Localism Bill — Report (6th Day) (Continued)
Lord Marlesford (Conservative)
My Lords, my Amendment 204C relates to the central issue of the Bill-the purpose of the planning system. I want, therefore, to put it in an historical and political context. I have always thought that the two great achievements of the post-war Attlee Government were the creation of a National Health Service in 1947 and the introduction, in 1948, of the planning system to protect the beauty of England. Both of these are hugely sensitive political issues. If a Government get either of them wrong, they will pay a heavy price at the polling booths. It is, perhaps, a coincidence that we have been discussing both these issues here today. The House has already expressed today its confidence in the intention of the Government to adjust its policy on the National Health Service in whatever way is necessary to get the right answer. At the moment, I am afraid I am less confident that the Government are prepared to improve this Bill. Indeed, I was disappointed by the pathetic reply that I received from my noble friend Lord Shutt in relation to my earlier amendment this week, on the need to keep Britain tidy. It is bad enough that officials should give Ministers briefs containing poor arguments, but what is quite unacceptable is that Ministers should parrot those same arguments from the Dispatch Box. I suggest that some Ministers need to take a lesson from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on how to tear up the departmental line when standing at the Dispatch Box. Let me say at once that I am sure that comment in no way applies to my noble friend Lady Hanham, for whom I have the highest praise and regard.
The creation of our planning system really goes back to 1928. That was the year that the great architect and conservationist Clough Williams-Ellis produced a polemical book called England and the Octopus, in which, in the words of Jonathan Dimbleby:
"He waged war on the ugliness, selfishness and short-sightedness and the catastrophic consequences of these human frailties on the precious quality of rural England".
In 1928, the CPRE, of which in 1996 Jonathan Dimbleby was president and I was chairman, was in its infancy; but Clough Williams-Ellis and the other founding fathers such as Patrick Abercrombie used it to create the pressure from which, 20 years later, we got our planning system. That the planning system needs reform, I hope none of us would contest; but the rather ill-informed and ill-prepared zest with which the Government launched this Bill and the draft NPPF provoked and indeed alarmed a large section of the huge community that cherishes the English countryside.
Amendment 204C, which is being promoted by the CPRE, and is also supported by the National Trust and the Heritage Alliance, seeks to ensure that, when they are preparing local development plans, local planning authorities give due consideration to the need to protect and enhance the countryside, in the words of the late Nicholas Ridley-who was a tough Treasury minister and a true Tory-"for its own sake".
One of the central tenets of the post-war planning system in England is that by guiding appropriate development to sustainable locations in the countryside, the countryside itself should be protected from unnecessary and irreversible damage, and the regeneration of our towns and cities promoted.
This principle is currently upheld by a series of policies contained in national planning policy statements, including policy EC6 in Planning Policy Statement 4: Planning for Sustainable Economic Growth, that the countryside should be protected,
"for the sake of its intrinsic character and beauty".
Critically, this protection is not just conferred on high-profile designated areas of countryside, such as national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and heritage coasts, but on the ordinary countryside which is enjoyed by and which improves the quality of life of rural and urban dwellers all over England. However, the Government's planning reforms, being implemented by both the Localism Bill and the draft NPPF, as currently drafted, stand to remove the existing protection for the wider, ordinary countryside. I should emphasise that undesignated countryside makes up well over half of all countryside in England.
In addition, the NPPF introduces a,
"presumption in favour of sustainable development",
"the default answer to development is yes."-[Hansard, Commons, 23/3/11; col. 956.]
Understandably, the Government have been reluctant to define the term "sustainable" but, as my noble friend Lord Deben says, in a sense we all know what we mean by sustainable. It is common sense and it is localism at its most intense.
As Amendment 204D, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, draws attention to, the draft NPPF also does not contain a presumption that previously developed land should be developed first-the brownfield first policy-and it does not require planning authorities to have policies on housing density.
We should remember two points. First, developers will always go for green land rather than brown, if they have the choice as it is so much cheaper to build on. Secondly, in general, the lack of housebuilding, particularly now, is probably more due to the economy than to a shortage of land. Housebuilders will not build houses if they cannot sell them.
Taken together, these changes will have serious and potentially devastating implications for the future of the countryside. They will create pressure on undesignated countryside, drastically limit the ability of local authorities to contain urban sprawl, to promote sustainable patterns of development and, therefore, to maintain a distinction between town and country and to plan for a high-quality and sustainable built environment.
It is not at all clear how, in the absence of national policy that promotes the protection and enhancement of the wider countryside, the Government intend to ensure that the countryside is protected from unnecessary and irreversible damage under the terms of its planning reforms. My amendment would create a legal requirement that development plans should not be deemed sound unless they have had due regard to the protection and enhancement of the countryside.
In their natural environment White Paper, published earlier this year, the Government declared their ambition for,
"this to be the first generation to leave the natural environment of England in a better state than it inherited".
This document, significantly, also recognises the intrinsic value of the natural environment, and explicitly includes the open countryside in its definition of natural environment.
In May 2008, the present Prime Minister told CPRE:
"The beauty of our landscape, the particular cultures and traditions which rural life sustains, these are national treasures to be cherished and protected for everyone's benefit. It is not enough for politicians just to say that - we need leaders who really understand it and feel it in their bones. I do."
"I love our countryside and there's nothing I would do to put it at risk".
"Our countryside is one of the best things that makes Britain great, and we will protect it".
These are welcome commitments, but the planning system is the key means we have of protecting the natural environment, and these commitments will amount to nothing if we do not get the detail right. Perhaps in her response the Minister will say that the NPPF, rather than the Bill, is the right place to deal with these concerns, but she will be aware that very many people who care about the countryside, whether they live in urban or rural areas, have looked at the draft of that document and are extremely concerned about its contents. I hope that today she can give me an unequivocal assurance that the planning system will continue to protect the countryside for its own sake. If this is to be done in the NPPF, rather than the Bill, before Third Reading, the Government must provide the House with detailed wording of how this will be done.
Simon Cairns, the highly experienced and entirely non-political director of the Suffolk Preservation Society, of which I am president, sent me an e-mail last week in which he said:
"I am frankly amazed that a Conservative Administration is proposing to remove the national policy presumption against development in the open countryside. This would undermine the very cornerstone of our national planning system".
There will be an audience, well beyond the Palace of Westminster, for my noble friend's reply today. I pray that she will not disappoint them.
Lord McKenzie of Luton (Labour)
My Lords, we have Amendment 204D in this group, and we have added our name to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. My approach to this will be much more mundane than the rhetoric, commitment and passion that we have just heard from the noble Lord, but we support the thrust of his inquiry. There is no doubt that this combination of the Bill and the NPPF-we struggle to have these two different tracks of change in planning policy-has created great consternation in a constituency which is probably closer to the Minister and her colleagues than to us. There are clear questions that have to be answered.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, who said when he moved this amendment that the two great achievements of what these Benches call the Attlee Government and view with great affection were the creation of the NHS and the planning system. Was it Mr Silkin who did it in the Commons?
Lord McKenzie of Luton (Labour)
I am advised that it was Lewis Silkin. We have some historical perspective on our side as well. I would not say they were the only achievements of the 1948 Government-there was much else-but I agree with that assessment. I never aspired to do what my noble friend Lord Rooker did in tearing up ministerial briefs. It is only somebody with my noble friend's experience who could get away with doing that.
The noble Lord has focused on a real question about protecting the countryside. The Minister may well pray in aid the draft NPPF, subject still to that final consultation, and say that it is all covered in there. However, the onus is on the noble Baroness tonight to say that it is.
Amendment 204D talks about "previously developed" land. Sometimes the shorthand of "brownfield sites" gets mixed up with that terminology, even by Minister Greg Clark himself in an exchange in the other place. He was questioned and answered:
"I am happy to reassure the hon. Gentleman that that is not the case"-
that is, a planning free-for-all.
"If he takes the specific example of brownfield sites, he will find that paragraph 165 of the framework sets out clearly that land of the least environmental value should be brought forward first. That is another way of saying, brownfield land first".-[Hansard, Commons, 5/9/11; col 20.]
However put, if that is still the policy, and demonstrably so, then it clearly has our support. The success of that approach is clear: the "brownfield first" policy has been working. Last year, 76 per cent of new dwellings were built on brownfield sites-an increase from 55 per cent in 1989-but we are entitled to inquire how that position is going to be protected in the new world of planning. Will the Government confirm that it is their intention that that should be the approach? We would be pleased to hear it confirmed this evening and the extent to which it is reflected either in the Bill, which I do not think it is, or in the NPPF and its references focusing on it. I am advised that it is estimated that there are already 62,000 hectares of previously developed land ready for building on, of which 10,000 are in the south-east. This is enough to build more than 1.2 million new homes.
The issues for the Minister in replying are clear: she has to reassure us-and as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said, she must also reassure a much wider public-about the Government's intent. More importantly, how is that intent reflected in the NPPF or the Bill? Without necessarily analysing the timing, manner or wording of the NPPF and the Bill, there is no doubt that it created a furore and a backlash. It is incumbent on the Government tonight and in going forward to clarify their position and reassure those who are concerned about what may happen to the countryside.
I would argue not only for the countryside. I have always lived in an urban area and there are issues about urban spaces as well, but this focus is on the countryside, particularly that part that is not specifically designated as greenfield land. The NPPF focuses on designation and the circumstances in which designation might be reassessed. One of the propositions is that if local development plans are revised or updated, that may be a trigger for reviewing the boundaries of greenfield land. Given that there is not a local development plan in the land that will be up to date when this Bill comes into force, there is a big question mark over that as well.
I am sorry I cannot muster the passion of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, in his arguments for the countryside, but I support those arguments and seek reassurance on developing previously developed land first as the policy and commitment of the Government.
Lord Judd (Labour)
My Lords, passion perhaps not, but I know that my noble friend's commitment is outstanding on these issues. I welcome his amendment because while I support all the arguments that he made about brownfield site priority, one other important point which is sometimes overlooked is that if we give priority to brownfield site development we have a chance to improve the character of our urban areas. There is a chance to do imaginative things with housing and the rest in the middle of our urban areas.
I should declare an interest as president of the Friends of the Lake District, which also represents the CPRE in the whole of Cumbria. I am also vice-president of the Campaign for National Parks, but they are not really central, as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, explained, to our concerns tonight. The Government have made it pretty clear, which is very reassuring, that they have a commitment which they fully intend to honour to the national parks and the areas of outstanding natural beauty. That is a terrific undertaking from the Government and we look forward to seeing them fulfil it not only in the detail but in the spirit.
The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, recaptured history very well. I was just entering my teens when the new planning legislation became operative. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, knows very well, I was born in what was then Surrey on the edge of London and grew up in that area. I remember the concern among my family and many others as we saw many of the rich rural areas of Surrey near London being eroded by road building, ribbon development, new housing and the rest. It was a great sense of relief when this legislation came in. Some beautiful parts of the county of Surrey were preserved very near to London.
I know how important that was to me in my upbringing because as an active Boy Scout and keen walker I was always out in those areas, and so were many other people. Of course, these areas of beauty and of rich natural inheritance near to our urban centres are of special importance. It would be unforgivable if we were to let those slip and let further erosion develop.
We must remember something else. This idea about planning and the preservation of the countryside did not just come out of an elitist brain: it was something forged strongly in the context of the Second World War. We were fighting for the survival of Britain and we wanted Britain to be a decent place. We wanted it to be a better place and we could see that the countryside was central to that. If we are not careful we will lose that commitment, of which the noble Lord himself gave good evidence-passionate commitment in the best sense-to quality in our society.
The noble Lord kept stressing the inherent importance of the countryside-its inherent natural beauty being worth preserving in itself. Of course I go along with him 100 per cent on that argument, but it is not just about that. It is about our people. We had had the war and hard economic times before the war and people could see the importance of the countryside to those from urban areas as something to which we should all pay attention. Pressures may be different in character now but they are strong. People are under tremendous stress in urban existence. The economic pressures are increasingly acute, and therefore all those arguments about space and the opportunity to regenerate, to be recreative and to improve one's physique by enjoying and participating in the opportunities of the countryside remain at least as important as they have ever been. That is crucial and I was reassured to hear the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, saying what he said, because across the House and across the political divide I think there is a great deal of agreement about quality and not just quantity.
For these reasons, as the noble Lord spelled out so well, I hope we can get an absolute undertaking from the Minister tonight that the Government will preserve their commitment to the countryside as something very rich and relevant to the needs of the British people-something beautiful to preserve in itself, but also something that is indispensable in terms of the psychological and physical health of the British people.
I just hope we do not allow the arguments of growth in its economic dimension alone to squeeze out the thought of spiritual growth, spiritual development and a fuller life for the British people. I congratulate the noble Lord most warmly on his amendment. I am glad to be associated with it, and I am very glad indeed that my noble friend has put down his amendment as well.
Lord Deben (Conservative)
My Lords, I was for 30 years a Member of Parliament for a country constituency, and for part of that time I had the honour of representing the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, so I speak with some trepidation after he has put so valuable a contribution to your Lordships' House.
Over those 30 years, I think I have spoken more often and been more concerned with the rural scene than most politicians. Sadly, very few of our constituencies are now rural enough for one to be able to say truthfully that one represents a rural area. It is one of the mistakes, in my view, of the way in which constituencies have been drawn, and of course the changes in your Lordships' House have meant that rural society is much less well represented than it once was.
I started out with a huge amount of sympathy for the campaigns. I did not like some of the people who were behind them. Some of the newspapers that were proposing them were not newspapers that I normally felt had the better interests of society at heart. But still they were making a great deal of fuss. I did notice, though, that some of the fuss happened before the Government had actually published their document, which suggests a certain predisposition to worry about the Government.
I am not as worried as some because the first thing to recognise is that if we are going to have localism then the local plan becomes absolutely crucial. One of the things that we in Suffolk have felt over the years-I can only speak for my own much loved county-is that we know more about our county than people outside. We wanted a situation in which our local plan could represent the way in which you keep a living, working countryside, and not merely preserve it like with taxidermy. It is one of the things your Lordships might remember, and I am sure many here will understand this. There are problems in our countryside about the livelihood of ordinary people. Increasingly, villages have become middle-aged and middle class. Even in the time during which I have lived where I live-35 years-the whole population make-up has changed. There are several reasons for that, but one is that we have tended to believe that any development, excepting those villages designated by somebody else as key villages, is unacceptable. We have argued that because the country council does not want to run a school bus to a small village, but wants people to be concentrated so they can deal with them more efficiently, these small villages should not be treated properly. Indeed, many are referred to by that offensive phrase "scattered settlement". I am happy to say that I live in one. I have never heard anybody say, "I live in a scattered settlement". They tend to say, "I live in a village", because that is actually where they do live, and that is what they feel it is.
Therefore, we start with huge sympathy for the Government's view that we should have local plans. Many villages want to have a few homes, because they know that that is the only way in which they can keep their amenities and revise and revitalise the village community. It is the only way in which they can stop the community becoming an entirely one-class society. Therefore change is crucial for the life of our villages; we want a working countryside and not merely a Marie Antoinette kind of rural idyll. So I am concerned sometimes when I read descriptions of the countryside that do not understand the need for it to be workaday, and particularly do not understand that our landscape is as it is because of work. Our landscape in England is almost entirely artificial in the sense that it is created by man's work. That is not true in the wilder parts of Wales and Scotland and some parts of northern England, but most of us live in that sort of countryside. What we love most about it is very often something that human beings have co-operated on with the Creator to make something particularly special.
Not only do we have to think about keeping the countryside workaday, or sometimes returning it to being able to be workaday, but we also have to remember that there is poverty in the countryside that is very often unnoticed. Poverty comes thatched in the countryside, and so people think that it is a bit twee. But I knew poverty in my constituency. Someone said something about that earlier on-how bad the housing was in some parts of the world, very different from East Anglia. I could take people to village housing in my former constituency where poverty was real and the housing conditions were appalling. We must not hide from ourselves the fact that we need economic development in our countryside if it is to be both real and to meet the needs of the poor and if it is not to allow the countryside to become a mere dormitory for the old and those about to retire.
In that sense, thinking about the need for growth is not inimical to the protection of the countryside. It is part of making sure that our countryside is alive. But I must say to my noble friend that she is not helped by the traditional view of the Treasury. Not to embarrass anybody, I hope I may quote the housing report by Kate Barker, who put forward the totally improper suggestion that the reason why we are short of houses is because we do not have enough land on which there is planning permission. This is absolute nonsense. Housing is entirely driven by the ability to sell the houses that you build. If it is difficult to borrow money to buy a house, builders do not build. What is more, builders are quite clever at making sure that they do not build any more than keeps the price at the sort of price that they want. I have to say that under the previous Government, builders did better than they have done under any previous Administration. The return on capital and the profits of the building companies were clearly extremely well organised. I fear that that is part of the reason why we have such very low numbers. I do not want to argue with the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, but the fact is that in most years of the previous Government the number of houses built were worse than at any time since the First World War. It was an appalling history. Some years it was 100,000, and we need 300,000 to meet the needs. The fact is that in no year of the previous Government's administration did we build enough houses to meet the increased need for that year, leave alone get enough to make up for the 5 million that people pretended were not needed. The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, proceeded to suggest that we did not need it. Then, year by year, he, like everybody else, discovered that we did. So we have a very bad background to this, and I understand why the Government are very concerned about it.
I hope that my noble friend will not tell us that you get houses by having more planning. There are many planning permissions that are still not fulfilled, and the reason is that people do not think that they can sell the houses that are on it. So do not think that that is how we are going to get the extra houses that we need.
In this Bill it is quite clear that we have to build on brownfield sites, or at least those which are of least environmental value. The trouble is that there are some bug-filled brownfield sites which it would be a pity to build on. But we will build on those first. That is what the whole mix is supposed to do. Therefore the Minister may well say, "It's all there", and I agree with her. You do not need to change either the Bill or indeed the planning proposals to achieve what we want to achieve. But there is a problem in that an awful lot of people out there do think, "You need to change it". In other words, we have a real problem of perception now, and it is therefore very important that we listen carefully to my noble friend Lord Marlesford. If he thinks that these dangers arise, then he is speaking for a wide range of people, and we have to make sure that people do not get this wrong. I personally have no concerns except the concerns that people out there have, and therefore I hope that my noble friend will be prepared to help in language, so that people really understand that the statements of the Government are carried out as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said-in practice, clearly, and without peradventure.
The example for me is an earlier one. I used to talk about the planning guidance-PPGs-when I was the Minister responsible, and I was very keen on not building on greenfield sites. I was the first person to enforce the brownfield site concept, because I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that builders like building on flat and green fields.
I notice that the previous Government changed planning guidance to planning statements. We were already moving to the position in which people were being told what they shall do, and I therefore also understand that many people really resent the fact that others outside are telling them. We have to get this balance right. I had hope that we had got it. It is probably true that my noble friend will have to ensure that everybody knows on the face of the Bill, or at least in the planning strategy, that what we have said as a Government is actually there, and no one can object to it.
The reason I say this is very simple. I am afraid that there are a lot of people in this world who put their own profits and interests before national and local interests. They say, "Oh, that bit of land there won't really matter, because I own it and I can make some money out of it" or "I'm only filling over there. I can do a bit on the edge there". We need to make sure that they recognise, right from the beginning, that we are not having that.
For me, the real problem with the present situation is that I have no fears at all, when the local plans are in place, because I think localities will make the right decision. There will be a few that do not, but that is the price you pay for real democracy. There will be the odd, but the generality will in fact make the right decisions. My problem is between now and then, and it is at that point that people have a real concern that until you have the local plans in place, the presumption of sustainable development sounds as if it would allow people to do things which they ought not to do.
The Government have to assure us that that will not be the case. I think they can do so, but I hope my noble friend will understand that this is not antagonism towards the Bill, but a response to a national campaign which has a good deal of fault in it, but which has left people concerned, and it is part of the duty of government to meet those concerns.
The Bishop of Wakefield (Bishop)
My Lords, I, too, support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. I am warmed very much to what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, has said about the local vision. I am just over half way through Knapton by the noble Baroness, Lady Shepherd, about the village from where she came. It gives a marvellous picture of how that village developed over the 20th century and did not stand still as a preserved, romantic ruin. Equally, we all know Ronald Blythe's book, Akenfield, which again captured the development of a village and the way in which it continued to develop, albeit that it was fictional.
I think, too, of Timothy Jenkins who has written about the village of Comberton on the edge of Cambridge. He reminds us that villages are not places that have become fossilised but that they are growing communities, which often consist of three or four different communities within the same place, including those who have lived there over the centuries and have inherited the place, those who commute from there and so on.
Having said that, I realise that there are dangers. I am sure that I am not unique in this Chamber in regularly taking Private Eye. Noble Lords will have seen a couple of weeks ago the front cover which said that the Government have concrete plans for the countryside. It is always refreshing when I arrive back in this country by air and look out over England, even if it is at Heathrow-I came back from Tanzania just two weeks ago-and think, "Gosh, isn't it marvellous that it is so green and there is still so much countryside". But, standing alongside that, I think of where I was brought up, which was the northern equivalent to where the noble Lord, Lord Judd, was talking about in Surrey. We need to realise that Surrey is a foreign country if you come from north London. I would not want to make any comment about it but there you are. I was brought up on the northern edge of London. It is interesting that in the London Borough of Enfield, as it became, where I was brought up, something like two-fifths of the land area was still countryside. It was, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, has said, living countryside-farming and so on.
As I go back there more than 30 years later, I now see that it has become part of what I would call the A10 corridor. If you come out of London, until you get well beyond even Hertford, you do not feel that you have got out of the conurbation. That is one of the key issues that would be helped by the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. I think, too, of Newbury where my wife was brought up. I regret the fact that the by-pass on the A34 was built on the western side, which again extends that sense of urbanisation which is happening along the Thames Valley.
When one read books such as Knapton, Akenfield or the book on Comberton, one reads about villages which still retain some sense of independence as communities. But I am worried about the urban areas which are gradually nibbling their way into the countryside. A crucial issue is what this does to those who are being brought up in cities-the city children. It is extraordinary that you can go into a school in a big urban centre and find that when you talk to children about animals or plants, it is like talking in a foreign language. I think of where I am now in west Yorkshire. An interesting thing is that the bishops recently decided that we should try to be more focused. Each of us will take two or three concerns on which we concentrate. One of mine is rural issues. People often say to me, "How extraordinary to be talking about rural issues when you're the Bishop of Wakefield". But one of the amazing things about the diocese in which I live is that you have to drive only about a quarter of a mile in an urban area to find yourself in the countryside.
There is the symbiosis of the country and the urban. As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, we no longer live in a country idyll. In one sense, everywhere in this country is urbanised. At the same time, if we are to retain that sense of balance that is so important, we need to keep an eye on the way in which urban areas gradually encroach and become bigger conurbations.
Therefore, in supporting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, my plea is that we make sure that, as we pursue localism, we do so in the context of the wider region and realise that we cannot see a village or an urban area in isolation. Ultimately, urbanisation has affected the whole of our country. If we do not take the two things together, we will find ourselves not being realistic in how we approach planning both locally and regionally.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes (Conservative)
My Lords, I have listened to the debate and this is a very interesting amendment. I am speaking now because I can cover one of the later amendments, which I have tabled. It is relevant to this and will save a lot of time when we get to it.
This morning I went to a breakfast meeting in your Lordships' House, where the point was made that the number of humans breathing now in the world is equal to the number of all the other humans who have ever existed. That is a stunning statement if it is true. It means that, whether we like or not, we must think about providing for more and more people all the time.
Coming from a country where land was unlimited, when I arrived in England some 50 or 60 years ago I could not get over the degree of urbanisation. Driving from one town, you were barely out of it before you got to the next. Having come from Australia, where it might be 100 miles to your nearest neighbour, it was a terrible shock to see this. However, over the years I have grown used to it.
I have tabled my amendment, which we shall come to later, because I think that there is a case for it. In this instance the planning guidance referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, is very interesting. It has been very unclear recently on in-fill sites in the green belt. How do you define an in-fill site? At one time it was considered that an acre or two in the middle of what was technically green belt, but which already had houses all around it, was not a bad place to put a children's home, a private dwelling or something else. All the infrastructure was there and you would not expand on to further land. In the past 10 years or so we have reached a point where people say that every little bit of such land is sacrosanct. There is a huge difference between the green belt and a tiny in-fill site that has been left somewhere.
My home in Oxfordshire is in a very vibrant village. We have an excellent school system and many people with young families want to move to the area but there is simply nowhere for them to live. The local planning people have looked at things and said that there are three possible sites near or in the village that could be used. None of them is available. The people who own the sites are unwilling to allow any building on them. Some people have bought these pieces of land simply to prevent anyone building on them. This is quite damaging to the community because the village is obviously getting older all the time. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Judd. The idea of the life that he had, wandering around in open countryside, is lovely. However, it is hard to imagine our being able to go on doing that for ever if population growth continues at its current rate. What do we want to do-preserve it for a few people and prevent a lot of others having a suitable home? We have to look carefully at the pros and cons of all of this.
The amendment is good because it asks only for "due regard" to be paid. I am 100 per cent behind that because due regard and careful selection of how things are done are important. However, we must be aware of the need for more accommodation for people and that everyone should have the right to decent housing and somewhere to live. I should not want to see anything happen that would prevent that.
Lord Lucas (Conservative)
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Gardner should discount any figures that she heard at that meeting this morning. The number of people who are dead is of the order of 100 billion, and I think that we are some way short of that in terms of the living.
My noble friend Lord Deben harked back to the days when the urban were a minority in this House. I thought that he made a rather thin case for those days and the retention of the hereditary peerage. He made a much better case for the retention of Secretaries of State in this House, and I hope that we will be able to defeat the Government's intention to remove them over the course of this Parliament. I entirely agree with what he said and he put it much more nicely than I am going to do.
I am greatly saddened that the National Trust should have chosen story over truth. I do not think that it will do it and its reputation good over the long term. I do not accuse my noble friend Lord Marlesford of any such thing. He and I just have an honest disagreement. However, I shall start with something on which I think we probably do agree: given 1,000 or 2,000 acres of rural Hampshire, neither of us would recreate Basingstoke in it.
I very much share the feeling of my noble friend Lord Deben that the countryside is a living place and that villages and other human habitations grace it. I agree that the way that the Bill sets about making possible the revival of the countryside, breathing into it not a vast mushroom growth but a steady rate of change and development to suit the requirements of the local population, providing a natural means of life and change, is something that we should welcome. Countryside with well designed, well placed houses and other buildings in it is a more beautiful thing than thousands of acres run by barley barons on a rotation, where the most delightful thing you are likely to see is rape every 10 years and where, if you visit it as a botanist, which I do, you see a few gross weeds such as nettles and docks, a few coarse grasses, and a few scrawny annuals and crops. In botanical and any natural terms, farmers have created a desert, much of it in countryside which has no great beauty-nothing on which to rest one's eye. It would be vastly improved by a few well placed villages and other buildings, and I do not think that we should romanticise about all our countryside being of the quality of the greatest.
Therefore, my concern is that we should not be blown off course by the misleading adventures of the National Trust and others but should concentrate on the purpose of the Bill, which is to give discretion to local communities regarding how they develop. I trust them, as does my noble friend Lord Deben. Because no speech from me would be complete if I were entirely in favour of the Government, I say that I share the concerns of my noble friend Lord Deben about the interregnum. What happens when there is no local plan? I do not think that it is desirable that that should be a space for a free-for-all.
Baroness Hanham (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Communities and Local Government; Conservative)
My Lords, I am just about to cancel tomorrow's debate-if it were in my hands, I probably would-because I think that we have had it. We have had extremely thoughtful speeches on very carefully thought through amendments.
I shall start with two things. The first is to support entirely what has been said about the mischief that has been stirred up over the launch of the planning policy framework. An awful lot of the comments arrived before anyone had had an opportunity to see what it was all about, and the matter has gone from there on a steamroller to something that the Government now clearly have to pick up and deal with because there is so much misconception and misperception around that it cannot be left.
The national planning policy framework is a consultation document. People who have thoughts and anxieties about it must let us know. Over the past weeks both in the other place and here we have given every demonstration that the Government and the department are listening and will make changes where they believe that is right and where there are representations with which they agree. We do not just stand by what is said in print. If we think that there is a case to be made, we are perfectly happy to talk about it and see what can be done. It is important to say this in this context because the national planning policy framework will be the blueprint for the future. Therefore, it must be something to which people by and large sign up. You cannot "do planning" to local people because people get cross, frightened and anxious about what is going to happen next door to them. They have to understand and be able to see how things are going to affect them. When the planning policy framework finally appears we will have to take account of the fact that it is a live document which people will study and that it will be relevant to local plans.
As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said in his amazing speech-I am almost on the point of giving up on mine-the local development plans and local development frameworks will be the most important aspect of planning as they will enable local people, neighbourhoods and neighbourhood forums to have plans which affect their small areas. This will form a protection as regards future developments. The protection will work in two ways. It will protect neighbourhoods that do not want something in quite the place that the local development plan is suggesting but that are required to do something about the matter. They can say, "We do not want that development here but we could put it over there" and that way they will be happy. We must also understand that, as the noble Lords, Lord Deben and Lord Lucas, have said, people in the countryside are crying out for some form of development which their children can afford. Within the Bill there is the community right to build. This is another aspect whereby local people can identify land and say that they would like a building or some housing built there and can themselves pull together the plans and projects to do that. Those people understand what affects their village and what affects them. The local development plans have plenty of scope to ensure that there is protection against inappropriate development or, if that protection is not needed, to ensure that appropriate development takes place.
A great deal has been said about brownfield sites and derelict land. My right honourable friend Greg Clark has already made clear-in fact, the framework makes it clear-that sites of the lowest amenity and environmental value, which would include previously developed land, should be used as a priority. I do not think that we can say that any more clearly. That clearly covers brownfield land. Brownfield land is land that has been either previously built on or in some cases is contaminated land which has been left and must be decontaminated before it can be used. There is a clear understanding, particularly in urban areas, that brownfield sites should be used first where possible. However, that does not rule out there being other sites where there is a general consensus that development could take place. That is important. We have to be utterly flexible in what we do. We must understand that everybody has different priorities and that people in different parts of the country have different priorities.
My noble friend Lord Marlesford started with an excellent speech, well supported by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, on protection of the countryside. I fully understand that. The amendment, which would add to what the inspectors have to take into account in considering a local plan, would add the requirement to take particular account of the countryside. He will be upset with me, but I am going to resist that slightly, not because I do not agree with it-I do agree with it-but because it is not relevant to the town or the cities. The countryside is not something which an inspector is going to take account of when developing the city centre of Bradford and to put such a requirement in legislation just makes it awkward and a bit tenuous to what we are talking about. However, it is well understood, the Government have understood it. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and Eric Pickles tried at the conference to redress the damage that was originally done by the articles and the campaign that was fought that said that this was something that we were not interested in and were not protecting at all. Absolute nonsense.
Most people in this country have some connection with the countryside. They know about it. Most people, as they fly in, realise just what a beautiful country it is. We do not want to see-and this Government are no different from Governments before-the countryside despoiled. We also do not want to see the development of the country and villages get frozen in aspic. I do not think that I can make it any clearer, first, that the presumption here is always to make use of derelict or developed land and secondly, that we must always-and these are together, not apart-consider the countryside to be extremely special.
Another area on which there has been a lot of correspondence has been the assertion that we were going to let the bulldozers go in, drive all over the place and knock things down and let towns be built all over the place on the presumption of sustainable development. Let us be clear that the presumption only works and only comes into play where there is not a supporting development plan at the time, or the development plan supports the application. No application on anything that there might be a presumption in favour of can go through without the normal form of planning control. Any application will always go through the planning system. Most of us know about planning committees; we have all sat on them and we all know that local people are vigorous and vociferous when they do not want something developed.
The presumption in favour of development will not stop that process taking place. Where there will be a presumption in favour is where there is no reason for refusing it-nobody objects, nobody is upset, it all seems to be quite sensible and straightforward-then, in order to stop there being too much delay, there will be an expectation that that plan will be accepted. We should not be too frightened of this: there must be an expectation that we can put vital new housing and new business in the right place, to help not only the housing of our people, but also the economic growth we need.
I hope that there are no points I have not addressed. I am extremely grateful for the speeches that have been made on all sides, because they demonstrate a realisation of the position. I strongly urge that in our debate tomorrow we will recall and remember that this is a consultation, it is open to people to make representations about it, and it is absolutely clear that this Government will pay attention to that consultation.
I know how strongly my noble friend feels about this so I say with some hesitation that I will not accept this amendment. I hope, in light of the explanation I have given, and if I can almost develop the passion on this matter that I heard coming from him and the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment, and we will look forward to him reiterating that tomorrow. If he does not, I know that what he has said and the way he has said it will be carried forward into the consultation and that the views he has expressed will be very firmly taken on board.
Lord Marlesford (Conservative)
My Lords, first, I thank everybody who took part in the debate and I hope and think that it was a useful debate. It is a little awkward in a way that there is a big debate on the same subject tomorrow. Perhaps it would have been better if that had been a bit later but that is the way the cookie crumbles.
There is one lesson that this Government have increasingly to learn. Their Achilles heel is the way in which they have handled legislation. Surely there is one basic rule of politics that everybody here ought to know: in politics, perception is reality. It is all very well for my noble friend to say, as she charmingly did-perhaps with some justification-that there were some overstatements made by the National Trust particularly, and my noble friend Lord Deben made the same point. How much better would it have been if the Government, in the process of preparing their legislation, had consulted with these bodies instead of, not surprisingly, arousing huge apprehension?
I heard my right honourable friend Mr Pickles saying with triumph, "A thousand pages of planning experience drawn up over the last 60 years? Away with it! We will bring it down to 50 pages". That was bound to make people realise that you probably could not put into 50 pages everything that was needed. It would have been a great deal better if they had sat down with people like the National Trust and CPRE before producing all these drafts. Instead, the Prime Minister had to write a letter to the National Trust, saying, "Please do not get too upset with us, we will talk to you", and Ministers are now doing so-much better late than never.
I hope for the Government-and perhaps the usual channels on my side will convey this-that this applies not just to this Bill but a number of others, and in future legislation I hope that they will take a little more trouble to consult and prepare the ground and show more sensitivity. I am pleased to feel, from what my noble friend the Minister has just said, that the lesson has got home. I would have confidence in her and I do not have any problem in withdrawing my amendment tonight because I am sure that as the NPPF is a draft, as she said, and is susceptible to being changed, and there are discussions going on about it, we will eventually get the right answer.
However, it matters to a lot of people and there are people who will only get an impression and the impression is what matters. The Government have a lot of work to do in the next year or so to put right the impression that has been created so far. I hope that this lesson has been learned and will be applied to other Bills. I thank everybody for what they have said, and I withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 204C withdrawn.
Amendment 204D not moved.
Moved by Baroness Hanham
204E: Clause 100, page 78, line 38, at end insert-
"(7AA) Subsection (7B) applies where the person appointed to carry out the examination-
(a) does not consider that, in all the circumstances, it would be reasonable to conclude that the document satisfies the requirements mentioned in subsection (5)(a) and is sound, but
(b) does consider that, in all the circumstances, it would be reasonable to conclude that the local planning authority complied with any duty imposed on the authority by section 33A in relation to the document's preparation."
Amendment 204E agreed.