me, the British Pub Confederation and Protect Pubs, which is that we should find a way to identify genuine community pubs, separate from bars, so that we can give them extra planning protection? We need to be clear that these changes to the Bill will not give them that protection. We should also look for a better way to tax pubs appropriately with regard to their community function. I would love to work with the hon. Gentleman and everyone to try to do that.
That is an important point. In the debates on the Local Government Finance Bill and business rates revaluation, Labour was clear in pressing for the need to recognise properly the role and value of community pubs and how they are often affected by a range of taxation, whether that is duties, business rates or rises in national insurance contributions, or by the increase in the national living wage. All those will affect a pub’s viability. It is important that we have one review to look to protect pubs. In many places, quite often when a pub provides that essential community facility, it is the only facility left in the area. Perhaps the church, post office and butcher have closed, along with other facilities, so it may well be that the pub is the only place where the community can come together. Residents will be rightly fearful that the response so far does not go across the whole of Government and they will want to see a plan.
We heard an announcement about permitted development rights and the change from office use to residential. The Opposition have been forceful in our view that the extension of permitted development rights should be reversed. There have been some extremely inappropriate developments, often against local community interests and against what the local community says it wants for the area. Developers are often looking for short-term gain at the expense of a community’s long-term sustainability. Will the Minister look seriously at the genuine impact of the policy change? There is no doubt that it has increased the number of units brought to market, but I would question the quality of those units, not only in terms of their size—many of them are very small indeed—but in terms of the attention to detail, the finish and the quality of life for people who live in converted office accommodation. Developers will quite often squeeze as many units into a premises as possible, bypassing the planning regime that any residential development would have to follow. The loophole needs to be closed at some point.
The other matter that I am concerned about in areas such as mine is the lack of outside amenity space associated with offices. Like London, there are many families with children living in flats in St Albans, and there is very limited access to family friendly facilities in city centres.
That is a very important point. We recognise that many town and city centres have suffered from a decline in office accommodation, but as those towns and cities look to the future and to regenerate their centres, they will want to know that they can have a basic level of office provision in a redeveloped town centre. It is essential for footfall, which then means support for a range of ancillary services such as coffee shops, sandwich shops and retail units as well.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the most prosperous and dynamic town and city centres in our country have a phenomenal rate of change, with constant re-use, modernisation and updating of the properties.
I entirely accept that point, but I have a rather simplistic view—perhaps it is a naive view—that local communities should have a voice in that development. It is really important that local people have some sense of ownership and direction over their town, village or city. Many people feel completely excluded from that process. There is an issue with the extension of permitted development rights to cover office conversions. It could be that the local community has decided that such a move is right for their area and that it should therefore be supported, but that can be dealt with through a normal planning application. If the community is supportive of it and if the right accommodation has been chosen for the outdoor play area, for waste collection, for parking and for all the other amenities that are required, that will be facilitated through the normal planning process. I shall press the Minister to look again at that matter.
A compelling vision of what the British pub can be, and of what it can expect from our Government would be welcomed not just by the pub industry but, more broadly, by the whole community. I say to the Minister that, rather than waiting for someone else to come forward with such a vision or for Cabinet approval, he could pull the whole thing together himself. There are plenty of all-party groups that would absolutely be willing to contribute to that conversation. On the Labour Benches, I and others would want to play our part in doing that, because it is so important. When these pubs are gone, they are gone forever and they will never come back. For many areas, once that happens, it is development that has gone too far.
It would be remiss of me not to reflect on the fact that we are considering this amendment because of the fantastic work of Lord Kennedy in the other place in recognising how important this matter is and in bringing it forward. I am pleased with the Government’s approach to this amendment, but of course the amendment would not be here for debate had it not been for the work of the Members in the other place. I thank Lord Kennedy and the others who contributed to that debate for the work that they have done. Members who are involved in all-party groups should continue with their work. From the Labour Benches I say to the Minister that if there is anything we can do in policy development terms to support this work that is so critical to the fabric of our communities, he has our time, support and energy in seeing it through.
This has been a very positive and productive debate. Let me respond briefly to a few of the points that have been mentioned. I must pay tribute to the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) for the role that he plays in leading the pubs all-party group and for the lobbying that he has done on this issue. In referring to his numerous visits to pubs, he said that behind every door is a different surprise. That rather put me in mind of inspecting my children’s bedrooms after they have been told to clear them up.
The hon. Gentleman rightly paid tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), for the work that he has done on pubs. In particular, he expressed concern about the time between this announcement and the regulations being put in place. I will just reiterate what I said, which is that we intend to get them in place before July. We will do it as soon as possible. Clearly, it depends on when this Bill gets Royal Assent and when the regulations are drafted. We recognise the importance of moving quickly here. In the interim, there is the option of using assets of community value as a means of protection, and I will certainly look at whether we can make any other transitional arrangements. Clearly, those arrangements may have the same problem in terms of the time involved in drafting secondary legislation.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is right that there are existing protections available. The hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) suggested some kind of moratorium. I am not clear how, legislatively, that might be performed. May I invite the Minister to join me in calling on all the organisations that might be tempted to show the worst of values and rush things through in advance of legislation instead to show the best of values and treat this as legislation that already exists, and to go through the proper planning processes for any decisions that they make between now and July?
I am happy to say that it is quite clear, both from the debate in the other place and this debate today, that Parliament has expressed a very clear will on this issue. Obviously, I hope that everybody in the industry will, in the intervening period, respect that the clear will of Parliament has been expressed in this debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) made the very important point that the Government have listened not just on this issue, but on the issue of business rates in the Budget. I note that she was one of those who was lobbying in that regard. She raised some concerns in relation to offices and residential permitted development rights. I cannot add a great deal more than what I said in my speech, but I can clarify one point, which is that her council is free now to look at an article 4 direction for a specific area of the city if there is a problem. What we are looking at here is our willingness to allow an article 4 direction over the whole of a local authority area. It is right that we allow that only where local authorities are delivering the housing that their communities need.
The hon. Member for Leeds North West tweeted me shortly after we tabled the amendment saying that everyone knows that he is uncompromising and robust, but that he is also fair. He demonstrated that in his kind words today. Obviously, I am the Minister standing at the Dispatch Box, but he was right to pay tribute to the Secretary of State, who played an important role in agreeing this policy change. It was good of the hon. Gentleman to put that on the record. I was going to do so myself. I also pay tribute to the excellent officials who have worked on the Bill team and in the relevant policy areas. The “elegance of the solution”—if I can use the hon. Gentleman’s phrase—is all theirs and not mine.
The hon. Gentleman raised two specific issues. The first was whether we can look over time at extra protection for community pubs. We can certainly discuss that with those who are interested. Some of those issues may be to do with planning, but they may spill over into other areas of Government policy. He also raised particular concerns about some of the planning policies of authorities that have put protections in place. Clearly, if there are local plan policies that explicitly refer to A4 drinking establishments, they can be updated to reflect the policy change that we are making today to cover the mixed A4-A3 use.
The hon. Gentleman raised a particular point about A4, which I did not entirely understand. He might want to explain that now, but it might be better if he wrote to me, because I can write back to him and give him the assurance that he needs.
This is a really important point. As the Minister knows, he has had a letter about it from a leading pubs planning consultant. It is about article 4 directions. The concern is that the only way that article 4 will be anything but worthless for the new mixed use category is for the council to come up with an entire new article 4. The Minister says that local planning policies can be updated, but article 4 directions have to go through a certain process, so he will have to take responsibility for drawing up a statutory instrument in which, clearly, the intention is to protect all developments within the category which is now A4 and some A4/A3. They all need to be covered. He will need to look at that.
I will certainly look at that issue and come back to the hon. Gentleman, as he raises a fair point.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), perhaps predictably for those who know him well, made the very important point that, ultimately, the way in which we protect pubs in the country is through customers—through people using and supporting those local facilities. I was very grateful to him for his support on the issue of office to residential conversion. He is quite right to say that we need to ensure that our planning system is sufficiently flexible to ensure that local economies can adapt quickly to the changes that we are seeing in our society and in economic activity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) issued a warning about the potential downsides to this policy. He asked me whether we have considered them, and we certainly have. One reason why the Government initially resisted this change was the view that, clearly, where institutions have a permitted development right, it is reflected in the value of those institutions and that will affect decisions that lenders make. It will also reflect the values that people have on their books. There seems to be a clear will in both Houses of Parliament that, given the value of pubs as community institutions, we do not want people to be able to convert pubs for other uses or to demolish them without going through the planning process. We take this decision knowing that there is always another side to these issues, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, but the Government have looked at the matter and come to the view that there is a clear will in Parliament to take a different approach to the issue.
The hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton made a good point about the low quality over the years of some conversions or replacement buildings after demolitions. I can think of examples in my constituency. We lost the Blacksmith’s Arms, which has been replaced by an unsightly building in a key district centre. Conversely, the Swan and Sugarloaf, which was a very recognisable building right on the edge of my constituency in south Croydon, has been converted to a Tesco Express. There was actually a renovation of the building’s architecture, significantly improving its appearance. Those examples can work either way, but the hon. Gentleman raised a valid point.
The hon. Gentleman talked more generally about the need for a vision for pubs. That vision has to come primarily from the industry, although the Government can clearly play a supporting role. He invited me to come forward, but I think that is the responsibility of the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole. I know that he has engaged extensively with the all-party parliamentary group and with others in the House who have a passion for those issues. There is clearly a real wish on both sides of the House to see these vital community assets thrive and succeed in the modern economy. The Government have shown willing to look at these issues and see what we can do to support them.
The two sides of the House differ on the issue of office to residential conversion. I have been very clear since the Prime Minister gave me this job that there is a desperate need for more housing. Therefore, it is incumbent on the Government to support policies that drive a step change in housing supply. There is clear evidence, for anyone who wants to look at the statistics that are published in November each year on net additions, that this policy is adding about 13,000 extra units of housing. I accept that it is a blunt tool, and that not all of those homes are of the quality we would want. I would not necessarily agree with the hon. Gentleman’s view that they are universally of poor quality. There are some very good schemes in my constituency that have come about through permitted development conversions. None the less, in the situation we face—which was 30 or 40 years in the making, with Governments not ensuring that we built sufficient homes—the main focus has to be on getting supply up.
With the changes that we have announced in the other place and that I have run through today, we have sought to say that where local authorities are delivering the required level of housing and can prove that they can do so without this permitted development right, the Secretary of State will look kindly on authority-wide article 4 directions and will not seek to block them. For those who do not like this policy, there is a very clear message: if they have other policies through which they can deliver the housing that their local area needs, the Government are quite willing to be flexible. What we will not do is rescind this policy nationally when so many parts of the country are failing to build the homes we need.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the noble Lord Kennedy and the role he has played in bringing forward this amendment. I also pay tribute to him. In the past couple of months of doing this job, the response from the Labour Front Bench in the other House, and from Labour local authority leaders around the country, to the strategy set out in the Government’s housing White Paper has been noticeably encouraging. I am grateful for the constructive way in which the other place looked at the measures in the Bill.
Lords amendment 22 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) and (b) made in lieu of Lords amendment 22.
Restrictions On Power To Impose Planning Conditions
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 12.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Lords amendments 10 and 11, 13 50 21 and 85 to 90.
In contrast to the debate on pubs, which was really an issue that arose on Report thanks to the hon. Member for Leeds North West tabling his amendment, there have been extensive debates on the planning conditions clause during the passage of the Bill through both Houses. The Government have tabled a number of amendments seeking to address the concerns that have been raised in both Houses and in response to our consultation on the measures.
In particular, the Government have tabled two amendments to clause 12 that take forward recommendations in the 15th report of the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The first of these is Lords amendment 21, which would apply the affirmative parliamentary procedure to any regulations made under subsection (1). The Government accept the Committee’s view that the negative procedure is not an adequate level of parliamentary scrutiny for the exercise of the power, and have amended the Bill accordingly.
The second is amendment 14, which also responds to a recommendation from the Committee—namely, that the Secretary of State should be required to consult before making regulations under subsection (6). Provided this requirement to consult is put into place, the Committee said that it would regard the negative procedure as an adequate level of parliamentary scrutiny for this particular power. The Government agree with this recommendation, as it is important that consideration is given to the views of developers, local planning authorities and other interested parties before making regulations under subsection (6). Amendment 14 therefore places a duty on the Secretary of State to carry out such consultation before making regulations.
Lords amendment 18 responds to views expressed in response to the Government’s consultation on improving the use of planning conditions. A number of respondents across a range of sectors, including local authorities, developers and interest groups, called for guidance. They asked that, if the Government’s proposed powers under this clause come into force, updated planning guidance should be issued on the operation of the provisions. The Government agree with that view. We made a commitment in our response to the consultation to publish updated guidance to support the changes, if they are brought forward. In order to give assurance to all parties, amendment 18 would place a duty on the Secretary of State to issue guidance to planning authorities on the operation of this clause, and any regulations made under it. This guidance will set out advice that may be useful and of interest to applicants, local authorities and other interested parties.
Amendment 12, which is not a Government amendment, seeks further to constrain the use of the proposed power in subsection (1). It is right that the Government do not intend to use the power to prevent local authorities from imposing planning conditions that accord with the national planning policy framework. However, section 100ZA already has this effect. Any regulations made under subsection (1) must be consistent with the test for planning conditions in the national planning policy framework. Subsection (2) provides that the Secretary of State must make provision under subsection (1) only if it is appropriate to ensure that conditions meet the policy tests in paragraph 206 of the national planning policy framework. For the benefit of the House, those are that planning conditions should be imposed only when they are necessary; when they are relevant to planning and to the development being permitted; when they are enforceable and precise; and when they are reasonable in all other respects.
The Government’s case is very simple: Lords amendment 12 is unnecessary. More than that, by placing the policy test on the face of the Bill as we have done, rather than referring to the framework by name, the Government are making it clear in the legislation that the purpose of the power is to ensure compliance with those tests. Further constraints on the Secretary of State’s power in subsection (1) will be applied by Lords amendments 14 and 21, which I have covered—they require public consultation and the affirmative parliamentary procedure to any regulations made under the power.
On Lords amendments 10, 11, 13, 15, 16, 17, 19 and 20, and 85 to 90, clause 12 provides the Secretary of State with a power to make regulations about what kind of conditions may or may not be imposed on a grant of planning permission, and in what circumstances. The proposed power will apply in respect of any grant of planning permission. It had included permission granted by order of the Secretary of State, the Mayor of London, local authorities or neighbourhood planning groups. In the light of the responses we received to the consultation on the proposed new power, we have decided that it is not appropriate to apply the power to the making of orders, as opposed to applying it to the granting of planning permission. We have therefore sought to amend the clause to that effect.
It is important that the order-making body can set conditions that frame the type of development that would be acceptable. That could include a condition that a development including a change of use is completed within three years. Such a condition may be unreasonable when imposed following the consideration of a planning application, but we do not believe it would be unreasonable in the very different exercise of granting permission by order. Consequently, we propose that the power will not apply to the grants of planning permissions by development orders, simplified planning zones, enterprise zones and development control procedures, meaning when the Government’s authorisation is required.
With those arguments in mind, I commend amendments 10, 11, 13 to 21, and 85 to 90. I also ask the House to disagree with Lords amendment 12 which, as I have said, is unnecessary given the clear safeguards in the Bill.
Lords amendment 12 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 10, 11, 13 to 21 and 85 to 90 agreed to.
Duty to have regard to post-examination neighbourhood development plan
I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 1.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendments 2 and 3.
Lords amendment 4, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 5 to 9.
Lords amendment 23, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendment 24 to 84.
The shadow Minister has caused confusion by not objecting to proposals that some anticipated he might object to. That is fine by the Government, and I will happily proceed. I am probably also right in saying that Members who wish to speak on this group of amendments might have anticipated the debate on the second group lasting longer. I will try to talk at a little more length to give my hon. Friends time to arrive in the Chamber to take part.
This is the third group of amendments and I want to provide the House with an update on the other amendments made to the Bill in the House of Lords—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) is here. There we are.
First, on the amendments relating to neighbourhood planning, I thank all hon. Members and peers who contributed to the debate as the Bill has progressed through Parliament. It is clear that there is strong cross-party support for this important reform, which was introduced by the coalition Government. I very much welcome the positive and constructive debate we have had on the clauses. We are all seeking to ensure that neighbourhood planning—the quiet revolution, as described by my ministerial colleague Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth —continues to go from strength to strength. In that regard, I point the House not only to the important clauses in the Bill, but to my written ministerial statement, which we talked about on Report, and the further clarification provided by the housing White Paper.
The definition of a post-examination neighbourhood plan in clause 1 is clarified by Lords amendments 1, 2 and 3 to ensure that decision makers are in no doubt as to when they must have regard to them.
On Lords amendment 4, I committed on Report in the Commons to return to an important issue raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs and others on the voice of communities in planning decisions. The Government have therefore brought forward Lords amendment 4, which will require local planning authorities automatically to notify parish councils and designated neighbourhood forums of any future planning applications in the relevant neighbourhood area. Automatic notification would apply once parish councils and designated neighbourhood forums had in place a post-examination neighbourhood plan, as defined by clause 1. Parish councils and designated neighbourhood forums will be able to opt out of automatic notification or request that they are notified only of applications of a particular type. However, they will have the automatic right to be notified, exactly as requested by my right hon. Friend, and that is now on the face of the Bill. Rather than respond at this stage to the amendment that he has tabled, I might allow him to speak, if he intends to do so, and respond at that point.
Lords amendment 5 will allow the Secretary of State, through regulations, to prescribe further requirements that an examiner of a neighbourhood plan or a neighbourhood development order must follow in engaging with those with an interest in the examination. Subject to consideration of the outcome of the housing White Paper, which is still out for consultation, the amendment will allow the Secretary of State to make regulations that place a duty on the person appointed to examine a neighbourhood plan or a neighbourhood development order to provide information to, and hold meetings with, parish councils, designated neighbourhood forums, local planning authorities and others, and to publish their draft recommendations.
I thank all hon. Members and peers who have helped to shape these amendments, and I particularly thank Baroness Cumberlege, who was heavily involved in shaping this amendment in the other place. The concern is that people often put a huge amount of work into producing a neighbourhood plan, which is then examined and the examiner requires amendments to be made without people having any opportunity to discuss those proposals or to understand the logic behind them. That is why we have introduced these amendments. We want to ensure that this process helps people who give up their spare time and put effort into producing neighbourhood plans to get the result they want in terms of how their local community develops. As I said, I am really grateful to Baroness Cumberlege and others in the other place for the time and effort they have put into these amendments and for the meetings they have had with me and my ministerial colleague Lord Bourne to try to get the detail right.
On Report in the Commons, my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen), who is not in her place, raised the vital issue of planning for the housing needs of older people and the disabled. All hon. Members will appreciate the importance of this issue not only in ensuring that this group of people, which will grow over the coming years, has a range of housing provision suitable to its needs—many of us will have seen in our constituencies that that range of provision is not there at the moment—but in helping with some of the wider housing problems I am trying to deal with. Clearly, if greater alternative provision is made available, and people can downsize from their existing accommodation, that releases vital family housing on to the market. This is therefore a really important issue, and I made it clear that I was grateful to my hon. Friend for raising it. I committed to look at it carefully, and the Government subsequently brought forward amendment 6 in Committee in the Lords.
There was considerable cross-party support for the amendment in the other place. It amends section 34 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to require the Secretary of State to produce guidance for local planning authorities about how their local development documents, taken as a whole, should address the housing needs of older and disabled people. Page 62 of the housing White Paper sets out some of our key ambitions for this new guidance. In essence, without going into all the detail, the White Paper has two main areas that are focused in this direction. First, we are looking at our planning policies and how we can make sure that our local authorities are planning for a suitable range of alternative provision. There is definitely a partial solution to this problem in relation to planning reform. Secondly, we are asking whether people have thoughts or ideas about whether other measures are needed to incentivise people to downsize. In other words, is the problem just a lack of suitable provision in the area, or are there other barriers that we need to try to find a way to overcome to enable people to access accommodation that is more suitable to their needs? We are very much looking forward to seeing the responses to the White Paper as they come in so that we can consider these issues in more depth.
It is probably worth touching briefly on supported housing, which is clearly crucial in this regard. Hon. Members will be aware that we recently consulted on the new funding model that we have in mind for supported housing. We received a huge response to that consultation. We are analysing that at the moment, and we will come forward with a Green Paper later this year. Again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire, whose initiative ultimately lies behind Lords amendment 6.
Lords amendments 7, 8 and 9 to clause 11 will encourage early conversations between the local planning authority and its community about the future local growth and development needs of their area by allowing the Secretary of State to make regulations that set out the matters that local planning authorities must address in their statements of community involvement. We talked about this in Committee. For example, the regulations might require local planning authorities to set out the advice they would provide on the relationship between their local plan and neighbourhood plans in the area, and ensure that communities, including parishes and designated neighbourhood forums, are left in no doubt about when and how they will be able to get involved in the planning of their area.
On community involvement, there can be a conflict when mayoral plans—the strategic development plans for combined areas—are being developed in areas where no neighbourhood plan is in place, and local people at times feel that their voice is not being heard. In my area of Greater Manchester, there is a significant tension because the combined authority is proposing to build on green-belt land without an accurate or full brownfield register being in place. Where areas do not have a neighbourhood plan in place, and the local plan has been stalled pending the strategic plan, people feel frustrated that they do not have a voice in the process. Will the Minister give a bit of detail on how they might have a voice?
I am obviously aware of the Greater Manchester spatial strategy. I need to be a little careful, for reasons I am sure the hon. Gentleman will understand, not to comment on the detail of that, because it may well end up on my desk. However, he raises a really important point. The Government are very interested in the wider application of the process that is happening in Greater Manchester. As he says, a number of individual local authorities have decided that rather than produce their own plans they will produce a strategy for the wider area. There is much to commend that in principle. However, if that plan is slightly more distant from individual local communities, it is important that there are mechanisms by which people can engage in the process and do not feel that planning is being done to them rather than their having an involvement.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will in a second, because I suspect that my hon. Friend has a very similar issue—potentially —in his area.
I will certainly reflect, in any regulations that we might bring forward, on what the issues might be when there is a wider strategic plan. If the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) wishes to talk to me informally about some of the things he has experienced, I would be very happy to have that conversation.
For once my hon. Friend is wrong, because I do not have a problem with my own devolution settlement. In fact, I am a sinner repenting: I was quite hostile to it, but now I think it is going to work out for my constituents in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
May I take the Minister back to the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen)? Will he ensure that any guidance on the neighbourhood planning regime also takes into account strategic housing issues relating to projections of housing need and the strategic housing market assessment to which local authorities have to refer before they put together their own local plan? That is an important document and it needs to be robust.
The Government and the Whips Office in particular always welcome a sinner who repenteth. My hon. Friend makes two very good points. The White Paper proposes moving to a standard methodology for the assessment of need, and we will incentivise all local authorities to use it. None the less, it remains the case that that methodology will provide a number of the total amount of housing need, but local authorities will still need to think about the mix of housing and of tenures relevant to their local community, and the demographic profile of the need for housing in their area. He makes a very important point and we will certainly ensure that the guidance covers those issues.
If a local authority is making progress with its local development plan but waiting for the Secretary of State’s approval, and if a new city region or combined authority that it joins during that period decides to take a different overall strategic approach to housing, what effect would all that work and decision making have on that scenario? Will that be part of the guidance, to ensure that communities that have been fully consulted and that have made decisions are not sent back to the drawing board, which would delay rather than promote future housing, because of that possible crossover?
That is not an easy question to answer in the abstract. Generally speaking—I am not an expert on this; I am sure the hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—in most of the devolution agreements that have set up a requirement to produce a spatial strategy, each of the individual constituent authorities in the combined authority has a veto. That is certainly the case in Greater Manchester, and I believe it is the case everywhere other than in relation to the London plan, the key difference being that that plan cannot allocate specific sites in the same way as the Greater Manchester spatial strategy. In that situation, I believe that the hon. Gentleman’s own local authority would have a veto over any wider strategic plan.
I think that the hon. Gentleman was also driving at the issue of transitional arrangements. In other words, if an authority is nearing completion of its own plan and work is about to get under way on a wider strategic plan, would that authority still be able to complete its work on its own plan? I am happy to reflect on that, but my instinct is that it should be able to do that, because there are clear advantages in getting a plan in place, in terms of protection from speculative development.
If I allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene, that will give me more time to think, so I will happily take another intervention.
The Minister’s instinct is very good, in my judgment. I hope that he will think through, perhaps not at this very moment, a scenario whereby a district council that is on the verge of getting its development plan agreed and endorsed in law is not put in the position of having to use its veto against a wider authority that it has joined, because that veto might undo the work that has already been done. In other words, is there potential for hybrids that allow housing developments to proceed, rather than an absurd structure that, in essence, allows different processes to collide? It strikes me that that may be a possibility somewhat near to my home in future.
I will find out from my officials when I leave the Chamber whether my instincts about that were good. I will happily discuss the matter further with the hon. Gentleman, perhaps when I have the opportunity to visit his constituency.
We have been thinking about the question of transition in relation to the new standard methodology, and we will consult on that shortly. I have no doubt that, when it comes into place, a number of authorities at various stages of their plan making will ask whether the Government are suggesting that they should stop and start again using the new methodology, or whether they should complete the plan they have nearly finished and do a fairly quick review. We have given thought to that question. The hon. Gentleman has just asked a related question about the situation in which a strategic plan is in the early stages of preparation and a local plan is nearly complete. I will reflect on that, and perhaps we can have a discussion about it outside the Chamber when I have had a chance to talk to my officials, but I have given him a steer on my instincts.
We have digressed a bit—with your forbearance, Madam Deputy Speaker—but we were discussing Lords amendments 7, 8 and 9, which, as I said, are about giving the Secretary of State the power to produce regulations about the matters that local authorities should cover in their statements of community involvement. Hon. Members will recall that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell)—I do not believe he is in his place today—highlighted this matter on Report. I am pleased that, as I promised, we have been able to table an amendment that reflects the intention behind his amendments.
I turn to Lords amendment 23. The White Paper highlighted the Government’s commitment to legislating to enable the creation of locally accountable new town development corporations. The existing institutions report to the Secretary of State, but there is a strong desire for locally accountable institutions. Lords amendment 23, which was tabled by Lord Taylor of Goss Moor and Lord Best, was entirely consistent with the White Paper and the Bill’s aim of further empowering local areas, and I am pleased that the Government were able to accept it. Several pieces of planning legislation have been introduced in recent years, and the White Paper left open the possibility for further legislation to follow. It is good that, by accepting Lord Taylor’s amendment to the Bill, we have been able to get into statute one of the measures that we set out in the White Paper.
In summary, the amendment would support the creation of locally led garden towns and villages by allowing the responsibility for any development corporation created under the New Towns Act 1981 to be transferred to a local authority or authorities covering all or part of the area designated for the new town. My right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs has tabled amendments on the issue, and I think it might be best if I allow him to speak to his amendments before I tell him how the Government intend to respond to them, to give him the opportunity to persuade me of his case.
I turn to compulsory purchase. In the other place, the Government tabled a number of primarily technical amendments based on further engagement with expert practitioners to ensure that the compulsory purchase provisions will make the process clearer, faster and fairer. Lords amendments 24 to 62, together with amendments 76 and 78, deal with temporary possession to refine the new system so that it will work as intended.
I was just looking around to see whether my near neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), was there, and he is. I will happily give way to him.
On behalf of those who have engaged with the Minister on this matter, may I say how much we appreciate his time and courtesy? The expert practitioners in the sector whom he and I have talked to regard the amendments as valuable. They are not necessarily the sexiest amendments we will ever see, but they clarify a number of important pieces of procedure. I hope that, in that spirit, those of us who take an interest in such matters may be able to come back to the Minister in due course with further refinements, which may not require primary legislation. I am grateful to him for the way in which he has approached this aspect of the Bill.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words, and I have tried to approach the entire Bill in the same spirit. It is fair to say that the Housing and Planning Act 2016 had a rather difficult passage through Parliament, and with this Bill we wanted to build the broadest possible coalition behind the changes that the Government are making to try to drive up the amount of housing that we build. It has been pleasing to see, both in the other place and here today, the fairly widespread support for the way in which the Government are trying to take forward this agenda.
I will briefly describe, for those who do not have my hon. Friend’s expertise in such matters, Lords amendments 63 to 68. They deal with the no-scheme principle; that is the key principle that defines the world in which compensation is assessed when compulsory purchase powers are used. The amendments basically refine the provisions so that they will work as intended.
Lords amendments 69 to 73 extend the ability of the Greater London Authority and Transport for London to make a joint compulsory purchase order for a combined housing or regeneration and transport project. I think I am right in saying that both the GLA and TfL have these powers at the moment, but they are not allowed to use them together on a combined project, which is what we are seeking to allow. In particular, Lords amendment 72 would allow TfL to work with a mayoral development corporation as an alternative to the Greater London Authority.
I thank the experts at the Compulsory Purchase Association and Transport for London for their advice, and Members of this House and of the other place for their constructive contributions to the debate on a very technical area of law. As I said on the first group of amendments, when not so many Members were in the House, I thank one of my most distinguished predecessors as Housing Minister, Lord Young of Cookham, who ably steered these provisions through the other place.
Responding to concerns raised in the other place, the Government tabled Lords amendments 74, 75, 77, 79, 80 and 83, which replace the power within the consequential clause of the Bill so that the Secretary of State’s power to make consequential changes—in essence, when something is spotted after the legislation has gone through that has a knock-on effect on other legislation—is limited to part 2, or in other words only to the CPO provisions. We made those changes because of concerns in the other place about the broad scope of the consequential provisions. The possibility of things being spotted really arises in relation only to the CPO provisions, which is why we have limited this power to part 2.
Lords amendment 81 commences the regulation-making power in Lords amendment 4, and Lords amendment 82 commences the regulation-making power in Lords amendment 9. Lords amendment 84 will apply the same changes proposed by Lords amendment 5 to examinations that take place under the new streamlined procedure to modify a neighbourhood plan that is in force, as introduced by clause 3 and schedule 1.
I commend the Lords amendments in this group, and I will come back in later when I have had a chance to listen to the arguments of my right hon. Friend—and my very good friend—the Member for Arundel and South Downs.
I will comment on three aspects of the amendments in this group and what the Minister has said on them. The first, briefly, is about changes to housing for the elderly. It is a question of whether a local community or a local council can actually designate specific pieces of land explicitly for accommodation for the elderly, which would open up the potential for planning gain, particularly on service sites. For example, saying that a specific piece of land within a larger development should be allocated for a few bungalows would precisely address rental need and possibly purchase need.
The other added key value that arises from the Minister’s comments about having an effective approach to accommodation for the elderly is equity release. There would be a boost to the local economy from large numbers of people wanting to downsize—both those who want to purchase smaller accommodation and those who want to move to social renting but are in essence excluded from doing so at the moment—by releasing the modest equity in the house they have spent their lifetime purchasing. They want to do so to be able to live in more comfort and more cheaply, but also to be able to assist their grandchildren to get on to the housing ladder. Spending that equity would be a huge boost to the economy in a community such as mine. Is the possibility of creating zones that could be serviced or, through planning gain, developed, a greater option as a result of the amendments?
Secondly, on neighbourhood planning, the Minister has taken the right approach in listening to considerations. It is worth highlighting that there is often a myth that neighbourhood plans are designed purely in leafy, well-to-do areas, and that they are a way of stopping housing. However, in the authority with the highest proportion of the population who have agreed, or are in the process of agreeing, neighbourhood plans, the reality is the exact opposite. The first and quickest to do so have been communities in Elkesley and in Harworth and Bircotes, which are both primarily former mining communities. Every single proposal for a neighbourhood plan has been for housing growth, including in communities that had previously objected to proposals for housing growth. In other words, the supremacy of power to the very local level is bringing forward significant amounts of extra housing, not restricting housing. I commend the Minister and hope for guarantees that his direction of travel will not in any way undermine the local democracy that has been crucial in areas such as mine to bringing forward new areas for housing.
Finally, it would useful if the Minister let us know in passing the progress of those requesting Government money to get housing on the move. With the Bill and the Government putting significant amounts of money into housing development, there is a potential win-win for communities if all the ducks are lined up effectively in a row, whereby local people see huge benefits from planning, as opposed to seeing planning as a problem if they ever want to change anything or as an afterthought if they are ever consulted. That is why I think the Minister’s approach is in exactly the right area, but further reassurance would be very welcome.
I am grateful to Madam Deputy Speaker and to my hon. Friend the Minister for giving me the opportunity to speak to two amendments that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have tabled: an amendment to Lords amendment 4 on neighbourhood plan notification, and an amendment to Lords amendment 23 in relation to the powers that may be given to local authorities to set up new towns. I have two sets of concerns in relation to those amendments.
First, on neighbourhood plans, may I echo what the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) just said about the value of neighbourhood plans in often producing more housing than anticipated? That is the case nationally and that was recognised in the Government’s White Paper. In my constituency, neighbourhood plans have, quite often unexpectedly, produced more houses than local villages were required to produce, because the incentives are turned around and people start to ask themselves what they want in their villages rather than what they do not want. The development of neighbourhood plans, giving local communities control over their own area, has been a very important and welcome localist reform introduced under this Government.
However, the last time we debated the Bill, I said, as I have on many previous occasions, that it is important for the neighbourhood planning process not to be undermined by speculative development applications which are then upheld either by the local authority or on appeal by the planning inspector. That has the effect of demoralising those who subscribe to the neighbourhood plan: those who are either in the process of drawing up plans but are at a late stage, or those whose plans have actually been made and are subjected to a referendum. There is then real local anger when it turns out that a neighbourhood plan which they thought would give protection to certain areas of their local community while allowing for housing in others does not give that protection at all when, because there is not a five-year land supply or for some other reasons, the development application is allowed. There is a real danger—I stress this to the Minister—of confidence in neighbourhood planning being undermined if the widespread perception is that the plans are not worth the paper they are written on. I believe that this is an important issue that the Government still need to address.
I recognise the considerable steps forward taken when the Minister agreed in Committee to measures that would give protection to made neighbourhood plans in relation to the five-year land supply issue. I was very grateful, but he will understand that I was utterly dismayed when, last Friday, I received a letter from the planning inspector informing me that a speculative application in the village of Hassocks in my constituency had been upheld against the wishes of the emerging neighbourhood plan. For whatever reason—the Minister might be able to explain why this happened—the welcome measures that he announced when we last debated this issue were of no help in that situation.
The parish council, which has worked very hard on its neighbourhood plan, is now demoralised and is seriously considering whether to bother going ahead with its neighbourhood plan. Why should it bother if this plan can simply be wrecked by developers and, worse, those speculative applications are then actually upheld by the planning inspector, who of course sits in the Minister’s shoes? I take at face value and accept the Minister’s assurance that the Government are serious about protecting neighbourhood plans, but I tell him that the measures that he has announced so far do not go far enough to achieve that. Villages all over my constituency are now saying that they wonder whether the neighbourhood planning process is one they wish to continue with. We must stop that message getting abroad.
I praise the right hon. Gentleman for the work and leadership he has provided to many right hon. and hon. Members who have had exactly the same experience as in Aireborough, for example, on this issue. We hear this nonsense that we are not even allowed to go through the neighbourhood planning process unless we entirely agree with the decisions that we have campaigned on and objected to for many years. Does he agree that, working with organisations such as Community Voice on Planning and others, the Minister and his officials now need to sit down and do this properly so that we get the kind of localism that we all thought we were voting for and that he and I supported in 2011?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I know that the Government have to square the circle in that they want to see a considerable increase in housing, which is the right ambition so that we can spread opportunity in a country in which house prices are out of the reach of so many young people now and rents are correspondingly high. As I say, the Government are right to seek to address that, but the whole point about neighbourhood planning is that it delivers more houses than was expected. This is not a measure to stop house building; it is a way to ensure that we have a system that is planning-led and not developer-led, so that we do not have a return to the unwelcome days of planning by appeal.
I tabled my amendment with the support of many right hon. and hon. Friends who are equally concerned about this issue, as the Minister will know. It states not just that the neighbourhood forum is entitled to give its views to the planning authority about a planning permission that will have an impact on its emerging or actual neighbourhood plan, but—this is the crucial wording—that the authority must “take into account” the views of the neighbourhood forum. It is very important that that happens.
Frankly, I would personally rather go much further. It is not within the scope of the amendment or the Bill to do so at this point, but I would give much more weight to emerging neighbourhood plans and I would make it very hard for neighbourhood plans to be overturned. The Minister will find that unless that happens in the future, the neighbourhood planning policy will start to be eroded. I hope that the Minister will nevertheless go as far as he can at this point to give the required reassurance to local communities that it is worth pursuing a neighbourhood planning process, that neighbourhood plans will be respected and that speculative developments will not normally be allowed. I would like to understand what I should say to the people of Hassocks about the decision that the Minister made, which has so dismayed them.
Let me deal with the proposed delegation of powers to local authorities to create new towns. I have no objection in principle, speaking as someone who has always advocated localism, to the delegation of these powers, but I want to talk about one possible practical effect that this House should consider when it comes to the making of the future regulations that would allow this to happen.
At the moment, the powers of compulsory purchase that are needed for the creation of new towns under the New Towns Act 1981 rest with the Minister, which I think is right because the compulsory purchase of land is a serious step. Essentially, the state is confiscating land from private ownership, and I think that that should be authorised by Ministers, after very careful consideration. If the power is handed to local authorities, we will risk the creation of serious blight all over the country when authorities, working with developers, consider that they may have designs on land that was previously not available for development or where developers have no options.
In my constituency, a proposal for a new town has been strongly rejected by the two district councils concerned, Horsham and Mid Sussex. Both councils are planning for the right number of houses to be built elsewhere in their districts, but this is an inappropriate location for a new town. The developer, Mayfield, owns very little of the land concerned, and has options on very little of it. A huge number of landowners, responsible for some 4,000 acres of the area, are saying that they do not want their land to be developed. The new town, therefore, could only be built in future in the event of compulsory purchase of the land.
The developer has sought to disrupt the planning process at every stage, arguing against the plans of Horsham and Mid Sussex district councils in an attempt to get its own way. I should point out that an adviser—a paid adviser—to this new town promoter is Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, who was the promoter of the amendment. He declared his interest properly, but it is nevertheless important for us to understand that. Lord Taylor gave the game away when he moved his amendment. He said that what he wanted was a device whereby it would be possible
“to capture the value of land in order to create supplements.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 15 March 2017; Vol. 779, c. 1894.]
I want the House to understand what Lord Taylor meant. He meant that he wanted to give powers of compulsory purchase to local authorities so that local authorities could purchase land at below the market rate.
Huge blight has already been created in that part of my constituency because of the predatory activities of a developer that does not have sufficient options on the land for a new town in an area where it will never be built. Can the House imagine what would happen were we to give these powers to local authorities which, all over the country, could start to consider where, using powers of compulsory purchase, they might acquire at below the market rate land on which they simply had designs to build?
Under the code of conduct on standards in public life, someone who has declared an interest—certainly in this House—is prohibited from moving an amendment in which that person has a pecuniary interest in relation to any organisation, as has been the case ever since the Nolan Committee reported in 1996. Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that the House should reflect on that?
I should emphasise that Lord Taylor made his interest clear when he moved the amendment. As for the rules in the other place, I am not aware of them, but it is the case that Lord Taylor has had in the past, if not currently, a commercial interest with one of the developers that would stand to gain from the transfer of powers that may be effected by the permissive legislation that the Government wish the House to accept.
I believe that this raises a question of principle, namely whether the powers of, specifically, compulsory purchase should ever be delegated to local authorities. I suggest to Members on both sides of the House that we should not allow that. While it might be appropriate to delegate other powers to make it easier for new towns to be established by local consent, I think it would be a grave mistake to delegate powers of compulsory purchase in a way that would cause Ministers to lose control altogether of the process whereby land may be compulsorily purchased. It would have the effects I have described in this area all across the country. The amendment would forbid such a transfer of power in this specific instance in relation to powers of compulsory purchase, and I seek reassurance from my hon. Friend the Minister that the Government have no intention of allowing such a transfer of powers of compulsory purchase. He will know that this is also of huge concern to my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), who is unable to be here today but shares my concern about the impact of the Mayfields new town, which crosses both our constituencies.
My hon. Friend is an excellent, conscientious and assiduous Minister, who is always willing to listen to concerns of hon. Members on both sides of the House; I know that from personal experience and the way he has responded to me before. Nevertheless, I am concerned about the decision he took on Friday and about this proposed transfer of powers, and would be very grateful if he reassured me on both counts.
Let me briefly respond to the points made by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert).
The hon. Gentleman asked whether a council can designate particular sites for housing for the elderly, and the simple answer is yes, it can. They have powers to do that already, and in the guidance we issue we might want to look at the extent to which we allow that to be a matter for local decision making, or whether it is something we wish to promote.
The hon. Gentleman made two vital points in relation to neighbourhood planning. First, neighbourhood planning is not just for affluent rural communities. This is an opportunity for communities right across the country to have more of a say about how they develop in the future and how we make the tough and difficult choices that must be made in order to provide the housing we so desperately need and the land for employment and other community uses. The Government are very much committed to ensuring that neighbourhood planning is not just for affluent communities and that we see it adopted right across the country. I have said before that I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the role he personally has played as an advocate of this policy. He will know that we make additional financial support available to groups in deprived areas, recognising that they need capacity support to produce the plans, and we recently confirmed that that support will be going forward over the next few years. He made a crucial point, however.
The hon. Gentleman’s second point was picked up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs, but it is worth reiterating from the Dispatch Box. Although at the moment the sample size is relatively small, there is clear evidence that neighbourhood plans that allocate sites for housing have actually provided for more housing than their relevant local authority was going to propose. I do not wish to make a party political point, because I am trying to encourage consensus, but I believe in passing power down to people, and it is a very powerful argument for doing so when we trust people to make decisions about their area and they respond in exactly the way we would want.
That is a good socialist principle.
Both sides of the House can lay claim to that good localist principle. The evidence is clear, and that is why the Government are keen to see neighbourhood planning turbocharged around the country. I will say a little more about that shortly, but first I want to respond to the points my right hon. Friend made, because the overall argument is relevant to both aspects.
I will deal with my right hon. Friend’s two amendments first, and then come on to the particular planning application he refers to. On amendment (a) to Lords amendment 4, the Government absolutely agree with him about the importance of neighbourhood forums and parish councils having sufficient time to consider planning applications when notified by local planning authorities, and, crucially, about the importance of their views being taken into account when local planning authorities make decisions. I can assure him and the House as a whole that we intend to update the secondary legislation to provide requirements for where forums and parish councils are automatically notified of planning applications under the new provisions.
The provisions will be consistent with the existing provisions in the development management procedure order relating to consultation on planning applications. They will include providing that a local planning authority must not determine any planning application where a parish council or designated neighbourhood forum has been notified and wishes to make representations before a minimum of 21 days has elapsed. It is already the case that a local planning authority must consider the representations received and whether considerations are raised that may be material to the application, but detailed requirements relating to the operation of the planning application process best sit in secondary rather than primary legislation, to ensure that we have the flexibility to keep procedures up to date. It would not surprise me if my right hon. Friend wanted to come back with further suggestions, and it is much easier to make suggestions if the matters are in secondary legislation. Having provided him with all the reassurances he wanted, I respectfully request that he does not press his amendment.
It is not necessarily for me to defend amendment (a) to Lords amendment 23, but let me say what I think Lord Taylor was driving at and then reassure my right hon. Friend on his particular points. At the moment, when somebody owns a piece of land that is not designated as suitable for housing or any other use and then, through a local plan process, the council changes that designation, the landowner sees a significant uplift in value. If a company or individual then acquires rights over that land and secures planning permission, there is a further uplift, and that planning permission may be traded several times. At the end of the process, several organisations or individuals have made a great deal of money and there is not a great deal of value in the land for providing the infrastructure that all our constituents tell us is vital to go along with housing. I think Lord Taylor is considering the extent to which, when changing the designation of land, the public sector can try to secure that land early in the process, avoiding the long chain I described and ensuring that more value is available to provide the required infrastructure.
Having said that, it is important that I provide my right hon. Friend with clarification about the regulations that will be made. I reassure him that the functions that could be transferred would not include functions that are the prerogative of the Secretary of State. Under the New Towns Act 1981, any compulsory purchase order sought by a new town development corporation must be submitted to and confirmed by the Secretary of State. That is the case for compulsory purchase orders sought by all bodies, and there will be no change to that position. That will be clear from the regulations, which will, subject to the enactment of this Bill, come to this House for approval. On that basis, I hope that my right hon. Friend will withdraw amendment (a) to Lords amendment 23.
An important point that needs addressing relates to the conflict of interest of the Member in the other place. It is perhaps not something for now if the Minister does not have the information, but we need a commitment that it will be looked into seriously.
It is not an easy question for me to answer, because I am not aware of the nature of Lord Taylor’s interest in this matter, so I cannot really respond to it at the Dispatch Box. However, I am sure that his attention will be drawn to the concerns raised on the Floor of the House and that he will make the record clear.
I want to say a few words about neighbourhood planning in general and address the specific point about the application mentioned by my right hon. Friend. He will understand that I must be careful about not saying too much about particular applications, even after a decision has been made, because the decision letter is the record of the decision, but the key point to draw the House’s attention to was that a relevant neighbourhood plan was not in place. Work was under way to prepare one, but that work was at a sufficiently early place to mean that I was unable to give the plan a great deal of weight in making my decision.
A clear lesson for when such decisions have to be made—if it is possible to spread this out to the generality—is the importance of two things. The first is that the relevant local council has a five-year land supply in place so that the presumption does not apply. The second is ensuring that the processes for producing neighbourhood plans are as streamlined as possible from the point at which people start work on them to when they receive examination. It is worth putting on the record that the Bill will give plans weight at an earlier stage in the process—as soon as they have gone through examination. We want to make that process as quick as possible, so that planning decisions that undermine what a community is trying to achieve are not being made during the preparation of plans.
I have a couple of general observations that will allow me to give my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs the clear assurance he wants. I am a real advocate of neighbourhood planning, in which I strongly believe. There are tensions in public policy, and it is important that Ministers are honest about that. If the Government were to give complete protection to all neighbourhood plans in all circumstances, there would be a danger that in areas with a large level of neighbourhood plan coverage but where a local authority does not have an adequate five-year land supply in place and is not delivering homes, we would have no mechanism for getting homes delivered. There has to be a balance, and I tried to strike the right balance in the written ministerial statement we published before Christmas, but the Bill will bring plans into force quicker, will make it easier to simplify plans and to change the areas covered by plans, and will put more pressure on councils to engage with neighbourhoods that want to produce a plan. We are taking a significant step forward from the written ministerial statement.
More widely, my main reflection having been in the job for eight or nine months is that it is a great privilege to serve in this position, but the thing I like least about my job is having to take decisions on planning applications for places I do not know. One of my main objectives is therefore to ensure that, across the country, we get local plans in place that are up to date, that have a five-year land supply and that are delivered by local authorities. I say clearly and categorically to my right hon. Friend from the Dispatch Box that if a council has an up-to-date plan, has a five-year land supply and is delivering the required number of homes each year, I do not expect my inspectors to be overturning the planning decisions of local communities in anything other than the most exceptional circumstances—I have to add that last caveat because all Members will know that sometimes councils take decisions on individual applications that are contrary to their plan because in a particular case there are pressing reasons for it being the right thing to do. If councils are doing the right things, the Government should generally leave the decisions to local authorities. That is where I am trying to get housing and planning policy to, and I know the Secretary of State shares that view.
I share the Minister’s view that decisions should be taken locally. It is costing Lancashire constabulary an absolute fortune to police the fracking protests in Lancashire. Can he explain why that decision was taken by Lancashire County Council and then overturned by the Secretary of State, who approved the planning application, which is now costing £14,000 a day to police? If local people know best, why was it not the case then?
There are exceptions to every rule. Although I cannot get drawn into discussing that case, perhaps I can give some hypothetical examples. Certain types of application raise issues of key pieces of national infrastructure that have relevance beyond an individual local community. I invite hon. Members to imagine that a neighbouring local authority to their own were considering an application for a large out-of-town retail centre, which would clearly have implications for local high streets not just in that authority’s area but in neighbouring areas, too. There might therefore be an interest in ensuring that all those wider communities have a say, rather than in the decision being taken by a specific local authority.
I will happily talk to the hon. Gentleman outside the Chamber, but there is a difficulty. I cannot discuss individual applications, so I will not take a further intervention. I am happy to have a separate discussion.
There have been no votes on the two areas on which the Government disagree with the Lords amendments, which I hope sends a clear message to the other place about the unanimity in this House on pubs and planning conditions. I hope this will be the last time I speak on this Bill.
I shall end my contribution by saying that the Bill, on its own, is not the answer to the housing problems we face in this country, but it makes an important contribution: by supporting neighbourhood planning, which is delivering more housing in those communities that adopt it; by speeding up our system, through the reform of planning conditions and compulsory purchase; and, vitally, by ensuring that we do a better job of getting up-to-date planning policies in place right across this country.
Finally, on my behalf and that of the Secretary of State, I wish to thank the outstanding officials in our Department for their work on this legislation. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), one of the stars of the Government Whips Office—given my background, that is a very high compliment —and my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) for their support during these proceedings.
Lords amendment 1 agreed to.
Lords amendments 2 to 9, and 23 to 84 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 4, 5, 23,40, 44, 48 to 50 and 84.
Ordered, That a Committee be appointed to draw up a Reason to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendment 12.
That Gavin Barwell, Jackie Doyle-Price, Vicky Foxcroft, Chris Green, Jim McMahon and Rebecca Pow be members of the Committee;
That Gavin Barwell be the Chair of the Committee;
That three be the quorum of the Committee.
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Steve Brine.)
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.