‘(1) Section 70 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (determination of applications for planning permission: general considerations) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (2) (local planning authority to have regard to material considerations in dealing with applications) for the words from “to the provisions” to the end substitute “to—
(a) the provisions of the development plan, so far as material to the application,
(b) any local finance considerations, so far as material to the application, and
(c) any other material considerations.”
(3) After subsection (2) insert—
“(2A) Subsection (2)(b) does not apply in relation to Wales.”
(4) After subsection (3) insert—
“(4) In this section—
“local finance consideration” means—
(a) a grant or other financial assistance that has been, or will or could be, provided to a relevant authority by a Minister of the Crown, or(b) sums that a relevant authority has received, or will or could receive, in payment of Community Infrastructure Levy;
“Minister of the Crown” has the same meaning as in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975;
“relevant authority” means—
(a) a district council;(b) a county council in England;(c) the Mayor of London;(d) the council of a London borough;(e) a Mayoral development corporation;(f) an urban development corporation;(g) a housing action trust;(h) the Council of the Isles of Scilly;(i) the Broads Authority;(j) a National Park authority in England;(k) the Homes and Communities Agency; or(l) a joint committee established under section 29 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.”’.—
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Sustainable development
‘(1) The Secretary of State must, not later than six months after this Act is passed, make provision in regulations to—
(a) define sustainable development in the planning context, and
(b) incorporate the five principles of sustainability as set out in the 2005 Sustainable Development Strategy—
(i) living within environmental limits;
(ii) ensuring a strong, healthy and just society;
(iii) achieving a sustainable economy;
(iv) promoting good governance; and
(v) using sound science responsibly into planning law and guidance.
(2) Before making regulations under subsection (1) the Secretary of State must consult such organisations and persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(3) Regulations under this section shall be made by statutory instrument and shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.’.
New clause 4—Community Right of Appeal
‘(1) The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 78 (appeals to the Secretary of State against planning decisions and failure to take such decisions) after subsection (2) insert—
“(2A) Where a local planning authority grants an application for planning permission and—
(a) the authority has publicised the application as not being in accordance with the development plan in force in the area in which the land to which the application relates is situated; or
(b) the application is one in which the authority has an interest as defined in section 316; certain persons as specified in subsection (2B) may by notice appeal to the Secretary of State, provided any one of the conditions in subsection (2C) are met.
(2B) Persons who may by notice appeal to the Secretary of State against the approval of planning permission in the circumstances specified in subsection (2A) are—
(a) the ward councillor for the area (if that councillor has lodged a formal objection to the planning application in writing to the planning authority), or where there is more than one councillor, all councillors by unanimity;
(b) any parish council or neighbourhood forum, as defined in section 61F, covering or adjoining the area of land to which the application relates, by two-thirds majority voting; or
(c) any overview and scrutiny committee, by two-thirds majority voting.
(2C) The conditions are:
(a) Section 61W(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 applies to the application;
(b) the application is accompanied by an environmental impact assessment; and
(c) the planning officer has recommended refusal of planning permission.”.
(3) Section 79 is amended as follows—
(a) in subsection (2), leave out “either” and after “authority”, insert “or the applicant (where different from the appellant)”;
(b) in subsection (6), after “land”, insert “(except for appeals as defined in section 78(2A) and where the appellant is as defined in section 78(2B)).”.’.
New clause 5—Powers of the Secretary of State
‘(1) If the Secretary of State thinks that a statutory provision (whenever passed or made) is creating uncertainty for local authorities in the discharge of their planning functions or is a matter of public dispute between local planning authorities and other relevant bodies, the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument amend, repeal, revoke or disapply that provision.
(2) The power under subsection (1) may by exercised in relation to—
(a) all local authorities,
(b) particular local authorities, or
(c) particular descriptions of local authority.
(3) The power under subsection (1) to amend or disapply a statutory provision includes power to amend or disapply a statutory provision for a particular period.
(4) In this section “statutory provision” means a provision of an Act.
(5) Before making an order under subsection (1) the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) such local authorities
(b) such representatives of local government, and
(c) such other persons (if any), as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(6) The Secretary of State may not make an order under this section unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.’.
New clause 6—The purpose of planning
‘(1) The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 is amended as follows.
(2) Before section 1 insert—
“A1 Purpose of Planning
(1) The purpose of the planning system is to achieve sustainable development.
(2) Any person exercising functions and duties under the planning Acts must do so with the objective of achieving sustainable development and shall have regard in doing so to any guidance given for that purpose by the Secretary of State.
‘(1) In this Act—
(a) ‘sustainable development’ means development that meets the social, economic and environmental needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs including the application of the following principles:
(i) living within environmental limits;
(ii) ensuring a strong, healthy and just society;
(iii) achieving a sustainable economy;
(iv) promoting good governance;
(v) using sound science responsibly;
(b) ‘the planning Acts’ means—
(i) the Localism Act 2011;
(ii) the Planning Act 2008;
(iii) this Act;
(iv) the Town and Country Planning Act 1990;
(v) the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990;
(vi) the Planning (Hazardous Substances) Act 1990; and
(vii) the Planning (Consequential Provisions) Act 1990.”’.
New clause 7—Removal of permitted area restrictions
‘(1) A relevant local authority may consider and, if it thinks fit, grant an application to vary a converted casino premises licence so that it relates to premises to which it did not previously relate and may do so regardless of whether or not—
(a) the premises to which the application relates are situated in the area of the relevant local authority which issued the licence; and
(b) the area of the relevant local authority in which those premises are situated was a permitted area when the converted casino premises licence was originally issued.
(2) Subsection (1) shall not require a relevant local authority to consider any application to vary a converted casino premises licence if that local authority has passed a resolution under section 166 of the Gambling Act 2005 (resolution not to issue casino licences) and that resolution is in effect at the time the application is made.
(3) In Schedule 4 to the Gambling Act 2005 (Commencement No. 6 and Transitional Provisions) (Amendment) Order 2006 (transitional provisions), for sub-paragraph (13) of paragraph 65 (application of the Gambling Act 2005 to casino premises licences granted on a conversion application) substitute—
“(13) An application to vary a converted casino premises licence so that it relates to premises to which it did not previously relate shall be made—
(a) in the case of premises wholly or partly situated in the area of the licensing authority which issued the licence, to that licensing authority; or
(b) in the case of premises wholly or partly situated in the area of another licensing authority, to that other licensing authority, and section 213(f) (definition of licensing authority) shall apply to such an application as if the licensing authority considering such an application under paragraph (b) was the authority which issued that licence.
(14) Nothing in paragraph (13)(b) shall require a licensing authority to consider or grant an application to vary a converted casino premises licence so that it relates to premises to which it did not previously relate if—
(a) the premises are wholly or partly situated in the area of a licensing authority which did not issue the licence; and
(b) the licensing authority has resolved under section 166 not to issue casino premises licences and that resolution is in effect at the time the application is made.”.
(4) In this section—
“converted casino premises licence” has the same meaning as in the Gambling Act 2005 (Commencement No. 6 and Transitional Provisions) (Amendment) Order 2006;
“permitted area” means the area of a local authority which was a permitted area for the purposes of the Gaming Act 1968;
“relevant local authority” means a local authority in England, Wales or Scotland which is a licensing authority under the Gambling Act 2005.’.
New clause 11—Transfer of generating station consent powers to Welsh Ministers
‘(1) The Secretary of State must make regulations to transfer to the Welsh Ministers those functions of the Infrastructure Planning Commission and the Marine Management Organisation which relate to applications for an order granting development consent for the construction or extension of generating stations in Wales or in waters in or adjacent to Wales up to the seaward limits of the territorial sea.
(2) Regulations made under subsection (1) must be laid within 12 months of the passing of this Act and are subject to the negative resolution procedure.’.
New clause 29—Retail diversity scheme
‘(1) In Part 2 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 after section 15 insert—
15A (1) The local planning authority must prepare and maintain a scheme to be known as their retail diversity scheme.
(2) The retail diversity scheme must form part of the Local Development Scheme within two years of the Local Development Scheme being published or within two years of this Act being passed, whichever is later.
(3) The scheme must—
(a) define a network and hierarchy of retail centres in the local authority area,
(b) assess the need for development in retail centres,
(c) identify sites for development based on the sequential approach, and
(d) promote retail diversity.
(4) In this section—
(a) ‘retail diversity’ means a mix of retail provision that meets the requirements of the local catchment area in terms of range and quality of comparison and convenience retail businesses;
(b) ‘sequential approach’ means that local planning authorities must identify sites that are suitable, available and viable for development in the following order—
(i) locations in appropriate existing centres;
(ii) edge of centre locations, with preference given to sites that are or will be well connected to existing retail centres;
(iii) out of centre sites with preference given to sites well served by a choice of transport and are closest to an existing centre.
(5) The Secretary of State may direct the local planning authority to make such amendments to the scheme as he thinks appropriate.
(6) Such a direction must contain the Secretary of State’s reasons for giving it.
(7) The local planning authority must consult with the local community in developing the scheme.
(8) The local community as defined under subsection (7) must include—
(a) a parish council or parish councils authorised to act in relation to the neighbourhood area or areas to which the retail diversity scheme relates subject to section 61F of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990,
(b) a ‘qualifying body’ authorised to act in relation to the neighbourhood area or areas to which the retail diversity scheme relates subject to section 61F of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, and
(c) any other local person at the discretion of the local planning authority.
(9) Where a retail planning application is submitted and there is no retail diversity scheme in place the applicant must provide a statement to the local planning authority that sets out how the development impacts on the criteria identified in subsection (3); and the local planning authority must consult the local community as defined in subsection (8) before coming to a decision on the application.”’.
New clause 30—Planning consent for betting offices
‘(1) That, notwithstanding any existing statutory provision, a local authority may require planning consent to be applied for pursuant to section 62 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and granted prior to the establishment of, or change of use of premises or land to establish, a betting office in that local authority’s area.
(2) “Betting office” means premises, other than a track within the meaning of the Gambling Act 2005, in respect of which a betting premises licence under Part 8 of that Act has effect.’.
New clause 31—Change of use class for betting offices
‘The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 is amended as follows—
‘(1) In article 3(6) (exclusion from use classes), at end add—
“(n) as a betting office”.
(2) In Part A (Use Classes) of the Schedule to the principal Order, in Class A2(c) omit “(including use as a betting office)”.
(3) “Betting office” means premises, other than a track within the meaning of the Gambling Act 2005, in respect of which a betting premises licence under Part 8 of that Act has effect.’.
New clause 32—Amendment of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004
‘In section 19(1A) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (preparation of local development documents)—
(a) leave out “(taken as a whole)”,
(b) leave out from “contribute” to “change” and insert—
(i) achieve reductions of greenhouse gas emissions in line with the carbon budgets set under the Climate Change Act 2008;
(ii) meet current national policy objectives on assessing the risk of and adapting to climate change, in relation to that area.’.
New clause 34—Guidance on opencast mining: separation zones etc.
‘(1) The Secretary of State must issue guidance on the national planning policy for opencast mining in England within six months of this Act being passed.
(2) The guidance must require a minimum separation zone of 500 metres between the site of an opencast mine and the nearest residential property, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
(3) Mineral planning authorities in England must have regard to any guidance issued under this section when fulfilling their functions.
(4) In this section “opencast mining” means the working of minerals by opencast operations and the carrying out of operations incidental to such working.’.
New clause 35—Scope of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order (No.2)
‘The Secretary of State must within 12 months of this Act being passed, by regulations made by statutory instrument, amend the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (S.I. 1995/418) (the “GPDO”) removing permitted development rights specified in neighbourhood development orders from the scope of the GPDO.’.
New clause 36—Scope of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order (No.1)
‘The Secretary of State must within 12 months of this Act being passed, by regulations made by statutory instrument, amend the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (S.I. 1995/418) (the “GPDO”) removing land or premises used or formerly used as a public house from the scope of the GPDO.’.
Government amendment 144.
Amendment 293, clause 90, page 61, line 6, at end insert
Government amendments 145 to 147.
Amendment 294, page 61, line 13, after ‘undertaken’, insert
‘where issues or impacts cross administrative boundaries and with the objective of achieving sustainable development’.
Government amendment 148.
Amendment 295, page 61, line 15, at end insert—
‘(ab) the preparation of Joint Infrastructure Planning Guidance.’.
Government amendment 149.
Amendment 297, page 61, line 17, at end insert—
‘(d) the preparation of the Local Transport Plan;
(e) the preparation of marine plans; and
(f) other activities that support the planning of development, so far as relating to the development and use of land or sea.’.
Government amendment 150.
Amendment 296, page 61, line 18, leave out from ‘land’ to end of line 20 and insert
‘and strategic infrastructure and in particular the preparation of Joint Infrastructure Planning Guidance.’.
Amendment 298, page 61, line 20, at end insert—
‘(3A) The preparation of Joint Infrastructure Planning Guidance within subsection (3) must involve—
(a) a local planning authority who is also a member of a Local Enterprise Partnership as approved by the Secretary of State; and
(b) every other person within subsection (1).
(3B) The preparation of Joint Infrastructure Planning Guidance within subsection (3) includes in particular—
(a) the collection of evidence on issues defined in subsection (3C);
(b) the preparation of policy guidance in relation to issues defined in subsection (3C); and
(c) any other activities that support joint infrastructure planning.
(3C) For the purpose of subsection (3B) the issues to be addressed include—
(a) housing needs;
(b) climate mitigation and adaptation and in particular flood risk;
(c) economic development including retail needs;
(d) energy needs and capacity;
(f) natural resource use including water management; and
(3D) The person or bodies defined in subsection (1) must exercise the function of Joint Infrastructure Planning with the aim of achieving sustainable development and must act under guidance, including as to the meaning of sustainable development, as set out in the UK Sustainable Development Strategy.’.
Government amendments 151 to 156.
Amendment 299, page 61, line 36, at end insert—
‘(7) In this section—
(a) “marine plan” has the same meaning as in section 51 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009;
(b) “marine plan authority” has the same meaning as in section 50 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009;
(c) “sea” has the same meaning as in section 42 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.
(8) The fulfilment of the duty in subsection (1) shall be regarded as a material consideration by an independent examiner carrying out functions under section 20(7) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.’.
Government amendments 157 and 158.
Amendment 369, clause 95, page 66, line 33, leave out from ‘levy)’ to end of line 38 and insert ‘in subsection (2), after second ‘ensure’, leave out to the end of the subsection and insert
‘that owners and developers of land make a financial contribution to support communities in the area in which their development is situated, including the provision of infrastructure and the building, improvement and renovation of housing.’.
Government amendments 159 and 160.
Amendment 6, schedule 9, page 289, line 23, after ‘live’, insert ‘, or businesses registered,’.
Amendment 7, page 289, line 26, after ‘live’, insert ‘, or businesses registered,’.
Amendment 8, page 289, line 27, at end insert—
(ba) the organisation or body is competent to undertake the task of preparing a neighbourhood plan with appropriate professional support.’.
Amendment 9, page 289, line 27, at end insert—
(ba) the organisation or body is representative of different sections of the community.’.
Amendment 10, page 289, line 28, leave out ‘3’ and insert ‘12’.
Government amendments 161 to 163.
Amendment 359, page 292, line 25, at end insert
‘except for the winning and working of minerals in, on or under land by surface working and any associated activity.’.
Government amendments 164 to 168.
Amendment 301, page 298, line 6, at end insert—
‘(1A) A neighbourhood development plan must include policies to—
(a) achieve reductions of greenhouse gas emissions in line with the carbon budgets set under the Climate Change Act 2008;
(b) meet current national policy objectives on assessing the risk of and adapting to climate change, in relation to that area.’.
Government amendments 169 and 170.
Amendment 12, schedule 10, page 300, line 38,
(h) imposing a duty to conduct an equalities impact assessment in line with the Equality Act 2010.’.
Government amendments 171 to 174.
Amendment 11, page 303, line 14, at end insert—
‘(1A) Any person who makes written representations seeking to change a neighbourhood development order must (if he or she so requests) be given the opportunity to appear before and be heard by the person carrying out the examination.’.
Government amendments 175 to 182.
Amendment 371, clause 102, page 72, line 14, leave out ‘majority’ and insert ‘all’.
Amendment 372, page 72, line 15, at end insert
‘and within a radius of a quarter of a mile from the site of the application’.
Amendment 370, schedule 13, page 327, line 24, at end insert—
55A In section 115(1) after ‘associated development’, insert ‘, except where the associated development is the carrying out or construction of surface works, boreholes or pipes on a site all of which falls within the area of a single local planning authority, where consent for such works should be required from the local planning authority.’.
Government amendments 184 and 258.
It is a pleasure to be debating planning issues again. I am sorry that that is occasioning an exodus from the Chamber, as I think it is one of the most fascinating parts of the Bill. I cannot promise to emulate the winding-up speech of the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Andrew Stunell who, in 30 seconds, gave the finest speech that I have ever heard him give, but I will endeavour to reach those high standards.
I am delighted to see Jack Dromey in his place to respond. Those of us who served on the Bill Committee have missed our daily dose of historical education and elucidation, and I dare say that Members who were not on the Committee are in for a treat tonight.
We have a large group of amendments to discuss and so as to avoid the fate of my hon. Friend, I will try to say something about as many as possible of them in my opening remarks so that it may not be necessary to expand at length later in the debate. We made good progress in Committee on this part of the Bill. There was a shared understanding that there were problems with the planning system that have grown up over time, which the Bill provides an opportunity to address. It is not a matter of party political contention that the persistently observed problems with the planning system centre around the fact that over recent years it has been too top-down. People have felt that planning is something that has been done to them, rather than something in which they have had a say or which they have had a chance to influence.
There is something about the British people which means that if they feel imposed upon, bullied and hustled, they will kick out against that and use every means at their disposal to frustrate it. That has led to what all of us as Members of Parliament have seen over recent years—a rising sense of antipathy to the planning process, often leading to quite emotional exchanges and people feeling very bruised about the system under which they operate. The purpose of the Bill is to remove some of that top-down imposition and provide greater opportunities for communities to have their say.
The second observation that most people share is that too often when developments take place in communities, there is inadequate provision for infrastructure and inadequate attention to accommodating the development that takes place. Again, that leads local people to be more inclined to oppose a development because they are fearful that their community will not have the capacity to resolve some of the difficulties that development will bring.
The Bill attempts to address both those concerns. Among its headline measures, it replaces the regional arrangements that have been in place for some years and introduces instead a duty to co-operate that brings local authorities together in a more natural way. Rather than giving an administrative solution to some of the problems, it allows people to collaborate, discuss and come to resolutions of larger than local issues. It strengthens the requirements for pre-application scrutiny, introduces neighbourhood planning, abolishes the Infrastructure Planning Commission and returns powers ultimately to Ministers through a major infrastructure planning unit.
On the abolition of everything that is regional, which is clearly Government policy and has been for some time, the Minister has just indicated that the duty to co-operate was the central plank that would replace on some sort of strategic basis the regional dimension. With hindsight, does he think the Government gave enough attention and thought to how the duty to co-operate should be formulated and how it should work in practice? There seems to have been an awful lot of criticism from everybody with an interest in these matters about the Government’s position in the Bill.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. I know that as Chairman of the Communities and Local Government Committee, he has taken a great interest in these matters. I have always been clear that the Bill represents a major change and it behoves any Minister from whatever party to listen to representations and to seek to improve what is a different way of solving a classic problem—planning issues that have a larger than local dimension to them. The previous Government attempted a resolution through regional arrangements. We formed a view, for better or for worse. Some of us on the Government Benches thought that those arrangements should not have been entered into in the first place. Those on the Opposition Benches would reflect, I think, that the arrangements have had their day and should be replaced with a means of addressing larger than local issues that is robust and captures the need for strategic planning. I will go straight to the amendments that relate to that—Government amendments 144 to 158—and say something about the Opposition’s amendments as I do so.
We accepted that there was an opportunity to strengthen the duty to co-operate that was set out in the Bill as originally drafted. Indeed, I perhaps agree that a minimalist view was taken of that duty. We have replaced it with something that enjoys support from a wide range of groups, having reached a form that they endorse as a useful resolution to some of these matters. I pay tribute to the effort and work that many groups outside the House have put into strengthening the duty to co-operate. It would be churlish not to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington, who approached these matters in a similar vein; the amendments tabled by the Opposition in Committee provided a basis on which to discuss these matters and to make progress.
The duty to co-operate will be significantly strengthened by the amendments that we, as promised, have brought forward. They are modelled closely on what we said was appropriate in Committee and what the Royal Town Planning Institute has proposed. As the professional planning body, it was the organisation that worked most closely on this, but a wide range of other outside bodies were involved, including the Wildlife and Countryside Link coalition, which includes the WWF, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Town and Country Planning Association. In particular, we have taken up their suggestions, which were echoed in some of the amendments tabled by the Opposition in Committee, to make clearer the application to cross-boundary issues and to the marine planning system, which needs to be addressed. We have also taken input from the Planning Officers Society, whose members will be charged with meeting the duty to co-operate. As a result of its suggestion, our amendment proposes to put a reference to county councils on to the face of the Bill. That deals with one of the hon. Gentleman’s amendments that he will no doubt talk to shortly.
The combined effect has been to create a much stronger duty to co-operate that covers all authorities and a proposed list of prescribed bodies that themselves would be subject to that duty, because planning matters clearly concern not only local authorities, but other public bodies. I know from speaking with councils up and down the country that one of the frustrations is that they sometimes feel that they have not had the full and enthusiastic co-operation of other public bodies in producing plans that are clearly relevant to them.
I have placed in the Library of the House our draft list of bodies to be included in addition to local authorities. They include the Environment Agency, the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, Natural England, the Mayor of London, the Civil Aviation Authority, the Homes and Communities Agency, primary care trusts, the Marine Management Organisation, the Office of Rail Regulation, the Highways Agency, Transport for London, integrated transport authorities and highways authorities. I think that it is absolutely right that those public bodies should be required to give every co-operation to local authorities in producing strategic plans that are larger than local plans for their area.
We also propose in these amendments an enabling power that will require all bodies that are subject to the duty to co-operate to have regard to the activities of other bodies when preparing plans that may not have a public character. Foremost among these are local enterprise partnerships. We intend to identify local enterprise partnerships as bodies that the prescribed bodies with the duty to co-operate must take into account and with which they will need to co-operate fully.
The duty to co-operate applies to the preparation of all development plan documents and, in particular, it requires engagement to maximise effectiveness. This cannot be a minimal engagement that simply responds to a questionnaire, which it was feared the original formulation might lead to. There must be active engagement to maximise the effectiveness of all relevant development plan documents. It applies to all strategic issues, which will be interpreted as issues that cross at least two local authority planning areas. It refers to sustainable development, because we know that the environment, in particular, does not stop at local authority boundaries and continues way beyond them, so it is absolutely right that there should be a requirement to co-operate on that. Infrastructure requirements typically go beyond local authority boundaries as well. It requires consideration to be given to the preparation of joint plans and development documents. In particular, I hope and expect that local enterprise partnerships will use their planning powers to pool some of their policies relating to the development of the economy so that they will have attractive, appealing and clear pro-growth policies, especially in areas where there is a need to attract new employers.
The crucial test of the duty to co-operate is the soundness of the plan. If the inspector finds that the duty has not been complied with, the plan will be unsound and cannot be adopted. Therefore, there is an absolute safeguard that this is not just a voluntary activity, but that it is absolutely at the heart of plan making, and rightly so, because the strategic level is very important to emphasise.
The amendment, which is the product of extensive consultation with the professional bodies and some of the other representative bodies, anticipates and deals with many of the amendments that Opposition Front Benchers might be minded to move. If I have time at the end of our considerations on this group, I will respond to the remarks of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington. In particular, amendment 293 deals with the inclusion of county councils, and that is covered by our amendments. He will have heard me mention integrated transport authorities and the marine planning organisations in the list of prescribed organisations that I intend to publish. Sustainable development is very clearly marked there and is explicitly referenced, as are local transport plans and marine plans.
On this new clause, I can do no better than quote the briefing on that which the Royal Town Planning Institute made available to Members:
“The RTPI has worked closely with the Government on strengthening the arrangements for planning at the larger than local level and believes that the amended Clause 90 should be supported.”
It states that the Government are
“to be congratulated for listening on this issue.”
I hope that we have been able to discharge the commitments that I made in Committee to establish a replacement for the regional arrangements that is rather more robust than the original version.
Let me turn to some of the other new clauses and amendments tabled by hon. Members. Joan Walley, who chairs the Environmental Audit Committee, has asked that at this stage we consider the specific question of whether a definition of sustainable development should be included in the Bill. New clause 2 has been tabled by my hon. Friend Annette Brooke and her colleagues, and those on the Opposition Front Bench have tabled some amendments relating to this matter. I will give an indication of the approach I would like to take on this, because it is an area that, as many Members know, is close to by heart. I completely agree that the purpose of planning is to promote sustainable development and that all plans and decisions should reflect that.
New clause 2 captures where we should be, and I certainly undertake to give my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole most of what she seeks. As was always intended, we will bring out a draft national planning policy framework in July, which will have sustainable development at its heart. It will set out what we mean by sustainable development.
Will that sustainability—sustainability can, of course, include many different strains—include community sustainability, such as providing for places of worship in local communities?
My hon. Friend anticipates the detail of the national policy planning framework, but at this stage all I would say on sustainable development is that the Government have no issue or disagreement with the classic definitions of it. The Brundtland definition, that development undertaken by this generation should not compromise the ability of future generations to live their lives, has stood the test of time and is very clear. Although I am foreshadowing the content of the framework, I want to give a clear signal to my hon. Friend and to all hon. Members that we intend to follow that approach.
This is a little like having the winding-up speeches before the debate has started, but, in anticipation that there might not be much time to set out the arguments for sustainable development, may I ask the Minister, given what he has said, whether he agrees that there is no substitute for writing sustainable development into legislation? Here we are, yet we do not have the details of the statement that will come out next week or later, so how can we ensure that sustainable development is written into the legislation? Is not that the most important aspect of this exercise?
I understand the hon. Lady’s point, but I hope she accepts that we have stated clearly that we are very comfortable with the classic definition of sustainable development, which will be prominent—in fact, it could not be more prominent—in the planning policy framework. She has no grounds for concern. Her Committee asked for an assurance that sustainable development would continue to be part of planning policy, and I take that point.
I wish to return to the point that my hon. Friend Henry Smith made about places of worship. From my discussions with the Minister, I know that he has spoken warm words, but will he use this opportunity to place on the record his broad thinking about how places of worship can be accounted for in planning policy?
I will resist the temptation to stray from the proposed changes before us. There are amendments that deal in particular with sustainable development, but I say in passing that the opportunity for communities to have and to promote places of worship is a reflection of their sense of community, and we would be wholly in opposition to the direction of the Bill if we had any intention of restricting that—quite the reverse. I do not think that my hon. Friend has any cause for concern.
The previous Government promoted the five principles of sustainable development—living within environmental means, ensuring a strong, healthy and just society, achieving a sustainable economy, promoting good governance and using sound science responsibly—in the sustainable strategy. I have no difficulty with that, and without going into too much detail I would expect those principles to be reflected in planning policy, where they always have been. That has been the place for them.
The challenge from new clause 2—to require sustainable development to be put forward after a period—also carries an important virtue. The national planning policy framework will be subject to consultation, and it is quite right that we should give people the chance to see our definition—I have given a pretty broad steer as to what it will be—and to comment on it, rather than simply capturing something in the Bill now. I would be perfectly relaxed about doing so, but we should give people the chance to reflect on and to add to the definition.
I hear what the Minister says, but would it not have been more appropriate if we had had that public debate alongside a White Paper, when sustainable development could have been looked at across the range of planning policy, not just as part of the framework to be published shortly? We could have looked at that first, but instead we are considering things in the dark.
We are not quite in the dark. I hope that I have illuminated some of the dark, given what I have been able to say about the proposed contents of that White Paper. At the time of the Budget, I said that we would try to bring forward the definition a little earlier than the rest of the document, because I know that there is an interest in it. That will at least allow the other place to have the benefit of that thinking. If a greater token of good faith than my words at this Dispatch Box is required, it will appear quite shortly.
I think hon. Members will be satisfied with our approach. I have long regarded the matter as a personal interest, having shadowed the energy and climate change brief in opposition, and there is nothing in our approach that does anything other than enhance matters. By clarifying, and taking away much of the undergrowth around, planning policy, it will make more resonant the principles that the hon. Lady, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington and my Liberal Democrat hon. Friends so rightly want to promote.
Neighbourhood planning is another important addition to the Bill. I freely accept that the initial version of our clauses on this could have been improved, and I made commitments in Committee that we would reflect on improvements that could be made. The hon. Gentleman was particularly exercised, and indeed lyrical, about the opportunities to improve some of these provisions. He was dismayed that a neighbourhood forum in which these issues could be discussed was liable to take place in the saloon bar of the Dog and Duck, thinking that too intimate a space for such a gathering and suggesting that it should be larger. We have reflected on the size of public houses across the country, and we think we need to enable more people to attend the forums.
There is no Dog and Duck in Birmingham, as far as I was able to establish, which is a great disappointment. There was a Dog and Duck in Holloway Head, which is perhaps an area of the city that he knows, but sadly it was demolished some time after 1899. I have brought in this very appealing photograph of the pub, which I will give to the hon. Gentleman so that next time he is in his city he can research its antecedence. I have to say that it does not look the most salubrious of establishments, but then I do not know what his taste is in public houses, and he might regret its disappearance. He may also be dismayed to hear that another public house demolished in Birmingham in recent years was the House That Jack Built. I am sure that that is a source of regret to everyone in Birmingham, but perhaps it is an opportunity for him.
While my right hon. Friend’s comments are amusing, does he understand the frustration of many of us, including members of the all-party save the pub group, that even after this Bill has been passed, it will remain perfectly possible for people to demolish free-standing pubs without the community having any right to have a say?
I understand my hon. Friend’s point. I will say a few words about that in moment, and I hope to give him some comfort. He is absolutely right that one of the types of building that communities value most, whether in towns or villages, is their local pub. The frustration they feel in seeing some of these buildings demolished without the opportunity to do anything about it is a source of great concern. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Robert Neill, who snaffled very sharpish the title of “Pubs Minister” when the portfolios were being handed out just after the general election, takes a particular interest in this and has been meeting representatives of the Campaign for Real Ale, as has my hon. Friend Greg Mulholland and his group.
For Members of the House who were not in Committee, I should explain that we asked a series of questions about neighbourhood planning. First, is it right for neighbourhoods below the local authority level to be able to promote a vision of their future? We agreed that it was. This is easily available to areas that have parish councils or town councils: a standing democratic body is available, so it is easy to give it such powers. The next question is whether areas that do not have parish councils or town councils should be excluded from the ability to have a neighbourhood plan. There is an argument that they can apply for parish status, so we can provide a little bait to attract them towards doing that. Those on both Front Benches reflected on this and agreed that if some parts of the country decided that they did not want a standing parish council or town council but nevertheless wanted a neighbourhood plan, they should not be denied that.
How can we bring together people in those places in an acceptable way to discuss these matters? In the Bill, that question turns on neighbourhood forums. We agreed to increase, through amendments, the minimum number of members of a neighbourhood forum from three—the number at which it was rather unfeasibly set—to 21. Landlords across the country can now count on at least 21 customers being in their snug to discuss neighbourhood plans rather than the minimum of three. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington argued strongly that we should increase the number. We have gone a little beyond the number that he suggested, and that is absolutely right. Government amendment 160 makes that clear.
Amendment 160 also makes it clear that businesses should be involved. Clearly, any conception of a neighbourhood—certainly one that includes a high street—must reflect the fact that sometimes the people who have the interests of the community most at heart and who most epitomise the community are those who run businesses, because they are at the heart of the community. The fact that someone runs a business in a town but lives elsewhere should not preclude them from participating in the neighbourhood forum. We are happy to reflect that point, which again was urged by the hon. Gentleman, in Government amendments.
On amendment 160, will the Minister clarify what will be the balance between residents and businesses? The amendment could be read to mean that businesses alone could drive an agenda, which might not be compatible with what the residents want. I wonder whether the wording needs to be looked at again.
Order. Before the Minister resumes, I clarify that he is not supposed to have his back continually to the Chair. He is supposed to address the whole House, not just the Members behind him. I hope that he will bear that in mind.
Of course, Madam Deputy Speaker. I certainly intended no discourtesy to you or anyone else in the Chamber.
We do not want to be too prescriptive in the rules for neighbourhood forums, because we want as many people to participate as possible. Nevertheless, we have specified the requirement in the examination that they should be open to all. Part of the test that the examiner will make is whether there are sufficient efforts to involve all sections of the community, including businesses and definitely residents. Various types of residents must also be included, because it is important that the whole community is represented. We have also clarified that councillors have a right to be involved in the neighbourhood forum, even if they do not reside in the ward that they represent, as is sometimes the case. I hope that Government amendments 161 and 162 cover the point made by the hon. Lady. If they need strengthening, we are happy to look at them again. I think that they make it clear that forums need to reflect the community and should not allow any narrow interests to dominate. That is one of the most important tests.
Good points were made in Committee by Heidi Alexander and Mr Raynsford about cross-border arrangements. I recollect that they share a border in Blackheath. It is important that Blackheath is able to have a neighbourhood plan, and I very much hope that it will. Government amendments, in particular amendment 168, will make that possible, and will ensure that there will be only one plan for the area. It would be wrong for competitive plans for Blackheath to be promoted from the Lewisham side and the Greenwich side. It is important that they work together.
If residents so desire, the provisions of a neighbourhood plan can designate spaces that residents want to keep as green space.
The right hon. Gentleman said in Committee that it should be possible for the examiners of plans to be planning inspectors or local authority officers. We perhaps erred too much on the side of reassuring residents that they had the right to promote their plan in the face of a recalcitrant local authority, and therefore excluded local authority officers and planning inspectors from being involved. We actually found, to our delight, that there is a great deal of enthusiasm on the part of many local authorities. Where a community and its local authority can happily work together, its officers should not be excluded from being involved.
We have also addressed, in Government amendments 171 and 172, the need for the development of neighbourhood plans to be properly funded, recognising that the capacity of communities varies from place to place. Those amendments give the Secretary of State the power to arrange for payments to be made in support of neighbourhood planning, or for services such as training to be provided.
My right hon. Friend gives many words of encouragement to those of us who have tabled amendments. Does he have any such warm words for neighbourhoods that happen to be in a coal mining area and face the threat of open-cast mining applications? They would like to be able to include that matter in their neighbourhood plans.
I was going to come on to my hon. Friend’s amendments, but since he raises the matter I will turn to them now. I will have to disappoint him. Neighbourhood plans are conceived as being about issues that just affect neighbourhoods. Although mineral extraction has consequences for particular neighbourhoods, it is clearly larger than a local matter. It has consequences for the wider authority and, in many cases, for national Government. It is not right to expect neighbourhood plans to govern mineral extraction, which goes beyond their scope.
The issue of open-cast coal mining is critical, particularly in former coal mining areas. If there is going to be a presumption in favour of mineral extraction instead of that being balanced with environmental considerations, that suggests that there will be no commitment whatever to sustainable development at the heart of planning policy. If people cannot prevent open-cast coal mining, or have their view of it taken on board, that will send out a strong message to them that they will not have any say in future developments in their locality.
No, the hon. Lady has got it wrong. We are talking about neighbourhood planning, but of course a whole panoply of other planning policy applies. There is absolutely no intention to remove the test of sustainability for mineral extraction or any other proposal, and that will be a matter for national policy. I do not underestimate in any way the importance of open-cast mining for the communities in which it takes place, but neighbourhood plans are not the mechanism to control it. I hope most hon. Members will see that.
I will make some progress, and then perhaps my hon. Friend can come in again. I know that a lot of Members want to speak.
Nic Dakin, who made many helpful and constructive suggestions in Committee, has tabled two amendments. We will require the examiner of plans to take oral evidence if people want to submit it, but we will leave him or her to make the judgment about whether that is an attempt to delay the process or reflects a genuine appetite. Similarly, his amendment 12 is unnecessary because the Bill already allows prescribed steps to be taken in the examination of a neighbourhood plan, including the consideration of questions about participation. However, we will carefully consider whether an equalities impact assessment is appropriate.
On heritage issues, our amendments correct a misdrafting that seemed to put in doubt the protection that conservation areas and listed buildings receive in the neighbourhood planning process. That was never our intention. Happily, working with the heritage groups, we have been able to agree a set of measures that address that problem.
I wish to say a little about town centres, because I know that an amendment on the subject has been tabled. Policy on town centres has always been part of national planning policy, and I believe that is right. However, as I have done on the subject of sustainable development, I wish to signal clearly the importance of having robust policy, including the sequential test that is currently in planning policy statement 4. That will absolutely be in place, and it will be clear in the new national planning policy framework.
The Association of Convenience Stores wants, to its credit, to keep this issue live and in the forefront of our minds. I am happy that it does so, but it need have no concerns. This Government’s attitude to town centres is absolutely clear: they are at the heart of our communities and nothing should be done that would disadvantage them or jeopardise that.
Government new clause 15 deals with local finance matters, which has caused the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington and his colleagues some concern in recent days. The proposal makes it clear that local finance matters that are relevant to planning considerations can be taken into account. It does not change the law in any way, and it is not some stealthy way in which to introduce a new basis for planning policy. Everyone knows that section 106 payments that are material in planning matters can be taken into consideration. The new clause reflects the fact that the introduction of the community infrastructure levy, and, potentially, other rebates to the local community, as I like to call them, can be used for planning purposes. It is important to be clear, lest there is any doubt on the part of local authorities, that such rebates, just like under section 106, can be made when they are relevant to planning considerations.
Amendment 369, which was tabled by my right hon. Friend Simon Hughes, suggests that CIL should be used more widely for housing and other local infrastructure. It is important that planning committees, which are sometimes nervous and conservative about such matters, are reassured that the use of the CIL for appropriate planning purposes is perfectly legitimate and that it can be taken into account in planning decisions.
The Minister implies that there is no change in policy as a result of new clause 15, but may I remind him that until three months ago, his Department’s stance was that financial matters could not be regarded as material considerations? His Department’s response to the consultation on the new homes bonus scheme affirmed that the new homes bonus cannot change the position that financial matters are not to be regarded as material considerations. New clause 15 changes that completely, and changes the presumption that planning permission cannot be bought and sold, which has been in the planning system for years. That is an extremely dangerous move, and I am astonished that the Minister has come to it only after 35 minutes of his speech. He has dealt with a lot of detail, but he has not addressed the fundamental threat that new clause 15 poses to the integrity of the planning system.
The right hon. Gentleman should be reassured that the measure is not a fundamental threat. Rather, it is an incidental measure for clarification. As he knows, section 106 payments have always been taken into account. There is no change in the policy whatever. He misquotes the response to the consultation on the new homes bonus, which is as valid today as it was when it was published. The response states that
“the new Homes Bonus is not intended to encourage housing development which would otherwise be inappropriate in planning terms” and that local authorities
“cannot take into account immaterial considerations.”
Therefore, local finance considerations, like any other considerations, should be taken into account only if they are material to the application that is being considered. Let me give an example to the right hon. Gentleman. Obviously, if it is perfectly appropriate for a payment made under a section 106 agreement to be taken into account by the planning authority, it would be perfectly reasonable for the CIL, for example, to be used to provide investment in a road scheme that accommodates a development. If a planning authority considers that to be material, it is perfectly reasonable to take it into account. The measure simply clarifies that if payments other than section 106 payments can be used for matters that are material to the application, it is legitimate to take them into account.
The Minister will have to do better. He should consider whether he is being absolutely open with the House about the significance of the change. The existing presumption is that planning permission cannot be bought and sold, and that financial considerations are not material. He will know that section 106 agreements are negotiated only after planning consent has been granted. There should be no question about that. However, he is clearly muddying the waters—his language implies that—and by making a financial consideration a material consideration, he is undermining the planning system. I urge him to reconsider.
The right hon. Gentleman is disappointed that this is not the cunning plot that he sensed it might be. It is a straightforward clarification, and he needs to accept that it is not what he thought it was. It is a simple and straightforward clarification brought about by the fact that it has been suggested in the press that some of these payments cannot be taken into account. It is important that councils understand that, where it is relevant to the planning matter in hand—but not otherwise—they can continue to take it into account. That is no different from the present situation, and it is important to clarify that.
I would like to press the Minister on his response to my amendment 369. I will make my point by way of example: the Shard, being built by London bridge, will attract community infrastructure levy section 106 money, and the local authority might want to renovate the local council or housing association estates nearby, or to build new social housing. Will he assure me that the Bill will make that possible?
New clause 15 clarifies that it is reasonable for a planning authority to take such funds into account if they are to be used in connection with the planning application. On the use to which the funds are put, I know that in Committee my right hon. Friend and the Opposition Front-Bench team considered whether the provision could be drawn more widely to include affordable housing. It has not been possible to draw up a definitive amendment in time for Report, but I am sympathetic to those concerns, so we will introduce further suggestions in the Lords.
Earlier in his remarks, the Minister was quick to quote the Royal Town Planning Institute on the progress that he would say has been made on the duty to co-operate, so could he tell me, in relation to new clause 15, why the RTPI writes:
“The Government’s new amendment to make financial considerations a material consideration is deeply flawed and potentially very damaging to proper planning and contradicts assurances given by ministers just 12 weeks ago”?
What does he have to say to the RTPI?
I have given clear assurances at the Dispatch Box that this is not what the RTPI perhaps suspected or what the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich clearly suspected: that this was some grand plan to—as he put it—buy and sell planning permission. That is not the case. There is no change in the dispensation.
I want to get down to practicalities. Given that these matters are now material considerations, is it not the case that when an application comes before a local planning authority, the officer of that authority will have a responsibility to explain in their recommendations precisely what financial considerations there are and how much will be gained by the authority and the community from granting the application? That is completely different from any present requirement on any planning officer to explain any financial matters before the planning committee makes a decision on an application.
Order. Before the Minister replies, I want to say that this is a very important point, and I am allowing the interventions to run longer than normal because of its complexity. Can we bear it in mind, however, that we still have a lot of business to get through?
The hon. Gentleman has got the wrong end of the stick. It is not required that the planning application should be determined on the basis of the financial flow. It is relevant only if it relates to the planning matter before the authority. For example, if the community infrastructure levy is to be used to pay for an access road, it is perfectly reasonable—this is clarified in the new clause—for that to be taken into account by the local authority.
I want to make some progress, because I have spoken for 45 minutes. My hon. Friend Stephen Gilbert has tabled a new clause—new clause 4—that would introduce what he describes as a limited right of appeal for third parties against planning applications, just as he did in Committee. Let me make a few points about that. In the first place, I fear that the drafting of new clause 4 is technically defective. The drafting of proposed new section 78(2B)(c) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 would allow any overview and scrutiny committee anywhere in the country to appeal against planning permission granted by a wholly different authority. Clearly it is not his intention that his planning committee in Cornwall should appeal against a decision in Tunbridge Wells, so whatever happens, he needs to take that into account.
The second point is that new clause 4 does not address—as it would need to if it were accepted—the crucial point of what happens in the meantime if planning permission is granted by a local council. Is that permission to be held in abeyance, awaiting a possible appeal, or can planning permission be implemented in the meantime? If a development goes ahead and there is a successful appeal, would that development need to be demolished? If work is started on a development that needs to be interrupted, is anyone liable for compensation if the permission is overturned on appeal? There are therefore a few technical deficiencies with new clause 4 that would need to be considered.
I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the technical deficiencies in new clause 4 to me, and particularly for doing so at 9 o’clock this evening. However, aside from the technical deficiencies, what is the Government’s view of the principle? I can work on the robustness of the new clause if the Government can give me their view in principle.
I will explain, although I will shortly draw my remarks to a conclusion, as I know that other Members want to speak. As my hon. Friend and all other members of the Committee know, my view is that we should move away from a system of planning by development control, where recourse is made to the Planning Inspectorate rather than local decision makers, which is how the future of our communities has been developed. I want fewer appeals to the Planning Inspectorate and more decided locally. Doing that means plan-making becoming a much more prominent part of the process. Neighbourhood plans and pre-application scrutiny—and, incidentally, neighbourhood plans becoming part of the development plan, even if the local authority disapproves —along with the abolition of regional imposition and the prevention of the inspector from simply rewriting plans are all geared towards making the plan prominent and, indeed, sovereign. When we are dealing with the legitimate concerns of communities that feel that developments that they do not want have been imposed on them, my concern is to strengthen their ability to control the process by participating in plan-making.
I will continue to make a bit of progress, then I will certainly give way to my hon. Friends.
Taking away some of those appeals for determination by an undemocratic body, rather than by local authorities on the basis of a plan, is the wrong thing to do, and would also elevate the status of planning officers above members. Such an approach would essentially say to planning committees that they should either agree with their planning officers or risk facing an appeal. That is the wrong approach. My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay will shortly see evidence in the national planning policy framework of my absolute intention to make plans sovereign, so that it is not possible simply to set aside democratically agreed local plans in response to particular pressures.
There is also a case for looking at the fact that the costs of losing appeals can sometimes hang over local authorities. Sometimes the threat of losing an appeal dissuades a local authority from turning down an application that it might want to turn down. We should look at that, to ensure that it will be possible for local authorities robustly to stick to their local plans.
My right hon. Friend will remember visiting my constituency to meet local residents who were fighting against unwanted developments in Micklethwaite and Menston. The logic of what he is saying seems to be that the appeal process should be evened up to deprive the developer of the opportunity to take their plans to appeal. Is that what he is proposing? One way or another, the plans should be equal between the developer and the local residents. On the basis of what he has just said, can he clarify whether he is going to stop developers having the right to appeal?
I know that my hon. Friend withdrew an amendment proposing to deprive developers or property owners of their right to appeal. He will know, as a robust free-marketeer, that when planning consent was nationalised, it took away people’s opportunity to do what they wanted with their property, and that that became subject to the right of appeal. I think that that is a reasonable safeguard. I want to make the local plan clear and sovereign, so that it becomes the determinant of planning applications, so that they do not need to go to appeal.
In my little local town of Bishop’s Waltham, a supermarket is being built outside the local plan. Is the Minister saying that the sovereignty of local plans will be such that there will be no out-of-plan developments at all, even for supermarkets in small market towns?
The combination of neighbourhood plans and local plans in the new system will be much more robust than at present. My hon. Friend can reasonably expect that they will govern the decisions that are taken.
Too often at the moment, an appearance before the planning committee is merely the first step on the way to an appeal, and that is the wrong way to do planning.
I want briefly to refer to the amendments on betting shops tabled by Mr Lammy. I know from our conversations that he is very concerned about the proliferation of betting shops in his community and elsewhere. We announced in the Budget a review of how use class orders, relating to a change in use, are handled in the planning system. I will ensure that a specific part of that review deals with the very real issue in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and we will look at what can be done to make progress in that regard.
When the Minister undertakes that review and looks into the issue, will he consider the fact that there are clusters of betting shops in many high streets, including Deptford high street in my constituency, and that they are crowding out regeneration and diversity of retail? This proliferation of betting shops is blighting many areas. He needs to take into account not only changes of use but the fact that there are far too many instances of this single type of operation being clustered in one street, which I am sorry to say attracts a lot of antisocial behaviour.
I understand the right hon. Lady’s point. This is something that is reflected across the country. One aspect of neighbourhood planning will look at the character of high streets, in particular, to ensure a proper diversity of uses.
I will not give way, because I want to conclude my remarks. We have only 50 minutes left, and a lot of Members wish to speak.
I hope that I have been able to cover the great majority of the new clauses and amendments in this group. I know that the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman will want to have his say, as well as Back Benchers. These measures represent a significant development in our planning procedures. They will correct some long-standing flaws, which have resulted in people not having an opportunity to have their say in plan making from the beginning. They will give neighbourhoods the opportunity to have their vision of the community promoted as part of the local development plan. I will conclude my remarks now, and I look forward to the rest of the debate.
On health, the Government gave not an inch in Committee, got it badly wrong and then paused for thought. On localism, the Government admitted in Committee that they had got it badly wrong. They committed to making changes and are now bringing forward 234 new clauses and amendments—more than the entirety of provisions in the original Bill.
There are some moves in the right direction. The Government have, for example, accepted our amendment to protect our national heritage and our great historic buildings, which was warmly welcomed by English Heritage. This Bill, however, like the Health and Social Care Bill, remains a bad Bill.
The Government have moved on the duty to co-operate, admitting that the original proposals did not go far enough. The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, a decent man with an open mind, acknowledged to the Committee that the Government needed to strengthen the duty to co-operate and, in his words,
“to make it bite and to make it more encompassing than it is.”––[Official Report, Localism Public Bill Committee,
The progress made, however, is extremely limited. It is clear that the Secretary of State, a man with a closed mind, sat on his Ministers—a fate too awful to contemplate. Since the Committee stage we have had additional changes to digest emerging from the Budget and those 234 new clauses and amendments. I am afraid to say that the sum total of the changes proposed is confusion, chaos and nothing short of a car crash.
Since taking power, the Government have moved at breakneck speed to demolish the planning system and to rebuild it within a matter of months. The demolition is nearly complete, with the end of sensible regional strategic planning, including the folly of the abolition of the regional development agencies and their replacement with local economic partnerships with no powers and no money—all because the Secretary of State gets out the clove of garlic and the cross at the very mention of “regional”.
As the dust settles, has it all been worth it? How does the Minister view the planning landscape? Are we about to see a new streamlined planning process delivering housing, economic growth, action on climate change and the environment, and transport and infrastructure while also empowering people? Are we going to see that rise from the ashes?
With respect, I took many interventions in Committee, but now that the Minister has taken the best part of an hour, I am determined to get through my remarks so that we can hear the maximum number of contributions from Back Benchers on both sides.
Ending up in a pickle, the Government have produced a system that is desperately unfit for purpose. It is important to remember the purpose of planning. Good planning is a vital tool for delivering the necessary development, while also delivering on sustainable development. Planning should integrate the needs of the economy with environmental and social goals to create sustainable communities and retain and enhance our cultural, historic and landscape assets.
We support any sensible reform. We accept that the system the Government inherited was, like any planning system, capable of improvement. We agree that increased local input by local people and local communities for the future of their areas and their built environment is absolutely vital to the success of any planning system. The reformed planning system, however, must be able to meet key tests and objectives. The system must be able to meet our growing housing need and in the right areas.
I intend to finish my speech soon, for reasons that I have already given. In a debate lasting less than two hours, a Minister spoke for the best part of an hour. I want to allow time for the maximum number of contributions to be made by Back Benchers.
The Government propose to introduce a regressive system that will reallocate moneys away from low-demand areas, and will undermine sustainable development by encouraging growth on the most developable and profitable rather than the most sustainable sites. The planning system must deliver sustainable development, but instead of including a definition of sustainable development in the Bill, the Government indicated in the Budget that they intended a profound shift away from sustainable development as the objective of planning towards a market free-for-all.
An effective planning system should contribute to the delivery of our future needs, and that includes helping us to meet our carbon commitments in the fight against climate change. The Government, however, have promoted a toothless duty to co-operate, which will not contribute one iota to the mitigation of climate change. A truly effective planning system should also be responsive to local needs, demands and aspirations, but the Government’s proposals in relation to neighbourhood planning are half-baked and a bureaucratic nightmare. They are also a sham.
Like other parts of the Bill, the localism agenda with regard to planning is wholly undermined by the Government’s attempt to face in two directions at once. On one hand we have the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government trumpeting the devolving of power to local people; on the other hand we have the Chancellor, who wants to make it easier for developers to bypass the planning system altogether. I can only assume that in the battle between the Treasury and the DCLG, the Treasury has won the day. How else can we explain the introduction of new clause 15, which enables financial benefits such as the new homes bonus to be a material consideration in the determining of planning applications?
Ministers and others on the Government Benches should be clear about what they are voting for today. The Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Town and Country Planning Association all condemn the proposals. The CPRE has said:
“We believe that this amendment would fundamentally distort the planning system by encouraging local authorities to base decisions on the financial implications rather than the spatial merits of the proposed development. It could also undermine the plan-led system and result in the spread of developments that go against the views of local people.”
That view is echoed across the planning community, and will soon be heard in Members’ surgeries up and down the country.
The new clause undermines the fundamental principle that planning decisions should be made in the long-term public interest, taking account of land use consequences and of what local people actually want, rather than being based on financial rewards for the decision-maker. It stands on its head what the Government said in the new homes bonus design document, referred to earlier, which was released on
“The New Homes Bonus also sits alongside the existing framework for making planning decisions. Responsibility will remain with local authorities to work within this framework to continue to ensure that development is suitable and sustainable by meeting local needs and national planning policy.”
The new clause represents a fundamental conflict of interests within planning. We must therefore ask why the proposal was not considered earlier. Could it be because since
What of the Government’s amended duty to co-operate? Their most significant proposed change is to use the local development framework soundness test as a sanction to ensure that co-operation takes place. That sounds reasonable, except that it is a retrospective test. Unlike our amendments, the Government’s amendments do not specify what is meant by co-operation. It will be extremely difficult for any inspector to assess definitively whether there has been adequate co-operation. It could take several years to judge whether or not co-operation has been successful, a period we can ill afford given the pressing need to meet housing needs, to modernise our infrastructure and to respond to the increasing scientific evidence of climate change. In short, the Government’s proposed duty to co-operate remains essentially voluntary, does not specify a unified product in terms of plan or strategy, does not specify the issues to be dealt with, and does not create an effective boundary to shape the extent of co-operation. It is certainly true that the proposal in general is a step in the right direction, but this measure simply will not work.
On the other hand, our measures go some way towards establishing the planning system the country needs. The duty we propose places sustainable development as a core objective of this co-operation, specifies the scope of the co-operation required, specifies a minimum number of issues to be the subject of co-operation including climate, housing, biodiversity and transport, and is based on a spatial area and not neighbouring authorities only, because that does not work for the most strategic planning issues. Our proposed duty also places a statutory requirement on local authorities to prepare a joint strategy that addresses a number of specified strategic issues. This duty will not repair the damage the Government are intent on inflicting on the planning system, but it may salvage something from the wreckage.
What in terms of sustainable development can we retrieve from the wreckage? At a time when the country is facing unprecedented challenges in economic recovery, climate change and increased urbanisation, the need for us to achieve sustainable development and to address these issues effectively has never been greater. However, the abolition of regional spatial strategies has removed many of the mechanisms that have provided an impetus for action towards achieving sustainable development and helping to monitor progress.
Looking to the future, achieving sustainable development must be at the heart of the planning system and the Bill, and we therefore welcome new clause 6, tabled by my hon. Friend Joan Walley, which does exactly that: it puts sustainable development at the heart of the Bill. It is also absolutely vital that the adoption of short-term measures to drive economic growth and the abolition of important Government advisers such as the Sustainable Development Commission do not lead us into making decisions that are unsuitable for the country in the long term. Somewhere in the planning system consideration must be given to the how actions we take now will have an impact on future generations. In short, the Government need to be clear about the purpose of planning sustainable development. The issue is even more imperative given that the Government’s intention under new clause 15, which would give financial payments a privileged status—first among equals—as no other issue, such as housing or climate change, is specifically identified in the primary legislation as material. In the light of that, there is no justification for not specifying sustainable development in the Bill.
The proposed duty to consider climate change applies only to the preparation of local development frameworks and not to neighbourhood planning. Our proposals on climate change would ensure that, alongside our approach to strategic planning and the approach taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North to sustainable development, the mitigation of climate change would be at the heart of the local plan-making process.
The new provisions in the Bill on neighbourhood planning have been drafted to avoid the climate change duty. Do the Government seriously expect the carbon emissions for each neighbourhood forum and each local development plan magically to add up to our national target on climate change?
However, the climate change issues are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Bill’s clauses on neighbourhood planning. The Government have proposed a series of amendments to the neighbourhood planning process arising out of our debates in Committee. As on the duty to co-operate, the limited progress is welcome. The Government have agreed to increase the number of people needed to initiate a forum from three to 21, so there is no longer the prospect of three men or three women in the Dog and Duck constituting themselves as a neighbourhood forum. On our other proposals to ensure democratic accountability no concessions have been made. The Government clearly see no need to ensure that such forums are accountable, and so 35% of the country will be covered by democratic bodies—parish councils, which, at their best, are admirable institutions— while the remaining 65% will be represented by forums with no democratic legitimacy and no accountability. We want communities to have a greater say in planning and to have a say over their local area, but forums should be democratically accountable and involve at least one local councillor. It is simply wrong to downgrade democracy.
We also want to give local communities a greater say over the future of their local high street. I see today that, as a result of Labour’s amendments in Committee, Mary Portas, who is described as a “TV retail guru”, is to carry out a Government-backed review aimed at halting the “decline” of the high street in England. Retail summits are fine, but they are not an alternative to practical action. The Government should therefore back the concrete proposals for change that we have put before the House today.
In Committee, we moved amendments to enshrine the “town centre first” policy in primary legislation. We welcomed the all-party consensus that there clearly was on the importance of this issue and the Government’s commitment to placing the “town centre first” policy at the heart of the national planning policy framework. Although that was a step in the right direction, we need to do more to put the heart back into Britain’s high streets. New clause 29 would require a local planning authority to include a retail diversity scheme within its local development framework. Crucially, the scheme would be developed through a consultation process with the local community, with the voices of local people and of local retailers heard. The new clause establishes a vital goal: the promotion of retail diversity, striking the right balance between large and small businesses and, in particular, focusing on establishing and growing small and specialist retail businesses.
Healthy and diverse high streets are the heart of local communities. High streets and neighbourhood shopping parades are the engine room of thriving communities and local economies. Hon. Members will be all too aware that our high streets have suffered in the downturn. The new clause is not anti-supermarket but we must ensure that the supermarkets do not succeed at the expense of the high street. We must harness their power to better the community as a whole.
In short, Labour wants to give communities a real say in the future of their high streets and the power to make the changes that we want. I know that Ministers will tell the House that our proposal to put the heart back in the high street is not necessary since measures on the “town centre first” policy will be included in the long-awaited national planning policy framework, a document that has now attained near mythical status—nay, that of the holy grail. All that information is supposed to be contained within the document yet, like the holy grail, no one has seen it. I would submit that this matter—the future of our high street—is so important that it warrants specific legislation. The new clause ensures that communities and not central Government decide how their retail provision should change and grow to meet their needs.
The Government’s planning Minister, the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells, has said that he wants to give communities real power over their local areas and will look to strengthen the role of our high streets in our towns and cities. If the Government mean what they say, they should accept our changes to the Localism Bill and give local people a real say over their high street.
On retail diversity, sustainable development, the issues incorporated in our duty to co-operate and many of the other issues raised today, I expect the Minister might tell us, “Don’t worry, it’ll be in the national planning policy framework.” Frankly, however, I would not be surprised if Ministers told us next that we could look forward to reading about the meaning of life in the NPPF. The NPPF has been trailed by the Government as a document that will streamline national planning policy guidance, but at every turn the Government have committed that something additional will be in the NPPF. The NPPF is clearly a document of vital importance to the proposed planning changes, but do we have a copy of it to read in draft alongside the Bill? No.
There is considerable uncertainty about what the NPPF will be, what it will look like, its status within the planning system and the process for its development and adoption. Promises from the Government that it will all be okay when the NPPF is published simply will not wash. It is wrong that such a major document, so relevant to the radical changes in the Bill, has not been published alongside it.
In conclusion, we have in front of us today a blueprint for a planning system that will deliver nothing but chaos. It is full of contradictions in its objectives and overloaded with inconsistencies in the policies designed to deliver those same confused objectives. The Government claim that the Bill will deliver balanced economic growth and the housing we need, safeguard the environment and increase local engagement in planning. In reality, it dismantles the strategic planning system and the means to meet our housing need, deliver sustainable economic growth, meet our energy needs and capacity, safeguard our environment and mitigate climate change. While Ministers claim the Bill delivers localism, the sum total of their proposals are neighbourhood forums that will be thoroughly opaque, undemocratic and unaccountable. Any hopes that the Government mean what they say about empowering communities, delivering on sustainable development or mitigating climate change are utterly discredited by their proposal to rig the planning system to make their regressive new homes bonus deliver housing in the wrong areas. I hope therefore that Government Members will support our amendment to strengthen strategic planning and give communities a real say on their local high street, and that they will vote against the Government’s new clause 15, which will fatally undermine our country’s planning system.
I shall be very brief. I share concerns about Government new clause 15 even after the Minister’s assurances. If bringing financial considerations into the Bill is not going to make any difference, why include the measure? I am afraid that I have not got my head around that and I am very concerned that we do not have time to discuss this in depth and understand the impact of the change.
New clause 2, which is tabled in my name and those of my hon. Friends, was inspired by a report of the Environmental Audit Committee and we have tried to pick up on its main points. I sincerely believe that we need a definition of sustainable development in the context of the Bill and I share some of the concerns about how we can get the right balance between the pursuit of economic growth and making sure that economic growth is sustainable. Wherever that definition falls, it has to be in such a form that it can be developed downwards and interpreted by local communities, but also, in a sense, developed upwards within the national planning policy framework. That is quite a challenge. I am pleased that the Minister is prepared to accept what is in the new clause, but I hope that, as he is reflecting, he will also take on board some of the points that were made within the context of new clause 6.
On new clause 4, I welcome the Minister’s comments about strengthening the basis of local plans. Throughout my time as chairman of planning it was very frustrating when there were attempts to override the local plan and one felt that one had to give in under the threat of costs. At the back of my mind, I still think that there ought to be a community right of appeal as a backstop, perhaps on much more limited terms than in the new clause. Obviously, there is still time to reflect on that.
I remain concerned about the wording of Government amendment 160 and I hope that will be looked at.
Given what the Minister has said, I rise to speak to my new clauses 30 and 31. It cannot be right that there are nine betting shops on one stretch of high street in Green Lanes or that there are 10 betting shops within 300 metres of Ealing Broadway station. It cannot be right that there are 60 gambling establishments within just 300 metres of the pagoda in Chinatown. The gambling industry and bookmakers in particular are flouting the gambling rules; they are opening up right across London and it is unacceptable. That is not to say that we want to condemn gambling—I like to gamble—but it is to say that when it comes to diversity on the high street, local communities and local authorities should have the planning powers to say, “Enough is enough,” “No, thank you,” and “No more.” That is why I think, and I am supported by London councils on this, that betting shops should be in a sui generis class of their own in the same way as casinos and amusement arcades.
I shall force new clause 31 to a vote because I am not satisfied that the Minister is not just kicking this issue into the long grass. There has been a campaign by London Citizens and there is a continuing campaign by faith communities on the issue. Right across London, people are sick to death of seeing one betting shop after another.
It is a great shame that the old Hackney town hall has been turned into a Coral bookmakers. It is unacceptable that countless pubs across the country are being turned into bookmakers. That is the case for every single class use—A2, which is meant to be for building societies and banks, drinking establishments under A4, as has been mentioned, take-aways under A5, and restaurants and cafes under A3. That is why we need action, and why I had hoped the Minister would say that he accepted the amendment, as leaders of councils across London have requested. It is unacceptable to kick the matter into the long grass. I urge the Minister to think again.
I shall speak briefly to new clause 5, which stands in my name. The new clause is designed to allow the Secretary of State to change, by order, any piece of planning legislation that is causing any planning authority problems in carrying out its statutory duties or where a particular piece of planning legislation is causing local public controversy. I appreciate that this is an extensive power for the Secretary of State, but I also propose, as part of the same amendment, a strong safeguard in that a variation in the law may be made only if it has been subject to a positive resolution of both Houses of Parliament.
The need for such a power is evidenced by an issue in my constituency. Brighton Marina was built in the 1970s following the lengthy passage of the Brighton Marina Act 1968. The marina is located in an undercliff location on land that was reclaimed from the sea. From the coast road anyone looking at the marina can gaze downwards to see the boats, shops, restaurants, businesses and low-rise accommodation located there. For many years the 1968 Act has been taken to mean that any development above cliff height would be only for ancillary works, such as lamp posts and fencing.
However, in recent years, that has been challenged by proposals for housing development that would rise well above the cliff height. One such scheme was agreed by Brighton and Hove city council but not acted on, and one was turned down by the council. That refusal was sustained last year by my right hon. Friend on appeal, for which I am grateful. Both these developments were highly controversial and there was a clear difference of opinion between residents and the planning authority as to the intention of the 1968 Act. If my amendment to the Bill had been in place, that difference of opinion would not have occurred, because the legislation would have been crystal clear. Instead, we have had years of wrangling and uncertainty and still have no clear view of the meaning of the 1968 Act even now.
The thrust of the coalition Government’s policy is to simplify, eliminate and clarify the rules, regulations and legislation faced daily by the public and businesses. My new clause would add significantly to the practical implementation of that policy, and I commend it to the House.
I shall speak to new clauses 30 and 31, with reference to Deptford high street in my constituency. It is one of the oldest and most historic in the country. Although the area is one of multiple deprivation, it has a diverse and vibrant community, a good retail offer and a thriving local market. In recent years we have seen a proliferation of betting shops, such as my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy, who tabled the new clauses, described from his own constituency experience.
The problem in Deptford started with Coral, which took over a shop that had been used as an art gallery and café, and moved away only because it was so hugely successful that it needed bigger premises. There followed a succession of developments that took many of our most historic buildings and iconic pubs, such as the John Evelyn and the Deptford Arms.
Does my right hon. Friend also accept that the Bill does not go far enough in protecting assets that are of community value from being transferred to the private sector and that this is something that the Government should have allowed time for us to debate properly tonight?
I very much agree.
There have been the changes of use on Deptford high street that I have described, but at the same time there has been a determination to improve it, and after years of battling we secured the funds, with the co-operation of a Labour Government, for a new station at Deptford and we expected new development to follow. However, who will want to live where they will look out on such a high street? As local campaigner Sue Lawes has described, at No. 14 we have Better Betting, at Nos. 34 to 40 we have William Hill, at No. 44 we have The Money Shop, for payday loans, at Nos. 49 to 50 we have Ladbrokes, at No. 55 we have Paddy Power, at No. 60 we have Fish Brothers pawnbrokers, at No. 70 we have Coral and at No. 72 we have H&T pawnbrokers. The final straw is Betfred’s application to take over the old Halifax building. There the change of use would have been required because it was restricted specifically to use by a building society.
The council has of course turned down that application and said, quite reasonably, that there are already far too many betting shops in the area and that it is unnecessary. They say that within the designated core shopping frontage the number of betting shops has reached
“beyond an acceptable level, detracting from the range of retail services available within the defined District Town Centre”.
Betfred has of course appealed. We await the result of that appeal with interest.
I put it to the Minister that it cannot be acceptable that, in an area of great deprivation but great spirit, local residents, 700 of whom have signed a petition, have no say in what is done there. I suggest not only that local people must have a say, but that others need to be protected from this kind of proliferation. Surely this is a community that can ill afford to spend what little money it has in betting shops on this scale. I am not opposed to betting; none of us is. It is the cluster effect and the proliferation that must be dealt with, and I very much hope that he will see that that is done.
I am surprised at the lack of faith that the right hon. Members for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) and for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) have in their own constituents, because betting shops of course go where there is a demand for them. If there was no demand for them on the high streets in Lewisham and Tottenham, presumably some of them would close down.
No, because I do not have enough time.
The fact that these betting shops have not closed down indicates that the right hon. Member’s constituents want to use them, which makes them viable. I commend the right hon. Gentleman in particular for leading with his chin on this issue, because of course it was the Gambling Act 2005 that removed the unstipulated demand test. He was not only a member of the Government at the time, but in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which introduced the Act which he now finds so offensive. I hope that the Minister will resist the siren voices from the Opposition Benches calling on him to do something about the general principle of supply and demand, which I hope he, as a staunch supporter of the free market, will stick to.
I want to touch on new clause 7, which I have tabled, which relates to casinos. It would give all 600 local authorities fairly and equally the power to decide whether to allow the licensing of casino premises in their areas. The location of casinos was determined by legislation back in 1972, which identified 53 permitted areas on the basis of population data as it stood at the time and added a number of seaside towns. That information is now woefully outdated and denies many local authorities access to investment and jobs and unfairly constrains and confines legitimate and licensed businesses. Despite the emergence of new towns and new centres of population, there have been no changes at all to those permitted areas in almost 40 years. A casino licensed in an existing permitted area can move premises only within the same permitted area in which it was licensed; it may not even transfer to another permitted area, even if a local authority wants it. Those anachronistic and ridiculous constraints have enabled casinos, ironically given our previous discussion, to be crowded into outdated permitted areas. Through my new clause I do not seek to allow any more casinos in this country, even though I probably would not object to that in principle; the same limit would apply to casinos throughout the country. All my new clause would mean was that casinos were able to apply to be outside the existing 53 permitted areas, if local authorities wanted them. We would be giving every local authority the chance to have a casino in their area, if they want it, rather than sticking to outdated rules from more than 40 years ago.
The Minister made what was effectively a winding-up speech at the outset, and I rather suspect that the whole debate about sustainable development will be discussed further in the other place, so I want to send the most powerful message that I can, stating that when that debate takes place we should not just be satisfied with legislation that relates to guidance or with a new framework policy document that might come out in the near future; we should make sure that Parliament defines sustainable development and sets it out clearly in relation to this Bill, in this Bill.
My amendment is supported not only by my hon. Friend Mr Betts, who chairs the Communities and Local Government Committee, but by Friends of the Earth, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Town and Country Planning Association, the Wildlife and Countryside League, the Woodland Trust, WWF UK and many more.
I simply say this by way of a message to the other place. The previous Parliament proposed that the Procedure Committee should allow the recommendations of Select Committees, when there has been a unanimous decision and report, to become material considerations as legislation goes through this place. Were that the case now, I have no doubt that it would have brought forward an opportunity to consider precisely what the Environmental Audit Committee’s short, sharp inquiry, which is tagged with today’s business, recommended—namely, that there should be a definition of sustainable development to allow for future progress, and that the Localism Bill should include a statutory duty to apply the principles of sustainability to the planning system and other functions of local government, and set out that definition.
We have not got that far with our modernisation of parliamentary procedure, but in the interim I genuinely hope that those valid concerns will be taken into account, so that we have not a whitewash but a means of balancing what many Opposition Members think, and my hon. Friend Jack Dromey said, are now going to be financial considerations, giving developers free rein to do what they like, with the real principles of sustainable development.
I will be literally a minute, because many colleagues wish to speak. This is not quite the way I would have chosen to spend my birthday evening, but there we go.
I want to ensure that the Minister has not ignored my amendments 371, 372 and 370. The first two would require planning authorities to be more effective in their consultation on a planning application, and I suggest that within a quarter of a mile radius of the application site is a much more precise definition than just “the vicinity”.
I welcome the abolition of the Infrastructure Planning Commission, and the fact that the arrangements will be taken back into a democratically accountable planning system. In the case of a big scheme such as the one that we may have coming down the track in Southwark for the great Thames sewerage main, I hope that we can still allow local authorities the ability to make the planning decision where there is a large structure in a borough on a particular site that is a unique part of the development. Of course there must be a bigger authority taking a strategic national decision, but where there is a local site of significance, the local authority should have a supplementary power to make that decision too. I hope that at some stage I will get positive noises from the Minister and that we might get appropriate changes at the other end of the building.
I rise to speak to my amendments 11 and 12, which are to do with the right to be heard and equalities. It is very important that individuals and groups have the right to be heard in neighbourhood planning. I am grateful for the Minister’s comments. I think he was saying that there would be a presumption in favour of this, but I would be keen to see what criteria people will be using to guard against that happening for a mischievous purpose, or whatever. If the Minister is saying that there is a presumption in favour of oral representation where people want to take that option, that is very important.
On equalities, it is important, under the Equalities Act 2010, to demonstrate that certain people are under-represented in the decision-making process. In 2010, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published its first triennial review “How fair is Britain?”, which identified the decline in opportunities for individuals to contribute to decisions that affect their lives as a major risk factor in moving towards a fairer society. I think the Minister said that there is no need for concern about this but that he will consider it further and ensure that equalities legislation is operable in these terms. If that is the case, I welcome it.
I will try to keep my comments brief; realistically, with four minutes to go, I probably cannot keep them any briefer. I know the age of my right hon. Friend Simon Hughes, but I will not reveal it at this stage and just wish him a happy birthday.
I support a levelling of the planning process either by a third-party right of appeal or by the abolition of a developer’s right of appeal. Had the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend been one that would work, I would certainly have supported it. I have just been involved in a planning process in Adel in Leeds, where we had an absolutely farcical situation in which David Wilson Homes, the developer, withdrew its scheme halfway through an appeal, but the system still allowed it to reapply for outline planning permission, which it then got. That was an absolute farce—an entirely shoddy, underhand and anti-localist way of doing things. I want to bring that to Ministers’ attention.
On pubs, there has been a lot of talk about the Duck and Drake—the many Duck and Drakes in the country. There is no finer place to hold a neighbourhood forum than in a pub. However, in terms of what this Bill does to strengthen communities’ hands in protecting pubs, the most appropriate pub name would probably be the Hot Air Balloon. As I have said to Ministers before, I am afraid that there is very little in the Bill, as it stands, to give communities a greater say. At the moment, although there have been changes, it remains perfectly legal to demolish a free-standing pub without planning permission. The Bill does nothing to change the fact that a pub can become a restaurant, a café, a betting shop or a payday loans shop without communities having any say whatsoever. If the Bill is to do anything to strengthen the hands of local communities, there are simple ways of doing that that do not prevent pubs from being developed when they are genuinely unviable.
On behalf of the all-party save the pub group, I have put this question to the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Robert Neill, who is the community pubs Minister, but I have not had an answer: do the Government, who claim to be a pro-pub Government, think it is right that profitable pubs that are wanted by their communities are being closed every single day? If the Government do not believe that that is right—I do not believe that any hon. Member in this House believes that it is—they must do something about it. I regret to say that at this stage, there is nothing in the Localism Bill that does that. I know that we will carry on this discussion, and I look forward to doing that and taking up the Minister’s offer of a meeting. However, at the moment, it is simply not good enough. If he, the ministerial team and the Government believe in pubs and in genuine localism, they must do more in this Bill. Otherwise, it will be a real opportunity wasted.
Debate interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The House divided: