Development orders: development within the curtilage of a dwelling house

Business without Debate – in the House of Commons at 1:33 pm on 16th April 2013.

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Votes in this debate

  • Division number 203
    A majority of MPs voted against giving local councils the power to remove householders' permitted development rights.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I agree with amendments 1 to 6, 8 to 24 and 26 to 40, but I ask the House to support the motion to disagree with Lords amendment 7.

I would like to thank the noble Lords for their well-informed debates since this Bill passed to the other place just before Christmas. Those debates brought about a number of positive changes, and we are happy to support a significant number of them. I recognise the constructive proposals put forward in particular by Baronesses Byford and Parminter and by Lords Jenkin of Roding, Tope, Shipley and Greaves on the Government Benches; by Lord Best and the Earl of Lytton from the Cross Benches; and, indeed, by Lord Berkeley on the Opposition Benches.

The amendments to clause 1 take into account the very poor performance of a small number of authorities in failing to meet statutory deadlines. They confirm that designation can be made only on the basis of inadequate performance in the determination of major applications and that the criteria of those designations must be laid before both Houses of Parliament before coming into force.

On report in this House, in response to arguments put forward by my right hon. Friend Andrew Stunell as well as by Mr Raynsford, the Government made a commitment to amendment 12 to exempt rural exception sites from the provisions of clause 6 on affordable housing. In addition, we have always said that we intend clause 6 to be a temporary measure to unblock existing stalled housing developments, and we were happy to introduce an amendment to ensure that the sun would set on it on 30 April 2016.

We have made clear that the Planning Inspectorate’s assessment of the viability of a particular scheme will be independent, and that any evidence on which inspectors rely in their discussions will be made public. We also support the amendments that will guarantee consistency with existing mayoral planning powers relating to applications that are of strategic importance in London.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

I thank the Secretary of State for announcing an important measure that will deal with the mischief of many years during which people were unable to know what arguments developers were advancing for the delivery of less than the locally affordable housing limits. It will allow us to hold to account, publicly, developers as well as local authorities.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I agree. It will ensure that important information is provided where it should be provided, within the community.

Lords amendment 15, which amends clause 8, constitutes a direct response to points made with passion and persistence by Lady Parminter, and also by the English National Park Authorities Association, about the precise drafting of our proposal to accelerate the roll-out of superfast broadband coverage. The amendment will ensure that we retain important safeguards that will continue to protect our national parks and other protected areas.

I hope that the House will support Lords amendment 8, which will simplify the process of making local development orders; Lords amendment 16, which will reduce the period of grace for the registration of town and village greens from two years to one; Lords amendment 23, which will remove ambiguity from development consent orders; and Lords amendment 24, which will enable the Mayor of London to delegate his planning responsibilities.

Let me now deal with the important issue of permitted development rights for home owners. The proposal in question was not part of the Bill as introduced in the House of Commons. I overheard one of my right hon. Friends expressing a desire to vote against it and claiming to have voted against it persistently during all the Bill’s stages in the Commons, but I must point out that this is the first occasion on which it has been before us. It stems from an amendment tabled by Lords True, Tope and Lytton, and I know that it has engaged the interest of many Members of the House of Commons as well. I am grateful for the opportunity to debate the way in which the planning system strikes a balance between the rights of home owners to improve their homes and the right of the state to specify the improvements that they are allowed to make.

Let me now quote, with considerable approval, from a document which states:

“No one today would assert that property rights should be unrestricted but…those restrictions must always be justified and remain as limited as possible… many planners who have grown up with the view that the property owner is only one stakeholder among others. There are too many who act as if they believe that most people cannot be trusted to make decisions themselves without the superior advice and judgement of professionals. Some councillors, too long on planning committees, react to a restatement of the inherent rights of property by fearing loss of control! It is that word which is the key.

Too much planning has become development control… the time and trouble that has been spent on dealing with planning applications for extensions and additions, porches and garages…cannot be seriously said to have been cost-effective.”

Those are the magnificent words of my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith, together with those of John Gummer, in the wonderful Quality of Life policy group report, published in 2007.

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

I am sure my right hon. Friend agrees that the local government family is like the curate’s egg: good in parts, but bad as well. Does he agree, however, that the issues that he has raised would have been ventilated much more effectively had the consultation period been longer—along with the Cabinet Office guidelines—and had the Department itself arrived at a settled consensus in response after 16 weeks? Unfortunately, that has not happened.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I do not know about the curate’s egg, but I have always regarded local government as an omelette of happiness and consensus. I hope that by the time I sit down, I shall have spun together a dish that the hon. Gentleman can happily tuck into.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I will, of course, give way to the right hon. Gentleman on the matter of omelettes.

Photo of Paul Burstow Paul Burstow Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party

Can the Secretary of State explain why, even at this stage, it was not possible to provide an executive summary of the findings from the consultation? Why must the House wait until May to find out whether people are in favour of the proposal or against it?

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Obviously we will provide the information when the regulations are laid. That is normal Government procedure.

Having poured praise on my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park

Photo of Zac Goldsmith Zac Goldsmith Conservative, Richmond Park

I stand by the words that my right hon. Friend quoted so eloquently earlier. There are certainly ways in which we could simplify the planning system; I do not think anyone disputes that. However, given that 90% of applications are already successful, surely removing people’s right to object will simply guarantee that the remaining 10%—the most contentious, un-neighbourly, antisocial developments—proceed as well, causing unnecessary conflict between neighbours.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I think that it would be best for my hon. Friend to wait until the omelette has started to settle. He may care to cross-examine me further then.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I do not know about omelettes, but the Secretary of State is making a very soft-boiled case for supporting the Government, and I am really trying hard. I do not know about him, but I hear complaints from many of my constituents, at my surgeries or through local councillors, that their neighbours have extended the remit of their planning permissions in terms of height, length or type. How many more complaints does he think will be made to us when planning permission is no longer required for a development that a neighbour would regard as completely unacceptable and antisocial?

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

When I became Member of Parliament for Brentford and Ongar, my predecessor gave me a single file and two pieces of advice. The first was that when the sun rose I should always be found in my own bed, and the second was “Never, in any circumstances, become involved in planning.” Since then, I have been made a Planning Minister. My advice to my hon. Friend is not to become too heavily involved in disputes between neighbours.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

If hon. Members will let me make a little progress, they will be able to hear what I am suggesting.

I believe that there is broad agreement on the need for greater flexibilities and freedoms for home owners. It is merely a question of detail, and that detail is contained in planning regulations—secondary legislation—which both Houses will be able to consider in due course, separately from the Bill. However, the Government cannot support Lords amendment 7, which seeks to use the sledgehammer of primary legislation to change the details of planning regulations. The amendment would introduce a wholly new principle allowing local planning authorities to view national householder permitted development rights as completely optional, which would constitute a significant extension of state power over private property rights. It is also unnecessary, because a mechanism for responding to exceptional concerns in particular areas already exists.

In 2008, the previous Government extended permitted development rights for home owners—from roof extensions to rear extensions. That did not result in neighbourhood wars; nor did it mean the end of local planning. We believe there is a case for further sensible, practical reforms. In those changes, article 4 powers were reformed, and they were amended in 2010 to give greater local discretion.

We have always recognised that there will be some areas where national permitted development rights will sit less comfortably and that local authorities should be able to carve out an exemption following appropriate consultation. They can do so by making an article 4 direction. Over 270 directions have been made since 2010.

The Local Government Association has suggested that article 4 directions are not enough, yet there is no real evidence base to suggest that. Councils have powers to make directions to withdraw householder permitted development rights with immediate effect. Immediate directions must then be confirmed by the council following local consultation within 12 months.

A second issue raised is that the council must pay compensation costs if less than 12 months notice is given. Compensation would be payable only where a planning application is subsequently refused or conditions are imposed, and a claim for compensation is made relating to householders’ abortive expenditure or other loss. In this case, such loss is likely to be minimal.

Indeed, more broadly, the LGA has not provided evidence on the extent to which councils have been forced to pay out any compensation under the current article 4 regime. I regret that. After an extensive search through correspondence, we can find no example of a local authority reporting to the Department that it has been forced to pay compensation.

The third issue raised by the LGA is that article 4 directions have to be used across an entire use-class. That is not relevant to the matters we are discussing today, which are to do with householder permitted development rights. Importantly, article 4 directions have been made, and can continue to be made, in respect of individual elements within the householder permitted development rights. This is not a blunt tool and can be tuned to local circumstances.

I have not intervened in any article 4 direction since May 2010. We have committed to working with the LGA to update our article 4 guidance as part of Lord Taylor’s review, to ensure that the process is as clear and straightforward as possible.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 2:00 pm, 16th April 2013

Article 4 directives are generally used for enforcing restrictions in conservation areas, which is why they are quite restrictive, but this proposal would constitute a major extension of their use. How does my right hon. Friend propose that local authorities would recover the costs associated with that? As I understand it, they are not at present permitted to charge for those costs.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

This is a normal administrative process. I will check with my ministerial colleagues, but I believe a London borough—Barking, I think—is currently putting out a consultation with regard to article 4 and betting shops in the area.

There is a misunderstanding here. Where this measure relates to a sole property, we would expect notice to be served, but where it is served generally to an area, the normal process by which we inform the public about planning applications, decisions and appeals would apply.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I agree that to permit a local authority to opt out entirely from permitted development measures would be draconian, but does my right hon. Friend accept that there are underlying concerns that article 4 directions may not operate as well in practice as in theory? Is he therefore prepared to consider what further steps might be taken by his Department and local authorities to refine the way in which the article 4 system works?

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Absolutely, and that is why we are looking towards Lord Taylor’s advice in respect of tweaking the article 4 process. It has undergone a number of changes. It changed under the last Government in 2008, and we made a change in 2010, so article 4 is not set in concrete—it is not buried under a back patio.

Photo of John Hemming John Hemming Liberal Democrat, Birmingham, Yardley

Does my right hon. Friend accept that one reason why no compensation has been paid under article 4 is that local authorities are frightened to issue article 4 directives under which they may have to pay compensation?

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I have enjoyed campaigning with the hon. Gentleman on other issues, but I have to say he is being highly speculative here, as there is no real evidence of such a self-denying ordinance by local authorities.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I am about to use honeyed terms to try to placate my colleagues who have concerns, but before I get to that dramatic moment, I will give way again.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee, Chair, Procedure Committee

I do not want to keep my right hon. Friend from reaching that dramatic moment because I should observe that my Whip said I was going to hear honeyed words and an outbreak of common sense from those on the Front Bench. Some might uncharitably call that a Government climbdown, but I would describe it as listening to the concerns of Back Benchers.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

And before the honeyed words arrive, I can think of nobody more appropriate to give way to than the emollient Chairman of the Select Committee.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee

I am still struggling with understanding why the Secretary of State is resisting amendment 7 and instead arguing in favour of article 4. He says the amendment’s scope is far too wide, but that article 4 is there to be used instead. Are there therefore certain circumstances in which authorities may want to opt out of permitted development rights under amendment 7, but would not be able to use article 4? If so, what are those circumstances?

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Well, one might be concerned that this might be misrepresented as a money-raising exercise—a nice little earner—for local authorities, and that it would be in their financial interests for us to accept amendment 7. It is important that the British public—or the English public in this case—have confidence in the planning system.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I would like a little more information. Will the Secretary of State give us his forecast of how many extra extensions we would get in the first year under his proposal, and how many might be lost with the amendment?

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My right hon. Friend recognises that this represents a boost to industry. [Interruption.] I am sorry if the idea of helping local builders and do-it-yourselfers and people who earn their own living is regarded as unimportant.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I feel that, somehow, I am returning to confrontational type, and I must avoid that, so let me say the honeyed words, and then I will consider giving way to the hon. Lady.

Notwithstanding my comments on this amendment, I appreciate that there is the separate issue of the detail of the Government’s planned reforms to permitted development rights. I am grieved and distressed that Lords and Members—on both sides of the House—who I would normally look to for advice, guidance and support on planning issues have concerns, so we have listened to them. The Planning Minister and my other ministerial colleague, Mr Foster, have met colleagues from this House to hear their views, and I believe that even at this late hour we can establish a broad consensus on these practical reforms. We will listen carefully to the debate this afternoon—this is, of course, the first opportunity the House has had to debate the matter—reflect on all the points raised and consider in detail the representations made in the consultation on the secondary legislation.

I can announce today that in the spirit of consensus we will introduce a revised approach to the contentious question of permitted development rights for home extensions when the Bill returns to the Lords. If we cannot persuade the other House, the issue will return to the Commons next week so that hon. Members can debate and vote further. Given the discussions I have had with colleagues who have concerns, I believe that the problem is eminently bridgeable. I would like the opportunity to build that bridge.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, and I think that most of us have listened carefully. May I suggest that the ideas put to the other House might, when they come back to this House, be more acceptable than the proposal in front of us?

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My hon. Friend has, in his succinct way, put the case better than I have.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

I appreciate the seriousness with which the Secretary of State has considered the representations made by Back Benchers to him and his Planning Minister, which is shown by the fact that he is dealing with this group of amendments himself. I am grateful to him for that. However, will he forgive me if I am sceptical and want to wait to see his proposals? This question has caused a great deal of grief to my district council, Chiltern district council, and to many councils across the country and I am afraid that we will not believe what he says at that Dispatch Box until we see the proposals in black and white.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Of course, I am cut to the quick by my right hon. Friend’s remarks. She does not need to rely on my persuasion, however, because no matter what happens the issue will come back to this House for consideration.

Photo of Zac Goldsmith Zac Goldsmith Conservative, Richmond Park

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and welcome his decision to rethink the policy, but given that Lord True’s amendment is modest, it is hard to know what further compromise the Government might accept. Will the Secretary of State provide greater clarity about what he is proposing before we are asked to vote?

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Considering that I quoted a good page and a half from an excellent document that is, I hope, still in print, I am not entirely sure that the Dispatch Box is the right forum from which to attempt to negotiate the consensus I seek. My hon. Friend has absolutely nothing to lose. He will be involved in the discussions and we will seek to try to reach a sensible compromise. If he does not like it, he can go into the other Lobby and say that he was right all along.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

I hope that my right hon. Friend will take this as a helpful intervention. When I was shadow floods Minister, I, in my humble capacity, and the environment, food and rural affairs team worked very closely with the local planning shadow team. We were very concerned about the flood implications of tarmacking over our drives and building extra conservatories. Will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance today that that important aspect of the question has been considered?

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I well remember wandering through the flooding in my hon. Friend’s constituency, complete with wellington boots, and I know that she takes an enormous interest in such matters. It is important to understand that these changes will in no way affect building regulations or the necessity to ensure flood prevention and to take sensible precautions.

Photo of Andrew Bingham Andrew Bingham Conservative, High Peak

I appreciate the fact that the Secretary of State has come to the Chamber today and said that he is prepared to listen, as many of us have concerns. Like other Members, I want to know what is in his mind and what he is thinking. At this stage, I merely urge him to pick up on an adage used elsewhere: it is not all about size.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I am always glad to hear that it is not all about size; that is a comfort to me.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee, Chair, Procedure Committee

I thank my right hon. Friend for being most generous in giving way. In deciding what will happen next week, will he discuss his position and that of others with colleagues on the Back Benches so that we can reach consensus on what might be acceptable?

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Absolutely. My hon. Friend the Planning Minister and my right hon. Friend the Minister—[Interruption.] The Minister from Bath, whose responsibilities are numerous. My hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend have already entered into extensive discussions and I believe, based on those discussions, that the problem is bridgeable.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Conservative, Mid Worcestershire 2:15 pm, 16th April 2013

I think that the Secretary of State will recognise that the level of attendance in the House today for the consideration of Lords amendments shows how seriously many of us take the matter. To return to his earlier metaphor, he is a good egg and I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. He must not scramble the process, however, and I hope that he will return with substantive changes. Tinkering is not enough; we believe that the policy is seriously flawed.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for not coddling me.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am genuinely grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, but had I heard his words from a Minister on my own side when I sat on the Government Benches, I would have thought that they were wriggle words—I would not have been persuaded. Will his ideas about what might be changed address concerns in my constituency about beds in sheds?

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I cannot imagine any circumstances in which permitted development rights would allow beds in sheds. I politely remind the hon. Lady that this Government took decisive action on beds in sheds after years of neglect from Labour.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Shadow Minister (Defence)

I am really enjoying the Secretary of State’s performance this afternoon. I must say that the thought of consensus and the right hon. Gentleman does not spring to mind on many occasions. Will he put us, and particularly his Back Benchers, out of our misery and suggest what the great consensual position might be next week?

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The solutions are available and my Back Benchers have come up with a number of ideas. It would be wholly wrong of me not to place on record my gratitude to the hon. Gentleman for his sterling work in exposing the waste under the previous Labour Government through a series of questions. We on this side are very grateful for all he has done and I certainly intend to put him up for a campaigning award.

Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans

I came to the Chamber in the hope that the Secretary of State would give me some assurances that something dramatic would happen. I am not happy, however, about it being debated behind the scenes and not on the Floor of the House. The concerns of Members on both sides of the House are genuine and we feel these pressures intensely when we talk to our local councils.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

As consensus goes, this is pretty damn dramatic. It is about as dramatic as consensus gets. I will certainly do my best to make my hon. Friend—and, more importantly, her constituents—happy and contented.

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire

I take on board the Secretary of State’s point that the LGA has not provided him with sufficient evidence, but will he accept as evidence the fact that many of us have been approached by our councils and their leaders, who have asked us to come along and support the amendment? The change is not one that councils want or one that they think that they can afford.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

It has been noticeable that discussion in the Chamber is one-sided today. There is concern on the Government Benches and either complete indifference or partisan points from those on the Opposition Benches.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I shall give way to my hon. Friend Annette Brooke, but then I think that that must be it as others need to speak.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Liberal Democrat, Mid Dorset and North Poole

I, too, would like more details about the direction of change. As most councils have extensive delegation powers, 90% of extensions go through smoothly. Why is this such a huge measure for those that need more detailed consideration for the sake of the neighbours and the whole neighbourhood?

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I could not have put it better myself. I believe we can move together, arrive at a broad consensus and ensure that homeowners can see developments take place and that planning officers are not bogged down with unnecessary considerations. I welcome the important scrutiny of the Bill in the other place and the majority of the amendments proposed. In the light of the new commitment to reflect, I hope I have convinced the House that amendment 7 is unnecessary and that it should therefore not be accepted today.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I welcome the Government’s decision to accept all but one of the amendments that were passed in the other place, in particular the sunset clause on section 106, the Secretary of State’s announcement today on the assessment of viability, the fact that at least some criteria will now be published for identifying so-called failing planning authorities, and the right hon. Gentleman’s agreement that when it comes to broadband development, the Secretary of State should have regard to the environment and the conservation of the natural beauty of our countryside.

That leaves the House with the one amendment on permitted development rights, and the very large attendance here today demonstrates the extent of concern. I listened extremely carefully to what the Secretary of State said. There have been many references to eggs in the course of the debate so far. One Member said that the Secretary of State was a good egg, but this particular egg is completely empty when it comes to the detailed proposal that he has in mind. What he said was not persuasive, not just to those on the Opposition Benches but I suspect to those on the Government Back Benches.

This is, in essence, a debate about how decisions should be taken on extensions to residential properties. It is a debate about, first, the process, and secondly, who should take those decisions. At the heart of the debate is a simple question: is it sensible for the Government to impose the change in permitted development rights on every single local planning authority in England? That is what we are debating. The Secretary of State tries to suggest that the proposal is about empowering people, but what he is trying to do is to take away the rights of neighbours to object to developments that they think will affect their rights and their amenity. That is why there is so much concern.

I think it is a centralist proposal that the right hon. Gentleman has advanced. I do not think that it will give the boost to the economy that is being claimed, because I do not think the back gardens of England should be made the victims of the failure of the Government’s economic policy.

Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider his phraseology? The issue is not necessarily the back gardens of England, but the curtilages of England, which could be a different point entirely.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The hon. Lady makes an extremely important point. I was going to raise it in a moment, but I shall raise it now. The Planning Minister told the Select Committee that the development would be limited to 50% of the garden, but the consultation document does not say that. It says 50% of the curtilage of the house. As the Royal Town Planning Institute has pointed out, the two are self-evidently not the same. I would happily give way at this moment to the Secretary of State if he could clarify a simple question. Is it 50% of the garden or 50% of the curtilage?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Gladly, but the House will have noticed that the Secretary of State, who is responsible for this, cannot answer or is unwilling to answer a very simple question in the House today.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer this very simple question? Given his new-found concern for back gardens, will he explain why his Government persisted in regarding back gardens as brownfield development, resisted attempts to reclassify them and permitted more building on back gardens, which was reversed by this Government?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I make no apology for having a brownfield-first policy when we were in government. One of the reasons why more and more development is going to be seen on greenfield sites is that in revising the national planning policy framework, the Government have weakened the extremely sensible brownfield-first policy.

There was a hurried consultation on permitted development rights. Reference has already been made to the fact that although the consultation closed on 24 December last, anyone who looked this morning on the Communities and Local Government website to remind themselves of what the Government’s response was, given the great hoo-hah that there has been and the many views expressed, would have found this simple statement:

“We are analysing your responses. Visit this page again soon to download the outcome to this public feedback.”

I find it extraordinary. Given the extent of the concern and the discussions that have been taking place at the last minute with colleagues on the Government Benches who are immensely concerned about the matter, how is it that all these months after the closing date for the consultation, the Government have not even been able to publish what people said and to respond to it?

I am not surprised that the Government have not been keen to do that because of the extent of the concern expressed. Two arguments have been made. The first was that the Government’s proposal would boost economic recovery. That view is not shared by those who should know. When the Planning Minister was asked by the BBC what would be the economic impact of the measure, he replied, “I don’t know.” The truth is that nobody knows. The Select Committee was not persuaded by the economic argument. It said that the case that the Government had put was

“so tentative, broad-brush and qualified as to provide little assurance that the financial benefits suggested will be achieved.”

Even Anglian Home Improvements, who know a lot about building conservatories, said that the proposals would on their own

“achieve little if anything in terms of securing economic growth”.

If the Government wanted to boost the construction sector and the building of conservatories, they could do a lot worse than to reduce the rate of VAT on home improvements to 5%, as the National Federation of Builders has suggested.

The second argument and the substantive one is that it should be made much easier for people to be able to extend their homes. The Secretary of State knows, as we have heard in this debate, that about 90% of those planning applications for extensions beyond the existing permitted development rights are approved. That shows that the planning system is working to allow these extensions, but what it also shows is that the planning system works to weed out the 10% of applications that are not acceptable. The right hon. Gentleman wants those 10% to be able to go ahead, come what may. That is the consequence of what he is proposing.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

It is interesting that the right hon. Gentleman is referring to a key point in the debate—the 13% of applications that are currently not approved. Can we be clear about the Labour party’s policy on permitted development? Is it in favour of a free-for-all or in favour of vast restrictions?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I shall be very clear. The reason I shall be going through the Lobby to vote against the Secretary of State’s motion today is that I believe that decision should be taken by local communities and local authorities, as the other place suggested. Instead of being decided from the centre, it should be decided locally.

That is the reason why, for example, Richmond council called them “very foolish proposals”, and why the leader of Sutton council said that the Government’s proposals were

“a recipe for disaster....If this is allowed to happen it will set neighbour against neighbour and split communities”.

It is why the leader of Bromley council spoke about

“an uncontrolled planning free for all, causing major problems for future generations” which would

“undermine the rights of our residents to voice their views on what will affect their immediate surroundings”.

And it is why Councillor Mike Jones, who leads on the Local Government Association in this field, said:

“All this policy will do is give a green light to the unsightly and out-of-place small scale developments which have already been turned down because of legitimate local reasons.”

The right hon. Gentleman made an argument about article 4. It is an argument that the Planning Minister made when he appeared before the Select Committee back in October, although as we have heard, article 4 is designed to deal with particular problems in particular places. The right hon. Gentleman said he could not find any examples of people who had been able to claim compensation against their councils, although a fair point was made that councils are reluctant to find themselves in that position. It was rather strange, therefore, that back in September the Secretary of State went to great pains to say about councils that do use article 4:

“If they do that, then a member of the public can seek damages against them.”

That sort of suggests that he was saying, “Well, if you don’t like what your council is doing by using article 4, you can always try to get some compensation.”

Given the slight contradiction there appears to be, even on the Front Bench, between the Secretary of State and the Planning Minister, will the Secretary of State clarify when he winds up whether he would give consent in every case to applications from local authorities to use an article 4 direction to cover their whole area and exempt themselves from the permitted development rights? If he says no, it is not a remedy. If he says yes, he is making the other House’s case for it, because what it has proposed is a much simpler way of achieving the same effect: namely, giving the local authority the right to opt out of the permitted development right proposal in respect of residential dwellings.

I will keep my remarks brief, because many Members wish to contribute. I simply say to the Secretary of State that it is quite clear that his proposals have not been thought through. We know that they will not achieve the boost to the economy he suggested they would. They have engendered an enormous amount of concern and opposition from Members of the House, organisations, local authorities and others.

I listened extremely carefully to what the Secretary of State chose to describe as his “honeyed” words. To be honest, I was expecting something much more significant. In truth, there was nothing there. He has had all this time, since the consultation closed, and he has been well aware for months of the concern that the proposals have created among many of his right hon. and hon. Friends. With great respect, it is not good enough for him to come along today and say, “Okay, I get the message. Honestly, I am sure that we can work this out. Believe me.”

We have a simple choice today: we have the Lords amendment, which simply states that if a local council does not want to do this, it does not have to; and we have whatever might appear in the other place next week—I cannot say what that is, and neither can any other Member, because the Secretary of State has not shared with us his thinking on that. On that basis, I urge all Members to accept what the other place has proposed and solve the matter once and for all by rejecting the Secretary of State’s motion and giving local councils the power to take these decisions for themselves, because that would be the localist thing to do.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 2:30 pm, 16th April 2013

As a former sous-chef in the Department, I have no doubt that if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State says he wishes to achieve a workable and viable compromise, he means it. I trust him and believe him because I know him, and I hope all my hon. Friends think the same.

Very little weight can be attached to the Opposition’s cynical approach. Having spent nearly two and a half years as a ministerial sous-chef stripping away the centralised control that the Labour party placed upon planners in this country and the constraints it placed on local authorities, I think that it ill behoves Labour Members to talk the language of localism.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Opposition Whip (Commons)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I will make some progress before giving way.

It is well known that throughout the history of planning legislation in this country there has been a concept of permitted development. That is not new; it goes back to 1947. It has always been accepted that it is legitimate, for reasons of public policy, from time to time to adjust the criteria that determine what constitutes permitted development, and that has always been done at national level. The difficulty with the Lords amendment is that it would allow a complete opting-out of any adjustment to national policy at a local level, and that seems to me to be nothing other than a needlessly blunt instrument. However, I accept that there is an issue about the operation of article 4 in practice. I know that from my own dealings with local authorities and from my own experience as both a Minister and a councillor.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. Gentleman is very kind. I was going to ask him whether he thought that the policy was consistent with the Government’s localism agenda. I think he would agree with me that it is not. Does he agree with me that Newham council has an issue with developments on back gardens that are used as dwellings but are uninhabitable, unsanitary and completely against cohesive communities?

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

There is a real issue in Newham and other parts of the country about developments in back gardens. When I was in the Department, it was my right hon. Friend Grant Shapps, then the Housing Minister, who did more to tackle the issue than any Minister before him, and that is now being carried on by my hon. Friend Nick Boles. This Government are helping to deal with the issue the hon. Lady raises on behalf of her constituents.

I accept that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, with his experience of the matter, understands that we need to find an article 4 system that actually works, rather than the well-intentioned but draconian outcome proposed by their lordships. Rightly or wrongly, concerns have been raised about how article 4 actually operates on the ground. That relates in part to the point my hon. Friend John Hemming made about a degree of risk averseness among local government officers in recommending them to their members.

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

Does my hon. Friend not agree with me, however, that it would have been easier to persuade the House of the merits of these proposals if the indicative costs of, say, the enforcement action likely under the new regime, and indeed the indicative economic benefit referred to by the Secretary of State, had been made more explicit in the course of the debate?

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and I accept the basis on which he does so. Equally, however, there is no doubt a great deal set out in the consultation. I very much hope that the consultation contains some constructive proposals on how we might make an article 4 system work more effectively in practice. I understand his point, but the details are particularly indicative and speculative in these cases because, in general, the Government have rightly taken a policy of not seeking to intervene in local authority applications for article 4 directions, which is a genuinely localist stance. We have in fact made the position more localist by requiring only notification of the article 4 direction, rather than approval by the Secretary of State—a general move back towards localism, which the previous Government never did. That is why I think that, rather than thinking about the indicative costs, we should look at finding a constructive means whereby local authorities have the confidence to use article 4 directions, knowing that they will work and will not create a disproportionate burden.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

My hon. Friend has vast experience in local government and in planning law. Does he agree that one of the reasons for the impetus behind the campaign to allow local authorities to opt out is the Government’s proposal to double the amount of permitted development that will be allowed? In some parts of the country it will work, but in others it will not. That is the concern of local authorities, MPs and councillors

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I understand my hon. Friend’s genuine concerns—I do not doubt the good faith with which they are raised—but, equally, I hope he accepts that my problem with the Lords amendment is that it would import a blanket approach to something that has always been adjusted nationally, although however much it should or should not be is a matter for debate. If we are going to change that, we ought to give it rather more consideration.

My other difficulty with the Lords amendment is that it would make a very significant shift in policy by adopting that blanket opt-out approach, without any consideration of that in the consultation. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s stance will enable that to take place.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee

The Select Committee looked at the Government’s proposals and we concluded that the case for the change to permitted development rights for domestic extensions has not been made. The Government’s impact assessment estimates costs of between £5 million and £100 million, which shows the lack of clarity in their thinking. The impact assessment made no estimate of the social and environmental impacts. Reference has been made to the 90% of proposals that currently gain planning permission, but of those some are changed because of representations on the consultation arrangements that are made as part of the planning consideration. We should be concerned not only about the 10% that are turned down but would be accepted under permitted development rights, but those that are never submitted for planning permission because they are so awful that people know they would be turned down if they were submitted.

On localist issues, what can be more local than an extension to a house? This has no national significance. The Planning Minister has accepted that it will not have any significant impact on economic growth in the country as a whole—it is a local matter. In that case, why not accept amendment 7? The Secretary of State has argued for the use of article 4 instead. Article 4 is time consuming, cumbersome, subject to challenge and potentially costly. It is really meant to be used as an exception rather than as a general rule. The Secretary of State must clarify whether article 4 will achieve the same effect for local authorities as amendment 7, and, if not, what is the difference between them. If the same effect can be achieved under article 4 as under amendment 7, then why not retain amendment 7?

Photo of Andrew Bingham Andrew Bingham Conservative, High Peak

I am not keen on this idea, and I have said so from an early stage, because there would be long-term consequences from what is perceived as a short-term gain. We have heard about monstrous carbuncles; I think that we could end up with a lot of small warts on properties. My constituency of High Peak is a hilly area. A small extension to a property next door but one on a steep hill can have an overbearing effect on the neighbours. To do this without planning permission would be wrong for my constituency and wrong in general. The Lords amendment would give this power to local councils. I do not know what my local council would do with it, although I have a good idea; it may go with it or it may not. The amendment is very sensible. It would devolve the power to our local authorities—our locally elected members—to let them make the decision on whether they want to follow this approach. That is why I will support the Lords amendment and not, I am afraid, its rejection.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Liberal Democrat, Mid Dorset and North Poole

I, too, welcome the work done in the other place. We have some very sensible amendments and I am pleased that the Government have accepted them.

I have in my hand the representation that I submitted on 24 December, obviously having worked right up until Christmas. Nothing has really changed in the views that I expressed on behalf of colleagues at that time, when we rehearsed the arguments over and again. However, I would like to pick up on the long term effects mentioned by Andrew Bingham. The problem is not just that one extension might be a great eyesore and affect neighbours for a long period, but that even when the temporary measure had ended it would be very difficult to refuse an application from houses nearby, so a whole neighbourhood could be affected over time.

I would like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to say a little more about how he will tackle the issues that we have before us, on which we have had a consultation. They are not satisfactory as they are, and we are in the dark about where we might go next.

Photo of Zac Goldsmith Zac Goldsmith Conservative, Richmond Park

Many colleagues are minded to support the amendment but would like to support the Government. For my part, I would need to hear the Secretary of State say, first, that whatever amendment the Government introduce in the Lords will reflect absolutely the spirit of this amendment; secondly, that we will have time in this Chamber to debate that amendment; and, thirdly, that he is laying out a clear timetable. Without those assurances, I personally, regretfully, will be unable to support the Government and will see myself marching through the contrary Lobby.

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

In this of all weeks, it pains me to be considering voting for the amendment and against the Government, but this policy has not been well thought out. When the Planning Minister came to speak at the meeting yesterday, he was very gracious but unable to demonstrate the economic benefits. We know that the Secretary of State is between Scylla and Charybdis on this because it is a Treasury-driven issue, and he has played a difficult wicket very well. We have seldom had a situation where so many Conservative councils and other bodies have united to say that this is very bad legislation. It offends against the principle of localism. It is also a credibility issue for this House. It is not absolutely the best thing in the world to be told the Government’s position an hour ago by The Daily Telegraph while the Secretary of State assures us in this House that he is thinking about clarifying the situation.

I am not convinced that densely populated urban areas such as mine will not suffer from the problems raised by Lyn Brown, such as beds in sheds. We need to take this issue away to demonstrate the costs of enforcement actions in the new regime and the economic benefits. I look to the Secretary of State to reassure the House, but at the moment I am minded, very regretfully, to support the amendment.

Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans 2:45 pm, 16th April 2013

Regrettably, the only reason this proposal would have any economic benefit is that the scale of such developments would be so large that people would scramble to go and get the thing built before anybody could object to it. I am very unhappy about it. In 2005 we had the high hedges legislation, whereby anything over 2 metres was considered to be un-neighbourly, and now we are hearing proposals for something that is 4 metres high by 8 metres. This will potentially be extremely divisive in communities. I really feel that the Secretary of State could have offered us a little more today, although I know that he is in a very difficult place in this regard. I believe that in areas such as St Albans, particularly when we have no definitions of curtilage or gardens, this will be a very divisive and ruinous issue.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I think that I can offer the reassurances that colleagues are seeking. It is not a question of simply taking my word for it, regarding me as being a good egg, or whatever. The simple truth is that this proposal has got to come back here to be discussed and voted on. I need the help and assistance of colleagues to ensure that the proposal is voted down. If we do not vote it down, we cannot arrive at a consensus. This would be a wholly unusual and strange process. It would take a sledgehammer to planning system, and that is wholly wrong. I believe that we can give the assurances that my hon. Friends seek, but we need some time to discuss this with right hon. and hon. Members, and then, whatever the outcome, it will come back here on 23 April; that is certain. I ask my hon. Friends to look most carefully at this issue, to support the Government, and, by so doing, to support the rights of property owners and local authorities.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

There are two key concerns here: first, the rights of local authorities; and secondly—

Two hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83F), That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 7.

The House divided:

Ayes 286, Noes 259.

Division number 203 Growth and Infrastructure Bill — Development orders: development within the curtilage of a dwelling house

A majority of MPs voted against giving local councils the power to remove householders' permitted development rights.

Aye: 285 MPs

No: 259 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Absent: 100 MPs

Abstained: 1 MP

Absents: A-Z by last name

Abstaineds: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment 7 disagreed to

The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).

Lords amendments 1 to 6, 8 to 24 and 26 to 40 agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83H), That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments 25 and 7;

That Roberta Blackman-Woods, Karen Bradley, Nic Dakin, Michael Fallon and Andrew Stunell be members of the Committee;

That Michael Fallon be the Chair of the Committee;

That three be the quorum of the Committee.

That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Karen Bradley.)

Question agreed to.

Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.