Thursday 25 June 2020
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Offshore Wind Projects
This statement concerns applications made by Orsted Hornsea Project Three (UK) Limited and Norfolk Vanguard Limited for development consent for the installation, operation and maintenance of, respectively, the proposed Hornsea Project Three and Norfolk Vanguard offshore wind farms, their related offshore infrastructure off the coast of Norfolk and their related onshore electrical connections within that county.
Under section 107(1) of the Planning Act 2008, the Secretary of State must make a decision on an application within three months of the receipt of the examining authority’s report unless exercising the power under section 107(3) of the Act to set a new deadline. Where a new deadline is set, the Secretary of State must make a statement to Parliament to announce it. The statutory decision deadline for Hornsea Project Three offshore wind farm was re-set by written ministerial statements on 8 October 2019 and 23 January 2020. The deadline for the decision on the Norfolk Vanguard offshore wind farm was reset by written ministerial statement on 23 January 2020. The reset deadline for both applications was 1 June 2020.
The Secretary of State has decided to set a new deadline of 1 July 2020 for deciding these two applications to allow further consideration to be given to the environmental information received by the Secretary of State following consultation on both applications.
The decision to set the new deadlines for these applications is without prejudice to the decisions on whether to grant or refuse development consents for them.
Surveillance Camera Commissioner: Annual Report
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is today laying the 2018-19 annual report of the surveillance camera commissioner before the House, as required by section 35 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.
The surveillance camera commissioner is an independent role appointed under section 34 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.
The annual report covers the exercise of the surveillance camera commissioner’s statutory functions over the year to 31 March 2019 and provides a comprehensive update on the progress made against the national surveillance camera strategy for England and Wales, which the commissioner published in March 2017.
Copies of the report will be available from the Vote Office.
Housing, Communities and Local Government
Planning: Online Access to Documentation
I would like to make a statement on planning and access to documentation.
Responding to covid -19—temporary measures to ease restrictions on the planning system
Today the Government have introduced the Business and Planning Bill in Parliament. The Bill responds to the covid-19 emergency and brings forward temporary changes to the planning system to support economic recovery. This statement sets out supporting temporary measures that the Government propose to ensure the planning system continues to operate effectively.
Online inspection of documents
The effects of covid-19 mean that it is not possible for everyone to enter public buildings safely to access certain planning documents made available for inspection. The Government have made it clear (written ministerial statement, “Virtual working and planning—responding to covid-19 restrictions” Official Report 13 May 2020;12WS) that online inspection of documents should be the default position. It has already made secondary legislation providing temporary flexibility for consultation and publicity requirements for planning applications under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (TCPA) and for environmental impact assessment development under the TCPA in relation to environmental statements.
This statement makes clear, for the regimes addressed below, how the Government expect local authorities, applicants and the Mayor of London to meet the requirements for making documents available for inspection by the public whilst social distancing restrictions apply. Everyone involved in the planning process is expected to engage proactively in the move to online inspection of documents and to consider the practical measures needed to ensure fair participation. When it becomes possible for documents to be made available for inspection in public buildings again, then the Government expect this to be done as soon as practicable.
Compulsory purchase orders (CPOs)
There are requirements in the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 for newspaper and site notices to provide details of a place where copies of CPOs and associated maps can be inspected, both prior to submission of the CPO to the confirming authority and when it is confirmed. Provisions in secondary legislation requiring inspection of documents are similar, and in some cases require documents to be provided on request. It is the Government’s view that these legislative requirements can be satisfied by the acquiring authority making a copy of the order and map available for inspection on a website. Hard copies of documents should be provided by the acquiring authority on request. The Government have published updated planning guidance in relation to the compulsory purchase process which can be viewed at: https://www. gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-compulsory-purchase-guidance.
Development consent orders (DCOs)
The Planning Act 2008, relating to nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIP), requires that at the pre-application stage the statement of community consultation must be made available for inspection. At the post-consent stage, where a development consent order grants authority to acquire compulsorily an interest in land, the Act requires that a copy of the DCO must be made available for inspection.
It is the Government’s view that these requirements can be met by making documents available for inspection online. They expect applicants to take reasonable steps to ensure that anyone wishing to view the documentation can find these documents online. Hard copies should be made available by the applicant on request.
For the NSIP regime there are other provisions in secondary legislation relating to consultation and publicity requirements. The Government intend to bring forward secondary legislation shortly to replace temporarily the requirement for documents to be made available for inspection in a place, with a requirement for documents to be made available online.
For planning appeals there are provisions in secondary legislation for consultation and publicity requirements, and the Government are considering whether these should be amended to enable more to be undertaken by digital processes, similar to the flexibilities already brought in for planning applications under the TCPA. The Government expect local planning authorities, appellants, the planning inspectorate and other parties to be proactive in their use of digital processes for consultation and publicity.
Local development documents
When preparing local development documents, local planning authorities are required to make certain documents available for inspection at their principal office, and other places that they consider appropriate, and provide copies of the plan or strategy to a person that requests one. In addition, local planning authorities must publish the document on their website. The Government intend to bring forward secondary legislation shortly to remove temporarily the requirement for local planning authorities to make these documents available for inspection at their offices and other places, as well as the requirement for these documents to be provided on request. Local planning authorities will need to ensure that these documents are made available on their website.
Spatial development strategies
The Business and Planning Bill amends the provisions in the Greater London Authority Act 1999 that require the Mayor of London to make the spatial development strategy (SDS) available for physical inspection at certain locations and to provide a copy on request.
The Bill will remove these requirements provided that the Mayor makes the current SDS available by appropriate electronic means. The Mayor will be required to have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State on arrangements that may be appropriate for those who do not have internet access.
There are also similar provisions in secondary legislation that apply for the Mayor of London and combined authorities who have been conferred the power to make a spatial development strategy. The Government intend to bring forward secondary legislation shortly to temporarily disapply requirements for these documents to be made available for inspection at their offices and enable them to be made available online.
Extending development consents
The Business and Planning Bill includes a provision to extend certain planning permissions and consents under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. There are already established routes to make changes to DCOs and it is the Government’s view that these routes can be used to extend commencement periods in certain circumstances. Developers can submit applications for non-material or material changes to the relevant Secretary of State. The Secretary of State can also make a material change to a DCO in exceptional circumstances. The Government expect developers to take proactive steps to ensure that applications to extend DCOs are submitted in sufficient time and the Government will actively engage with any such applications.
Expert Panel on Harm in the Family Courts and Implementation Plan
In May 2019, the Ministry of Justice established a panel of experts to lead a review into how the family courts deal with risk of harm to children and parents in private law children cases involving domestic abuse and other serious offences. The panel held a call for evidence over the summer of 2019, which received submissions from over 1,200 individuals and organisations with experience of the family justice system. As well as receiving testimonies through written submissions, the panel held a series of focus groups and roundtables across England and Wales. It is due to the wealth of evidence gathered that the panel took the necessary time to evaluate and discuss their findings, which I now present to the House.
I would first like to acknowledge the dedication of all those who work in the family justice system. I have seen first-hand how they have to make difficult decisions about the best interests of the child with the information available to them. It is a challenging job at the centre of an often painful dispute between two parents, and I hope that our implementation plan will reassure them that we value their commitment and will support them in their roles.
But there is more to do. I welcome the panel’s report, and am incredibly grateful to all panel members for their time and expertise. I have carefully considered their conclusions and am determined to take action to improve the experience of survivors of domestic abuse in our family courts.
This report lays bare many hard truths about long-standing failings in the family justice system, especially in protecting the survivors of abuse and their children from harm. It is not a comfortable read. The testimonies in the report show that there are some fundamental issues that we must address in order to improve the experience and ensure the safety of all participants in the family justice system.
I want to make it clear that this is not acceptable, and that while these issues largely predate this Government, we have a strong and unwavering commitment to ensure domestic abuse survivors are better protected. This is not only to help those who have been directly affected, but also for their children, who should always be at the heart of any decision made in the family court.
The publication of this report provides a unique opportunity for the family justice system to reform how it manages cases involving children. The report is the springboard for the actions we will take to better protect and support children and domestic abuse victims throughout private family law proceedings.
The Domestic Abuse Bill will enable us to make some of the immediate changes called for in the panel’s report, alongside other measures which will help to ensure that victims have the confidence to come forward and report their experiences. As recommended by the panel, we will use the Bill to extend automatic eligibility for special measures to victims of domestic abuse in the family courts. The Bill will also ban cross-examination by perpetrators of domestic abuse in the family courts.
We also have committed to investing more widely in support for victims of domestic abuse, including £35 million announced alongside the Bill to support victims and their children, and an additional £76 million of extra funding that we announced to support survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence, modern slavery and vulnerable children and their families during the current pandemic.
However, we acknowledge that, in light of the panel’s findings, this does not go far enough, and that is why we are publishing an implementation plan alongside this report. This details the first steps we will take across the family justice system to take forward the recommendations of the panel and make the changes that are needed.
In response to hearing that the adversarial nature of the family courts can contribute to further harm to victims of abuse or their children, I am pleased to announce that we will trial a different “investigative” approach within our forthcoming pilot of integrated domestic abuse courts. This approach will seek to ensure that all parties in proceedings are safe and able to provide evidence on an equal footing, without the retraumatising effects of being in court with an abusive ex-partner.
We are committed to making it easier for judges to apply “barring orders”, under section 91(14) of the Children Act 1989, to prevent abusive ex-partners repeatedly dragging a victim back to court.
We will also look to improve how the family courts gather the wishes and feelings of the children at the heart of proceedings, to ensure no child is overlooked during the process. Alongside this, I acknowledge the panel’s conclusion that the presumption of parental involvement can detract from the child’s welfare and safety, and so will review this urgently.
Finally, we are working with colleagues across the family justice system to improve training on domestic abuse, to address gaps where appropriate, and to provide professionals with the tools to effectively support vulnerable parties.
The report is built upon the direct experiences of hundreds of victims of domestic abuse who responded to our call for evidence. There will be many others who were unable to speak out, and I want to thank each person who came forward and provided their testimony to the panel. Each had a unique experience, but together they showed that this is a problem that thousands of people experience. Thanks to them, we have a unique opportunity now to address these issues in a meaningful and long-lasting way.
The report and implementation plan can be found at the following link: