Committee (9th Day)
Relevant documents: 24th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee and 12th Report from the Constitution Committee
Schedule 7: Plan making
201: Schedule 7, page 281, line 26, at end insert “to the extent necessary to meet the obligations of the participating authorities to secure net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and in respect of nature recovery and biodiversity in the joint spatial development strategy area.”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would require the joint spatial development strategy contribution to mitigation of, or adaptation to, climate change to be consistent with the authority’s carbon reduction and other environmental targets.
My Lords, the first group today relates to the ways in which planning contributes to our objectives in respect of climate change. I remind the Committee of my registered interest as chair of the Cambridgeshire Development Forum. I will speak to my Amendments 201 and 214, and refer to Amendments 226 and 309, which I believe make helpful suggestions to a similar effect.
The law relating to plan-making already requires that a local planning authority, when making a plan, must
“secure that the development and use of land in the local planning authority’s area contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change”.
This is presently in Section 19(1A) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and is carried forward into the provisions of this Bill as regards both local plans, which one can see in new Section 15C inserted by Schedule 7, and joint spatial development strategies in new Section 15AA(8).
The purpose of my two amendments is to specify that, when we refer to “contribute to”, we mean that the local authorities should have policies designed fully to meet their statutory obligations in relation to the adaptation to climate change or its mitigation. Amendment 201 would do this by reference in the statute to the obligations of the participating authorities to meet net-zero targets and, given that spatial development in particular extends to the impacts of wider development in an area, to their obligations in respect of nature recovery and biodiversity. Amendment 214 more specifically references the guidance which the Secretary of State can issue to authorities in order for them to adapt to climate change.
Amendment 226 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, takes the approach of defining the terms “mitigation” and “adaptation” by reference to the Climate Change Act itself. Amendment 309 takes the approach of creating additional statutory duties for the Secretary of State in setting policy and seeks to extend the scope of the requirements for climate change mitigation and adaptation to individual planning decisions. I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that I would not go that far. The risk of creating a stand-alone statutory criterion for planning decisions, distinct from its incorporation into the plan-led approach, is too great. The focus of my amendments is plan-making itself, which leads into the subsequent decision-making.
I want this debate to enable my noble friend the Minister to set out how the provisions in new Sections 15AA and 15C inserted by Schedule 7 give statutory force to the requirement for local authorities, when creating spatial strategies or local plans, to meet their carbon emissions targets and achieve net zero, and what guidance the Government can give in securing adaptation to climate change and what measures they can take if local authorities fail to plan accordingly. I would also be grateful to hear to what extent these provisions or other statutory requirements for nature recovery or to secure our biodiversity are applicable to plan-making.
These are key elements in future land use strategies. As we have heard in a previous debate, our buildings represent over a third of our greenhouse gas emissions. Adapting to climate change will demand radical thinking about spatial strategies. The Cambridge City Council environmental assessment prior to its local plan consultation clearly identified the advantages of urban densification and development on public transport corridors in reducing the carbon consequences of development. Developers are increasingly coming to terms with the need for nature recovery and biodiversity net gain to be integral to place-making in the future.
The statutory framework for the planning system needs to reflect the significance and centrality of these environmental principles to plan-making, and indeed place-making. I hope the Government will agree, and that we might use this debate to look at how these principles can be reflected in statute more effectively through this Bill. I beg to move Amendment 201.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for the introduction to his amendments. We fully support these extremely sensible additions to this part of the Bill. We have a number of amendments in this group, so if noble Lords will bear with me, I shall go through them.
Amendment 226 requires references to climate change mitigation and adaptation, to which the noble Lord referred. It ensures that plan making is interpreted in line with the Climate Change Act 2008. My Amendment 270 further defines and prioritises adaptation and resilience in order to have greater action to deal with flood risk and overheating. One of the reasons for tabling these amendments is that we do not believe that climate change is given sufficient attention in the Bill. We need to ensure that it is taken into account, particularly within planning. People talk about mitigation, but there is not enough talk about adaptation. Particularly when it comes to planning, it is something that we need to start looking at very seriously for the long term. I also thank the noble Earl, Lord Devon, for his support for Amendment 270.
Looking in more detail at Amendment 270, obviously I live in an area that is highly affected by flood risk. We know that at least one in six people in England is at risk from flooding from rivers and the sea, with many more at risk from surface water flooding. I am concerned that not enough attention has been given to flooding in the Bill. The Environment Agency estimates that the number of at-risk homes will double by 2050 due to the impact of climate change because of more volatile weather patterns, more intense rainfall and, therefore, more floods.
The Government are failing to build the efficient homes, strengthened flood defences and resilient natural habitats that are necessary to adapt to rising temperatures and flood risk. We need to do much more to ensure that the planning system effectively contributes to the delivery of our emission reduction targets and that any new development produces resilient and climate-proofed places. My Amendment 226 seeks to achieve that aim by ensuring that the process of plan making is fully aligned with the commitments set out in the Climate Change Act, and also in the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. It would do so by clarifying the meaning of climate change mitigation and adaptation in the Bill in such a way that they are directly tied to those Acts, thereby strengthening the duty placed on plan making via a 2008 amendment to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 that ensured that all plans contribute to the mitigation and adaptation of climate change. It is important that we ensure that all existing legislation is tied together effectively when we look at the challenges of climate change.
By ensuring that there is genuine coherence between the country’s planning system and its climate commitments, the amendment would also provide the foundation for more detailed national policy on how planning can actually contribute to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and mitigate climate change as fully as possible in the forthcoming NPPF review. Is the Minister able to provide us with an update on when we might see this issue addressed in that NPPF review?
My Amendment 270 is needed to reflect the fact that the climate crisis and, in particular, the impact of flooding is having a major impact on the social and economic viability of places and the mental and physical health of individuals. As a result, securing climate resilience should be central to the levelling-up agenda. The amendment seeks to give much greater specific legal weight to climate adaptation, which has become a Cinderella issue in planning decision-making.
There are a number of gaps in the current planning and legal framework that need to be addressed. While there is general duty to have regard to climate adaptation, this applies only to plan making and not to the actual decisions that are taken on individual planning applications. The fact that decisions can be taken contrary to planning policy weakens the connection between climate objectives and climate-proofed decisions. The absence of any definition in the Planning Act of the precise meaning of adaptation and resilience is also problematic. The absence in any part of planning legislation of a link to the vital provisions of the Climate Change Act also needs to be resolved. This amendment would both define and prioritise adaptation and resilience in a way that enables greater action to deal with flood risk and overheating.
On overheating, I will just comment on the two amendments to my amendment by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, which add wildfires to the matters which the local planning authority must consider. I thank the noble Earl for adding his extremely important amendments to mine. We know that the escalating climate crisis has driven an increase in extreme wildfires. The UN report says that there could be a 30% increase in wildfires by 2050, and that there should be a radical change in public spending on wildfires and that Governments are putting their money in the wrong place by focusing on emergency services when preventing fires in the first place would be a much more effective way to approach this. Clearly, in the UK we do not suffer in the same way as Australia or California, for example, but we have seen an increase in wildfires in this country and we need to address mitigation and adaptation for the future. Again, I thank the noble Earl for drawing our attention to this.
Our Amendment 312C in the name of my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage, and my Amendment 504D are about a strategy for planning reform with the aim of net zero emissions but also asking the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on when decisions have been taken against the advice of the Environment Agency. Our concerns here are about the lack of attention in the Bill to the environment. If we are to have any hope of meeting our net zero targets, all future legislation which impacts the environment should include a strategy on how it will contribute to reducing our emissions. Planning is clearly a crucial area if we are to address this.
We support Amendment 273 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. I have put down an amendment to her amendment which looks at the fact that we should not look just at opportunities for reclamation, reuse and recycling from demolition processes but should do an assessment of the viability of the proposed development and the demolition in the first place before we look at how we reuse and recycle. That was the point that we were looking at there; viability should be the first thing to be considered in any decision-making.
Finally—there are a few more amendments but I do not want to take up any more time—I would like to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on Amendment 272 that of course we all love hedgehogs. They have had an alarming decline, and if there is anything small that can be done to help, why do we not do it?
My Lords, I will take this opportunity to speak to my Amendments 270A and 270B, which are amendments to the amendment just spoken to by the noble Baroness. I added wildfires because it is an area of increasing concern to which the Government at the moment are not paying enough attention. They are not the only Government in the world who do not pay enough attention to it, but I think we have fallen into the habit of thinking that we are a wet country and have a lot of south-westerly winds and get deluges of rain—and we look at the flooding. However, the other side of that coin is the question of wildfires.
We are not the only country in this position. Portugal is a country that gets considerable downpours and the Atlantic winds but suffers the highest rate of wildfires in Europe. We are in a position where it could be our turn next. It is therefore very important that the Government get their act together now in anticipation of what is coming, because we have no comprehension of the size of the coming inferno.
Some in the House may ask why we are talking about wildfires, as they happen only on peatland up in Caithness or on the North York Moors or at Saddleworth. No, my Lords: last year on 19 July, the London Fire Brigade had its busiest day since World War II because of wildfires within London. It was the occupation of all those fire engines which must cause concern, because those fire engines were then not attending to other duties. There is a compounding effect from the damage that wildfires can do. I thought it appropriate to add this to the amendment because of its importance.
It is also worth bearing in mind that, just as with flooding, with wildfires you do not know the true cost for some weeks, months or years after the event, because it affects people in different ways. If one goes back to the Saddleworth Moor fire, 4.5 million people were affected by PM2.5 or less. That is a huge number, and it degrades the life of those people who have been affected. When you transfer that to the much more urban area of east London, again the situation is compounded.
I ask my noble friend what the Home Office is actually doing on this. It is the lead department under the Wildfire Framework for England, but the Home Office did not turn up to a workshop with the Climate Change Committee in January this year, when the other government departments did, as well as the Scots, the Welsh and COBRA. It was hugely important that the lead government department was at that workshop, but it was not there. Is the Home Office fit to continue its role as lead in this area? Why did the Home Office not attend that workshop? Why has it not updated the Wildfire Framework for England, which was due to be updated last year—and we are now in April? This is not a sign of a Government who are concerned about this problem and showing a lead. I hope my noble friend will be able to give me some answers.
The year 2022 was a wake-up call for us all in the number of wildfires as a result of manmade climate change. That needs to be addressed, and I hope that my noble friend can help us with some answers on that.
My Lords, I shall speak to the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Bennett, and in mine. It is such a pleasure to hear the words “manmade climate change” coming from the government Benches. It is a real pleasure, because when I first came here in 2013, I was the only person talking about it, so thank you everybody who has mentioned it today.
I support quite a lot of the amendments in this group, but I am slightly concerned about the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and perhaps he would like to clarify. It looks as if his amendments would prevent a spatial plan or a local plan from targeting net-zero carbon emissions earlier than 2050. It is not enough to achieve it by 2050; we must make sure that it is done incrementally, not all at the last moment. That would create problems for, for example, the Green-led Stroud District Council, which is targeting achieving net zero by 2030. It would be madness to try to delay anything like that. I am not sure if that is the intention, but I would like to know. Sorry, does the noble Lord want to answer me now, before I have finished?
I thank the noble Lord; ambitious is good.
On Amendment 226, we need to define “mitigation” and “adaptation” in relation to the Climate Change Act 2008, because that Act’s target is again 2050, and we cannot risk any council plans that seek to achieve net zero sooner.
Moving on to hedgehogs, I think that everyone that I have mentioned this to today is so supportive of holes in fences and hedges for hedgehogs. I am really pleased about that because hedgehogs are an indicator species, which means that we can monitor what is going on with other ecosystems because of hedgehogs. If they become rare or even extinct, it will be harder to track damage to ecosystems and the environment. They indicate the health of the environment and of nature as a whole. The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2022 report found that numbers are down in rural areas by between 30% and 75% since 2000. Clearly, we have a problem here. Globally, hedgehogs are of least concern, but here in the UK the population is now classed as vulnerable. Therefore, I beg everybody to support this tiny but important amendment.
On Amendment 273, in the name of my noble friend Lady Bennett, I am delighted that it is being supported by Labour, which has an amendment to that amendment. I personally have been talking about this since I was elected in 2000, and I do not know why it is still not understood. All buildings have a carbon content and when you destroy them, when you knock them down and throw the debris away, you are wasting carbon and you are then generating more carbon by replacing them, so, please, something along these lines must go into this Bill. I do not understand why the Government have not woken up to that yet.
On my Amendment 293, I really wish I had put something in, after the hedgehogs, about swift habitats. There are real concerns about the swift population in Britain. Obviously, preserving and enhancing habitat has a big impact on all birds, but particularly swifts. They arrive in the UK during the summer, lay their eggs and incubate them here. They like to live within houses and churches, and they need spaces to get into nesting sites. A lot of developers are now using swift bricks with little holes, which allow swifts spacious housing very safely within houses. Also, we can retrospectively put swift boxes up, which can do the same. Swifts play a crucial role in controlling insect pests, for example, so we need to support them. Numbers have plummeted, with a 53% decline since 2016, which is very disturbing. The Labour council in Ealing is doing its best to develop a site that has got a lot of swift habitats, so I would be grateful if any noble Lords who know anyone on Ealing Council could point out to them how destructive this is and that they should not be developing an area which swifts desperately need in London.
Of course, you need ecological surveys. Most noble Lords here care about nature, and if you do not know what nature is there, then you do not know whether you will disturb it or damage it in any way. A survey is basic to everything that is part of development of any kind. I thank your Lordships for listening.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the LGA. I apologise for my late arrival at this debate, and for missing some of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley.
I wish to speak in support of Amendment 293 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, to which I have added my name. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, introduced her amendment clearly. I fully support the introduction of ecological surveys taking place prior to planning applications being submitted, and mitigating measures taking place. Having been a member of a county council for 20 years and a district council for 10 years, I am only too well aware that the information provided to councillors taking planning decisions is often very sketchy and sometimes non-existent. Proposed new subsection (2)(a), (b) and (c) is extremely important to ensuring success in preserving vulnerable species of both animals and plant. Proposed new subsection (2)(d) should be absolutely the last resort: offsite mitigation should be avoided at all costs, and considered only after all other avenues for mitigation onsite have been exhausted.
The list of vulnerable species will be dependent on the location and area of England and of the site. There will be no exhaustive list, but otters and great crested newts, along with dormice, harvest mice, voles, and birds such as bullfinches and maybe swifts should be considered. The habitats of migrating species—some visiting in the summer and others which are overwintering —should be considered, along with indigenous bird nesting sites, including owls and bat roosts.
Proposed new subsection (3)(a) and (b) is vital to ensure sufficient penalty for those who carry out tree clearance and other measures in an effort to prevent either the application going forward or mitigation measures taking place which may hold up the development.
Local planning authorities need to step up and protect their local vulnerable species. Currently, the Environment Agency provides information to local authorities, but it is underfunded and understaffed so its ability to provide the necessary information is limited. Perhaps now is the time for groups of local authorities to employ their own environmental experts to carry out this work. The cost of this could be recouped through the planning fees that are part and parcel of every development application.
Before finishing, I would like to say a few words in support of a couple of the other amendments in this group. Amendment 270 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, alongside Amendments 270A and 270B from the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, raises the importance of both flood risk and wildfires. The need to control and manage both is an essential element of protecting our wildlife and species habitat.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, put her name to Amendment 272, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, to protect hedgehogs by ensuring that there are holes included in domestic fencing, so that these much-loved but very scarce creatures are able to move around their territory freely to find both food and shelter.
Finally, my noble friend Lord Teverson put down Amendment 309 to ensure that climate change is dealt with, and that consistency in mitigation of and adaptation to all measures becomes a reality in the near future. It should not be something which we bitterly regret not tackling properly in the future, when it will all be too late.
This is an important and excellent group of amendments, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 504 in this group, standing in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook. Nothing is more exasperating and debilitating for residents than to suffer prolonged disturbance, noise, vibration, lorry movements, dust, aerial pollution, and traffic jams et cetera from developments in their neighbourhood. As I know from my time as a constituency MP, life can be made an absolute misery for residents.
Some local authorities set extremely high standards, and impose planning condition requirements on developers to mitigate all those nuisances that I mentioned. For example, most of the councils in Norfolk and East Anglia will have in place the practice of imposing these high standards and making sure that the planning conditions are imposed.
It came as a surprise to me when I researched this that some councils do not adopt the same practice, and that includes, for example, many London councils, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea being one. Councils that do not adopt this practice rely on what I would describe as a hopeless and outdated system whereby developers are encouraged to submit applications for prior consent under Section 61 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, which was enacted a long time ago. Failing this, councils can issue a Section 61 notice, and consents then create legal obligations on developers, and councils can take action. However, they can do so only if they have been notified, and often the system is completely useless if consents and notices are not published on their websites. How, therefore, do local residents find out? The answer is that, unless a local board member tells them or unless they hear from other sources, most residents very often do not find out what is going on, so they cannot take action.
My and my noble friend Lord Northbrook’s solution is very simple: under our amendment, local planning authorities “must”—at the moment under the legislation, they “can”—publish such consents and notices on their websites and not then remove them. Back in the days of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, the internet did not exist and councils did not have websites. My noble friend and I are simply updating the law to make life a lot easier for residents who suffer this appalling nuisance. I really do not see why the Government could have any objection to this amendment. It would be an improvement for many local residents and residents’ associations up and down the country and make their lives a great deal easier, at no cost whatever to the local planning authorities. I commend it to the Committee.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bellingham. He says that he cannot see any reason why the Government should not agree to his amendment. I say the same thing in every speech and it has never worked yet, but let us see if we can get a change today. I hope that proves his case.
I rise to speak to Amendment 309, but first I want to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, on including biodiversity in his work. I very much hope that, on Report, he will support the local nature recovery strategy amendment of my noble friend Lady Parminter; indeed, I am sure he will. I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, regarding adaptation. As the Environment and Climate Change Committee—I still want to call it a sub-committee, but it is no longer that—has said so often, we are way behind on adaptation. As the National Infrastructure Commission has said in respect of flooding, we need to invest in adaptation and take it into consideration in the planning procedures.
I turn to the contribution of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. London is an issue in terms of fires, as we saw so graphically on the television, but I still come back to the peatlands that he mentioned. While we in the south-west try to revive our peatlands, we still have those fires every summer, as I am sure is true in Scotland as well. They degrade our carbon stock in this country.
This group of amendments—given that I speak particularly on climate change, I would say this, wouldn’t I?—is one of the most important. Why? Because, as the Committee knows, climate change is one of the fundamental challenges that not just this country but the whole planet faces, along with the threat to biodiversity. That is why, when the IPCC report on updating climate change came out at the beginning of this year, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that we need to do everything everywhere, all the time, right now. Clearly, the planning regime has to be a core part of that, which is why all the amendments in this group are particularly important.
I understand entirely that, as the Minister I am sure will say, we have had a planning duty in legislation since 2008 and that this Bill rolls it forward. It does not ignore it or try to take it away; it is still there. Since 2012, climate change and net zero have effectively been in the National Planning Policy Framework as well. However, the point is that they have had hardly any effect, and this is why these amendments are so important. That is the problem.
I looked up how many local authorities now have climate emergency resolutions. Not all these local authorities will be planning authorities, so I do not have an exact number, but 75% of local authorities now have climate emergency resolutions within their council—that is 308 of them. Some of those may be greenwashing, I do not know, but I know that certainly in the south-west they are for real. There are councillors of every stripe and party, and independents, and ratepayers who want to move ahead on this agenda but find it very difficult.
We have had the example in West Oxfordshire, in Lancaster City Council, where the Planning Inspectorate has pushed back against local authorities trying to take control and move forward on some of these policies. Because of the cost of going through planning inspectors and appeals, the effect is that local authorities, cash-strapped as they always are, tend to be very cautious about the policies that they then try to implement. That is why I think there is a golden opportunity in this Bill to up the ability to deliver at a local level—not just at the top level of UK Government and beyond but at the grass roots of our communities—and to move ahead and implement real policies that produce a major contribution towards net zero.
As members will be well aware, a number of recent reports have looked at this. We had the excellent Mission Zero report, and I congratulate the Government on getting Chris Skidmore to produce this report. He said:
“The planning system should be an essential tool in delivering the changes needed for net zero”.
He went on to say that
“the planning system is undermining net zero and the economic opportunities that come with it”
and that there should be
“a test for all developments to be net zero compliant”.
I will come back to the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, about decision-making as opposed to policy.
The Climate Change Committee in its 2022 report to Parliament—including, obviously, this House—said that the Government should:
“Make clear the importance of ensuring that all developments consider how best to minimise lifetime emissions and adapt to climate change as part of the planning process”.
This is absolutely in line with government policy on net zero and the various other routes to decarbonisation that the Government are committed to.
Amendment 209, put forward from these Benches, builds on the duty in legislation at the moment. It stresses both mitigation and adaptation, as the noble Baroness made clear. It makes the climate and net-zero obligations real and certain, so that local authorities and planning authorities can, with confidence, move forward on their decisions in this area.
I do not believe the amendment would get in the way of development. In fact, planning and taking into account net zero, as the Chris Skidmore report said, actually helps development. It helps economic growth and is something we should aspire to; it does not get in the way. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, is right that this amendment affects not just policy-making but planning decisions. That makes it a hard amendment, but that is what this is about. We are talking about a real crisis; we need action and we need to make sure it takes place. I believe this amendment would not get in the way of development.
I particularly thank the Better Planning Coalition and the We Are Here campaign for working with me to put this amendment together. This planning Bill can be a cornerstone of this Government’s and this Parliament’s policy and route map towards net zero, which is why this amendment, and all these groups, are important. I hope that the House can come together on Report to find a way forward, with the Government’s consent.
My Lords, can I briefly follow my noble friend Lord Teverson? There is no need to replicate what he said, but I have to dash off and meet someone at Peers’ Entrance, which is why I was desperate to get in. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, does not mind.
I have two points. I put my name to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on hedgehogs. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, we all love hedgehogs, but I wanted to add two points, because I am sure that the Minister will come back and say why the Government cannot do this very simple thing which would make such a massive difference to our hedgehog population, which is in desperate decline.
The two points are as follows. Many Members may not know that, on an average night, those little fellows travel about two miles and, when it is mating season, even further than that. Having holes in fences makes a massive difference to them getting food and mates to survive. That is a very small thing. Remember that fact: they travel two miles every night and, when it is mating season, even more.
We are not talking about a big amount of space; we are talking about a quarter of a piece of A4 paper, so people do not have to worry that their cats or dogs will get out unnecessarily. Fencing with holes of that size is commercially available now. I am sure that the developers will come back and say to people, “Oh, we can’t do it because it will put up the costs of housing applications”. However, hedgehogs have consistently been voted the favourite animal of people in this country, so developers could market and sell these homes as hedgehog-friendly.
I hope that the Minister will not come back and say that the Government will not do this because it would put up the cost of planning applications. This is a major way to help one of our iconic species, and it would have the full-hearted support of the British public. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I will be back.
My Lords, speaking in this debate is fraught with danger: you either follow the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, who spoke about much-loved small animals with pointy noses and whiskers, or you follow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who said everything that I was hoping to say. But the tradition in this House is to barrel on regardless. I declare several interests: I am chairman of the Woodland Trust and president or vice-president of a range of environmental and conservation organisations.
This is quite a meaty group but, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, it is very important. I speak in support of Amendments 201, 214, 226, 270 and 309. I very much support Amendments 201 and 214 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. They typify the most important theme of this group: the whole business of getting the planning system joined up with climate change objectives and targets and with nature recovery objectives. Noble Lords who were here yesterday will know that the noble Lord, Lord Deben—who is not in his place—from the Climate Change Committee, said that this was absolutely vital.
Amendments 226 and 270 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, talk again about joining up climate change mitigation and adaptation in the plan-making process. It is important that adaptation is brought to the fore—I will talk more about that.
On the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson —on making planning policies and local decisions consistent with the mitigation and adaptation climate change measures—I am afraid I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that delegating this to an even lower level of individual planning decisions is wrong. This is a crisis, and we need action now, everywhere, in everything, and at the same time. Local planning decisions absolutely have to be joined up with these objectives as well.
For me, there are two main principles here. One is the whole joining-up issue. In this country, we are incredibly bad about operating in siloes—I am sure all Governments are—as far as policies are concerned. We have to learn to walk, talk and chew gum at the same time, and to deliver policy objectives from other siloes, not just those that are in the policy area of the department concerned.
The one I always cite and bang on about endlessly is the land use issue, where we are about to see the publication of a land use framework for England that takes account only of Defra’s issues—agriculture, climate change and biodiversity—and none of the development, infrastructure or energy issues. It is a clear example of where we are failing to join up policy, and that will be the case if we do not get these very important climate and biodiversity objectives into the planning system at every level. Lots of bodies are calling for it, including the Climate Change Committee and the Skidmore report—I want to put a small wager with the House as to how many comments on the Skidmore report can be made in glowing terms in one debate, because, quite frankly, it comes up in every single item we talk about. I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Deben, here, even though I was quoting him in his absence.
The Climate Change Committee, the Skidmore report, the National Audit Office and the House of Commons local government committee, as well as the Blueprint Coalition and UK100, both of which are local government networks, are all calling for climate change and biodiversity recovery objectives to be built into the planning system. The one rogue in all this is the Planning Inspectorate, which appears to have lost the plot. It made two very important individual decisions in west Oxfordshire and Lancaster, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, which told local authorities that they were going too far if they adopted net-zero policies. That is just tosh, and the Planning Inspectorate must be made to get back into line. It will have a hugely chilling effect on other ambitious local authorities, and we must remember the high number of local authorities now committed to a state of climate emergency and doing audits of their local plans to see what contribution they make to net zero. However, lurking in the background are those two dreadful decisions by the Planning Inspectorate, which will put them off mightily, because planning officers spend a lot of their time watching their backs. We have to do something about the Planning Inspectorate, and legislation to bring together the climate change and nature recovery objectives with the planning system would be a huge move forward.
Before I finish, I will make a point about adaption. If I am conscious when I die, I will utter the immortal words, “I invented the Adaptation Sub-Committee”. When we put together the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Climate Change Committee, it was not popular—not even with the Labour Government—and it took a lot of standing on tails to get it to happen. It has since graduated and is no longer called a sub-committee, which is great, but a few of the teeth originally in the legislation proposed by that the committee were taken away quite early on, and we see some of the impact of that. The noble Baroness, Lady Brown, who is not in her place but is doing a wonderful job of chairing the committee, has, through repeated reports, indicated how we are not coming up to the mark as a nation in preparing for the undoubted impacts across the board, including not just flooding and heat effects but a whole range of other impacts. The Climate Change Committee’s last stirring words were that adaptation was
“the Cinderella of climate change, still sitting in rags by the stove”—
a fine phrase. Its advice on the UK’s third climate change risk assessment says that
“adaptation policy and implementation is not keeping up with the rate of increase in climate risk”
and that all climate-related risks have increased over the last years and not declined. So we have a real problem with coping with the undoubted impacts that are already happening and will only get worse, as they already have been.
In this respect, it is not enough just to fiddle with adjustments to the National Planning Policy Framework. The last set of fiddling did not deliver; we need clear statutory policies to embed the links between planning policy and plans, local decisions, and climate and nature recovery. They are needed now, and I hope that noble Lords will feel able to support the amendments that enshrine them.
My Lords, I will say a few words in support of my noble friend Lord Caithness. I can well understand him introducing the question of wildfires, because in my lifetime I can remember a couple of horrendous wildfires in Caithness. This legislation, as noble Lords will be aware, is intended to involve Scotland. We must produce a holistic approach to all these elements. If we are looking at controlling wildfires, we need a policy that includes firebreaks—there is no other way. It is not a question in this Bill, but finance will have to be provided to create firebreaks.
The Scottish Parliament, as far as I can remember, is considering a complete ban on moor burning. The trouble with moor burning is that it affects so many elements, and they must be taken into account. I declare an interest, because my family owns about 2,000 acres of blanket bog, and we are involved in peat restoration in quite a bit of it. All elements should be considered.
My Lords, I speak in general support of this group of amendments. I agree with those who have said that they are both crucial and urgent. Specifically, I speak in support of Amendment 309 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I will take a leaf out of the book of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in that, despite the points I will make having been made, I will barrel on regardless. I will not, necessarily, reflect on what my dying words might be.
The Government have set bold and ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions, and no one doubts the need for action to address those and to address the climate crisis. The Church of England has identified 2030 as the target for net-zero carbon for all its church buildings—its churches, parsonages and church halls. That is a huge undertaking, and it is in the specificity that we are discovering that we need to be really careful and clear about what we mean by it at the most detailed level. This is why I am supporting the level of detail that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is asking for. The planning system is at the centre of many decisions that are crucial not only to how we reduce carbon emissions but to how we adapt to the climate crisis. Therefore, it is vital to ensure that planning decisions are, in detail, consistent with the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change—just as this amendment proposes.
Notwithstanding the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, I believe that the extent proposed by this amendment is necessary. I would be grateful if the Minister would indicate if she would be prepared either to meet those of us from this Committee who want to prioritise climate change concerns in this area or to bring forward proposals to achieve the same ends intended by this amendment in particular but by the group of amendments in general on Report.
My Lords, there is a lot to unpick in that rather meaty debate. I applaud all noble Lords for their contributions. They will have bear with me, as I will no doubt lose my place a few times and will not be able to read my own writing.
The first group of amendments I shall explore, and try to reply to, concerns planning, development and environment. Amendment 214 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley, Amendments 226 and 270 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, with related Amendments 270A and 270B in the name of noble Earl, Lord Caithness, Amendment 309 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and Amendment 312C in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, all have very similar intentions.
I want to reassure noble Lords that the Government recognise that the planning system must address the challenges of climate change. Through the Climate Change Act 2008, the Government have committed to reduce net emissions by at least 100% of 1990 levels by 2050. The right reverend Prelate outlined the Church’s ambition to achieve net zero in its buildings by 2030. I applaud those ambitions and would certainly welcome a meeting between Ministers and his group.
In addition, the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 sets out that local planning authorities must design their local plans to secure that the use and development of land in their area contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change. This is restated in the Bill, and is found in new Section 15C of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, as inserted by Schedule 7 to this Bill.
The National Planning Policy Framework sets out that local planning authorities should plan in line with the objectives and provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008. The framework must, as a matter of law, be taken into account in preparing the development plan, and is a material consideration in planning decisions. The NPPF climate risks, in paragraphs 153 and 154, apply to all adaptation matters, including wildfire. The national policy highlights the risks arising from climate change that need to be addressed, including overheating, which was added in 2018. That is another matter that we will consider again through the forthcoming review of the NPPF.
As mentioned in response to Amendments 179, 179A and 271 in the debate on the purpose of planning on 22 March, we recognise that more can be achieved, which is why the Government recently consulted on immediate changes to the framework relating to renewable energy, as well as seeking views on carbon assessments and other changes that could strengthen their role in this vital area. A full review of the framework, taking the responses to this consultation into account, will take place following Royal Assent and will address adaptation to and mitigation of climate change.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked what the National Planning Policy Framework would say on health and well-being. It already covers policy on how to plan for sustainable transport facilities and services, including open-space, healthy and safe places and climate change mitigation and adaptation. Planning policies and decisions should aim to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places, ensuring an integrated approach to considering the location of housing, economic uses, community facilities and services.
All these amendments aim to achieve very similar intentions to those of the previous amendments, Amendments 179, 179A and 271, related to the purpose of planning.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, were particularly concerned with what the Government were doing to help local authorities and developers adapt to climate change. The Government recognise the importance of central and local government collaboration effectively to adapt to climate impacts, and are working closely with local partners. Defra, the Local Government Association and local partnerships have developed the local partnerships adaptation toolkit, and Defra co-ordinates the Local Adaptation Advisory Panel, a forum for dialogue on adaptation between central and local government, which includes 15 local authorities and seven UK government departments. The panel has also produced good practice guidance to support local authorities. The Government will set out how they intend to work with local partners to deliver the UK’s third national adaptation programme when it is published this summer.
The Government do not feel that they can support this group of amendments, for the reasons outlined.
Before the noble Baroness moves on, will she address the issue of why, if everything is already fairly clearly laid out in both statute and the National Planning Policy Framework, the Planning Inspectorate is busy telling local authorities that they cannot do net zero?
As I mentioned, this summer there will be a review of the whole framework, based on the responses already received. That will take place after the Bill has received Royal Assent. If there is any further detail I can add on the specific question about planning, I will either manage to get an answer while I am still at the Dispatch Box or write to members of the Committee. I will not make a commitment as to when that letter will be available, because we are coming back here on Thursday and that might be a little ambitious, but I will address those points separately.
Amendment 201 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley proposes that the joint spatial development strategy contribution to mitigating and adapting to climate change be made consistent with authorities’ other environmental targets, such as carbon reduction. I accept and understand the positive aims of this proposed amendment; however, new Section 15AA(2), as he mentioned, already contains requirements relating to climate change and environmental protection and improvement. In addition, the Environment Act 2021 has further strengthened the role of the planning system through mandatory biodiversity net gain and local nature recovery strategies, setting the foundations for planning to have a more proactive role in promoting nature’s recovery.
My noble friend also asked whether the provisions in Schedule 7 will ensure that local authorities meet their share of net zero. The net-zero target in legislation applies to the Government rather than individual authorities, recognising that net zero requires action across all aspects of policy, not just those within the remit of local authorities, and will therefore have different implications across different parts of the country.
As previously mentioned, chapters 14 and 15 of the current National Planning Policy Framework already contain clear policy that promotes the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, as well as protection and improvement of the environment. The Government will carry out a fuller review of the framework following the Bill’s Royal Assent, as I said, to ensure that it contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation as fully as possible. In light of these factors, planning authorities are already bound to address these issues when setting their planning strategies and policies. Indeed, including specific references within this legislation could be counterproductive if those requirements are replaced, updated or added to with other requirements at some stage in the future. Therefore, we do not believe that this amendment is necessary and it is not one that we shall feel able to support.
Amendment 272 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, proposes that all planning permissions be subject to a new condition that requires any fencing granted by the permission to allow for free passage of hedgehogs. It would also give powers to the Secretary of State to publish guidance on design. The Government are committed to taking action to recover our threatened native species, such as hedgehogs, red squirrels, water voles and dormice. Our planning practice guidance already acknowledges the value of incorporating wildlife-supporting features into development, such as providing safe routes for hedgehogs to travel between sites. Our National Model Design Code additionally acknowledges the importance of retaining, improving and creating new natural habitats, through hedgehog highways, bee and bird bricks and bat and bird boxes.
Local planning authorities, in producing their design codes, need to ensure that nature is integrated into the design of places through the protection, enhancement and promotion of biodiversity. These small measures can have a large impact on enabling nature to thrive among developed areas, but the Government do not feel that mandating this through a standard national planning condition would be appropriate. There will be circumstances in which development proposals will not impact on hedgehog habitats. Those permissions would, if this amendment were accepted, be subject to additional and unreasonable requirements to accommodate species that are not present in that area, while creating financial burdens to comply with and discharge the condition. As a consequence, while the Government accept the positive intentions behind this amendment, it is not one that we feel able to support.
Amendment 273 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, seeks to ensure that opportunities for reclamation, reuse and recycling from demolition processes are considered during the assessment of planning applications. As I have already made clear, the Government are committed to ensuring that the planning system contributes to addressing climate change. For example, the national model design code encourages sustainable construction, focused on reducing embodied carbon, embedding circular economy principles to reduce waste, designing for disassembly and exploring the remodel and reuse of buildings where possible, rather than rebuilding. The implications of demolition are already something which local planning authorities may consider when assessing applications for development. They can, if necessary, grant planning permission subject to conditions.
I understand the desire to look more broadly at the implications of construction activity for climate change. That is a desire that we all share. Evidence on the impact of carbon assessment tools and how they can work effectively in practice is, however, not yet clear-cut. We have sought views on methods and actions that could provide a proportionate and effective means of undertaking a carbon impact assessment in planning, which could take demolition into account. We also intend to consult further on our approach to the measurement and reduction of embodied carbon in new buildings, and it will be important for this work to happen before we can commit to any intervention that affects the planning decision-making process. For these reasons, the Government believe this amendment is not appropriate at the present time, and thus it is not one that we feel able to support.
I turn next to Amendment 273A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, which indeed seeks to ensure that a viability assessment is taken when considering the opportunities for reclamation, reuse and recycling from demolition through a new pre-demolition audit proposed in Amendment 273. As has already been set out in response to earlier amendments, we have committed to making sure the planning system contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation as fully as possible. We need to make sure that further steps we take are deliverable and effective. Building a viability assessment into any new pre-demolition audit would cut across the direction of the infrastructure levy, where we aim to reduce the use of viability assessments in the planning application process due to the uncertainty and delays they could cause.
I understand the desire to look more broadly at the implications of construction activity for climate change. That is a desire that we share, and that is why the Government have already consulted on implementing a form of carbon assessment in planning. This could take demolition into account. We will take responses to this consultation into account in designing the next steps on this. We also intend to consult further on our approach to the measurement and reduction of embodied carbon in new buildings, and it will be important for this work to happen before we can commit to making an intervention that affects the planning decision-making process. For these reasons, again, I believe this amendment is not appropriate at the present time, and thus it is not one that the Government feel able to support.
Amendment 293 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, looks to make ecological surveys mandatory in all planning applications to ensure that data on vulnerable species is robust and accurate and prevents assumptions being made about the presence or absence of species. The Government appreciate the spirit of this amendment, which was considered in the other place, and I would like to reassure this House that strong measures are already in place to promote and secure ecological conservation and enhancements where new development comes forward.
There is significant overlap with this amendment and existing legislation within the habitats regulations 2017 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. In particular, under the habitats regulations, if a development is likely to have a significant effect on a protected site, an appropriate assessment of the impacts must be undertaken and appropriate mitigation measures need to be in place to ensure that the proposed development can take place without a harmful impact on the integrity of that protected site.
Additionally, the current biodiversity circular also reinforces the need to establish the presence or otherwise of protected species before planning permission can be granted, and we are taking steps in accordance with the principles in the Environment Act 2021 to ensure that development results in environmental improvement, rather than merely preventing harm. This includes, for example, the introduction of mandatory biodiversity net gain which will require biodiversity assessments for all relevant developments in future.
The provisions in Part 6 of the Bill relating to environmental outcome reports also put the mitigation hierarchy at the centre of the new system of assessment which will apply to relevant major projects. Indeed, the Government have just laid an amendment to clarify the way the hierarchy should work for these reports, bringing it more into line with current practice. Therefore, while the Government agree with the intentions behind this amendment, existing legislation, in combination with national policy and our proposed reforms, will safeguard the ecological value of sites, so this amendment is not one that we feel able to support.
That is my understanding; if that is wrong, I will certainly put it right on the record.
I turn to Amendment 504 in the name of my noble friend Lord Northbrook, so ably introduced by my noble friend Lord Bellingham. It aims to amend the Control of Pollution Act 1974 to create a legal duty for local authorities to publish—promptly, permanently and in all events on their planning websites—the consents and notices around any works to which Section 60 of the Act applies. I share the view of how important it is to ensure that construction noise is managed effectively. However, I question whether a duty to publish consents and notices on a website and in all events will be the appropriate action in all circumstances.
Current noise management legislation allows local authorities the discretion to publish notices and consents as they see fit within a local context. Legislating for information to be published in a specific way would remove their ability to make decisions at local level, for little additional benefit. The Government have provided a range of legislation giving local authorities powers to manage construction noise, including specific measures in the Control of Pollution Act 1974 along with statutory nuisance and planning regimes. I point to British Standard 5228, setting standards for noise and vibration from construction work, which local authorities must take into account in managing the impacts of construction noise. Therefore, the Government believe the proposed amendment is unnecessary and cannot support it.
Before the Minister moves on, I am very grateful for her full explanation on this amendment, but can she give some comfort and satisfaction to these residents about problems in future, as on many past occasions they have not been informed about these nuisances, and state clearly that future concerns will all be taken care of?
Since this is a Defra lead, I will commit to write to my noble friend and share the answer with the rest of the Committee.
Amendment 504D, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, addresses the need for transparency when decisions are being made against the advice of the Environment Agency, which provides important expert advice on matters relating to flood risk. I reassure noble Lords that its advice is taken very seriously. In July 2021, Defra published the findings of a review of planning applications in which the Environment Agency commented on flood risk. It showed that, from 2019 to 2020, 95.4% of these planning decisions were made in accordance with the Environment Agency advice.
Where there is a difference of view, existing powers in the Town and Country Planning Act enable the Secretary of State to issue directions to local planning authorities restricting the grant of planning permission or to consult with such authorities as may be prescribed before a decision is made. Our consultation direction requires that local planning authorities consult the Secretary of State where they intend to grant planning permission for major development in a flood risk area to which the Environment Agency has made an objection that it has not been able to withdraw, even after discussions with the local planning authority.
Local planning authorities are also required to publish all their planning applications and decisions on their planning register. This includes representations where a government department or an agency such as the Environment Agency has expressed the view that the permission should not be granted as it is unacceptable or should be granted subject to conditions to ensure that the development is acceptable.
As part of our digital agenda, we want to ensure that these decisions become more accessible so that it is easier for all to identify where development is coming forward against advice, whether that be the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive or a local highway authority. We believe that this is best addressed through open access to data rather than further statutory obligations to produce reports.
Lastly, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, asked about planning fees. We are not changing fees through this Bill, but we are consulting on proposals to increase planning fees to ensure that local planning authorities are properly resourced to improve speed and the quality of their decisions.
I hope that, with these reassurances that I have been able to give today, my noble friend Lord Lansley will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I know this is the standard format—we put forward improvements and the Government bat them away, saying “It is all under control. Do not worry about it. We are dealing with this”. But it is clear that there are huge problems within the planning system that some of our amendments would fix, and I do not understand how the Government can be so complacent about rejecting these. I know that this is the convention, but surely somebody somewhere in the Government is looking at these and thinking they are not such bad ideas.
Of course the Government are doing that, but we have to consider everything in the round, and we are doing a huge amount through the Environment Act and other legislation in order to allay some of the concerns that have been voiced today in the Committee.
My Lords, before I come back to my Amendments 270A and 270B, and Amendment 270 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, I need to correct one small thing that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said. The noble Baroness said that she was the only person talking about manmade climate change and that made me giggle—I was talking in this House about manmade climate change before she even joined the Green Party, when I was a Minister for the Countryside.
I knew that would get a rise out of the noble Baroness.
Coming back to my amendments, I think my noble friend said that there was legislation already on the statute book to cope with the situation. Why is that legislation not being utilised and implemented? One of the key factors with wildfire is fuel load, and we are now learning more about fuel load and wildfires that we did not know before in the legislation that she made reference to. We know that at the moment we have got fires occurring in this country that the fire and rescue services cannot cope with because of the fuel load within the fire itself. What are the local authorities doing about that? If they have got the powers, why are they not using them? Why has the Climate Change Committee, in its latest report to Parliament, stressed the need for, and asked the Home Office to create and implement, a strategy to identify and mitigate the risks of wildfire? My noble friend did not answer the question I asked her about the Home Office earlier. Can she now answer these questions?
I do not underestimate the serious concerns that wildfires increasingly present to local authorities and, indeed, to us all. These are matters that are spread across a number of different departments, I can say that the NPPF does apply its climate risk to all adaptation matters, including wildfires as I have said. There are issues that cross over between the Home Office and indeed Defra, and I shall do some further exploration between those departments and come back to my noble friend and the Members of the Committee in writing.
Very briefly on flooding, there was no mention of flooding in the Environment Act, and it is not here—and that really worries me. I wonder if the Minister would be prepared to meet to discuss how we can build in flooding mitigation and adaptation better into our legislation?
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her full response to this debate, which admirably demonstrated the degree of consensus and agreement there is that this issue is both important and urgent, and that, as I think the noble Baroness put it, the planning system is not adapting. It is not securing the adaptation to climate change that we require or, arguably even more so, the mitigation of climate change. It is not even seeking in any substantial way to mitigate climate change. As the Government presently put it in the National Planning Policy Framework, the system is simply seeking to try to respond to the potential impacts of climate change. That is not sufficient; we require something more than that.
I say to my noble friend Lord Caithness that there are 14 paragraphs about flooding and coastal erosion in the draft National Planning Policy Framework. The only reference I can see that might bear upon his concern is the reference to the risk of overheating from rising temperatures. There is nothing about a planning response to the risk of fires and wildfires in the way that my noble friend expressed.
I say to my noble friend the Minister that the point is that, if we could look at the National Planning Policy Framework and see that it set out in very clear terms how the planning system s to secure the necessary level of mitigation and adaptation to climate change, I do not think we would have an argument. We have an argument because we cannot look at it. Chapter 14 of the draft NPPF is simply about making the necessary adaptations to deal with the impacts of climate change. It does not say that the planning system should be seeking to shift in any major, radical way so as to reduce the contributions which development in this country makes to continuing climate change risk.
Indeed, where biodiversity is concerned, there is more in chapter 15. I will look at it very carefully to see whether the NPPF tackles that. However, in this debate, the next debate and a subsequent debate on the design code, we are all going to be trying to use amendments to this Bill to achieve things which ought to be, by the Government’s own admission, in the National Planning Policy Framework. They want to have general legislation which allows them to specify what should then happen, but we need to see it in there.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, in her first speech asked when we are going to see the NPPF. My noble friend more or less said that it would be after we have finished with the Bill. That, I am afraid, will not wash. We have to see it before Report. If not, it is an inescapable conclusion that we will have to amend the Bill on Report in order to be sure that the subsequent instructions, as it were, to local authorities about what they need to do are clear from Parliament and the Government—otherwise it is simply left to the Government, and the Bill is silent. Where the environment is concerned, as things stand there are references to the Climate Change Act 2008, but the Government are proposing to leave them exactly as they are. The expectation is that, by doing the same thing as they did in the past, the results will be better. As Einstein might have said, that way lies madness. If we carry on doing the same things, we will get the same result. We have to think hard about how we do things differently.
I will return to this issue in the next group and in a subsequent one, but I think we have made our case to look at this again in the future. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 201.
Amendment 201 withdrawn.
Amendments 202 to 206 not moved.
207: Schedule 7, page 290, line 3, at end insert—
“(ha) the assessments of need for older people’s housing carried out in respect of the authority’s area, and”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that local authorities consider the needs for housing for older people when preparing local development plans.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for adding their names to Amendment 207. Indeed, when this House had a dress rehearsal for this amendment, discussing the related Amendment 221 last month, the noble Lord, Lord Young, expertly outlined the case for the planning system to do more to reflect our ageing population, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester—in place of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford—gave invaluable support to this theme.
It was very helpful, too, to get the views of the Minister in response to that first instalment in our efforts to improve the Bill from the perspective of housing for older people. We want the Bill to trigger a real breakthrough in provision of suitable housing for older people. Amendment 207 would ensure that local authorities recognise the needs in their area for such housing and, alongside Amendment 221, would enable the outcome of assessments to feed into local plans, as I shall explain in a moment. In this context, I warmly welcome the eagerly awaited announcement of an older people’s housing taskforce, to be chaired by Professor Julienne Meyer. We all have high hopes that this government initiative will lead to real progress in tackling the housing needs of our aging population.
I declare my interest as chairman of a series of HAPPI inquiries—Housing our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation—initiated by the APPG on Housing and Care for Older People, which I chair jointly with Peter Aldous MP. I am also drawing on the professional input of the Retirement Housing Group, which brings together the developers and providers of most new homes being built for later living. I am grateful for this group’s input.
At the last Committee sitting, the case was made for the building of many thousands more new homes for the older generation, particularly perhaps the extra-care assisted living projects that combine independent apartments or bungalows with social and care facilities on tap when needed. Retirement housing schemes enhance health and well-being, keep people out of expensive residential care and out of hospital, and save NHS and care budgets. They also achieve two for one by releasing family homes for the next generation. However, total output of all forms of retirement housing is running at around 8,000 homes per annum, compared with national estimates of need for 30,000 to 35,000 homes. We have no chance of achieving this growth so long as we simply hope that market forces will do the job.
The housebuilding industry is dominated by an oligopoly of volume builders that concentrate on the easier market of first-time buyers and young people. Developments for older people are less profitable because sales are slower, since prospective buyers wait for the whole development to be completed and the management to be in place, because older buyers demand higher standards of space and accessibility, and because schemes have the expense of communal areas and shared gardens. These extras are the very essence of specialist developments of different sorts. They combat the epidemic of loneliness and isolation, not least in supporting couples where one is a carer—maybe with a partner who has been diagnosed with dementia—and there is help and companionship there for both. These schemes also make formal care much easier to provide in one place. However, the extra land requirements and additional capital costs are hard to recoup simply by demanding a higher price, so those building for younger people, where profits are higher, will outbid the specialist providers of retirement homes in the competition for land.
Intervention through the planning system represents the key opportunity to create a more level playing field. Central government has an important leadership role through its National Planning Policy Framework and related guidance. Already, this gives encouragement to local planning authorities to take on board the housing needs of older people. The current consultation on the NPPF indicates the Government’s desire to improve the diversity of housing options available to older people and to boost supply. However, research by Irwin Mitchell and Knight Frank in July 2022 found that just 22% of local authorities have a clear planning policy in place for older people’s housing. This amendment attempts to change that depressing statistic and ensure that planning at the local level enables and supports provision of retirement housing.
Government has more levers to pull in respect of social housing provision and could—and should—use its grant funding through Homes England and the Greater London Authority to secure a more appropriate proportion of its affordable housing programme for older people’s housing. However, this amendment uses the powers of local planning to make things happen for social and private sector providers. Most importantly, this could mean incorporating requirements for older people’s housing into local plans. As other clauses in the Bill emphasise, establishing a rigorous local plan is critical, and so is the determination and insistence of the planning authority to uphold that local plan. Including a firm requirement in the local plan for retirement housing in the mix of new homes would give the specialist private and social housing providers the impetus they need to boost production.
I will address one objection from some councils to supporting planning applications for older people’s housing. This is the spurious argument that such housing will encourage migration of people needing social care into the area. This is a complete misunderstanding of what retirement apartments and communities are achieving. Some more affluent home purchasers may be moving some distance to the retirement development from elsewhere—for example, leaving London to move to a seaside resort or a more rural locale. However, those movers will pay for their social care, and more broadly they will bring spending power that supports local economies the year round.
For the great majority of developments, surveys of residents show that most people move only a short distance when rightsizing to purpose-built new accommodation. Most residents are already living in the local authority’s area, and the more suitable accommodation will actually mean that the council can expect significant savings to its social care budget. Those savings will accrue because home care needs are likely to be reduced when people are in safer, more accessible accommodation, where support, including mutual support from fellow residents, is available, and because the greater expense of residential care is likely to be prevented or postponed. Moreover, it is far easier to deliver care to older people in one retirement development than for care workers to spend endless time travelling between their numerous visits.
The plan-makers should have no concerns that retirement housing will add a burden to social care services. As Amendment 207 spells out, plans should take on board a full assessment of the need for older people’s housing in the area and, in the highly likely event that this demonstrates unmet supply, clear requirements on housebuilders and developers can be justified in the local plan.
Housing for later living can and should be treated in the same way as planning for affordable housing, through specifying an obligatory proportion of new homes—perhaps 10%—in all developments over a certain size to be for older people. Thus larger schemes can include, for example, an extra care development, usually of between 40 and 60 apartments. This achieves an intergenerational mix within all major new housing developments. In addition, planners can earmark and allocate individual sites specifically for older people’s housing—for example in town centres, where such developments can be important community anchors and can help broader regeneration. The same treatment can go for windfall sites that emerge after preparation of the local plan. I should add that neighbourhood plans can play a key role in highlighting and supporting local requirements for retirement housing.
I will conclude with one or two statistics. The number of us who will be over 80 is set to rise from 3.3 million to 4.5 million in the coming decade and, even more striking, those over 85 will double from 1.6 million to 3.2 million. Yet we are seeing the numbers of specialist apartments and bungalows for older people decline: supply per thousand population aged 75 and over has fallen from 139 homes in 2015 to 110 in 2021, not least following the closure of older social rented stock without replacement.
It is clear that this issue is becoming more and more urgent. Amendment 207 would help create the conditions necessary to achieve that elusive tipping point in making rightsizing for one’s older age the norm and providing for the thousands more who need and want a suitable home. I hope the Minister agrees, and I beg to move.
I will speak to Amendments 215 and 218, tabled by me and my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. That might be helpful because there is a substantial additional issue in this group which, I have to say, even after eight and a half days of debate on the Bill, may prove to be the most significant of all our debates thus far. It is about future housing supply.
The Government assert that the planning system is broken, and the fact that only 40% of local planning authorities have an up-to-date local plan might suggest that that is true. The public anger at the approval of planning permissions as a result of the lack of a five-year housing supply has created a deep lack of confidence in the system. The Government have a target of building 300,000 homes a year; we are 200,000 homes short of that target since it was set in 2018—possibly as much as 100,000 short in the past year. Even at that rate of new build, it would take decades to bring our housing supply up to anything comparable to other western European countries.
I do not think the issue is whether the planning system is broken; the issue is whether these reforms mend it. Unfortunately, the Government’s proposals for reform over recent years have not led to any acceleration in the building of new homes or the processes leading to it. On the contrary, the rate of plan-making has slowed to half the rate before the housing White Paper was published in 2020. Since the ministerial Statement in December last year concerning changes to the NPPF, 33 local plans have been delayed. Among the changes in the draft National Planning Policy Framework were that the standard method for the assessment of housing need should become an advisory starting point. It also included the watering down of the housing delivery test and, consequently, that the limitation on the use of the presumption in favour of sustainable development would also be watered down. It proposed the removal of the test of “justified” in the examination of plans, so local planning authorities can make the plans they wish to without having to justify them. Since those changes, fewer plans are being approved, fewer planning consents are being granted, and, consequently, fewer homes will be built. This is not mending a broken system.
I see nothing in the Bill and have heard nothing in our debates so far that leads us away from the idea that there should be a plan-led system. However, as my noble friend and I made clear in a debate on his earlier amendments, it requires the preparation, publication and approval of up-to-date local plans. If those local plans are approved timeously, we will have as a consequence a basis on which more homes can be built—particularly if those plans incorporate the necessary assessment of housing need.
Amendment 215 would place a statutory requirement on local planning authorities to plan for a housing supply which “meets or exceeds” that which would be specified by the standard method and the Government’s housing target. They can deploy an alternative method, but not in order to diminish the number of homes that the Government’s target would imply for their area. Amendment 218 would require local planning authorities to have regard to the Government’s housing target and to the standard method in assessing their housing requirements.
The proposition in these amendments, in my name and that of my noble friend, is very simple. The country needs more homes to be built, and the Government’s housing target recognises and quantifies this. If the Government have a target, they should have a means of delivering it. These amendments, and those which reinforce the requirement for an up-to-date plan, are the basics which are needed to deliver on such a policy. The Government would have broad public and political backing for stating this and putting it into practice as quickly as possible.
I urge my noble friends on the Front Bench that, if they agree with the spirit of these amendments, the Government should come back on Report with their own amendments, and that they should before that date publish a revised National Planning Policy Framework, as I mentioned previously, showing that as a consequence they propose to reinstate the housing target and the standard method as the basis for local planning authorities to assess their housing requirements.
My Lords, I will speak to all the amendments in this group. I support them all, with the exception of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, on which I am agnostic at the present time.
The comments made by my noble friend Lord Lansley were interesting and I completely endorse them. I was extremely disappointed by Ministers resiling from their original commitments to planning targets that arose from the ministerial Statement last December. Noble Lords might wish to look at the excellent paper that was published in January by the Centre for Policy Studies, The Case for Housebuilding, which disabuses people of the canard that housing targets, and local housing in particular, are unpopular. Qualitative and quantitative data collected in that paper by the CPS shows that this is not the case.
My noble friend Lord Lansley is absolutely right that Ministers now have the opportunity to restate their commitment to housebuilding—a commitment made in the 2019 general election manifesto. Clearly, it is imperative. There is an urgent need to reassure people, particularly people under the age of 40, that they have a Government who are committed to providing them with the options to at least think about owning their own home. It is difficult, of course, because there are competing interests. It is basic economics that, if you own capital, you do not want to diminish the value of that capital by giving capital to other people. However, the bigger issue here is one of fairness and social equity, particularly for younger people. The Government have an obligation to look again at ways they can facilitate more homes to be available through strategic planning policies, not just in cities but on brownfield sites and urban extensions in rural and suburban areas.
I commend the Home Builders Federation for its unfortunately titled Planning for Economic and Social Failure, published in March, which contains a lot of interesting data, and the Housing Today magazine’s campaign, A Fair Deal for Housing.
I want particularly to talk about the very interesting remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, who brings great expertise and experience to this issue around housing for older people. He is absolutely right that the figures are pretty stark. There will be around 500,000 new over-75s within the next five years. As he said, by 2032, there will be 5 million people over the age of 80. This is not a luxury that we can dismiss with any degree of insouciance. Older people’s housing is an important issue, for a number of reasons.
If I can take noble Lords back to 2015, I was fortunate, or unfortunate, enough to attend a barbecue at No. 11 with the then Chancellor, George Osborne, as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed—well, slightly addled—Back-Bencher in the other place. He asked: “What policy do you think I should put forward in this Parliament that would really make a difference?”—this was just after the general election. I said tax breaks for extra-care facilities to help older people in need into extra care and to alleviate the cumulative impact over time on acute district hospitals, general practice and social care. Clearly, I did not make much of an impact, because successive Administrations have not necessarily followed my advice.
I think the beauty of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Best, is that it is a probing amendment that begins the debate. Ultimately, the debate will land at the feet of the Treasury, because in our centralised system it makes the decisions. For very narrow financial reasons, because of the demographic time bomb we face, it makes sense that we focus, look again and review housing for older people.
McCarthy Stone makes the assertion, which I am sure it can support by data, that pursuing a policy of encouraging downsizing of older people into extra-care facilities might release 2 million rooms across different tenures of housing. That accommodation would be available to families, younger people and those who are languishing on social housing waiting lists. It is something we need to look at; we desperately need new national guidance. We should require local authorities to assess local housing need and to include policies for older people in their local plans. We also need to think, potentially, about exempting older people moving into a retirement community home from paying stamp duty; that is extremely important.
This will have a wash-through into the health service and social care. It is about not only money but providing good-quality facilities for older people to support their dignity and independence, because too much of social care is about trying to solve a problem. I will finish with some statistics. If noble Lords remember the excellent report published by the Built Environment Committee in January last year, entitled Meeting Housing Demand, they will remember that by international comparison the UK is in a very poor place in the provision of housing for older people. In Australia, New Zealand and the United States, approximately 5% to 6% of over-65s have access to housing with 24/7 staffing, community facilities and bespoke care facilities. In this country, it is a pitiful 0.6%.
We can do better. I do not expect Ministers to develop policy on the hoof straightaway, but by accepting this excellent amendment by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham and the noble Lord, Lord Best, we can begin the debate and discussion. I think there is a political consensus across parties that this is an issue and a problem that we cannot turn away from for very much longer.
My Lords, I like this group of amendments. We have just had a group of amendments in which we talked a lot about protecting species’ habitats. I am an enthusiast of the hedgehog as much as anyone else, but I am worried that the Bill neglects human habitats: housing. I am really glad that we are going to focus in on that.
We heard an imaginative, problem-solving amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Best, who brilliantly motivated homes for older citizens, something that I would like to see developed. I have added my name to Amendments 215 and 218.
I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Lansley and Lord Young of Cookham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for focusing on housing supply. I made that the focus of my Second Reading speech and I continue to raise the issue, but it has been explained and motivated so well so far that I will confine myself to Amendment 210 in my name. However, unless there is some movement from the Government on tackling the blocks to building more homes and increasing the stultifying and sluggish housing supply, I will happily support the noble Lords and the noble Baroness if they table similar amendments on Report, because this is an issue of great urgency.
Amendment 210 is a modest amendment that deals with how homes are categorised and marketed in local plans. It would ensure that any local plans are honest and transparent about housing data and targets. Housing is usually categorised as either rented or owned, but I suggest that we need a third category that might more honestly reflect reality. If you go into an estate agent’s or look longingly in the window, you look at either rented accommodation or accommodation for sale. If you are lucky enough to buy a home, you assume that it is fully yours, but the sad reality is that the one in four so-called home owners who buy a leasehold property—nearly 5 million homes are in this category—are not home owners at all.
People should know what that means. When they go to an estate agent, we need to ensure that there is less mis-selling and that the estate agent advertises in its window “homes to lease”, rather than “homes to sell”, when it comes to leaseholders. This is important, because a lot of the Government’s rhetoric on housing and levelling up is intended to motivate an increase in the number of home owners. Arguably, leaseholders should not be counted in those figures.
I will give a few definitions and a bit of history. The reality of what the nature of leasehold really means came as rather a shock to many of us when it was exposed by the post-Grenfell building safety crisis. It has become increasingly apparent, at least to leaseholders, that we are not home owners—I declare an interest as a leaseholder. We realised that what we had purchased was a time-limited licence to occupy a concrete shell, of which the leaseholder does not own a brick, even after the mortgage has been redeemed.
In contemporary debates on this issue—of which there have been many recently, in both Houses—leasehold is often described as feudal serfdom. When I heard that, I thought it was just a bit of political hyperbole, but in fact leasehold tenure harks back to an age when land was correlated with power; and even in 2023, leasehold is indeed still firmly rooted in a sense of serfdom and manorialism. The medieval aristocracy enjoyed perpetual land ownership by allowing serfs to occupy premises on their land in return for labour and, later, in exchange for financial contributions.
As if to emphasise how much of that ancient history continued well after the end of feudalism, for many years leaseholders did not have the franchise. Why? Because the property qualification that was required in order to have the vote meant that you had to own your own property before you could choose who governed you. Because leaseholders did not count as owning their own property, they were not given the vote. When the democratic struggles succeeded in abolishing this egregious property requirement for voting, there was, unfortunately, no abolition of leasehold—but not for the want of trying. Even in 1884, Lord Randolph Churchill decried leasehold for empowering landowners to
“exercise the most despotic power over every individual who resides on his property”.
Indeed, between 1884 and 1929, there were at least 18 attempts to legislate against leasehold. It seems ridiculous that this has been going on for so long. But here we are, in 2023, with seeming cross-party unanimity, at last, on abolishing leasehold altogether.
Lisa Nandy, the shadow Levelling Up Secretary, has made Labour’s position clear. Labour will abolish leasehold, and, on this this at least, agrees with the Housing Secretary Michael Gove, and many Cross-Benchers, Bishops, Liberal Democrats and everybody in this Committee who seems to have been passionate and vociferous on the issue. So, you might think, why am I going on? Maybe this amendment is totally redundant. However, until I see it in the King’s Speech, I remain sceptical. At least, I want to ensure that we are honest before then about what leasehold means. This Bill aims to increase home ownership and says that it is an important part of levelling up. I want to ensure that leasehold properties are not counted under this category of home ownership.
I would like to welcome a new grass-roots campaign organisation, Commonhold Now, set up by the tireless leasehold activists Harry Scoffin and Karolina Zoltaniecka. It is calling for a mass shift to commonhold, a system widely used in Scotland, Canada and Australia. Interestingly, the organisation is committed what it calls “real homeownership”. It is focused on what makes ownership real: autonomy and control. People aspire to buy properties precisely so that they can have greater freedom, autonomy and control. They feel that that it will be different to being dependent on a landlord as a renter. It is very disillusioning to then discover that leasehold actually robs you of that control.
I learned that the hard way shortly after I became a first-time buyer over 20 years ago, partly to fulfil my father’s rather forlorn deathbed request that I settle down and take some responsibility. Some local footballing kids cracked my new flat’s window, so I decided to take my father’s advice and acted responsibly to replace the window. The response of my freeholder, Haringey Council, was to fine me for interfering with its property without permission.
My father, who worked in the construction business, also warned me that I should always get lots of comparative quotes from a range of contractors before getting any work done. But, as a local authority leaseholder, I have no right to do that. It is the council which enters into long-term agreements with contractors, who do not even have to tender for each project. Those of us who have to pay for the works have no right to decide on their scope, timing or even necessity. Being a leaseholder makes it almost impossible to budget, as you have no control over and or even cannot find out the extent of forthcoming costs because you do not control spending. For private sector leaseholders in the midst of the energy crisis, it is even worse. One article on this was titled:
“I am writing the cheque yet I have no control over what is being spent”.
Even legislation designed in this House to protect leaseholders by making homes safer has been turned into yet another mechanism for extracting cash and diminishing the choice and autonomy of many private leaseholders. One shocking example, in light of the fire safety legislation we passed, is a block of leaseholders who were told they would collectively be charged £500,000 to replace wooden terraces with special composite materials. Those leaseholders, at their own expense, consulted independent experts, who told them that the terraces did not need replacing; they were not a fire risk or in breach of any new legislation—and, anyway, paving stones were a lot cheaper and would do just as well. In other words, being a leaseholder means that you do not own your own home and this Bill needs to reflect that.
I of course do not want my amendment or any critique of leasehold to become an excuse for not building new homes, such as blocks of flats. As I have mentioned, the solution to the housing crisis, in terms both of rental and buying, and the solution to the affordability issue, is to focus on increasing supply with urgency. In a recent article in the Financial Times, John Burn-Murdoch made a plea for apartment living in high-density, high-rise blocks. I am all for that, but such developments are inevitably leasehold at the present time. Focusing new housebuilding and urban development on blocks of leasehold flats could lead to creating more second-class home owners, locked and entrapped in the costly and miserable limbo of leasehold. Even much of the retirement accommodation spoken of by the noble Lord, Lord Best, is at present leasehold and there are problems of exorbitant service charges.
We need to make sure that those who are desperate to get their foot on the first rung of the property ladder are not exploited by believing that leasehold means that they now own and control their homes. At the very least, any new-build homes that offer leasehold, rather than shared freehold or commonhold, must be honestly reflected and labelled in government data. They should not be counted as home ownership or cited as proof of fulfilling levelling-up targets. So, until leasehold is abolished, let us call it for what it is—and it is not home ownership.
My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 219A, which has been attached, rather inelegantly, to this group. I fully support the amendment on housing for older people so eloquently moved by the noble Lord, Lord Best. I declare my interests in the register, particularly as chair of council at the University of Salford.
My amendment is straightforward, but the issue is important. However, I will be brief. The amendment seeks to add a requirement that, in the development of local plans, the housing needs of students are taken into account by fully consulting local higher education providers and housing and planning authorities in that process.
We are all aware that there is a significant undersupply of student accommodation across the country—this has been widely reported in the media throughout this academic year. It is a particularly acute problem in our cities, including Manchester, where I live—but there are also reports from Durham, Bristol, Glasgow, Brighton, Nottingham, London and many more. The student accommodation charity, Unipol, reports that UK student housing is reaching a “crisis point” as bad as in the 1970s. Just before Christmas, Property Reporter said that the student rental market is reaching “breaking point”. Furthermore, purpose-built student accommodation specialists Cushman & Wakefield report that new-build schemes are failing to keep pace with demand, at the same time as supply is being lost from the private rented sector, with many landlords switching from student accommodation to rental for professionals because of a more compelling business case, lower management requirements and more consistent demand.
As a consequence, we know that students are forced into accommodation they cannot afford; are forced to live far away from the university they are attending, with consequential higher travel costs; or are choosing unsuitable, or even unsafe, accommodation. This has a detrimental impact on the health and well-being of students, as well as significantly undermining the overall student experience. The situation has clearly been exacerbated by the current cost of living crisis.
The Government have made their position clear. In response to a Written Question in the other place, Robert Halfon, Minister of State for Education, said:
“Neither the Department for Education nor the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities have made … an assessment”
of student housing. He went on:
“It is for local areas, through their Local Plans, and in response to local needs and concerns, to determine the level of student accommodation required in their area. Universities and private accommodation providers are autonomous. The department plays no direct role in the provision of student residential accommodation, whether the accommodation is managed by universities or private sector organisations.”
That is absolutely clear, and we must therefore consider local solutions to the problem.
If we look across the country, we see examples of good practice, such as in Nottingham, where the city’s student living strategy explicitly involves collaboration between the universities and the local council to ensure that Nottingham realises the many socioeconomic benefits that students bring, without putting pressure on the local housing stock. But such collaborations can be more difficult in places such as Greater Manchester, where you have many higher education providers and 10 district planning and housing authorities trying to co-ordinate the demand and supply of accommodation of many thousands of students.
The student union in Salford, ably led by its president, Festus Robert, and working closely with student unions across Greater Manchester, have been in discussions with the Mayor of Greater Manchester to try to address this problem. However, this complication could be overcome through this amendment. It will introduce a statutory requirement at the local level, with the development of local plans, to ensure the collaboration of all interested parties—principally, universities and local authorities—to take into account the housing needs of the students when they are developing their local plans.
This important issue must be tackled, and I hope that my amendment will ensure that it is. I also hope that the agnosticism of certain noble Lords will be overcome by my argument. It clearly chimes with the purpose of the Bill and, more broadly, with the devolution agenda. In that spirit, I hope that the Government will support it today.
My Lords, I will speak to this group of amendments, doing so as a property professional. For very many years, the development process, housebuilding and the construction process have not been far from my daily life—at any rate until a few years ago, when I ceased to do that sort of thing on a day in, day out basis throughout the week.
I will start with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, in his superb explanation of the matter. I will throw some light on that, because, whether you have targets or whether you make an allocation at local level, none of these of themselves build a single unit of residential accommodation. There is a stage in between that is occupied by a commercial cohort of developers and housebuilders. I have worked for a few—although not recently—so I have no intrinsic bias against developers and housebuilders. They are, after all, the delivery system whereby the government targets will be met and, ultimately, one assumes, the affordability and availability of housing for those who need it and wish to occupy it will be delivered. However, they control the build-out rate—the more so if they control large strategic sites.
So far as I have a current interest, it is one that occupies an area within a local authority within which I reside and involves sites that are not many miles from where I live. To give one example, there is a site 6.5 miles from where I live, next to a major town, with consent for 2,700 homes. The consent was granted some years ago. Material commencement within the normal three-year period was made to construct the access. So far, the school—which I am told is fully occupied —and about two dozen houses have been built, but not much else. So, although it may fall short of what I might call the Letwin definition of land banking, it is an expandable pipeline of balance sheet assets that is not about delivery as such, but rather about managing profit and income streams.
It is very easy to make that material start and preserve your consent more or less in perpetuity. There has been some recent case law where that has wobbled a bit, but I will not go into that.
The societal need to build out is effectively farmed out to the private developer sector. There seems no way in which this can be accelerated—we are stuck—and therefore, there is more pressure to create more allocations that then do not get built out. I asked CPRE for an update not long ago—I am not a member of CPRE, but it seems to have a very good handle on this—and it tells me that according to its calculations there are 1.1 million consented plots up and down the country that are, as yet, unbuilt. At a 300 dwellings per annum buildout rate, we can do the maths as to how many years’ land supply that amounts to.
It gives one pause for thought, because this feeds into a high level of resistance. It has occurred locally to me and is something I should say my wife has been acutely involved with. A local neighbourhood plan, that had gone through all its stages and had got to the stage of being a made neighbourhood plan and was therefore a material part of the local plan, is in effect capable of being overridden because the local plan itself is out of date. Yet we have this candid demonstration of local desire and acceptance that more development is needed, and it is at risk of being overridden. Needless to say, the local likely lad developers who are already in the local village have stuck in a speculative application for another 1,500 homes, thank you very much.
I accept that the part of Sussex I live in has long been regarded as a development area. It is not that far from Gatwick Airport; it is quite close to the borough of Crawley, which has very important commercial infrastructure in terms of its industrial area and its manufacturing. It is not that far from the main motorway system. Crawley sits on the London to Brighton railway line. So there are good links and I understand that, but if we are to have a situation where the targets are somehow set according to a metric produced by central government without regard to capacity—and I am thinking particularly about infrastructure—then it is not very surprising if local people feel pretty hard done by, even as if their local neighbourhood plan, which was no doubt done on the back of a lot of people’s effort and with no small amount of public money involved, has been summarily trashed. That is not good enough.
I turn to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Best. He has been a doughty campaigner for the housing needs of the elderly. I see that as being where the development process meets the infrastructure requirement—it is that interface—except the infrastructure required is a piece of social infrastructure rather than a piece of hard infrastructure like all the other stuff. However, it has been overlooked along with all the other things: roads, water, electricity, health, education, provision for age, transport—you name it, they have all been overlooked. Far too often, they are not in place sufficiently early on to avoid causing an overload.
In my part of west Sussex, we run into a particular problem referred to as water neutrality. It is not something that was created by dint of Ofwat or anybody like that—indeed, I think Ofwat and the water utility company would be happy to continue pumping for as long as there was stuff in the ground to do it. No, it was Natural England that said, “You’re depleting the water supply underneath an important wetland area and you’ve got to stop doing it”. That was the trigger that caused it. My fear about water neutrality is that we will end up with a fudge and it will become just another form of tariff that gets paid for, without anybody addressing the problem that the abstraction is too great. The rest of us, connected as we are to what you might call old-tech taps, baths, showers and that sort of thing, are not reducing our consumption. Indeed, we are using expensively treated water to water the garden or the lawn, or to wash the car or the dog. It is really not acceptable to have got to this stage. Who knows how long it will take before some other pipeline, into another catchment area, can bring water in, or another reservoir is constructed, in order to enable all this to happen? Meanwhile, one supposes, the multiplier effect of housing need will build up until it reaches some sort of breaking point.
I think I have explained to your Lordships what I see as one of the fundamental problems of where we are. I do not have a ready-made solution, but I see people looking at bits of this process at local and community level, at government level, and in various utilities and strategic bodies, and I fail to see how they are knitting together and getting us to where we need to be. I do not have the answer to it, but I can see that there is a significant problem.
I turn now to something different, which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley. I am acutely aware as a chartered surveyor that leasehold ownership has not been the flavour of the month for a very long time, but I would counsel caution. I am not an advocate for any particular form of tenure. I am an agnostic as far as that is concerned; if it works, let us have it. Leasehold is not specifically a feudal overhang based on medieval principles and, even worse, medieval practices between the participants. It is a means whereby someone has a form of ownership in part of a larger building, the fabric of which provides the common envelope for many similar units. One cannot get away from the fact that, philosophically, that is what it is. Whatever form of occupation rights one might devise, the essential friction between the ownership and occupation of a unit and the ownership and control of the block will always be apparent, especially if the owners, or one or two of the owners, of the units fall on difficult times and find themselves in difficulty about paying the ground rent, service charge or whatever it is and therefore come under pressure from managing agents—they are a breed, I have to say, I am not terrible in favour of; I once managed a block myself and never again. Thankfully, I am past the age where I need to be worried about that, but we fail to understand the friction between these various things. There are other forms of tenure, such as commonhold, but that does not necessarily get rid of the issue. Of itself, it may be fine, but if you introduce that, and the mortgage lenders and insurers put their ears back, there is then a lot of suspicion—a two-tier operation in the marketplace if you are not careful—and you end up damaging what you already have.
In my professional career, I have known leaseholder-owned blocks where a small cohort of those who sat on the committee that controlled the freehold and management ran the thing as their own personal fief and not, as far as I could see, in the best interests of the collective of all the people they were ruling the roost over. This is to do with attitudes. There is something anthropomorphic in why this is happening, which is one thing that does not go away whatever tenure you have; this exploitative approach by the few against the many, if I can put it that way, is not easily overridden. But if one wants to start looking at that, maybe there are things that can be done and duties that can be imposed on people that make it unproductive or actually dangerous to enter into these exploitative situations.
I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, because it is very valuable that she raises these points—but I suggest that we need to look beyond tenure alone and start to look at behaviour. That is the common thread between the developer middlemen and the leasehold management, which I would commend the Committee to look at as something outside the framework of some of what we have been discussing.
I shall speak very briefly in support of the group of amendments, on none of which would I dare wish to claim to be an agnostic. I particularly support Amendment 207 proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Best, to which my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford has added her name. The amendment addresses the important role of local authorities to consider older groups’ housing needs when developing local plans. Together with Amendment 221 from the noble Lord, Lord Best, these changes to the Bill would deliver a more effective response to the shortfall in appropriate housing for older people at all levels of government.
The Mayhew review for future-proofing retirement needs recommended
“closer working between planning and social care departments to ensure the need for retirement housing with access to care is factored into local authority plans”.
This amendment would be a step towards making that kind of joined-up thinking and development a reality.
My Lords, I was going to make the shortest speech in this debate, but the right reverend Prelate has set such a high bar that I do not think that I can clear it.
I have added my name to Amendment 207 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Best, and Amendments 215 and 218 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley. The reason why I can be brief is not because the amendments are not important—I think that Amendments 215 and 218 are the most important amendments to the whole Bill—but because we touched on both subjects in earlier debates, in what the noble Lord, Lord Best, referred to as a dress rehearsal. In those earlier debates, I set out as best I could the cases for doing more for older people and building more homes.
In the debate on my Amendment 221 on older people, I was very critical of the delay from the Government in setting up the taskforce for older people, which was actually trailed two years ago, but nothing happened until last month. A week after I raised this with the noble Lord, Lord Best, a chairman was appointed, and I hope that there will be a similar positive response to all the other speeches that I am going to make on the Bill.
In a nutshell, the problem that the noble Lord, Lord Best, outlined is quite simple. The pace of demographic change in this country and the growth of more smaller older households has resulted in a huge imbalance in the housing stock that we have, which has been built up over many decades. To get a better balance, which is the thrust of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Best, we need to do more than we have done so far—and we have heard a wide variety of suggestions. He suggested that a percentage of new homes should be focused on the needs of older people, or specific sites should be earmarked for older people, or there should be a separate use class for specialist housing for older people. My noble friend Lord Jackson suggested a stamp duty exemption; others have suggested an infrastructure levy exemption for older people’s housing. Without repeating the speech that I made last time, I hope that the Government will accept that we need to do a bit more than we are doing at the moment if we are to get a better balance between the needs of the population and the housing stock that we have. We need to promote mobility so people can move into the new homes built for older people.
On Amendments 215 and 218, we are all agreed that we need more houses. As my noble friend Lord Lansley explained, we are way behind target. But the problem is that all the good things in the Bill to promote more housing are totally overshadowed by the announcement before Christmas when the Government climbed down in the face of a rebellion in the other place and watered down the commitment to build more homes. The sheer starkness of the Government’s climbdown was revealed in an article in the House magazine by Theresa Villiers, who led the rebellion. She said that her amendment was
“backed by 60 MPs, and in response, the secretary of state brought forward significant concessions to rebalance the planning system to give local communities greater control over what is built in their neighbourhood. That includes confirming that centrally determined housing targets are advisory not mandatory. They are a starting point, not an inevitable outcome. Changes have been promised to make it easier for councils to set a lower target”.
You cannot rely on the good will of local authorities to deliver the homes that the country needs. There is a central government mandate, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Jackson, referring to
“our progress towards our target of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s”.
What a local MP may regard as an arbitrary target imposed from on top by Whitehall is actually a goal that a democratic Government are trying to deliver. My own view is that the votes that an individual MP may lose if an unpopular development goes ahead will be massively outweighed if the country as a whole does not believe that the Government are taking housing seriously. As my noble friend Lord Lansley said, the impact of that document is already being felt. Since it was published, 47 local plans have been delayed with the clear intent of delivering lower numbers; he said 33, but the figure I have is 47.
My noble friend also mentioned other concessions in the document, but the main concession was in the chapter headed “Introducing new flexibilities to meet housing needs”. I think we can all crack the code as to what that means. The document states that local authorities do not need to meet housing needs—then it sets out the circumstances.
I very much hope that between now and Report the Government will recognise that there is a strong feeling in this House and out there in the country that we need to do more. We need to revert to what the Government originally planned before the climbdown before Christmas and give the other place time to think again and reflect on what happened in December, then revert to the Government’s original policy, which was a manifesto commitment, enabling the country to build the 300,000 homes each year that we need.
My Lords, this is an extremely important debate with a large number of amendments of great importance. Having recently been recruited to the rapidly increasing cohort of the over-80s, I am entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Best, and his amendment. Certainly the Liberal Democrats support the case that has been made.
I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, had to say in relation to his amendment about making an assessment for student accommodation. As a resident of Greater Manchester, I understand the issue very clearly. I am sure that the Minister will want to tell us about how it is possible to have such a requirement applied in a proportionate way, bearing in mind that for a neighbouring planning authority such as High Peak it may be a very small consideration, whereas for an authority such as Manchester or Salford it is very significant.
I wonder if I might impersonate the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in respect of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, and ask where the leasehold reform Bill is, of which the Government have spoken so much and delivered so little. I shall leave my remarks there. I think we need to hear from the Minister not simply that she does not particularly like the amendment that the noble Baroness has tabled but that there is actually a positive plan by the Government to tackle the issues the noble Baroness has identified.
I want to focus my remarks on Amendment 219 and Amendment 218, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. Amendment 219 would require local planning authorities to have a local plan that reaches or exceeds the requirement for housing prescribed by the Secretary of State. Amendment 218 would nail this down further by requiring strict conformity with the Secretary of State’s targets, using a method of calculation specified by the Secretary of State. We should be clear that, taken together, these amendments would mean that local land allocations for housing would essentially be taken away from local planning authorities and placed back in the hands of the Secretary of State. This would be a reversion to the statutory situation that obtained at some very distant time in the past—some 12 months and three Prime Ministers ago. It is a policy position that was denounced by the previous Prime Minister as Stalinist, and was this week repudiated by the current Prime Minister when speaking on the BBC. He said he saw an urgent need for change to the existing policy, assisted materially by conversations he had had last summer with Conservative councillors all over the country, who spelled out to him its consequences and the damaging impacts it was having locally.
A close reading of the two amendments suggests that, actually, they may seek to go slightly further back, to something that is even more Stalinist than the preceding Prime Minister was suggesting. The drafting of Amendment 218 appears to say not only that falling below the target would not be permitted but neither would exceeding it, because it has to be in strict conformity with the targets that have been set by the Secretary of State—not a house more, not a house less.
Noble Lords who are proposing this pair of amendments are certainly quite right to point out that the current situation suits nobody, least of all the tens of thousands of families on council waiting lists or the many others for whom a house purchase is hopelessly beyond their means and for whom renting can only ever be an inadequate, insecure and expensive option, given the current size and nature of the housing stock. They are also right to point out that the current policy uncertainty has paralysed local plan decision-making, slowed site allocations, and infuriated the development and housing industries.
We need more homes urgently. Specifically, we need many more social homes for rent. If money was switched from the Help to Buy programme to investing in those homes, as we on this side have often advocated, that would make a start, but the supporters of these two amendments need to explain in more detail how going back to the status quo ante will deliver the outcome that they desire. Not once did the system to which they are now encouraging us to go back deliver 300,000 net new homes a year, or even near it. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, drew that to our attention. The old system was not delivering, so reinstating it seems unlikely to work miracles. Indeed, I shall quote the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, in respect of another matter he spoke about: repeating something that you know does not work is verging on madness.
There are even more Stalinist options available, and maybe these two amendments point the Government in that way. There is no doubt that a centrally imposed national five-year plan for housing construction could deliver such numbers, but only provided there was state funding for anything over the 150,000 or so homes that would be funded by the private sector—and with the proviso that the party in government that put this policy in place was ready to forego its local democratic representation on the shrivelled local planning authorities that would be left.
There is an alternative—one that has proven to work in practice over the last 10 years, one that produces more land allocated for housing than the local plans have previously done for that area, and one that has popular consent, validated by a public vote locally. It is an alternative that meets local housing needs, has local popular consent and routinely exceeds government housing targets. You might think that that was a far better policy option than resurrecting a system of failed top-down targets that will not meet local housing needs anytime soon, raises huge opposition, and is constantly gamed and warped by developers, politicians and local interests, while Ministers in Whitehall can only stand around, flummoxed and frustrated at the failure of the plan to deliver. I am referring to neighbourhood plans, and here I need to redeclare my interest as a member of a neighbourhood planning forum. Now that neighbourhood plans are seen as a success—this was debated to some extent earlier in our proceedings—everybody claims to have invented them. I say only that it was quite lonely at the Dispatch Box in 2010, steering them through in the Localism Act.
There is a later group of amendments in which I shall have more to say about neighbourhood plans—I am sure noble Lords will be delighted by that news—and the impacts of some of the clumsy proposals in the Bill, which I think will damage and hinder their prospects. However, for this debate, I look forward to hearing the Minister set out what the Government’s plan for reaching 300,000 new homes will actually be. If it is not going to be Amendments 215 and 218 from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, or spending absolute shedloads of money on a massive state investment programme, or facilitating a much-expanded neighbourhood planning programme, what on earth is it going to be?
Leaving the Bill as it is, as the Government would obviously prefer, may well be seen as their best expedient short-term fix for the forthcoming local elections. They may even hope that it might be a middle-term fix for the general election next year. I do not think it will achieve either of those things, but one thing is certain: it will definitely not be a long-term fix for the homes that are vitally needed in this country. Leaving the Bill as it is will provide no help at all for those stuck on endless housing waiting lists, for those desperately saving for a deposit at a time of rising interest rates, or for those stuck in overpriced short-term lets with no hope of rescue. It really is time for the Government to set out their plans. I look forward very much to hearing a constructive reply from the Minister.
My Lords, this group of amendments exposes the conundrum at the heart of planning for housing. At this point, I repeat my interests, as in the register, as being a councillor in Kirklees, with its up-to-date local plan, and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. My noble friend Lord Stunell is of course right to say that the simple statement of a number of new house builds per year has failed and will continue to fail: top-down diktats are the last resort of a failed policy. As the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, helpfully reminded us, there are more than 1 million unbuilt homes with current planning consents. That seems to me to indicate that a top-down planning policy is failing to produce the number of new home builds that the country needs and wants.
Amendment 207 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, points to a challenge in housing development that is considered far too rarely: housing and planning policy should have a focus on fulfilling need. There is ample evidence of which housing units are needed, such as those for older people. As my noble friend Lord Stunell has said, we know that there is a desperate need for housing at a social rent. There are current applications from over 1 million people for social housing. Their chances of success are very limited indeed, as successive Governments have continued with the right-to-buy policy while ignoring the need to build replacements. The challenge of supplying housing that meets expressed need is not being addressed by the changes to planning policy in this Bill.
Councils already have to make an assessment of their housing requirements, as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework, and every council has to prepare a strategic housing market assessment to assess the full housing needs. We have that bit. Every local authority, before it draws up its local plan, has to do a strategic housing market assessment, which should identify the scale and mix of housing and the range of tenures that the local population is likely to need over the planning period. The local plan must then reflect that assessment in the housing site allocations, so that bit is already there in planning policy. The assessment and planning stage to meet housing needs exists.
Where it all fails, which is what I hope we can begin to discuss and debate in this Chamber, is in the delivery of the housing types, sizes and tenures, as well as numbers. Local councils and local planning authorities can use only the limited levers they have to encourage developers to build to meet need rather than to maximise profit—which is, of course, their purpose. That is precisely the explanation that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, gave at the very start of his contribution. We can have fine and worthy policies, which have been expressed across the Chamber today, to meet various housing needs, but if there are no levers to ensure that they happen, they are fine words that are never going to be implemented.
I will give some examples in relation to housing numbers. Sites in local plans have a potential housing number attached to them. They all have to be assessed: how many houses can we get on to this site? For example, a site in my locality allocated 413 units in the local plan. Of course, it never works out quite like that; from theory to practice, it is going to be different. In the end, the planning consent was for 291 houses, which is a significant 25% difference. The units developed will not reflect the stated assessment of local and subregional need for two and three-bedroom properties. The majority of the development will be of four and five-bedroom properties. So local need is not being met, and more families in my locality will be in inadequate housing, with the consequent long-term impact on their lives.
That, to me, is the conundrum at the heart of housing and planning policy: how do the Government provide local authorities with the levers they need to match housing need to the housing developed? Currently, there is only influence. For example, let us take affordable homes. My council has a policy of 20% affordable homes on sites. But along come the developers; they will do a viability assessment, which ensures that the 20% goes down to 10% or less. It will be the same if there is an allocation of, say, 15% to housing specifically designed for older people. They will argue that this cannot be done because of the need for this, that and the other expense; hence, we end up with maybe one unit or something.
This is where the failure is. Everybody is saying where we want to be in order to meet need, so how do we get high-volume house developers, which the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to, to do it? If they will not do it, the Government have to provide the levers to match one with the other. I feel quite strongly about this, because otherwise we have loads of warm words and worthy policies but nothing will happen.
I would like the Minister to tell the Committee how we are going to address the challenges set out by the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Lansley, and others and how we are going to meet the needs of older people, families who need social housing, those who need supported accommodation and families who need smaller units and can only afford a small unit within their budget. How are we going to get that? Local plans and the social housing market assessment will say that but, when it comes to the crunch, developers get their own way. Something has to change if we are to achieve what we want to achieve, which is appropriate, high-quality, high-standard housing for people in this country.
It could be something to do with land allocation to enable housing numbers; then there has to be a change in the way that sites are developed out—or not developed at all. Another thing that happens is that there are several sites in a locality, and housing developers wait—they have a little arrangement and wait until one is developed out, so that not too many come on to the market at the same time, which of course would reduce the price and reduce their profits.
There are big challenges here for the Government if their stated aim is to be achieved. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s answers to those challenges.
My Lords, this group of amendments—and the subsequent group on social housing, which we will probably get to on Thursday—goes right to the heart of the role of housing in levelling up. I should, of course, draw attention to my interests here. I am a serving councillor on both a county council and a district council and, as a former council leader, I am a battle-scarred warrior of the broken planning system. That is not an interest, just a fact. It is a painful process.
We would certainly support the provisions set out in Amendments 207 and 219A from the noble Lord, Lord Best, and my noble friend Lord Bradley to incorporate the housing needs of older people, and the student population where applicable, in the plan-making process. My only caveat to that is the issue I mentioned in your Lordships’ House during a previous debate on the Bill, which is that supported housing is a much wider category than just older people, as it can also include housing for adults with disabilities and those with learning disabilities, which would also benefit from specific attention within the planning process.
Some local authorities will use small-site development to make up for deficiencies in all types of supported housing, but our view is that it would be preferable to consider this as a strategic requirement and build it into the consideration of housing at the plan-making stage. This will also allow due consideration to be given to the importance of the location of those sites, with appropriate infrastructure requirements such as health, transport, social facilities and access to green space.
It was a great honour to take part in a debate on 30 March, as did many other noble Lords here today, on supported housing, where the excellent work of Imogen Blood & Associates and the University of York for the National Housing Federation was widely quoted. During that debate, the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, made very encouraging remarks:
“Our planning rules, which will be strengthened through the LUR Bill, mean that, in councils’ local plans, they must consider the needs of these people, which is perhaps an important change in attitude.”—[Official Report, 30/3/23; col. GC 105.]
In response to an earlier question from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, the Minister indicated that the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill is the place to make this change, so perhaps I can afford to be a bit more optimistic than the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, in hoping that these amendments may be accepted.
In his characteristically powerful and knowledgeable speech, the noble Lord, Lord Best, referred to the older people’s housing taskforce. We look forward to that, but I hope that to some extent we can pre-empt the obvious conclusion that local authorities must plan for older residents and those who need supported housing. I was grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his timely reminder of the Mayhew review and its powerful recommendations. I hope we will consider them as we go forward with this Bill.
On Amendment 210 from the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, my noble friend Lord Kennedy has campaigned tirelessly for many years for the abolition of the feudal leasehold system. I am afraid that I disagree with the noble Earl, Lord Lytton; I think it is a feudal system, although I bow to his greater knowledge of the subject. It seems from recent comments by the Secretary of State that he too is now persuaded, so perhaps the Minister can persuade her Secretary of State to put the abolition of leasehold into this Bill rather than wait for another one.
On Amendment 219A from my noble friend Lord Bradley, his role with Manchester University gives him great expertise on this subject and he eloquently described the increasing challenges in student accommodation. Listening to his speech, I think we would all be concerned that they are connected with issues of student welfare that we have heard so much about in recent times. As with other areas of specialist housing, he gave examples of very good practice, and we heard many other examples of good practice in the debate on 30 March. However, good planning would not leave this to chance or deliberately allow disparities between areas with good practice and those without it. Areas with large numbers of students should absolutely plan for their accommodation in safe, affordable and sustainable housing.
Amendment 215, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Lansley and Lord Young, my noble friend Lady Hayman and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, requires a local plan to meet or exceed the housing need for a local authority’s area. I appreciate that housing numbers have proved notoriously controversial in many areas, which is partly why fewer than 50% of local authorities currently have a local plan in place. However, housing is key infrastructure, so it is vital that the Government work with local government to develop policy and practice to determine what housing numbers should be. We heard in the debate that the Government’s stated target is 300,000 homes a year—the National Housing Federation says that 340,000 a year are necessary—but we are nowhere near that number being either built or planned for. I agree that reference to meeting housing need for the area should be in the Bill. To avoid repetition, I will comment on this further on the next group, but I share the disappointment of the noble Lord, Lord Young, about the huge government U-turn on the subject at Christmas.
Noble Lords referred earlier today to the fact that achieving net zero must be a key priority of this Bill, which I agree with, but so should meeting the needs of the housing emergency. Some of us would have preferred a separate planning Bill so that due attention could have been given to the many issues, such as those in this group, that certainly merit a stand-alone Bill. However, we are where we are with a Christmas tree Bill such as this, so we must do our best with amendments to tackle the issues of net zero and housing and the many others that this Bill attempts to deal with.
My Lords, as we have heard, these amendments relate to housing need and the homebuying process.
I will address Amendments 207 and 219A together. Amendment 207 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Best, seeks to enable the Secretary of State to include older people’s housing needs assessments in documentation related to local plans and require that local authorities consider the needs for housing for older people when preparing such plans. Amendment 219A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, seeks to enable the Secretary of State to require local planning authorities to have regard to the housing requirements of the student population, developed in conjunction with local higher education providers, when preparing their local plans. I recognise the noble Lord’s personal knowledge of this subject.
I entirely understand the sentiment behind both amendments and offer words for the comfort of both noble Lords. I believe I can first do so by highlighting that national policy already sets strong expectations in these precise areas. The existing National Planning Policy Framework makes it clear that the size, type and tenure of housing needed for different groups in the community, including older people and students, should be assessed and reflected in planning policies. In 2019, we also published guidance to help local authorities implement the policies that can deliver on this expectation. Therefore, as regards student housing, we already have a clear policy in place, backed up by guidance, to deliver solutions designed locally. Any proposals to amend this would be considered as part of our review of the National Planning Policy Framework once this Bill receives Royal Assent.
I listened with a great care and respect to all that the noble Lord, Lord Best, said to draw attention to the housing needs of older people. The Government are absolutely on his wavelength in that regard. He was right to point out that there should be a variety and diversity of housing options for older people, as underscored by my noble friend Lord Jackson of Peterborough. To further improve the diversity of housing options available to older people and boost the supply of specialist elderly accommodation, we recently consulted on proposals to strengthen the existing policy by adding a specific expectation that, when ensuring that the needs of older people are met, particular regard is given to retirement housing, housing with care and care homes. We know that those are important typologies of housing that can help support our ageing population.
Furthermore, it would be remiss of me not to point out that there is already a provision in the Bill setting out that the Secretary of State must issue guidance for local planning authorities on how their local plan and any supplementary plans, taken as a whole, should address housing needs that result from old age or disability. This is a key statutory provision.
So, again, we already have a clear policy in place on this issue, and we are proposing, as I have explained, to strengthen it to further support the supply of older people’s housing. I hope that this provides the noble Lord, Lord Best, with the assurances that he needs to withdraw his Amendment 207 at this stage.
I thank the Minister for his explanation of what is already in the policy and how it is going to be strengthened, and the national planning policy guidance. However, so far that has not brought forth anything like the numbers that are needed, so perhaps the Minister will be able to explain how that policy—which is very worthy and which I support—can be put into practice?
I say to the noble Baroness that I will try to do so as I go along. First, though, I will address Amendment 210, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, which would require local authorities to adopt policies to ensure that the marketing of housing accurately describes the nature of the tenure. I listened to all that she said about the need to review, or indeed do away with, leasehold tenure, and I hope she will forgive me if I do not repeat what I said on that subject in one of our earlier Committee debates. We shall also be debating Amendment 504GJG in the name of my noble friend Lord Moylan on leasehold reform later on in Committee.
Buying a home is the largest investment that many of us will make in our lifetime, and we all want to be sure of what we are buying before we commit to purchase, so I absolutely understand the motivation behind the amendment. However, we do not believe that local plans have the legal remit to specify how property agents can market property in a local area. Even if they could, such an approach would create a complicated patchwork of requirements which would vary between one local planning authority area and another. That would be very difficult for property agents operating on a regional or national basis to navigate, and it would be confusing for buyers as well.
That is not to dismiss the concern that the noble Baroness has expressed—in the levelling up White Paper, the Government committed to working with industry to make sure that buyers have the critical information they need to know, including tenure type, lease length and service charges. The Government have also signalled our intention to legislate if this is required. We are currently considering options which will set a common approach to all property listings across England and Wales, providing certainty for buyers, sellers and estate agents, and we will set out further information in due course.
I turn next to Amendments 215 and 218, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley. These amendments both relate to local authority housing need, and this is where I hope I can answer the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. Amendment 215 seeks to require a local plan to secure a sufficient supply of housing to meet or exceed the authority’s area requirement for housing over the plan period. The amendment also sets out that an area’s housing requirement must be derived from the housing targets and standard method prescribed in guidance by the Secretary of State. Amendment 218 seeks to set out in legislation that local authorities must have regard to any housing targets and the Government’s standard method for calculating housing need when preparing their local plan.
While I entirely understand the sentiment behind these amendments, the proposals would impose unnecessary constraints by seeking to put into primary legislation matters that are already addressed effectively, I contend, through national policy and guidance. My noble friend Lord Young of Cookham made the point, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, that national planning policy already sets out that local authorities should make sufficient provision for housing, including affordable housing, and that they must take this into account when preparing their local plans.
Additionally, again in response to the noble Baroness, policy and guidance set out how local authorities should establish their housing requirements, and they make it clear that the standard method for assessing local housing need should be the starting point for establishing housing requirements in the plan-making process, in all but exceptional circumstances. That is not a straitjacket and nor is it laissez-faire; our planning policies already allow authorities to choose to plan for more homes than required to meet need, and we have consulted on proposed changes to national policy designed to empower local authorities to go further where that is right for their area.
It is right, however, that local communities can respond to local circumstances. To introduce more flexibility to take account of local circumstances, we are proposing some changes through our consultation on reforms to the National Planning Policy Framework. These are expressly designed to support local authorities to set local housing requirements that respond to demographic and affordability pressures while at the same time being realistic, given local constraints.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that we will be talking about neighbourhood plans later this evening if we get there—I hope we do, otherwise on Thursday—and we can return to the issues that he has raised on that topic. But I would just like to make a general point about housing targets: local housing need is not a housing target. The standard method for assessing local housing need is used by councils to inform the preparation of their local plans. Local areas are then free to take into account constraints and opportunities when determining their actual housing targets such as green belts, AONBs, and so on, that prevent them allocating enough sites to meet need. There are some councils that choose to plan for more homes than their local housing need number; nor does the local housing need method dictate where homes should go. It is up to councils to decide what sorts of homes can be built where.
Can I put the question the other way around? The noble Lord used phrases like “councils can choose” and “in conjunction with their local authority”. Can I ask about councils that choose not to provide supportive housing for people in need, that choose not to provide places for ex-offenders, and that rely on councils with a conscience to do those things? It seems to me that councils can choose to do very little if they want, including building homes, and certainly to not provide for the other groups that we have heard about—that is what worries me. We need more compulsion across all councils to provide for all of the population.
In those circumstances, local plans can be checked against the assessment of need and can be shown to be defective where that is deemed to be the case—so it is not as if there is no oversight of what local authorities are doing. What we do not want to do—and I hope the noble Baroness agrees—is to get perilously close to a one-size-fits-all, top-down target mode of acting. We are trying to strike a balance between showing local authorities how to do the job that they are there to do and have been elected to do, while at the same time not being guilty of dictating or second-guessing local circumstances.
We do already have a clear policy in place on these issues, and we are proposing to clarify and strengthen this further. I hope my noble friend will feel comfortable in not moving his amendments when they are reached.
Before I finish, I will respond briefly to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, on his points about buildout. In large part, he was anticipating the debate we look set to have in a later group, which begins with Amendment 261 to Clause 104, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. However, I just say that the Bill already contains provisions to tackle slow buildout by developers. Clause 105 gives local planning authorities powers to determine planning applications made by a person connected to an earlier permission on that same land which was not begun or has been carried out unreasonably slowly. Developers should know that planning authorities expect new residential developments to come forward at a reasonable rate.
I have two points on what the Minister said in his response. First, I am not sure that the Planning Inspectorate has entirely got the message about local choice in the planning system, particularly on housing numbers, otherwise it is hard to see why 50% of plans are still not confirmed by the Planning Inspectorate. That is still an issue, and we need to consider it further and whether anything can be done about it as we go through the Bill. It is right that local people should have a say in what happens, but that is not always upheld by the Planning Inspectorate when it comes in.
I think we have mentioned my second point already this afternoon, but it bears repeating. We are constantly told that the things which are not in this Bill will be in the National Planning Policy Framework, but as I understand it we are not going to see the framework before the Bill is completed. It is very difficult for those of us who are trying to make sure that, somewhere, these very important issues—such as supported housing, student accommodation, housing numbers and so on—are covered properly in one of those places or the other if we have not seen one of those documents. Can I urge again that the Minister and his colleagues on the Government Front Bench consider that and what we might do about it so that we have an idea of how these issues are going to be dealt with in the forthcoming National Planning Policy Framework?
I want to clarify just one thing. I understand the balancing act between not wanting to impose on local communities and, as the Minister has indicated, the one-size-fits-all approach. However, what is confusing about the issue of targets versus localism is that the national housing targets were set by the Government, who then backed off in the other place. At one point, they thought it worth having national housing targets, so it cannot always have been some sort of communist plot to impose a national plan. The Government thought that this was a good idea and then backed off.
There is a second important point that people have made. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, used a quotation I had also wanted to use—he used it the other evening as well—from Theresa Villiers MP, when she boasted that the success of the amendments in the other place was leading to less housing being built locally. We have seen recent figures on the front page of the Times indicating that fewer homes are being built—that there is a hold-up. What do the Government suggest one does in a situation where local councils, for whatever reason, are not building the homes and there are no targets to hold them to account? These amendments at least try to rectify that situation.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for joining in and for nearly everyone commending the amendments that would lead to more housing for older people. I am extremely grateful for all those contributions. This has been twinned with a separate, and in some ways rather bigger, debate on the whole question of whether we should have national targets for the number of homes that we build, or whether that should be left to local authorities to determine. That huge question of the balance between those two things will run and run, and there will be more to follow.
I want to pick up one or two of the points which relate more to the needs of older people. I was delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Jackson of Peterborough, championed that cause too, and I liked his statistic that there will be another 500,000 more people aged over 75 in the next five years. It is an extraordinary phenomenon that we are getting older in such numbers. He advocated tax breaks to stimulate the production of new homes to meet this need. My all-party parliamentary group has advocated stamp duty relief for those who downsize because of the impact in terms of those homes that are left behind and then occupied by families. In fact, although the Treasury has resisted any attempts to reduce stamp duty—one can understand that—the net figure for the Treasury would rise, because once an older person has moved out of their home, a chain reaction follows. Two and a half or just under three sales would flow from that, from which the Treasury picks up stamp duty, so this would be a very sensible contribution to the national coffers.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, raised one or two points. In relation to housing for older people, she made the point that there are cases where those managing these properties are not behaving well—for example, service charges are being abused in some way. I am afraid that I have had to repeat this many a time, but this is where we need the regulation of property agents, estate agents, letting agents and managing agents of leasehold property. The report on RoPA—the regulation of property agents—was delivered to the Government in 2019 and acclaimed as the way forward, but we are yet to see progress. We may see some progress in either the renters’ reform Bill or the leasehold reform Bill; I certainly hope so.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradley, mentioned the problems facing students. In a way, you can list almost every category of need and discover that the overall shortages we are suffering from as a country are hurting the people in that category, and students are no exception. They need to be taken fully into account.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, talked about slow buildout. I am a great fan of Oliver Letwin’s report, which addressed a lot of those issues. I think the noble Earl knows this, but water neutrality, nutrient neutrality and biodiversity net gain—all these issues which are affecting the housebuilders’ willingness to build—are being explored at present by the Built Environment Committee of your Lordships’ House. The committee is having a good look at the impact of this accumulation of different environmental requirements and how best we can handle that, so your Lordships should watch that space.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich reminded us of Professor Mayhew’s recent review of housing for older people. Professor Mayhew got to a figure of 50,000 homes being required every year, which is further than others have taken this. That was a seminal and very important report, and he made the fundamental point—which is in my original amendment that started this debate—that the local plan needs to incorporate a requirement for a proportion of housing for older people.
The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, really got us going on the government retreat from the requirement on local authorities to deliver the 300,000 homes that the Government still stand by, quite properly, as a national target. He also reiterated his support for housing for older people, which I much appreciated.
The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, raised an issue which he has raised before—and rightly so—that we can boost housing supply in various ways, one of which would be to give a lot more money to housing associations and social housing providers in grants. However, another would be to have more emphasis on neighbourhood plans, because when people get around and talk about these things, some of the resistance we have been hearing about evaporates. I must admit that I am one of the people who have been surprised by this, but neighbourhood plans are producing more homes for development, not fewer, in the end, when they have decided what is needed for their neighbourhood.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, made the point—and reiterated it—that these were all wise and helpful words, but the developers will find a way—they have done so far—to evade responsibilities and plead feasibility and other excuses for not doing the things that everyone knows that they should. This means having a very clear requirement in a local plan, sticking by it and ensuring that there is no retreat from what is in it on those various spurious grounds.
I was delighted that the Minister was able to say soothing words that the NPPF will take further the Government’s commitment to achieving more diversity of provision for older people, and indeed will be about boosting supply. I hope the taskforce that the Government have now established will help promote that and put some flesh on the bones of it, and that guidance—which will be statutory—will be helpful in pressing the case. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 207 withdrawn.
208: Schedule 7, page 290, line 7, at end insert—
“(j) whether the authority will provide small site opportunities in the local plan.”Member's explanatory statement
This is to probe the role of local SMEs in local plans.
My Lords, I shall speak also to my Amendment 213 and Amendment 504GJA in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock, and will also speak in support of Amendment 274A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill. Amendment 208 simply tries to ensure that the important roles of SMEs in our communities are recognised; that we incorporate in Schedule 7 a provision for plan-making authorities to include specific provision for small-site opportunities for SMEs.
I have some great figures from the Federation of Small Businesses, which provides wonderful, up-to-date information on its website and which I worked with very closely as a council leader. It says that SMEs account for 99.9% of all businesses; 5.5 million businesses; three-fifths of all employment and half of the turnover in the United Kingdom. They employ 12.9 million people. Surely, we simply cannot overlook this sector in our local plan-making. I cannot see any reason why the Government would not want to incorporate an amendment like this to encourage the allocation of sites for SMEs.
Amendment 213 again refers to Schedule 7 and suggests, first, the incorporation of provision to meet the housing needs of the local authority’s area so as to secure the long-term health, well-being and safety of residents. We have had extensive discussions during the debate on the previous group and on previous days on the Bill on similar amendments, but this would be an opportunity to ensure due consideration of all the issues raised in previous groups and their incorporation into the planning process.
The second part of the amendment refers to the critical issue that planning authorities should be able to take proper account of the affordability of both house prices and rental costs in their planning process. Your Lordships have heard many figures cited on the affordability of housing in recent months, and I am most grateful to Shelter for its continued attention to this and its excellent briefings. It points out—without apology, I shall quote it:
“These days, the prospect of saving for a deposit for a home isn’t just a far-off dream; for many, it is nearly impossible. Not only are house prices prohibitive but soaring private rents can make it difficult to sustain a tenancy.”
That has added to the increasing homelessness numbers that we have seen.
Home ownership is declining. The English Housing Survey shows that 63.5% of households owned their homes in 2017-18; that is down from 68% a decade ago. The average home in England in 2018 cost eight times more to buy than the average annual pay packet. The average share of income that young families spend on housing has trebled over the past 50 years. The steep decline in social housing and a fall in home ownership have led to heavy reliance on the private rented sector. The number of people living in the private rented sector has doubled over the past 20 years. The cost of housing, which has risen much faster than incomes, has put immense financial pressure on people, adding to pressures on the health service, including mental health services, and other services.
Private renters on average spend 41% of their household income on rent. The majority—57% of private renters—say that they struggle to cover their housing costs. One in three low-earning renters have to borrow money to pay their rent; 800,000 people who are renting cannot even afford to save just £10 a month. Those are shocking figures in our country.
In response to your Lordships’ Built Environment Select Committee report on meeting housing demand, the Government said that they shared the committee’s concerns about long waiting lists for social homes and the number of families housed in temporary accommodation. In mitigation, they said that 154,600 social homes had been built, but the independent commission, convened by Shelter, called on the Government to recognise that 3.1 million new social homes would be needed over the next 20 years. There cannot be any disagreement: we have a long way to go to meet the need for truly affordable housing. This small step of incorporating an amendment into the Bill to allow local authorities to properly consider the affordability of housing as part of the planning process is a long overdue measure.
In relation to the earlier comments of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, perversely the Planning Inspectorate will push back on any authority that wants to put more than what it considers to be the norm for affordable housing in their plan. Then, when applications come before a planning committee, it is not able to specify the inclusion of social housing, even where it is able to demonstrate that the housing needs for its area are ones that only social housing can meet.
We support Amendment 274A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, which makes provision for small sites to be used for affordable development. My noble friend Lady Hayman’s amendment— Amendment 504GJA—inserts a new clause after Clause 214 to ensure that information on rogue landlords and property agents is made public. With renters now spending huge sums of money to secure rental properties— some of it just as a finder’s fee—it seems only fair that they should be able to access data that is already held to reassure themselves that the landlords and property agents they are dealing with are bona fide and will not put their money at risk or deliver the associated risks of them being housed in substandard properties. This will also help ensure that the majority of landlords who act in good faith do not see the market undermined by rogue landlords and agents who do not act in the interests of their tenants. I beg to move.
My Lords, I think I could possibly make the shortest speech with regard to the amendments that have just been discussed and just go #MeToo. In fact, I want to say—and I hope that the Minister takes this as a compliment—that I feel that among the people who work within the local government parameters in the House, and particularly with housing, there is an amazing consensus about what needs to be done. What we will argue about is how quickly it needs to be done and why it has not all been done yesterday. Therefore, the noble Baroness should perhaps take heart from our belief that we know she understands where we are coming from. We probably sense that she is sometimes as frustrated as we are, considering her own background.
On the rogue landlord register, will the Minister tell us, if there is to be such a thing and if it is to be effective—which is the really important point about data and who goes on any register—whether it will be public? The question should really be: why not?
It is a pleasure today to speak to Amendment 274A, tabled in my name. In short, it would introduce new requirements to encourage the development of small sites. My motivation is twofold: I was the elected mayor of the smallest geographical council area in the country, so we never had large sites. Every single attempt to meet the needs of our community was always on small sites, and those can be particularly problematic to build out. We also have a demonstrable shortage of affordable homes, as we have all said—again, there is a huge consensus on this—which, as we know, is well evidenced.
Secondly, as shown by reports from the Barker report to the Letwin report, as well as by recent evidence from across the housing and construction sector, small and medium-sized builders have been really squeezed out of building homes over the past decades, yet they can and should be part of the solution to the housing shortage—and indeed they want to be. I see this amendment as a simple, straightforward way of achieving that, and I believe that the Government wish to see more SME builders contributing to resolving our housing problem. We can do this by changing how we deal with small sites, while at the same time bringing forward affordable housing as a sort of Brucie bonus.
As I said, I have chosen to focus on small sites because, in my view, the case for enabling easier and more streamlined development of these small areas of brownfield land is a strong one. We are currently underutilising such sites, which are often the areas of blight in neighbourhoods. They are the disused garage sites or the place where the old industrial warehouse building was. They really blight certain areas.
I recently came across some interesting research by Pocket Living, an award- winning SME developer in London that specialises in delivering affordable homes. Its research shows that there is currently the potential to deliver 110,000 homes on brownfield sites across the country. Despite their potential, these sites are not being developed—they are just not coming forward. Less than a quarter of small brownfield sites suitable for housing are coming forward, and half of councils allocated fewer than 15% of their potential small brownfield sites.
Why are they not being better utilised? In short, the planning system itself is a major barrier—no surprise there—and does not take into account the complexities of complying with many local plan requirements on a small site. Most of those come with a price tag attached that prices out a lot of SME builders; we know this because they tell us that this is their main reason for not being in the market. I deduce from that that we need to treat them differently if we want them to contribute more. Small sites are by their very nature tight and constrained, and they cannot possibly achieve every development management policy set out in the London plan, the local plans or even neighbourhood plans—I am looking at my noble friend Lord Stunell. At present, small sites take an average of 60 weeks to gain a planning determination, which is almost five times the statutory period. This is not beneficial to our economy, our pipeline of affordable housing or the millions of young people unable to get on the housing ladder due to a lack of appropriate housing supply.
The amendment seeks to encourage councils to bring forward small sites for development, and in reality it would say that we are tilting the balance in favour of development on small sites below 0.25 hectares where it is believed that high levels of affordable housing can be demonstrated. Therefore, as the pay-off it would provide a fast-track route for viability assessment and would incentivise a more streamlined delivery across the country. The sites would need to be a specific size and contain more than 50% affordable housing. The important pay-off for communities is that it is used for this in order to get their fast-track permission.
This change could potentially free up tens of thousands more sites for development in suitable locations, particularly in urban areas where this kind of development is most needed. It would also give the SME housebuilders a vital boost. Since 1988, the number of SMEs actually in operation and building has decreased by 80%—I was staggered by this figure. I welcome the inclusion of the small sites reform within the most recent NPPF consultation but believe there is an option right here and now, through Amendment 274A, to act sooner and faster to get homes delivered and to give that boost to our SME sector.
This amendment also has huge support from across the development sector and housebuilding industry. I am grateful that a coalition of more than 40 high-profile organisations are supporting it, including Barratt Homes, Optivo, the National Housing Federation and a range of SMEs. Small sites have incredible potential to improve both the supply and the diversity of market stock, but without policy intervention it is an underutilised resource just sitting there, looking a mess. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill. I will not say anything more on Amendment 274A because the case for it has clearly been overwhelmingly and comprehensively made. I will briefly focus on Amendment 208 and the final amendment in this group—which is something of an alphabet soup.
First, on the role of SMEs and small sites in local plans, I have come across many cases where I have been pleased to see that Green councillors around the country have been able to look at that classic development we see now: a new block of what is almost invariably labelled as luxury flats, in the basement of which is a single, fairly extensive shop that is one of a handful of supermarket chains—one more piece of dominance in our economy of what is already an oligopoly in our food supply. But what sometimes has been possible, and should be encouraged and supported through the development of local plans, is dividing that space into three. You can then have a small independent greengrocer or a small independent hardware-homeware shop that stocks that kind of thing that you suddenly find yourself needing, which can be almost impossible to find in our residential retail deserts where you just see identical supermarkets again and again. Maybe the third of those shops could be something we urgently need to see—earlier today I was at an event with the University of Manchester talking about scaling up the green transition—namely a repair shop, where, when something is broken, you can go and get expert help to fix it instead of throwing it into the rubbish: the circular economy in action. That kind of simple, clear thinking about what we need in our communities, building not just homes but communities, can really work.
I also want to draw on the work of my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb from her London Assembly days. She produced a report, The End of Industry in London?, in 2015. In the previous seven years London had lost the equivalent of 750 football pitches of sites where many small industrial businesses were based. That was in a situation where flipping industrial land into residential land could see a doubling of the price. I would be surprised if, since that report was published, we have not seen a continuation or even an acceleration of that trend. We need those small independent businesses as part of our thriving, strong, local economies.
Finally, on Amendment 504GJA—if I have that right—this is important and it is, in a piecemeal way, already being done. Here in London there is the London Rogue Landlord and Agent Checker, but Green London Assembly member Siân Berry did some research on this and found that only 3% of tenants had used it, although 20% of tenants had complaints that were relevant to it. If we had a situation where this was expected and everyone knew, wherever they moved in the country, that this resource would be there for them—something that could be publicised around the country and was built into the requirements for all local authorities—that would be a useful and practical tool to help us know how much private renters are being exploited. I have just come from the debate on the economic crime Bill and the problems of fraud and the way in which people are literally being robbed of cash, such as their rental deposit. We need to tackle these issues and this is a practical step towards that.
My Lords, I support all four amendments in my colleagues’ names, because it is very important to follow up the housing issue of “small is beautiful”. It comes when we have small builders doing rather more interesting things than some of the big ones. Living in Cornwall, I was particularly surprised by some statistics I got from the county council recently, showing that 6,000 affordable houses had received planning permission but only 600 were being built. I know that it is a timescale thing, and we can go on about that, but it is another example of what many noble Lords have talked about: builders holding things back and going for the properties that make the most money. In my little village of Polruan, there is nowhere for someone who wants to retire from running the shop to go to live. What do they do? They cannot afford to buy, the county council does not really help them very much, but they do not want to leave. So it is very important that we encourage small builders to develop small sites. It might cost a bit more, but it is something that councils must do.
I am particularly keen, as a member of the Built Environment Committee, along with several noble Lords who have been speaking today, to think about the issue in Amendment 504GJA—I think that is right—of a database of rogue landlords. It is a serious problem, and it goes back to the reason why, 30 or 40 years ago, Margaret Thatcher and others wanted everybody to be part of the property-owning democracy—because the rental market was so awful. Now people cannot afford to buy, and the rental market may have got better, but it has not got very much better. We have compared it with the situation in cities in France, Belgium, Germany and other places, where many more people rent, because they are professional people who think it is the right thing to do and do not have to worry about the landlords. Here, there are many too many cases of rogue landlords. I hope the amendment will deliver what it needs to—perhaps it needs a bit more detail before Report, but it is time we put the whole thing on a proper, reputable financial basis so that people feel happy to rent and the renters feel happy to let them. I support all the amendments.
My Lords, I support Amendment 274A on small sites in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill. Mine is slightly qualified support, but I am supportive. The amendment has been devised by the innovative people at Pocket Living, a company that specialises in imaginative developments on small sites, which are always difficult to develop. The amendment proposes a fast track through the planning system for smaller operators of this kind working on smaller sites—a quarter of a hectare and smaller—in return for delivering 50% affordable housing in every case.
It is a tempting proposition. We certainly need a boost for SME builders. In their evidence to your Lordships’ Built Environment Committee last year, the Federation of Master Builders explained that the output of SME firms had declined from about 40% of all new homes in the 1980s to around 10% today. One clear reason for this loss of their input has been the time and expense of trying to secure planning consents. My reservation is that the 50% affordable housing offer is not quite so tempting if all the homes are for shared ownership or the 80% of market rents of the so-called affordable rent variety. I would want to see half these new properties being for truly affordable social renting. Then we would have a really exciting proposition from the sector. With that reservation, I support Amendment 274A.
First, I will respond to the first remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill. Yes, I think everybody in this Chamber who has taken part wants the same thing: we want more of the right type of housing across our country. The difference is on how we deliver that, and that is what we are taking many hours and days to deliberate on—but it is important that we do that, because it is a really important issue for the country well into the future. The way the Government see it is that we need to give clear guidance on the big issues that need to be taken into account, but that we must ensure that local planning authorities start producing local plans that no longer need to take into account the national guidance, because that will be there anyway, but that work with all the data in their local area to ensure that what is in their local plan is what is required. That is not just numbers; it relates also to the view of the noble Lord, Lord Best, and others that we need to look at demography and the types of houses that we want to deliver.
If a local plan has strong evidence, I think it is then up to local leadership to stick to that plan. There may be some government work that needs to be done on the Planning Inspectorate, but we must stick up for what the evidence shows is required in our local area, reflected in our local plan. That is the way I see it; I wanted to get that off my chest.
I turn to the amendments in this group, which relate to planning and housing, starting with Amendment 208, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, and Amendment 274A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill. These amendments both relate to the provision of small housing sites and are therefore considered here together.
The National Planning Policy Framework already sets out that local planning authorities should identify land to accommodate at least 10% of their housing requirement on sites no larger than one hectare, unless it can be shown, through the preparation of relevant plan policies, that there are strong reasons why this 10% target cannot be achieved.
The framework sets out that local planning authorities should use tools such as area-wide design assessments and local development orders to help bring small and medium-sized sites forward; and to support the development of windfall sites through the policies and decisions in the local plan, giving great weight to the benefits of using suitable sites within existing settlements for homes. Local planning authorities are asked to work with developers to encourage the subdivision of large sites where this could help to speed up the delivery of homes—we heard about that earlier.
The framework also sets out that neighbourhood planning groups should give particular consideration to the opportunities for allocating small and medium-sized housing sites. However, we have heard views that we could strengthen these policies to further support the Government’s housing objectives. This is why we invited views, as part of our recent consultation on reforms to the National Planning Policy Framework, on how national planning policies can further support developments on small sites, especially those that will deliver high levels of affordable housing and, particularly in urban areas, to speed up the delivery of housing, giving greater confidence and certainty to smaller and medium-sized builders, and to diversify the housebuilding market. The consultation ended on 2 March and responses received will help to inform our policy thinking on this important issue, as will this debate. We will look at the ideas that have been put forward, together with the responses. This is something on which there will be further consideration.
Amendment 213 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, seeks to create a legal requirement for local authorities to set policies in their local plans which ensure that housing needs are met in a way that secures the long-term health, safety and well-being of local people and ensures that such housing is affordable to those on average and lower incomes. We have, as she rightly said, debated this quite a lot. While I entirely understand the sentiment behind this, as I have said on previous groups, and consider the goal to be laudable, the Government are already committed to ensuring that new development, both market and affordable, meets high standards of quality. The National Planning Policy Framework is clear that planning policies in local plans should aim to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places, and local authorities should ensure that they properly assess the needs of different groups when planning for new housing.
Ensuring that a sufficient number and range of homes can be provided to meet the needs of present and future generations is part of achieving sustainable development. Local planning authorities should set out an overall strategy for the pattern, scale and design quality of places, and make sufficient provision for housing. Furthermore, the framework is clear that planning policies and decisions should promote an effective use of land in meeting the need for homes, while ensuring safe and healthy living conditions. Local authorities are empowered to ensure that developers deliver a defined amount of affordable housing, including social housing, on market housing sites, unless exceptions apply. Our initial consultation on revisions to the NPPF seeks views on whether the role of social rent should be strengthened and whether we could go further to promote the delivery of housing for older people, as we discussed earlier.
Finally, under the community infrastructure levy, we will introduce a new “right to require” through regulations, in which local authorities can require that a certain amount of affordable housing is delivered in kind as a levy contribution. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, asked why the Government are not doing more to deliver this affordable housing. The Government are totally committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing. That is why, through our £11.5 billion affordable homes programme, we will deliver tens of thousands of affordable homes, both for sale and for rent, right across the country. The levelling up White Paper made a commitment to increase the supply of social rented homes. The affordable homes programme will respond to that commitment by increasing the share of social rent homes that will be delivered through the programme, helping those most in need. Since 2010 we have delivered over 632,000 new affordable homes, including 441,000 affordable homes for rent, of which 162,000 are homes for social rent.
Although there is a comprehensive legislative code within which local plans and decisions are made, the content of local plans is produced on the basis of national policy, which is flexible to allow updates to be made without new laws being passed. I hope this provides the noble Baroness with the clarification and assurances she needs to not press this amendment.
Amendment 504GJA tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would require all local housing authorities in England to publish the contents of the database of rogue landlords and property agents. The Government have stated their commitment to improving standards in rented accommodation and driving out rogue landlords. We will legislate to amend the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and make certain landlord offence information public as part of the forthcoming renters reform Bill. Opening up this information will ensure that tenants can make informed rental decisions, leading to a better rental experience, as was asked for by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.
The property portal, and the renters reform Bill which will legislate for it, are the right vehicles to take this forward. The new portal will bring together offence information and a range of other information about private landlords and rented properties. Integrating these plans will address some of the limitations of the current database, enhancing the enforcement benefits for local authorities and making information accessible and meaningful to tenants, at the same time carefully balancing the privacy rights of landlords. In the light of our forthcoming legislation, this amendment is not necessary. We cannot see clear links between publishing the contents of the database of rogue landlords and property agents and the implementation of the provisions in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill.
I hope noble Lords are reassured that the Government’s commitment to reforms to the private rented sector is unwavering and that there will be ample opportunity for scrutiny of the proposed legislation. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken on this group and to the Minister for, as ever, her thoughtful response to the discussions.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, who rightly focused on the balance between large developers and SMEs in constructing homes, something that we all need to put our minds to. She commented on sites that blight areas. It is absolutely correct that, very often, the small sites that are the subject of her amendment are the sites that we turn our eyes away from when we walk around our local neighbourhoods.
I have taken a great interest in developing such sites in my own area, including a brownfield site that was an old factory and is now a good housing development, with a mix of social and private housing. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, has the smallest area in Hertfordshire, while mine is the second smallest. We had a great focus on this in our roles on our councils, using small sites to expand our council housing stock, and a regenerated shopping centre and pubs which had closed. A doctor’s surgery had outgrown its site, so a land swap gave it a new surgery and us a good housing site, and a low-demand garage site provided bespoke accommodation for those who were street homeless. I totally support her points about using SME builders for this work; when you work regularly with a group of SME builders, they get to understand what your area needs, the things that you are looking for, and the standard and sustainability that you need.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for her comments on the vital role of small businesses in our community, particularly retail businesses. It will help us all enormously if we can eventually get that enshrined in law, so that we can do that. It would be a great help to our communities. Having those key businesses in communities makes them more sustainable. I love the idea of a repair shop—a repair club has just started in my borough, which I was delighted to hear about.
I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. It was lovely to hear about Polruan when we are sitting here in London—I am very fond of Cornwall—and his support for the rogue landlord database. That is a very important thing that we could introduce into the Bill, although I note the Minister’s comments on it.
The noble Lord, Lord Best, knows that I completely agree with his points about the definition of affordable housing. It also speaks to comments made by the Minister about affordable housing being delivered as an in-kind benefit of the infrastructure levy. Unfortunately, the definition of affordable housing can mean, for example, that in renting terms it is 80% of market rents. When I look at the average salary of people in my area, I see that 80% of market rent is way outside the pocket of many of the people who live there. We have to focus very much on this definition, between affordable housing which is—let us face it—not affordable to a lot of people, and social housing, which in many places is the only tenure of housing that many residents can afford. But I was pleased to hear the Minister’s comments, and look forward to discussing all those aspects further when we get to the infrastructure levy discussions.
I hear the Minister’s comments that if a local plan has strong evidence, it is for local leaders to stick to that. I hope that can be passed on to the Planning Inspectorate. We are charged democratically to make decisions on behalf of our communities, and too often they come up against this barrier of the inspectorate, and we are asked, at the best of times, to look at them again, and at the worst of times are told that they are not acceptable and we have to go back on them.
I was also pleased to note that there is a target of 10% of housing on small sites. I agree that the provision that local planning authorities can be encouraged to split larger sites is helpful, but I just come back again to this issue around the NPPF, which we do not have and will not have before the Bill has gone through its stages. I am sorry to go on about this, but to deal with any of the issues we have discussed this afternoon, we need to know where they are going to sit between the NPPF and the Bill. If they are not going to be in the NPPF, we certainly want them in the Bill. We need to think more about that.
On the amendment of my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock on rogue landlords, I ask the Minister: when are we going to get the renters’ reform Bill? We have heard it mentioned many times in this House now, at Question Time and in other debates. Is it going to come in this Session, or can she confirm whether it will be in the forthcoming King’s Speech? We have heard very good assurances, both from the Secretary of State and from Ministers in your Lordships’ House, on this commitment to reform, but to have it moved sort of indefinitely into the future is very worrying. This sector is in crisis now; we have people now who are struggling, who have to pay thousands of pounds in finder’s fees and so on just to rent properties. This is urgent, and I hope we can have some clarity about when that Bill might come forward. That said, I will withdraw the amendment for the time being.
Amendment 208 withdrawn.
Amendments 209 to 213 not moved.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.10 pm.