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I beg to move, That this House
agrees with Lords amendment 151.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendments 152 and 153.
Lords amendment 154, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 155 and 156.
Lords amendment 157, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 158 to 165, 237, 238, 240, 257, 262, and 350 to 368.
Lords amendment 369, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendment 370, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendment 371 to 382, and 418 to 425.
Among the areas where centralisation has increased over the years is in the planning system. The regional spatial strategies, whatever their intentions, clearly took power from local communities. We made good progress in Committee in addressing the replacement for regional strategies in dealing with larger than local matters. The Bill introduces more opportunities for neighbourhoods through neighbourhood planning, and brings in compulsory pre-application scrutiny.
As we have worked through, we have established a good deal of common ground. The Committee debate focused on the duty to co-operate. Informed by the Royal Town Planning Institute and discussions across the Front Benches, we listened to the Committee and, as we indicated on Report, made various changes that have been reflected in the Bill as it left the House. We said on Report that the neighbourhood planning section would be amended in the House of Lords. We considered carefully suggestions made from all parts of the House, and the amendments before us today reflect that.
It is important to say that we want to see more planning, not less. We feel that over time the imposition from above has stood in the way of local communities expressing their own vision of the future of their community. That is what we want to give them a greater chance to do. At the heart of that is the need to achieve sustainable development. Section 39 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 provides a duty on those preparing local plans to do so with the aim of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development.
Amendment 370 extends that principle to neighbourhood planning, with an explicit condition that it should contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. The duty to co-operate will require that public bodies should co-operate effectively on sustainable development. We debated in Committee whether to include the definition of sustainable development on the face of the Bill or whether it should be in guidance. I made a commitment to think seriously about that, which we did. We had various discussions in the other place involving Members on both sides of the House.
Let me say at the outset that there is no issue in principle with the definition proposed by Jack Dromey and Hilary Benn in their amendment (a). It reflects the 2005 sustainable development strategy, which has not been repealed. In evidence not to the Select Committee chaired by Mr Betts, to which I shall be giving evidence later in the week, but to the Environmental Audit Committee I and a DEFRA Minister made it clear that the 2005 strategy remains extant and we have no difficulty with the content of it. Of course, that has been captured in previous guidance—PPS1 in particular—and was updated from the first iteration of the sustainable development strategy in 1999.
There was a serious debate in the other place about whether the best place to reflect the shared view of sustainable development is on the face of the Bill, or whether that should be, as it always has been, in guidance. On Report there was some concern that a statutory definition makes it difficult to capture the full range of aspects of sustainability, which may include but go beyond some of the provisions in the sustainable development strategy. I happen to think, and I have said to the Environmental Audit Committee, that some of the thinking in the Natural Environment White Paper makes some helpful suggestions that one should be looking for a net gain for nature. It is important to be open to that.
“I feel strongly that one of the elements that is not in this amendment”— the amendment before us is similar or even identical to the one that was considered in the other place—
“. . . is including something about our vital cultural and heritage needs, including those of future generations.”
She went on to say that
“one might add, for example, ‘meeting the diverse social, cultural, heritage needs of all people in existing and future communities and promoting well-being and social cohesion and inclusion’.”
The noble Lady said that
“if we are to debate the amendment”,
the Minister should consider whether the definition could be sufficiently flexible to include
“the new elements of the definition.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 12 October 2011; Vol. 730, c. 1750.]
I cite that as an example of someone who shares our good will on that point and has recent experience in government of planning and of some of the difficulties.
“The Government agrees that we should put the pursuit of sustainable development right at the heart of the planning system’s objectives and operation, and that we should be clear about what this commitment means in practice.”
How can they be clear about that if it is not in the Bill?
I hope to convince the hon. Lady when I say more on that in a few minutes. As we are considering Lords amendments, I will reflect on the conclusions that were drawn after extensive debates on all these issues in the House of Lords and what its settled view was. Lord Howarth of Newport, a Labour peer, said:
“Like other noble Lords I do not think that it is appropriate to attempt a full definition on the face of primary legislation because… the right place for that is guidance.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 31 October 2011; Vol. 731, c. 1078.]
The Opposition spokesman, Lords McKenzie of Luton, in summing up, said:
“We accept that definitions are not going to be included in the Bill but I hope that at least we shall be able to get very strong assurances that there will be full definitions in the NPPF.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 31 October 2011; Vol. 731, c. 1076.]
At the end of the debate, he said that he was happy to withdraw the same amendment because my noble Friend Baroness Hanham had
“given the strongest degree of reassurance I have heard to date on the issue.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 31 October 2011; Vol. 731, c. 1088.]
A view was reached in the House of Lords on the basis of assurances that my noble Friend gave. I will not quote from some of the other reflections, but some colleagues there said that this went even further than they had expected.
In answer to Joan Walley, the Government are committed to a clear definition of sustainable development and think that policy is the right place for it. I have said clearly that we have no difficulties with the 2005 definition, which I think is ably reflected in the amendment. Hon. Members will know that I cannot pre-empt the consultation on the NPPF, but in all the deliberations we have had on the Bill my assurances about the Government’s good faith have always been reflected and brought to a final conclusion. I hope that Opposition Front Benchers will bear that in mind.
I am sorry to say that the frustration I felt in Committee is now overflowing. The Minister is talking about pre-empting things, but surely by having legislation before he has the policy he is pre-empting the whole process. Everything is back to front. How can we legislate without seeing the detail of the NPPF in its final form?
That was considered in the House of Lords. These things have always been captured in policy. I could not have been clearer when I said that we have no difficulty with the 2005 strategy or its wording. A cogent case has been made—let me put it that way—for expanding and strengthening the definition in the NPPF. I hope that that demonstrates, on the basis of this House’s experience of the scrutiny of the Bill and the commitments the Government have made, that there is no difference in our commitment to the matter. Indeed, I have expressed a personal view that I think we could go a little further than the 2005 strategy. We will reflect on these contributions in the consultation on the NPPF and respond in due course.
Let me say something about neighbourhood planning, because from the start we all agreed on our ambition to give communities greater opportunity to provide for a vision of their future at a level below the local planning authority. We had some debate about whether it should apply only in parished areas or whether it should be available to non-parished areas, and there was again a degree of consensus on the idea that it should be available to those parts of the country, including the place to which my hon. Friend Martin Vickers referred, where there was no appetite for a town council but where, nevertheless, there might be an appetite for a neighbourhood plan.
We agreed to strengthen the safeguards, concerns about which were expressed in this place, in the House of Lords. We have done that in Lords amendments 356 to 358 and 368. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington invoked The Dog and Duck as the test of a place that should be used for the gatherings of neighbours in contemplating a neighbourhood plan, and he suggested that its saloon bar should have a minimum of 21 people. In fact, I think he suggested fewer, but we thought there should be 21, and that found favour elsewhere. Such forums should be open as a right to every ward councillor, and it is important that democratically elected representatives should participate, and that neighbourhood planning should contribute to the social, environmental and economic benefit of the area.
Lords amendment 370 introduces the sustainable development test for local planning. Plans, in their examination, will need to conform and contribute to the achievement of sustainable development, and the amendment also specifies that a neighbourhood plan can apply to all or part of a parish or neighbourhood area.
Amendment (a) to Lords amendment 369 would provide a statutory right for members of communities to comment. It is clearly important that people are able to express their views, but we regard the amendment as unnecessary, because Lords amendment 369 includes community consultation, with a requirement for a statement of consultation to go forward for examination, and we are consulting now on the regulations to introduce it.
Opposition Front Benchers also introduced the proposal that businesses should be able to participate in making neighbourhood plans. Lords amendment 360 allows councils to designate business neighbourhoods that are wholly or largely occupied by businesses, but there will be a double lock: there will need to be two referendums, and if either the business community or the residential community objects, the matter will be for the local council to decide.
The House of Lords has sent back various amendments on the community infrastructure levy, and we think it important that neighbourhoods retain a stake in the benefits and some contribution to the cost of hosting development, so there is a suggestion that a meaningful proportion of CIL be allocated to them. We will consult on what proportion that should be.
We have considered the restrictions on the use of CIL in response to comments that my right hon. Friend Simon Hughes made. The House of Lords concluded that there should be greater flexibility in the use of CIL revenues for that proportion which goes to neighbourhoods, recognising that the effects of development on neighbourhoods are local and diverse, and that it should be possible to consider them.
In considering CIL schedules, the independent assessor must already consider the viability of rates of community infrastructure levy, and we will provide statutory guidance, including an assessment that that should consider the delivery of affordable housing.
The amendments proposed by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington are therefore unnecessary and would remove some of the transparency that CIL offers. There would be a return to case-by-case deals, negotiated privately, which provide no greater benefit than sticking to section 106.
There are some technical amendments on strategic planning. Lords amendments 151 to 155 allow the removal of regional strategies by an order laid by the Secretary of State, rather than through a provision to have their abolition commenced by order. We intend to lay orders revoking the regional strategies as soon as possible after Royal Assent, subject to the voluntary strategic environmental assessment in which we are engaged.
Amendment 156 strengthens the test of soundness of the duty to co-operate, and amendment (a) deals with transitional arrangements. Again, I want to assure the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington and his colleagues that there will be transitional arrangements. In a system that is designed to advantage plan making, in the move from one system to another, it was always intended that we would not contemplate anything that does not allow local authorities to maintain their ability to plan for the future and make decisions in accordance with their needs. So there is no need for legislative measures. Such an approach can be delivered through policy, and we will set that out very clearly in our response to the consultation. I give that commitment.
We on the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government received much evidence on the important issue of transitional arrangements. Does the Minister accept that the purpose of transitional arrangements is to enable local authorities to adjust to the new planning regime that will eventually be implemented, and to give them time to do so properly? There will be detailed, thorough negotiations with the Local Government Association in trying to reach an agreement about what a proper length of time for that transitional arrangement should be.
I concur with that.
Overall, the amendments improve the Bill. I am grateful to their lordships for the time they spent scrutinising and approving them, and to all Members of this House and the other place who participated in initiating the amendments we have back with us today.
I want to try to deal with a number of issues arising from the Lords amendments very quickly indeed. I shall start with amendment (a) to Lords amendment 154 on transitional arrangements.
As with many other key aspects of the Bill, hon. Members will know that discussions have already taken place in this House and in the other place about the need for some form of clear transitional arrangements to be specified in the Bill. In the early stages, it was evident that transitional arrangements were not at the forefront of the Government’s planning agenda but, as time has gone on, it has become increasingly apparent that, without them, the local planning system could be thrown into chaos and confusion.
As such, it is worth trying one last time to convince the Government of the need to include transitional arrangements in the Bill. That seems particularly necessary because the arrangements are needed very soon. Therefore, the alternative of including them in the national planning policy framework when it is eventually published, which was raised in the other place, is not practical. Previous significant planning legislation in 2004 and 2008 put clear transitional arrangements in the legislation to assist local authorities in moving from one planning system to another. This Bill should do the same.
I heard the Minister’s comments about amendment (a) to Lords amendment 157 on the community infrastructure levy, but Labour Members have grave concerns about the degree of prominence the Government are giving to the issue of unviability and the extent to which that might limit the application of the community infrastructure levy in practice. It is extremely important for there to be independent assessment of the developers’ costs whenever they are arguing unviability. We would like the Minister to consider the matter and if he does not address it in the Bill, to do so in the guidance that accompanies the Bill, so that such a situation does not occur.
The amendment to Lords amendment 369 is very straightforward. In keeping with prescribed requirements, before a neighbourhood planning order can be submitted to the local authority, the amendment would require public consultation to take place. In particular, we want to make sure that community and voluntary organisations get a chance for their voices to be heard. Labour is very keen to ensure, wherever possible, that community and voluntary organisations are able to be fully represented and engaged in the planning process. We would like Lords amendment 369 to be strengthened if possible.
I do not wish to go on at length about our amendment to Lords amendment 370, because we have had a number of opportunities to discuss the need for the Bill to have a definition of sustainable development. The current definition in the NPPF is not strong enough, and we would like the Minister to consider taking on board the definition in the 2005 sustainable development strategy. That is very important.
We understand why neighbourhood business areas have been put into the Bill, but we are concerned to ensure that consultation on those areas includes local residential communities. I will finish my comments there because we would, if possible, like to get to vote on amendment (a) to Lords amendment 154 and amendment (a) to Lords amendment 370.
I welcome this Bill and these amendments as we pass powers and responsibilities away from Westminster to local authorities.
There is sometimes a dissonance between the laws that we prescribe here in Parliament and their impact on the front line. I would like to ask the Minister a couple of questions to clarify clause 94 and the abolition of the dreaded regional spatial strategies in relation to a constituency dilemma that we face in Bournemouth. Bournemouth borough council is currently drafting its core strategy—the local plan. That is the significant document of planning intent for the next few years but it is still subject to the old regional spatial strategy because the Bill has not passed into law. The RSS obliges councils to make provision for Gypsy and Traveller sites. Three locations have been earmarked for permanent sites in the proximity of the green belt in the northern part of my constituency. The locals are obviously concerned about this. We had a small debate about nimbyism earlier, but clearly Bournemouth borough council should now have the right to determine whether it wishes to pursue this instead of its being imposed on it by Westminster.
I would argue that three Gypsy and Traveller sites in close proximity in a very quiet part of one single community is a bit much. The area is part of Bournemouth’s very small and diminishing green belt. This is also about sharing and quid pro quo—about assets we have in Dorset that are used by the wider conurbation. For example, we have a vibrant town centre, an airport, and incineration facilities. Bournemouth took the biggest hit as regards housing development following the numbers that were imposed on Dorset by the previous Government; most of the housing built in the county was built in Bournemouth. There is therefore a feeling in Bournemouth that we have already contributed, to some degree, to planning law and planning responsibility. There is therefore a question as to whether it is right for these Gypsy and Traveller sites to be imposed on the area as they have been.
Clause 94 removes the regional spatial strategy, but the Bill is not yet law and the core strategy from Bournemouth borough council has to be submitted. Will the Minister therefore confirm that the removal of the RSS changes the obligations of all core strategies, that there will be an opportunity for councils right across the country to re-submit those core strategies once the Bill receives Royal Assent, and that this all sits well with the other legislation that is affected—the Housing Act 2004, which also covers provision for Gypsy and Traveller sites? I would be grateful for clarification on those issues. To confirm the feelings of residents, I am running a petition that I will shortly hand to the Minister with a collection of signatures to ensure that this message is understood. I look forward to his reply.
I welcome the Lords amendments and will comment on two aspects of them.
I agree that transitional arrangements are of prime importance. I accept that they do not necessarily have to be in the Bill, but I urge the Minister to provide some clarity on them as soon as is practical because it is making planning difficult in many respects in local areas.
Following on from the comments of hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), all Dorset councillors are currently consulting on potential Traveller sites. It will be helpful if there is timely clarity on the consultation on Traveller sites, so that councils are clear about their position.
I have made much of the point that there should be a definition for sustainable development, preferably based on the 2005 definition. I have taken from the Minister tonight a clear indication that we will get a stronger definition of sustainable development and that it is likely to be in the national planning policy framework. I welcome that comment. Of course, I shall return to the Minister to make further comments if that is not the case.
We are grateful to the Minister. If one pops the question, one is likely to get the answer.
I have been clear that there will be transitional arrangements and that we will ensure that they are produced in a timely way so that there is no difficulty with authorities preparing for the introduction of the national planning policy framework. That does not require an amendment. The amendment proposed by the hon. Member for City of Durham does not specify what the transitional arrangements should be. All it does is to elicit the commitments that I have given her tonight. I see that she is nodding. I hope that she accepts that and that my hon. Friend Annette Brooke takes the same view.
On the community infrastructure levy, the regulations already require the independent assessment of viability when an authority considers a claim for CIL relief from a developer to be unviable, especially in the case of affordable housing. I give that commitment. If the hon. Member for City of Durham has any suggestion that the guidance is inadequate in any way I am happy to meet her to consider that, but that has not been our experience so far.
My hon. Friend Mr Ellwood knows that we recently concluded a consultation on Gypsy and Traveller policy. It would not be appropriate for me to pre-empt that, but I would say that the abolition of the regional strategies puts clearly into the hands of local authorities the ability to assess the needs of Gypsy and Traveller communities across the country. Of course, the changes that we have discussed tonight provide for a fairer system of enforcement, whereby a planning application that is introduced retrospectively does not stay the enforcement action, which has sometimes been the case.
Bournemouth borough council received legal advice encouraging it to continue with the legal process of going to consultation, as my hon. Friend Annette Brooke suggested. However, I hear from my hon. Friend Mr Burley that the legal advice given to his council was that it did not need to pursue that process because the intent of the Government was that the regional spatial strategy would be removed and that therefore the core strategies did not need to include Gypsy and Traveller sites. One council is being told one thing and another is being told something else.
That is often the case with legal advice. This is a matter for the courts. The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Andrew Stunell pointed out that the weight given to emerging policy is a matter for decision makers. It is not possible, however tempting, for Ministers to direct decision makers on that point. Regional strategies have set out guidance to date, but it is for decision makers to decide how much weight they want to give to the Government’s intentions in revoking regional strategies.
I shall conclude by saying a little about the definition of sustainable development. I think it is obvious to every Member who has participated in these debates that our intention is to reflect, through guidance, a stronger and more expansive definition. I have made it quite clear that the 2005 strategy offers a basis that has been commended to us by many respondents to the consultation. It is extant, and I have no difficulty with it. We may be able to go further in some respects, but it is clear and reflects the considered views of both Houses.
The colleague of the hon. Member for City of Durham in the other place thought it was right to withdraw the Opposition amendment there on the basis of the same assurances. Given that, and given that the consultation has closed and it will not be much longer before she can see the outcome of our deliberations, I hope she will not press her amendment on the subject. I commend all the Lords amendments in this group to the House.
Lords amendment 151 agreed to .
Lords amendments 152 and 153 agreed to .
Amendment (a) proposed to Lords amendment 154 .—(Roberta Blackman- Woods .)
Question accordingly negatived.
Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (
Lords amendment 154 agreed to .
Lords amendments 155 to 441 agreed to , with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 157 to 165, 225, 226, 250 to 254, 257, 260, 294, 295, 302, 312, 334, 335, 337 to 344, 349, 371, 376, 377, 387, 389, 395, 399 to 402.