New Clause 14 — Expenditure of Greater London Authority on housing or regeneration

Infrastructure Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 26th January 2015.

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‘(1) In section 31 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 (limits of the general power) after subsection (5A) insert—

“(5B) Nothing in subsection (1)(a) above shall be taken to prevent the Authority incurring expenditure in doing anything for the purposes of, or relating to, housing or regeneration.”

(2) The amendment made by subsection (1) applies in relation to expenditure incurred before as well as after the coming into force of this section.”

This removes a prohibition in the Greater London Authority Act 1999 against the Greater London Authority incurring expenditure on anything that may be done by Transport for London. It applies in relation to expenditure incurred before as well after the coming into force of the new clause.

(Stephen Williams.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Chair, Panel of Chairs, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chairman of Ways and Means

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 3—National Infrastructure Commission

‘(1) There shall be an independent National Infrastructure Commission.

(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide for the appointment, duties, functions and staffing of the National Infrastructure Commission.

(3) Regulations made under subsection (2) may make provision for any consequential matter that the Secretary of State considers is necessary to establish the National Infrastructure Commission.

(4) Regulations made under subsection (2) shall be made by statutory instrument.

(5) A statutory instrument under this section shall not be made unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by both Houses of Parliament.

(6) In this section—

“National infrastructure” means infrastructure of strategic significance in or relating to the sectors including—

(a) transport covering ports, transport networks (including railways and roads) and aviation;(b) energy;(c) flood defences;(d) hazardous waste;(e) telecommunications;(f) water; and(g) such other sectors as are prescribed.”

New clause 12—Abolition of the Planning Inspectorate—

‘(1) The Planning Inspectorate is abolished.

(2) Subject to paragraph (3), all the functions of the Planning Inspectorate are transferred to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

(3) The functions of the Planning Inspectorate in relation to Wales are transferred to Welsh Ministers.

New clause 16—Use classes and demolition: drinking establishments—

‘(1) The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (SI 1987/764) is amended as follows.

(2) At the end of section 3(6) add—

“(n) as a drinking establishment.”

(3) In the Schedule, leave out “Class A4. Drinking Establishments”.

(4) The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (SI 1995/418) is amended as follows.

(5) In Part 3 of Schedule 2 under Class A: Permitted Development, leave out “A4 (drinking establishments)”.

(6) In Part 31 of Schedule 2 under A.1 add—

“(c) the building subject to demolition is classed as a drinking establishment”.”

The purpose of this New Clause is to aim to ensure that any proposed demolition of or change of use to public houses and other drinking establishments would be subject to planning permission. Currently such buildings can be demolished or have their use changed without such permission being granted.

New clause 20—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 planning authority grants an application for planning permissions and—

(a) the authority has publicised the application as not according 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 not supported by policies in an emerging development plan; certain persons as specified in subsection (2B) below may by notice appeal to the Secretary of State, provided any one of the conditions in subsection (2C) below are met.

(2B) Persons who may by notice appeal to the Secretary of State against the approval of planning permissions in the circumstances specified in subsection (2A) above are—

(a) the ward councillors for the area who have 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 by two thirds majority voting, as defined in Section 61F, covering or adjoining the area of land to which the application relates is situated; or

(c) any overview and scrutiny committee by two thirds majority voting.

(2C) The conditions are:

(a) the application falls within the definition of “major development”;

(b) the application is accompanied by an environmental impact assessment;

(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 “planning authority”, insert “or the applicant (where different from the appellant)”;

(b) in subsection (6), after “determination”, insert “(except for appeals as defined in section 78 (2A) and where the appellant is as defined in section 79 (2B)).

(4) In this section—

“emerging” means a development plan that is being examined by the Secretary of State, or is due to be examined, having met the public consultation requirements necessary to proceed to this stage; and

“major development” means cases within categories defined in guidance produced by the Secretary of State.”

Government amendments 84, 45 and 46.

Amendment 53, page 27, line 9, in clause 28, at end insert

“provided that any designated property, rights or liabilities to be transferred pursuant to a scheme—

(a) have been classified as surplus;

(b) do not compromise land forming part of a common, open space or fuel or field garden allotment;

(c) do not extinguish any public right of way;

(d) are subject to transparent reporting of all aspects of the transaction to the Land Registry; and

(e) shall be subject to a test of viability that is underpinned by guidance and an open book approach.”

Government amendment 85.

Amendment 52, page 34, line 2, leave out clauses 30 to 32.

Amendment 54, page 34, line 36, in clause 33, at end insert

“and shall relate to buildings or developments of any size”.

Amendment 67, page 34, line 36, in clause 33, at end insert—

“(e) carbon abatement offsite must only be considered exceptionally, where:

(i) it has been demonstrated that the carbon abatement can not reasonably be met on the development site, and

(ii) the homes on the development site achieve a high standard of energy efficiency.”

Amendment 71, page 35, line 5, in clause 33, at end insert

“and where the requirement cannot reasonably be met on the building site.”

Amendment 72, page 36, line 21, in clause 33, at end insert—

‘(7) No variation to the requirement of the building regulations in respect of a building’s contribution to or effect on emissions of carbon dioxide may be made solely by regard to the number of buildings on any particular building site.”

Government amendments 91 to 93, 95, 100, 102 and 104 to 106.

Amendment 74, page 128, line 2, in schedule 8, leave out from “sharing” to end of line 4 and insert

“do not change its appearance.”

Amendment 75, page 132, line 20, in schedule 8, leave out paragraph (b).

Amendment 118, page 165, line 28, in schedule 8, leave out “or other vegetation”.

Amendment 119, page 165, line 30, in Schedule 8, leave out “or vegetation”.

Amendment 120, page 165, line 41, in schedule 8, leave out “or vegetation”.

Amendment 121, page 165, line 41, in schedule 8, leave out from “lopped” to second “to” in line 42.

Amendment 122, page 166, line 2, in schedule 8, leave out

“or cutting back of the vegetation”.

Amendment 123, page 166, line 11, in schedule 8, leave out from “lopped” to end of line 12.

Amendment 124, page 166, line 13, in schedule 8, leave out “or cuts back vegetation”.

Amendment 125, page 166, line 16, in schedule 8, leave out “or vegetation”.

Amendment 126, page 166, line 24, in schedule 8, leave out

“or cutting back of the vegetation”.

Government amendments 107 and 108.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The group touches on an incredibly wide range of issues, but I shall concentrate my remarks on the amendments and new clauses that have aroused significant interest across the House.

Government new clause 14 relates to the Greater London Authority’s powers to incur expenditure on transport elements of housing and regeneration projects. This matter was raised in Committee by my hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi, and I promised him that I would look urgently at the legislative options available to address this important issue. We have concluded that it is necessary to make a minor change to the Greater London Authority Act 1999 and have therefore proposed the new clause.

The new clause removes a prohibition in section 31 of the Greater London Authority Act preventing the GLA from incurring expenditure on anything that may be done by its functional body, Transport for London, if it relates to housing and regeneration. We are making this change to the 1999 Act because the GLA has said that, because TfL’s powers are wide-ranging, they preclude the GLA from incurring expenditure on anything transport related. This includes expenditure on transport elements of projects to deliver housing, jobs and growth in London, which the GLA has been responsible for since 1 April 2012, when it took on the roles, land and contracts of the former London Development Agency and the Homes and Communities Agency in London. The new clause will apply in relation to expenditure incurred by the GLA before, as well as after, the coming into force of the new clause, because it was clearly the intention of Parliament that the GLA should have powers equivalent to those of the LDA and HCA following the Localism Act 2011. Making this change to the 1999 Act is therefore essential to ensure that the GLA can deliver new homes and jobs for London.

Government amendment 95 provides for new clause 14 to extend to England and Wales only, and Government amendment 102 provides for the amendment to the 1999 Act to come into force on the day the Act is passed. Government amendment 85 relates to clause 29 and will ensure that future purchasers of land owned by the HCA, GLA and mayoral development corporations can develop and use land without being affected by easements and other rights and restrictions. Clause 29 will bring the position of purchasers of land from the HCA, GLA and MDCs into line with those currently enjoyed by purchasers from local authorities and other public bodies involved in regeneration and development.

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

May I welcome the new clause and thank the Minister, along with the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), for engaging with us on this important matter? It is extremely helpful to the GLA and much welcomed by the Mayor.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I thank my hon. Friend, a former Minister in the Department, for his intervention. We did indeed seek to concur with the GLA: it identified the problem, and now we have introduced the solution.

I turn to new clause 3 and Labour party policy on the proposed introduction of a national infrastructure commission. The Bill covers a range of important issues, but the debate we had in Committee on this proposal from the Opposition was one of the more thoughtful and interesting: we dealt not only with the intricacies of formulating infrastructure policy, but with the role of the Government and Members of Parliament in formulating a vision for rail, road, energy and other infrastructure development? I am grateful to Richard Burden for re-tabling the new clause and allowing us to deal with these issues again.

We recognise that infrastructure development does not happen fast enough in this country, but, since 2010, we have started to turn this around and address the regulatory barriers that have held back delivery of our infrastructure networks. We have introduced the national infrastructure plan for transport, energy, flood defences, communications, water and waste networks, and we have agreed long-term funding settlements for public infrastructure investment. This has generated a new momentum in infrastructure delivery, and, as a result, more than 2,500 projects have been delivered during this Parliament. However, we are not complacent, and we understand that there is still much to do to reverse the long-running issue of under-investment.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons) 6:15 pm, 26th January 2015

In Committee, I brought hon. Members’ attention to the fact that, while we were debating the Bill, the Institute for Government published a document entitled “The Political Economy of Infrastructure in the UK”, which drew conclusions similar to those in the Opposition’s new clause. Has the Minister had a chance to read the document, and will he be replying to the Institute for Government?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

In recent weeks and months, the question of whether to set up a separate body has been much debated in both House, and many people outside Parliament, including the Armitt commission set up by the Opposition, have contributed thoughtfully to that debate. All of that has informed our discussions, but the Government take the view that it is up to Ministers, accountable to Parliament, to set out the infrastructure vision for the development of our country. It is not something we should subcontract to another body; it should be up to us. Our constituents should make representations to hon. Members to inform our deliberations, rather than feeling they have to go to a non-elected body to make those important recommendations.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

In the light of those remarks, will the Minister tell the House whether the Government were right to subcontract the issue of airport capacity to Sir Howard Davies?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

It is tempting to debate whether there should be a third runway at Heathrow or whether it should be built at Gatwick—we have all seen the adverts on the tube and elsewhere in London—but I do not think you would want me to go down that path, Mr Deputy Speaker.

We recognise the need for one interconnected strategy for all our infrastructure networks.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East

Will the Minister reassure my constituents in public, as the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend Mr Hayes, has tried to do for me in private, that given a proposal such as the massive port development at Dibden bay, on the edge of the New Forest, which was stopped by a year-long public inquiry, the forest would be no less protected as a result of the Bill?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I can repeat the reassurance—because he has just given it to me—that my right hon. Friend the Minister gave to my hon. Friend: the Bill will provide no less protection than currently exists in the planning system.

Following advances in delivery, the natural next step is to establish a long-term infrastructure investment strategy. The Government have already begun this process: we have developed the road investment strategy, which will treble spending on our strategic roads, and established an ambitious new energy market strategy to incentivise additional electricity capacity and support low-carbon electricity generation.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, National Policy Statements Sub-Committee

The Minister just mentioned the Bill’s relevance to the roads investment strategy, which I take to include the dualling of a large part of the A1 in my constituency. Am I right in thinking that the mechanism in the Bill gives some assurance that future Governments will have an obligation to continue with that responsibility?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My right hon. Friend is an astute parliamentarian and he takes every opportunity to raise the dualling the A1 in his constituency. The Government have already made significant investments on that road, and I am sure that the next Government will look to see what more can be done to speed up travel through his beautiful constituency.

However, we have serious reservations about the model proposed by the Labour party today. As I have said, the Armitt review was clearly a genuine effort, from a well-respected source, to find a solution to the long-term infrastructure challenges that our country faces. None the less, its recommendations appear to establish a rigid, process-driven and bureaucratic body. There is a danger that this type of bureaucracy would stifle the innovative process needed to resolve the challenges facing UK infrastructure.

Establishing such a commission would also present significant complexities. For example, the commission’s assessment would be debated in the House and if the majority disagree with one aspect of the assessment and vote against it, the whole process, as we understand it, would have to start all over again. This kind of to-and-fro is clearly not what is intended by the proposals, and the uncertainty that would follow could be detrimental to the environment for infrastructure investment. There are other areas of the proposed commission about which we have real misgivings—not least the new powers that would enable the Government to give directions and guidance to independent economic regulators. This could severely threaten the trust investors have in the stability of the UK’s regulatory regime.

In conclusion on new clause 3, the Government have already begun to tackle some of the barriers to delivery, and this has led to £460 billion-worth of public and private investment planned over the course of the next Parliament and beyond. While the Government welcome public discussion and ideas for infrastructure strategy, changing the way we oversee and set UK infrastructure strategy must not be something we rush into without due care and thought. The concept of a national infrastructure commission proposed by the Opposition remains an unproven and untested idea.

Let me deal now with new clause 16, about protection for pubs, which I know has aroused a good deal of interest around the House. The Government are certainly aware of this strength of feeling, and as a constituency MP, I deeply understand people’s concerns that pubs that are valued by the community could be lost to them because of the regulatory environment in the planning system and elsewhere, which has not supported the community in the past. Several years ago, I campaigned in my constituency to save a pub called the Ashley Court hotel in St Andrew’s in Bristol, and there was nothing we could do about it as planning law stood at that time—back in 2008. We could not stop the pub’s owner from selling it to a housing developer, which demolished the pub, one of the best viewing platforms in the whole of the city of Bristol.

Now, however, there is protection in the national planning policy framework and in the Localism Act 2011, enabling people to list an asset as one of community value. The most popular use of this asset of community value legislation is for public houses, and we propose to go even further today.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Conservative, Northampton South

Is not the argument that the Minister has just made the perfect argument for new clause 16?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

It is not, because the planning use class orders deal with the totality of asset use classes right across the country. What most of us would be concerned about—whether in Northampton or Bristol—is whether the assets of real value to our constituents, such as the pubs that are truly popular and provide a wide community benefit, whether or not they have a community hall, are at risk. That is more important than dealing with every single pub, whatever the circumstances. If my hon. Friend listens to what I have to say, I hope he will be reassured.

I draw attention to the written ministerial statement laid today by me and the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Kris Hopkins, who is responsible for community pubs, on the introduction of secondary legislation at the earliest opportunity to build on the existing protections to help communities preserve those pubs that benefit the community the most.

As part of our steps to strengthen community rights, we have already given local people the opportunity to nominate assets to be placed on a local register of assets of community value—those assets that are most important to them. More than 1,800 sites have been listed in this way, over 600 of which have been pubs, making them by far the most popular type of asset to be listed.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

This news will be warmly welcomed in Mid Sussex, where we have had some real trouble on this front. Are there any criteria in the Minister’s excellent proposal relating to what councils may put on their community asset lists to be protected?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The Localism Act 2011, the regulations, the guidance issued by the Department and statements by Ministers are quite clear that all that needs to be done to prove that an asset is of community value is for 21 members of the public to sign a declaration to the local authority—to Mid Sussex district council, for example—saying that the asset is important to them. As long it is not a private residence or a form of other asset precluded in the Localism Act 2011, the council must list it an asset of community value, and there should be no gold-plating of the regulations as they are currently drafted. It is a very straightforward procedure, so I encourage my right hon. Friend to encourage his communities to adopt this policy.

The listing allows the local community the opportunity to develop a bid to purchase the asset, should it come up for sale. We have seen some positive examples in the case of pubs—the Angler’s Rest in the Peak district and the Ivy House in Camberwell, for example—where listing has helped to prevent the pubs from closing. We want to do more.

Photo of Anne Marie Morris Anne Marie Morris Conservative, Newton Abbot

I am interested in the Minister’s comments. My concern is that where a council chooses not to determine that a pub or any other asset is a community asset, there is no right of appeal. That is a real issue. If the council has a particular interest, could there not be conflict?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My hon. Friend came to see me to discuss a particular example in her constituency. I believe the problem was that the local authority itself owned the piece of land in the Newton Abbot area. Ministers have been quite clear to local authorities that they should not put artificial obstructions in the way of listing assets of community value. There have been other examples where people have asked about requirements for business plans, but these are not contemplated at all under the Localism Act 2011, so local authorities should not be doing this. The provision is designed to be simple for residents to use and to be simple for them to identify an asset that is important to them. As long as the 21 signatures of support are obtained, the council should list the asset.

Although national permitted development rights are important in creating a flexible planning system, we recognise that there are cases were individual local consideration is merited. We will therefore remove the permitted development right that allows for the change of use from pubs to shops, financial and professional services, and restaurants and cafes or for the demolition of any pubs as long as they are listed as an assets of community value. This will mean that, for these pubs, a planning application must be made to a local planning authority before a change of use or demolition of a pub can take place. This gives the decision back to the council representing the local community.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

My hon. Friend should be proud of his record in supporting local pubs, both nationally and locally. The announcement he has just made is very welcome—it is an improvement to the provisions on asset and community value use. On the theme of not putting undue obstacles in the path of protecting local pubs, surely it would be simpler to adopt new clause 16—instead of going through the process of the asset of community value, which has its risks and its problems, putting them in the path of protecting local pubs.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I hear what my hon. Friend says. I can assure him that the Government have not pulled this rabbit out of the hat today as a sort of emergency response. This is something that I and my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government have discussed for some time, going back several months. The issue has been explored with the Campaign for Real Ale, which is an important partner for the Department, and particularly for me, in rolling out adoption of all these community rights across the country. CAMRA has run a campaign to urge its members to list a pub as an asset of community value. Its advice—and the Government’s advice—is completely consistent and joined up. If people think a public house in their village, suburb or, in my case, city centre is important, they should list it now. They should not wait for or anticipate a threat, but list it now.

That will protect a pub from any future change of ownership. Our proposal deals with the, in fact, quite reasonable criticism from CAMRA and others that the existing protection, although welcome, does not go far enough, because it does not include planning protection. Listing a pub as an asset of community value not only gives the community a chance to gain ownership of that pub, but secures the full protection of the planning system.

Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Liberal Democrat, Leeds North West 6:30 pm, 26th January 2015

CAMRA fully supports new clause 16, which provides for a simpler, cheaper, less bureaucratic way of protecting pubs. The House needs to be clear about what we shall be voting on when we vote on the new clause, as we will. It is simply this: do we think that any application to change the use of a pub to something fundamentally different by converting it to a supermarket or a solicitor’s office, or to demolish it, should be dealt with by the planning process so that local people can have a say? If the pub is not viable, the application will proceed. It is a simple vote: do we think that that is an important principle or not? The Government’s proposal is complicated and unnecessary.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I think that my hon. Friend—who has a good record of campaigning on behalf of beer drinkers and community pubs—is trying to make our proposal sound complicated when we should be agreeing that what the Government are offering is incredibly straightforward. It should present a challenge to all of us, whether we are in Bristol West, City of Durham or, indeed, Leeds North West. If we cannot persuade 21 people to recognise that a pub in one of our constituencies is important, we shall not be doing terribly well as campaigners.

This is, in fact. a good campaigning opportunity. Members, who will currently be in campaigning mode, can go out into their communities and, possibly working with their local branch of CAMRA, identify pubs that are particularly important to them. Once the list is in place—and the procedure is very simple—the full protection of the planning system will follow.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Conservative, Mid Worcestershire

Let me begin by drawing attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I am encouraged by what the Minister is saying. I was attracted to new clause 16, but I think that his compromise —or alternative—proposals have their attractions as well. He said earlier that secondary legislation would be introduced at the earliest opportunity. Will that happen during this Parliament?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Yes. In this instance, terms such as “earliest opportunity”, “shortly” and “soon” really do mean that. We all know that we are up against the buffers of a fixed-term Parliament, which is a very good constitutional initiative. When I say “at the earliest opportunity”, I mean “at the earliest opportunity”. In other words, we hope that the statutory instrument to which my hon. Friend has referred will be published and laid before Parliament in the next few weeks.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Although a newspaper is an important community asset in the widest sense, it is literally here today and gone tomorrow. It is not a permanent, fixed, tangible asset in the community, so the Bill, as currently drafted, could not apply to it. However, the Welsh Government have yet to adopt all the provisions of the Localism Act 2011, although its provisions were available to them at the time. I therefore encourage the hon. Gentleman to put pressure on the Administration in Cardiff to adopt the provisions and protections that already exist in that Act.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons)

The Minister said that he would introduce secondary legislation during the current Parliament. Given that there are only 32 or 33 sitting days left before dissolution, does he intend to introduce secondary legislation that will become law during this Parliament?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

That is certainly the intention, but I do not want to be drawn into matters of parliamentary procedure. This is a very straightforward change, which builds on provisions that already exist in the Localism Act. It does not require complicated legislation; indeed, it does not require primary legislation. As the hon. Gentleman and others will know, today’s written ministerial statement will carry some weight in the planning system, and a statutory instrument will follow shortly to give full weight to it.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Liberal Democrat, Brecon and Radnorshire

My hon. Friend said that the Welsh Government had not taken full advantage of the Localism Act. In my constituency, and in Wales in general, pubs enjoy the full protection of the planning law, and that includes a real presumption against the closure of the last pub in the village. Is the situation similar in England?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Yes. That is exactly the position with which we are familiar all over the country. I have visited several pubs in England that have been listed as assets of community value precisely because they are “the last pub in the village”. I urge my hon. Friend, as well as Jonathan Edwards, to put pressure on the Welsh Government to ensure that not only planning protections but “asset of community protections” are in place.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Conservative, North West Leicestershire

The Minister has told us that once a public house has been listed as an asset of community value, it will benefit from full planning protection. Will he explain exactly what “full planning protection” means in that context?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Let me repeat what I said earlier. If a pub is listed as an asset of community value, the owner will be required to obtain planning permission for either a change of use or its demolition. The owner of the pub in my constituency demolished it in order to build flats, but, at the time, planning permission was not required. Our new clause will provide the full protection of planning law, similar to the protection of other assets that are currently sui generis in the planning system. My hon. Friend looks puzzled, but I think that that is clear enough. The new clause will give the full protection for which campaigners are calling to listed assets of community value, but will not offer it to the whole community of pubs throughout the country.

Photo of Andrew Griffiths Andrew Griffiths Conservative, Burton

I thank the Minister for this morning’s ministerial statement. Does he agree that, while his proposal will protect pubs that communities really care about, new clause 16, although well intended, could cause pubs that no longer had the support of their community and were no longer financially viable to be boarded up, perhaps vandalised, and to be local eyesores for many months as a result of pointless bureaucracy?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The hon. Gentleman has a long and proud record of campaigning on behalf of pubs, and I am encouraged by what he says. I agree that new clause 16 would have those adverse consequences, as well as being flawed in other ways. It would have a detrimental effect on high streets and communities.

Photo of James Morris James Morris Conservative, Halesowen and Rowley Regis

The Minister has not mentioned a very real risk that has been raised with me. Sandwell council is currently considering an asset of community value application for the Haden Cross Inn in Cradley Heath, but it seems to believe that the application involves a significant compensation risk.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

That is similar to examples that I gave earlier, in which councils were conservative, with a small “c”, in their interpretation of the legislation. The Localism Act makes it clear that if 21 people come forward and say, “This is an asset of community value to us”, the local authority should list it unless the criteria set out in the Act apply. The Act contains nothing about compensation, requirements for business plans, or any of the other matters that campaign groups have brought to my attention. We are reviewing the Act, and I trust that all those concerns will be knocked on the head in due course.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health)

The process described by the Minister seems incredibly convoluted, not least because if a listing application is made, the local authority will decide on the application, and it will then receive planning protections. Why not just give the planning protections in the first place, and allow the local authority to decide, through the planning process, whether or not the pub should be saved for the future?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Precisely for the reasons just outlined in an intervention from Andrew Griffiths, who has a very good record of campaigning in this area. A blanket protection for every single public house in the country, which is what the new clause envisages, would protect pubs that for various reasons are no longer enjoying the patronage of the community. In my constituency, lots of pubs have closed, but it is usually because of demographic change. Some parts of my constituency, which had a “white working-class community” 20 or 30 years ago, are now populated primarily by recently arrived Somalis and other people. Obviously the pubs in those areas have closed, and some have been converted to other uses, but some of them are still derelict. Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that in all those circumstances, whatever they might be, full planning permission should be required simply to change the use of a former pub to something that may be of benefit to the community?

The Government are proposing to look at the public houses that are genuinely popular and valued by the community now, giving them the protection that is already allowed under the Localism Act, and further enhancing that protection under the planning laws, saying, “You cannot convert this pub into another use or demolish it without planning permission.” That should address all the worries that people rightly have about the pubs that really are important to them.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Conservative, Northampton South

Does my hon. Friend not realise that if a pub is boarded up and the issue goes to the local authority, the local authority will want to move pretty quickly to stop a building becoming derelict? That is not a problem, but does he also recognise that the owner of the building is often not the owner of the business that operates inside that building? Does he therefore share my concern that in certain cases pubcos in particular have sold out even though there was a need locally for the pub to exist?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

If there is a need for the pub to exist in the community—whether in Northampton or somewhere else—I would encourage my hon. Friend and all colleagues to get that asset listing in now. That provision has existed since September 2012, and 600 communities have already used it. I would urge all colleagues to go out and identify the pubs that are important to them and their constituents, start a campaign to list them—that can be done very quickly and easily—and with the proposals we have announced today, full planning protection will follow.

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Conservative, Winchester

I was very attracted to new clause 16 before coming to today’s debate, but having listened to the arguments and read the written ministerial statement today, it seems to me that this new clause is another classic case of this House over-legislating when legislation is already on the statute book. Is it not the case that what the Minister has outlined with his asset of community value is a classic example of localism being put into action—of using legislation we have already passed in this Parliament and trusting our communities, instead of things being broad-brushed always from Westminster?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. What we have been saying to local authorities around the country is that article 4 directions are already available to them to suspend permitted development rights. They have been reluctant to do that for a whole variety of reasons. The proposals we have outlined today should remove all that uncertainty and allow planning protection to go ahead.

The Government have of course already put various other measures in place to protect community pubs. We have scrapped both the beer and alcohol duty escalators, and cut beer duty in successive Budgets, thereby reducing the tax burden on the pubs and brewing industry and enabling economic growth. We have provided £250,000 in funding for business partners to help deliver more community-owned pubs and pubs which provide community-focused services. This funding has contributed to the number of co-operatively owned pubs more than doubling over the last two years, and many rural pubs now offer a wide range of community-focused services and facilities—for example, a community centre and library at the Brockweir inn in Gloucestershire and a community function room, keep-fit club and film club at the Packhorse, Suffolk.

We have also introduced various measures on business rates and put in place a statutory code of practice which will be enforced by an independent adjudicator. All of these measures demonstrate our continued support for community pubs as part of our broader strategy of lower taxes, less regulation and a growing economy to support a thriving and diverse pub sector.

I hope hon. Members will agree that our measures, including those announced today, provide a strong, clear framework for protecting pubs of community value. Given these protections, this amendment—while I recognise that it has the best of intentions behind it—is unnecessary in the vast majority of cases, and, as I have explained, in some cases would have an unhelpful impact on our high streets and communities. If this approach is not seen to work, we will return to it at a later stage, but at the moment we think it strikes the right balance to protect our most valued pubs.

I turn now to new clause 12 on the role of the Planning Inspectorate. I should say at the outset—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means 6:45 pm, 26th January 2015

Order. I hesitate to interrupt the Minister and I appreciate that he has taken a great many interventions because many Members wished to ask questions and make points, but he has also taken up a very large chunk of this fairly short debate and I am conscious that many Members wish to speak. I trust, therefore, that as he turns to what is only the third new clause in the group, he will not have to address all 16 amendments.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Madam Deputy Speaker, your colleague Mr Deputy Speaker was in the Chair when I introduced my remarks. I assure you that I said very clearly that although this group of amendments raised a whole range of issues, including protection for the European beaver, I was not going to address every single one of them but would stick to the main ones. First, however, I should draw the House’s attention to the fact although it is not in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, I should state as a ministerial interest that the Planning Inspectorate is based in Bristol West.

My right hon. Friend Nick Herbert tabled new clause 12, which proposes that the Planning Inspectorate should be abolished and its functions carried out directly by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Planning law requires the Secretary of State to appoint an independent person to carry out appeals and plan examinations. The Planning Inspectorate carries out this function for the Secretary of State. Consistently, two thirds of all appeals support the council’s decision; only 1% of all planning applications nationally are overturned by appeal. The inspector’s role is to undertake an independent examination or appeal on behalf of the Secretary of State. We believe that, in the vast majority of cases, this role is carried out to the highest standards. We are always happy to discuss informally better ways of ensuring that our planning policy is fully understood by inspectors and councils alike.

Photo of Rebecca Harris Rebecca Harris Conservative, Castle Point

I appreciate that the Minister is saying that two thirds of council decisions are upheld, but is he aware that sometimes the Planning Inspectorate is used as bogeyman or fairy-tale villain by large-unit developers or town planners, and the effect is, “Come on councillors, be good children, hurry up with your local plan, put in large sections of greenbelt development; otherwise the Planning Inspectorate will get you”? Wittingly or unwittingly, the Planning Inspectorate is being abused in this way.

Hon. Members:

Hear, hear!

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I hear what my hon. Friend says and she clearly has loud support for that.

Following your exhortation, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will skip the various examples I have of different planning appeals around the country. What I am saying today is that the Government are committed to doing far more to publicise those recent cases widely, to provide reassurance that unsustainable development should be resisted.

We will use the Planning Advisory Service to ensure that our message is clearly understood: the national planning policy framework does not stand for development at any cost. It promotes positive planning and sustainable development. We must ensure that councils have confidence to exercise their responsibilities for the benefit of their communities.

I appreciate the intention of new clause 20, also tabled my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs. It seeks to give communities and their representatives the power to intervene, or “appeal”, certain planning proposals if they oppose the local authority’s decision to grant planning permission. I entirely agree with the premise of giving communities as great a say as possible in planning, and this is at the heart of all this Government’s reforms. I therefore welcome the fact that on 22 January Angmering neighbourhood plan, in my right hon. Friend’s constituency, was supported at referendum with a 97% yes vote on a turnout of 31%. It allocates sites for at least 100 homes, and is the 45th successful neighbourhood planning referendum.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole

What would the Minister say to people in Airmyn, in my constituency, who have just had a factory forced on them, against the emerging local plan? We know that councillors were put on the committee specifically to vote for that proposal. People are really angry. None of what the Minister has said will help those people, who want to appeal against this decision to build a factory on greenfield land in a village against the wishes of local people and local representatives.

J

Well said Andrew, the local people have been sold out to business concerns, and this is unacceptable. It is Corporate tyranny.

Submitted by Jane Birkby

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My hon. Friend has put his remarks on the record. He will know that neither I nor any other Minister in the DCLG can comment on a particular plan.

Government amendments 84, 45 and 46 deal with the control of invasive and non-native species. Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall resist the temptation to speak about the European beaver and other interesting items that would have been in my speech.

I turn to the telecoms provisions that were introduced into the Bill in Committee, as we heard earlier. The House will have heard the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend Mr Hayes, give the reasons why the Government now wish to withdraw these proposals when he discussed the programme motion. Accepting Government amendments 91, 92, 93, 100 and 104 to 108 would give effect to what my right hon. Friend described at the beginning of our deliberations.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

When the Opposition urged the Minister’s colleague, who was leading on this issue, to do exactly that in Committee, the Minister who responded accused the Opposition of burying their head, ostrich-like, in the sand. Have Ministers now decided to put their heads in the sand—or do they admit they were wrong?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The right hon. Gentleman enjoyed, I am sure, the deliberations in Committee, including my right hon. Friend the Minister telling us about mobile telephone reception in Lincolnshire and having to stand on a chair in order to take a call. This is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with, and the Government have listened very carefully to what was said in Committee and to the representations made by interested bodies. We have decided at this stage to withdraw the proposals as drafted, but this issue will have to be revisited.

I turn finally in this wide-ranging group of new clauses and amendments to the part of the Bill that introduces zero-carbon homes—a part of which I am particularly proud—and the Opposition’s amendments. Amendments 67 and 71 seek to give preference in all cases to on-site carbon abatement measures. That would cause uncertainty and cost to house builders, because the house builder and the building control body would have to agree a “reasonable” on-site energy performance level on a case-by-case basis before any development could commence. The house building industry needs to know the technical requirements and the costs it will face in order to plan for the future. That is why we set specific performance standards in the building regulations —standards we have already tightened twice during this Parliament, and which, as a result of the Bill, will be further tightened in 2016 to make sure that our constituents have the pleasure of living in not only a new home but one insulated to the highest possible performance standards.

With those brief remarks—not quite as brief as you would have liked, Madam Deputy Speaker—I commend the new clauses and amendments in the Government’s name and ask the House to resist those in others’ names.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

As the Minister acknowledged, there are a lot of amendments on different topics in this group, and I will do my best to respond to the Government amendments and speak to the Opposition ones in as coherent and related a way as I can. However, I point out that we have just over half an hour left, and lots of Members want to speak. That again demonstrates that the Government have rushed the Bill and not left enough time for the House to scrutinise it properly.

Government new clause 14 is a technical amendment and provided that the Greater London authority is on board with it, we see no reason not to welcome it.

We welcome new clause 16, in the name of Greg Mulholland. His proposals are in line with our localist policy to return decision making about permitted development and change of use class to local authorities and the local communities they represent. We are very much against permitted development being able to ride roughshod over the needs and wishes of local communities, so we welcome the amendment and concur that having to make a pub an asset of community value, or make an article 4 direction, is bureaucratic and burdensome on local communities and not at all necessary. The hon. Gentleman’s new clause provides communities with a straightforward way of saying what is happening to their local pub and whether or not they wish a change to be made.

On Government amendments 45 and 84, the Minister will know that in Committee we called for greater clarity on how the species control agreements would work in practice. For example, when would one be considered complete, and requirements no longer be needed? We therefore support amendment 45 and the Government’s clarifying this point. They have also clarified that landowners who cannot dispose of land due to legal restrictions will still be subject to these agreements and orders. However, important questions remain about the cost and implementation of species control orders that the Government need to answer in statutory guidance.

On Government amendment 46, we are pleased that they have excluded from the species control orders the European beaver, a native species that has established populations in the UK. However, the classification of the beaver under part IB of schedule 9 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981—“Animals no longer normally present”—is bizarre and lists them alongside the wild boar. It seems strange that, despite European beavers being recognised as a native species to the UK and a natural component of British river systems, they will need a licence from Natural England to continue to exist in the wild. The Minister knows that we proposed in Committee an amendment—supported by a number of non-governmental organisations, including Friends of the Earth—stating that the Government’s definition of invasive non-native species should correspond to the EU habitats directive adopted in 1992. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister why they have not gone down that route.

I was very disappointed with the Minister’s response to new clause 3, which seeks to shake up the way we progress national infrastructure matters. It would establish an independent national infrastructure commission in order to offer strategic planning to meet our national infrastructure requirements, and provide a greater degree of devolved power to ensure that large-scale projects also relate, where possible, to local priorities. I was surprised that in Committee, Government Members—and indeed the Minister himself—were so dismissive of the recent CBI survey showing that, despite some advances in national infrastructure policy, the UK is still some way off delivering the transformational upgrades the country needs. There is a widely acknowledged view that we are lagging behind other countries on national infrastructure delivery.

New clause 3 seeks to bring an evidence-based assessment of our infrastructure needs before the House for approval. The process would be supported by sector infrastructure plans, and there would be a time scale for implementation. That would get us out of the parliamentary cycle, and away from the stop-start approach to national infrastructure. All we have heard from the Minister is more complicity and a lack of engagement about the need for a timely upgrade to our national infrastructure.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales) 7:00 pm, 26th January 2015

Many of the sectors listed in new clause 3 are devolved. Has the hon. Lady given any thought to how the new body will work in a devolved context, and will she give the House categorical reassurances that it is not about taking powers away from Ministers in Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland?

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. We hope that an independent national infrastructure commission could take information from all the devolved structures, which is why I mentioned the importance of devolution with regard to new clause 3.

Amendment 53 seeks to get further clarification from the Minister on land transfers to the Homes and Communities Agency. In Committee, it was far from clear what was meant by surplus land, and the Minister has given us no clarification about how surplus land would be categorised, or about whether it covers open and common space.

We also heard nothing from the Minister about whether the Government intend to promote best practice in improving the transparency of land transactions by reporting all aspects of the transaction of land to the Land Registry. The lack of publicly available information about land transactions, ownership and options on land markets makes it difficult to understand the extent to which land is controlled by those who intend, or do not intend, to develop it. We need to increase transparency, particularly on options, if we are to ensure that enough land is made available for development. The Minister had absolutely nothing to say about that matter today.

The Minister did not say anything about ensuring that better guidance is given on how we assess viability. Opposition Members are arguing that a clearer way of assessing viability might mean that more land was brought forward for development. One would have thought that that was an objective of an infrastructure Bill, but apparently it is not.

Amendment 52 seeks totally to remove the Government’s proposals regarding the transfer of local land charges to the Land Registry. In England and Wales, two searches are currently undertaken as part of the standard conveyancing process for the purchase of land or property. In short, clauses 30 to 32 will transfer responsibility for one of the searches, the local land charges search, from local authorities to the Land Registry. It is important to note that responsibility for collecting the information necessary for the searches will still be held by local authorities, which will have to pass the information to the Land Registry. Furthermore, local authorities will continue to be responsible for the second of the two searches—the CON29 search.

The Opposition believe that the separation and fragmentation of the service is misguided and poorly evidenced, and that it has next to no hope of achieving the Government’s stated policy objectives. Peeling off part of the service simply does not make sense and is likely to make the service worse, not better. It is telling that even the Government, in their own consultation, have struggled to find anyone in favour of the change. Indeed, they acknowledge that no one supports the proposals.

In the past few days, we have had correspondence from the District Councils Network, the Law Society, the Council of Property Search Organisations, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, the Association of Independent Personal Search Agents, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers, the Public and Commercial Services Union and many others who are all totally against the changes. Even the organisations and companies that the Government suggest will benefit from the changes oppose them. Just last Friday, those organisations signed a letter to the Secretary of State calling for the proposed changes to be dropped. We agree with them, and we will divide the House on that issue at the appropriate time if the Minister does not make another prompt U-turn.

On amendment 67, we had a wide-ranging discussion in Committee on the carbon abatement provision in clause 33, but I have again been very disappointed by the Minister’s speech today. He will know that we made lots of strong arguments in Committee about why it is not sensible to exempt small sites from the allowable solutions requirements on the basis of the number of housing units. It is not exactly clear what the Government will do because the consultation has only just finished and, as far as I am aware, neither its results nor the Government response have been placed in the public domain. This is clearly not a sensible way to make policy, but if the Minister intends to continue to allow the exemption for small sites purely on the basis of the number of units, we would ask him to think again.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Liberal Democrat, Hazel Grove

Does the hon. Lady share my concern that the recent consultation was very cramped and gave nobody the opportunity to say that they did not wish there to be any limitation on the size of site or, indeed, of contractor?

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

The right hon. Gentleman makes a really good point, which we did not rehearse very well in Committee. If we had had adequate time today, we might have considered the consultation’s shortcomings and the fact that people had to choose from a very limited number of options.

I should point out that we have great concerns about the general carbon abatement provisions. It is really important for the Minister to clarify what the allowable solutions measures will contain. That was not clear in Committee, so we sought clarification, but we still have not received any. Will clause 33 make it a definite requirement for all homes to be built to the equivalent of code level 4?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

In case I cannot respond on that point later, I can say that it is definitely our intention that on-site requirements should come up to code level 4, and that those for allowable solutions should come up to code level 5. On sites and exemptions, we are obviously looking at the consultation. The number of units will be one factor, but we might look at company size and square meterage—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. We have had a great many interventions in this debate. I appreciate that the shadow Minister has had only a moderately long time in which to speak and that she has a lot to say. However, I must now appeal to all Members: we have 21 minutes left and a great many matters to discuss, so they must all speak quickly. If everybody proceeds with no repetition, hesitation or deviation, everyone will get to speak.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

It would be helpful if the Minister put some of those reassurances in writing.

Finally, as we know, the Government tried to rush through a poorly drafted reform of the electronic communications code, without adequate parliamentary scrutiny, as part of an uncosted deal with mobile phone operators that could lose the taxpayer £1 billion. It is good that the Government have listened to Labour, and that they have made a U-turn and are going back to the drawing board, but their incompetent failure to reform the code now puts the whole deal in doubt.

Reforming the code that governs the agreements between mobile phone operators and landowners is important for the expansion of mobile telephone access, and the Government need to get it right. We welcome the move to withdraw from the Bill the clause and schedules on the electronic communications code, and we are glad that the Government listened to us and to various organisations. We hope that they will now take the time to renew and update the code properly.

I will leave it there, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Conservative, Arundel and South Downs

I will be brief, to allow other Members to speak. We clearly need more time to debate major Bills such as this on Report. It does us no credit that we have insufficient time.

I rise to speak to new clauses 12 and 20. New clause 12 is supported by more than 20 of my right hon. and hon. Friends and would abolish the Planning Inspectorate, and new clause 20 would create a new community right of appeal against adverse planning decisions.

I believe that the Localism Act 2011 was one of this Government’s most important pieces of legislation. It gives communities power, and the provisions on community assets are one example of that. I welcome the Government’s proposals to strengthen those provisions so that pubs may be protected, which is a sensible way forward. I also welcome the development of neighbourhood plans, which, as the Minister said, are now proceeding well, with community support, including in my constituency. They give the local community the power to decide where developments should go.

However, that plan-led system can sometimes be a developer-led system, which is not what we want. Localism can be undermined, especially by decisions of the Planning Inspectorate. In a good report issued before Christmas, the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government said that it had received a great deal of evidence that the national planning policy framework

“is not preventing unsustainable development in some places” and that

“inappropriate housing is being imposed upon some communities as a result of speculative planning applications.”

Such speculative applications, put in against the wishes of communities drawing up neighbourhood plans, are particularly damaging. Developers know that they have an opportunity to get permission for sites that they would not get permission for were the neighbourhood plan to go through. Too often, the Planning Inspectorate either upholds on appeal a local authority’s decisions to decline those applications or terrifies the local authority into submission, so that it gives permission because it knows that otherwise it would lose an appeal and would have to spend a great deal of money on doing so.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

I entirely agree with the thrust of my right hon. Friend’s argument. Does he agree that it is immensely discouraging to communities trying to make local plans when their wishes are ridden over roughshod by the Planning Inspectorate?

J

It is encouraging to see that Nicholas is among a number of MPs who are valiantly trying to stand up for their constituents wishes against corporate tyranny.

Submitted by Jane Birkby Continue reading

Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Conservative, Arundel and South Downs

I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend, who has been tireless in promoting the interests of local communities against such developments in his constituency.

The first problem is the Planning Inspectorate upholding or encouraging speculative applications. The second is that the inspectorate is interfering with local plans drawn up by planning authorities. The Conservative party’s manifesto at the last election stated:

“To give communities greater control over planning, we will…abolish the power of planning inspectors to rewrite local plans”.

That is exactly what we should now do, but the inspectorate is rewriting local plans. It is raising housing numbers in my constituency to beyond the level set out in the south-east plan, and it is causing delay at a time when responsible authorities are planning for a great number of houses—40,000 in the district council areas that cover my constituency, where there are 7,000 unbuilt planning permissions in one authority alone.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport)

My right hon. Friend is making a powerful and persuasive case. Let me be absolutely clear: if the existing regime is not satisfactory, as he describes, we will have a regime that is. New guidance will be issued that is stronger and more effective, that defends the interests of local authorities and that prevents the problems he has set out.

Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Conservative, Arundel and South Downs

I very much welcome the Minister’s important intervention, and we look forward to that new guidance.

The Planning Inspectorate is meant to stand in the shoes of Ministers. I submit that Ministers could stand in their own shoes and take decisions themselves if they had to interfere. That would perhaps deal with at least some of the £40 million budget and 80 staff of the Planning Inspectorate.

My second proposal is that we redress the imbalance whereby communities do not have a right of appeal against planning decisions but developers do. How can that be proper or fair? To redress that inequity, communities should be given a limited right of appeal against planning decisions that run contrary to the local plan or emerging neighbourhood plan. There would be conditions attached to that, but it would be a means of restoring trust and accountability and it would show that Parliament means what it says. When we set out to give local communities the right to make decisions, and when we say that we will give people local power, we should mean it. It is not good enough for bureaucratic bodies—in the main, we are pledged to abolish or reduce such bodies—to get in the way of that power and take decisions that should be made by local people.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich 7:15 pm, 26th January 2015

May I start by drawing attention to my interests, as declared in the register?

I agreed with Nick Herbert on one point only, which was his opening remark about the lack of time for this debate. I am afraid that I will not have time to explain in detail why he is totally wrong about the Planning Inspectorate, because I want to address two other issues. However, I have to say that over many years the Planning Inspectorate has delivered a highly professional service in assessing developments and giving impartial advice to Ministers, and it would be an absurdity to do away with such a body.

The first issue that I want to cover is the importance of a national infrastructure commission. I am disappointed by the Government’s rejection of that proposal, which was made in a cogent, well-presented and well-received report by Sir John Armitt. In case Members are not familiar with him, Sir John is widely recognised as one of our country’s leading experts in the field and was the chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority, which demonstrated remarkably well how to deliver a major infrastructure project in the most exemplary way, so we should pay attention to his recommendations. Those recommendations were not, as some opponents of them have claimed, about taking decision making away from Ministers or Parliament. On the contrary, Sir John’s report was clear that there should be a detailed and thorough appraisal, carried out by experts and then presented to Ministers, who in turn would have a responsibility to report to Parliament on their decisions in response to the infrastructure commission’s recommendations. That would be wholly democratic and ensure that proposals were properly considered by experts before being presented to Ministers, who would then come to Parliament with final decisions.

The second argument that the Minister made against the Armitt report was that the recommended procedure would be too cumbersome and bureaucratic. He conjured up the image of a recommendation being rejected by Parliament, and asked what would then happen. That is pretty rich coming from a Government who have just reduced by one third the total size of the Bill that came back from Committee. That was a fairly enormous decision to reverse a proposal that they had made a little while before, but we have not heard any suggestion that it is somehow a mistake. On the contrary, it is an example of Parliament working well in stopping Ministers doing something ill-considered. The basis of the Minister’s argument is unsound, but in any case, if Parliament is to take decisions, it must be right that it has the discretion to say no occasionally. That seems an entirely admirable principle.

I wish to conclude with a few words about zero-carbon outcomes. The Government are resiling from the commitments that were put in place under the previous Government to achieve those outcomes by 2016. There have been four backtracks. The first was the Government’s abandonment of code level 6, which was the original definition of zero carbon. The second was no longer saying that zero carbon is equivalent to code level 5 and must be delivered in all cases. They now say that the objective is code level 5, but it will be possible not to deliver it under two circumstances. The first is where allowable solutions include off-site contributions, rather than doing it on site—and even there, the Government are not adhering to the principle the Minister enunciated on Second reading, which was that this should apply only where it is not reasonably practicable to deliver on site. The second relates to the small site exemptions, which are badly drafted and a loophole that could easily be exploited, not by small builders, but by any builders, to fail to deliver on small sites. There has been some serious backtracking by the Government, and if we are to achieve the zero-carbon objective and an effective response to climate change, we will need to revisit these issues in the next Parliament.

Photo of Charlotte Leslie Charlotte Leslie Conservative, Bristol North West

I rise to support new clause 16 and I will be brief. The Government have done a lot on pubs, but I wish to address the points made by the Minister and explain why new clause 16 is, on all fronts, a better and neater solution that the very welcome concession the Government have made.

Let us bust some myths. First, new clause 16 simply puts pubs on the same footing as laundrettes, theatres and—would you believe it—casinos and nightclubs, which currently enjoy more protection under the planning law than pubs do. Most people in this House would think that was very strange and needs rectifying. So there is an easy precedent for this clause and nothing draconian about it.

Secondly, we are being presented with the straw man of boarded up pubs lining our high streets as a result of the new clause. A local pub of mine, The Foresters, was known to be a drug den, it was turned into a Tesco and nobody shed any tears. Had new clause 16 been in place then, that would have simply gone through the planning process, as most things would do. Local authorities have every incentive to approve planning for a derelict site, and so we can discard that straw man out of hand.

Let us look at what the Government have already done. An article 4 direction is well intended, but in practice it is burdensome. People cannot apply for an article 4 direction for their pub unless it has already been threatened, and many communities will want to apply for an article 4 direction before it is threatened. Each article 4 direction is expensive, costing between £2,000 and £3,000 for local authorities, which are already stretched. If communities wanted to protect every pub in the country, the cost would be about £50 million to £100 million. However, a much more fundamental question lies at the heart of this issue: what is localism? In a welcome move towards localism, this Government decided that it is about local planners making decisions, as is the case elsewhere in localism. However, the Government’s concession seems to present it as a patchy, bureaucratic position, which also favours those with sharp elbows. I am deeply concerned that it will be inequitable in practice.

I am particularly puzzled as to why the Government’s default position is against, not for, community pubs. Most of us would consider that the default position should be for the community pub and in favour of the community, not in favour of developers, who can move far faster than communities, particularly our most vulnerable ones. Indeed, if the Government had implemented new clause 16 long ago, we would have avoided the confusion involving, and potential overlap between, assets of community value and article 4 directions. I very much welcome the Government’s move, but we have a short time left in this Parliament. Indeed, we are on last orders for our parliamentary time—[Interruption.] Thank you very much, I am here all night. There is doubt as to whether we would actually be able to make this proposal in time. I thank the Government for their welcome move, but new clause 16 does it better, it does it here, and this evening we have an opportunity to do it now.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

I congratulate the Minister on keeping a straight face while introducing his proposals for the Government to introduce zero-carbon homes. He knows that the proposals go away from zero-carbon homes, systematically and determinedly, and do not move us towards them, as had originally been intended under the code for zero-carbon homes, and the time scales and levels it proposed. As we have heard, we are moving away from code level 6 and down to code level 5. As the Minister says, code level 4 is regarded as the starting point for alleged zero-carbon homes, but there are exceptions within that relating to affordable solutions and the small site exemptions where fewer than 10 units are being built, which will affect about 20% of new builds. That is nothing like having zero-carbon homes for the future. The amendments try to put this at least some way back on track, and I urge hon. Members to examine them carefully and support them if they value zero-carbon homes for the future, as I am sure we all do, in making sure that our building stock is of the best quality we can get for future sustainability.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield

I rise to support two of the provisions tabled and ably espoused by my right hon. Friend Nick Herbert. The first is new clause 12, where he has put the case succinctly; after all, we made a manifesto commitment to abolish the Planning Inspectorate. I also want to draw the House’s attention to the fact that the inspectorate is not taking sufficient account of local feelings in the judgments it makes.

I particularly wish to draw the Minister’s attention to new clause 20, which, as my right hon. Friend has said, builds on our localism agenda. The limited right of appeal to the Secretary of State is extremely important and would be of great benefit to my constituents in Sutton Coldfield, where there is massive opposition to the proposition that we should build between 5,000 and 6,000 homes on its green belt. Yet that opposition, expressed in marches across the countryside as well as in public meetings, has been entirely ignored by the local authority.

In proposed new subsection (2B), my right hon. Friend points out the importance of

“ward councillors for the area who have 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”.

Giving that degree of local support to what the local community want is extremely important. I believe and hope that the Minister, perhaps on Third Reading, will be able to give my constituents some comfort on that.

The opportunity of genuine community involvement should be built in at every stage of planning the process; there should not just be the one-off chance that those responsible for development can choose either to respond or to ignore. Recently, when the inspector held an oral hearing at which I was able to give evidence on behalf of my constituents, he asked for more evidence to be adduced on the requirement for the colossal amount of building involved. We have always argued that there was not sufficient evidence to build on Sutton Coldfield’s green belt, particularly in respect of the inward immigration figures in the area. We draw some comfort from the decision by the Planning Inspectorate, but it is extremely important that the local community is able to have far more say than we do at that moment, at this important juncture in the life of the royal town of Sutton Coldfield.

Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Liberal Democrat, Leeds North West

I shall be as quick as possible, Madam Deputy Speaker. I had a conversation with the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), and I must thank him for his collaborative way of working, and his attempt to find a solution and get through to the Department for Communities and Local Government—alas, he failed. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Stephen Williams rather gave the game away when he said that what is being proposed is not a concession but something the Government were discussing and planning to do in any case. So this has nothing to do with a concession for today; the House needs to be clear on that. One serious point is that DCLG civil servants told the Campaign for Real Ale that the change that has been proposed—not a concession, as we know—would need primary legislation and could not be done through secondary legislation. There is a concern as to whether it could even happen.

New clause 16 is a much better solution. It is not partial and the Government’s solution would cost more, involve much more bureaucracy, take much longer and be considerably less effective. None of us wants red tape, but if hon. Members think red tape is acceptable for nightclubs, theatres and laundrettes, not supporting new clause 16 sends a clear message that not only do they not support local pubs, but they do not think local people should have a say. If hon. Members support pubs and support local democracy, they should vote for new clause 16, and if they do not, they should vote against.

Photo of Andrew Griffiths Andrew Griffiths Conservative, Burton

I shall take a minute to tell hon. Members that we all need to see pubs protected and to see them thrive. What the Minister has done today is to say that if 21 people in a community want to protect their pub, they can do so and they can afford it protection under the planning laws. If a pub cannot get 21 people to support it, it is not financially viable. There is no need to have extra red tape and regulation as proposed in new clause 16. The Minister has, simply and succinctly, put the power back in the hands of pub goers, pub lovers and beer drinkers, and I commend him for doing so.

Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans

My plea to the Minister is to consider issuing new guidance that will put an obligation on commercial buildings to have zero-carbon or low-carbon emissions. In my constituency, it is possible to have 3.5 million square feet of rail freight interchange, and not one single green initiative is necessary. We are considering such an obligation for homes, and we should be considering it for commercial premises too. Will the Minister please issue some guidance to be used during the planning process?

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

Like many people here this evening—

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the clause be read a Second time.

Question agreed to.

New clause 14 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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