With this it will be convenient to consider the following:
Government amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment 97.
Lords amendment 100.
Lords amendment 108, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 109, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 110, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 98.
Lords amendment 99.
Lords amendments 101 to 107.
Lords amendment 111, and Government amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 112 to 181.
Lords amendment 189.
Lords amendments 192 to 194.
Lords amendments 240 to 282.
I will try to be brief, but I want to go through a few key areas in this group of amendments. If we are to build more houses, we need to make it as simple as we can to do so, while supporting the key principles of local determination and empowerment. If we are to build new homes so that families and communities can grow, those communities need to be happy that they have a say and a voice. The more red tape there is and the more spanners there are in the system, the more the system grinds to a creaking halt, and we end up in the mess that we are trying to fix—the mess that we inherited.
As we have made clear, decisions on planning applications must be made in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. A neighbourhood plan brought into legal force is part of the development plan and must be the starting point for authorities’ decisions on applications. I want to be very clear that neighbourhood plans have weight in law. I am exceptionally proud of neighbourhood planning, as, I expect, is every Member of this House who has seen their community take the lead in deciding the future development of their area—deciding where new homes and businesses should go, what they should look like and what local infrastructure is needed.
Putting planning power in the hands of local people involves the whole community, from plan drafting to referendum stages. Local support for house building in such areas has doubled, and opposition has halved. I have spoken to people who are excited about the prospect of new homes, schools for their children as they grow older and the opportunity to have their say about how their towns and villages should grow.
Neighbourhood plans are clear evidence of our belief that decisions about community life should be taken by those communities. We can and should trust communities to make those decisions. We do only half our job if neighbourhood plans are there, but in name only. If people have exercised their right to be heard about where new homes should go, and if a group has put time and effort into doing so, I believe it is only right that the local planning authority should take notice, although I am not inclined to support Lords amendment 97 as the best way to achieve that. I am sympathetic to it—of course I am—but even in a limited form, a neighbourhood right of appeal could affect housing supply and reduce confidence in the system.
Neighbourhood plans have weight in law, and I want to make sure that we keep the spirit of the amendment and maintain that confidence. There is no stronger position for a community to hold than to have an up-to-date neighbourhood plan in place. I believe that communities should have the reassurance that, after they have taken the time and effort to get involved, there will be additional safeguards in place to ensure that they are listened to.
The Minister will be aware that in a number of areas where neighbourhood plans have been adopted, those plans are repeatedly challenged by developers making planning applications against them. Does the Minister agree that we need to look at that and tighten up the safeguards around neighbourhood planning?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. She is absolutely right that there have been examples of developers having a go at getting a planning application. That is why it is important that we are very clear that where a neighbourhood plan outlines where housing should be, it should be respected by the local authority. As I said in response to a very similar point, it should also be respected by planning inspectors and by us in the Government.
That is why amendment (a), which I propose to return to the other place in lieu of Lords amendment 97, will ensure that neighbourhood plans are fully taken into account. It will introduce into the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 a requirement for local planning authorities to identify, in their reports to planning committees, how the neighbourhood plan was taken into account in making a recommendation to grant planning permission. They will also be required to identify in the report any points of conflict between their recommendation and the neighbourhood plan. This will ensure absolute transparency in the decision-making process and that the balance of considerations is made clear.
The Minister makes an extremely good point. I am pleased that he is introducing such a new clause. However, my concern is that it does not really go far enough. The only redress is to call in the decision, which means that it will not made by the community, which the Minister has said we should trust. I am very pleased that he is going as far as he is, but if he believes in trusting the community, the original Lords amendment is a much better way to go.
I know that my hon. Friend has campaigned hard and has made her case strongly in the House. However, if a neighbourhood plan is in place, we must trust our elected representatives, who are locally accountable through the local authority, to make the right decisions for their area—ultimately, they are accountable to their area—and to make sure that their decisions are in line with the neighbourhood plan. We intend to make sure that that process is entirely transparent. I should also make it very clear to the House that when we looked at what is happening at the moment, we found that decisions made by local authorities are in line with neighbourhood plans.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way because I know he is pressed for time. My issue is not with the local community, but with the planning inspector. May I, in the very strongest terms, ask the Minister to put a rocket up the planning inspectors in order to support local democracy? When neighbourhood plans are voted through in a referendum, they should be respected.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I can assure him that I have very recently written to the chief executive of the Planning Inspectorate, and I know that that letter is very clearly in the front of the mind, on the database and under the nose of all planning inspectors, so they are clear that we believe neighbourhood plans should be respected. The amendment (a) that we have tabled will take that even further, but I will continue to work with colleagues to look at how we can go further to ensure that neighbourhood plans get the robust support and programme that they need in the period ahead.
The Minister is making a powerful point. Last week, he very kindly made that point to three of my constituents from Overton, Whitchurch and Oakley, all of which have neighbourhood plans in place. Does he agree that although greater protection for neighbourhood plans would be very welcome, one of the key building blocks is the five-year land supply? What consideration is he giving to allowing councils greater power to protect their five-year land supply from challenges from developers, so that that can cascade down into greater certainty for neighbourhood plans?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point about the importance of making sure that five-year land supplies are in place, that we are delivering the housing we need and that developers get the message loud and clear that neighbourhood plans will be respected by local authorities, the Planning Inspectorate and the Government.
My hon. Friend has joined colleagues in making clear that they want us to look at how we can go further to make sure that neighbourhood plans have precedence and that everybody is very clear about central Government’s view that neighbourhood plans should guide planning. I will reflect on that and work with colleagues in the period ahead. We are determined to make sure that the message is that neighbourhood plans are the way for communities to come together, that the time they spend together will be valuable in giving them control and power over planning and that that will have weight in law. I am very happy to continue to do that.
The Minister is making a good case for neighbourhood plans, although I am personally more sympathetic to the amendment, as he well knows from the ten-minute rule Bill I proposed on the subject last year. Does he accept that communities find it difficult to get the resources together to produce a neighbourhood plan and will he consider what additional help might be forthcoming?
I am happy to outline that there is additional help out there. We give money to local areas to do their neighbourhood plans, and to local authorities to support them in that work. We will continue to do that. I am always looking at more ways not just of promoting plans but of making sure that communities have the support that they need, from a wide network, including templates and other work.
We are tight on time, so I will move on. As I said earlier, the Government have listened. Permission in principle is a good example. Thanks to Lords amendment 100 the Bill now states explicitly that permission in principle can be granted only for housing-led development. We are happy to accept that amendment.
We are somewhat unconvinced, however, by amendment 108. It would increase the construction costs for home builders by an average of more than £3,000 on a semi-detached home, and place a regulatory burden of around £200 million a year on the industry. That will have an impact on all home builders—not just the big companies, but the small and medium-sized companies that we are looking to drive and help grow across England. We cannot accept the amendment. It would tip the balance, driving some small home builders out of the industry altogether and making housing development unviable in some areas. We already build some of the most energy-efficient homes in the world as a result of the tough building regulation standards we set in the last Parliament. In fact, there has been a 30% improvement on the standards before 2010, reducing energy bills by around £200 annually.
Has the Minister attempted to calculate what homeowners would save each year in energy costs if the Government were to go for the enhanced standard?
The right hon. Gentleman might want to reflect on the point I have just made about how we have reduced energy bills with that 30% improvement. We must balance that with the fact that a £3,000 increase in the cost of building a semi-detached home will lead to at least that increase—potentially even more—in the cost of buying one. That will not help home builders, and could slow down house building and make it harder for small businesses to come into the sector.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. That is why we are so proud of the work that we have done on energy-efficient homes since 2010, raising those standards. But we have to be very clear on certain policy ideas. For example, the reason why we have said no to the reintroduction of zero-carbon homes has been well summed up by the Federation of Master Builders, which represents many of the small builders that we all want to see more of. It said that that policy
“threatened to perpetuate the housing crisis.”
Likewise, there are serious and fundamental reasons why amendment 110 is unworkable. I know many of us appreciate how important this issue is, so I will go through why for a few moments. Flood risk is an incredibly important issue, and I fully understand, sympathise with and share the strength of feeling on it. The Government are committed to ensuring that development is safe from flooding, and the delivery of sustainable drainage systems is part of our planning policy, which was strengthened just over one year ago.
Our planning policy and guidance are clear that local councils must consider strict tests that protect people and property from flooding, and that development should not be allowed where those tests are not met. Our approach to avoiding flood risk applies to all sources of flooding, including from surface water and from overloaded sewers and drainage systems, and it sets clear expectations for the use of sustainable drainage.
I very much welcome what the Minister is saying. He will be aware of the problems we have had in Castle Point with surface water drainage, so I am grateful for his guidance to planning authorities. Does he agree that not incorporating Lords amendment 110 will mean that superb companies such as Anglian Water will struggle to deal not just with historical problems but with potential future problems, which could place a heavy burden on bill payers?
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s point; indeed, I appreciate the intention behind Lords amendment 110. The Government are doing some work on this, and are reviewing how the new policy is working.
Order. Members want to get in, but they will not get in if they keep intervening. They have to choose which they want to do, and I will choose the ones who are not intervening.
Lords amendment 110 seeks to remove an automatic right to connect to the public sewer for surface water, unless a sustainable drainage system forms part of a development and is constructed in accordance with non-statutory technical standards and the planning permission. However, the proposed new clause, as currently drafted, is unnecessary and unworkable. First, it makes the right to connect conditional on complying with the terms of a planning permission that may not actually provide for such a drainage system. That might be because it is not viable or because there are on-site constraints.
Secondly, the new clause presumes that a process exists that determines whether or not a development is permitted to connect to the public sewer, where there is none. Thirdly, making the right to connect conditional on planning permission leaves open a number of issues, including what happens when connections are needed and where there is currently no requirement for planning permission to be obtained at all. That might include situations where water sewerage companies are exercising their statutory obligations to drain an area effectively.
Finally, the new clause, which would increase red tape and barriers to development, has no transitional arrangements and industry, especially smaller house builders, will struggle to respond without time to prepare, leading to delays in house building.
The Minister is being generous in giving way. I understand his concerns about the current proposal, but he assumes that the authorities will determine that the drainage and infrastructure in place are adequate. I have a number of examples where, in my view and that of the community, that is not the case. If there was a way of appealing those decisions if they are not robust, to say that the draining infrastructure was not appropriate, I would feel much happier with what he is saying.
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s point, but I say again that one of the problems with the proposed new clause is that, as currently drafted, there would sometimes be an issue where there is actually no requirement for planning permission to be obtained in the first place.
I thank the Minister for giving way. I was going to save this point and make a short speech, but I will make my point now. In my constituency of Taunton Deane flooding is a massive issue, and of course the incorporation of SUDS—sustainable drainage systems—would help with wider catchment management, which in future we are all going to have to address, so would it not be sensible to think about doing it now? I do understand his concerns about discouraging house building, because I know that we have to build all these houses.
My hon. Friend make a very good point, as have other colleagues across the Chamber this evening. I am very sympathetic to the points they have raised, which is why we are looking through this review to see how the current system is working, bearing in mind that it came in only a year ago and that it will be reporting back.
There is a theme emerging. I am proposing that this House should disagree with amendments that would increase burdens on house builders, would be unworkable for those building new homes and, like those in the previous group of amendments, would effectively slow the pace at which they can deliver them. That is also why the Government disagree with Lords amendment 109, which seeks to prevent the Secretary of State from using a power in relation to small sites and also in rural areas.
I want to make it clear that we are happy to work with the other place and to address the issues it raises about rural areas through regulations. Regulations will make clear those rural areas where restrictions will not apply. Working with the other place will also allow us to consider how other rural areas can seek exclusion from any restrictions.
Finally, I have read the Hansard reports of the proceedings in the other place, and on many occasions I stood at the Bar to watch them myself. I have missed standing here over the past few weeks talking about the Bill. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, we could talk much longer about the Bill, but I will not be tempted to do so this evening. [Interruption.] Mr Betts tempts me to speak further. I hope that this House will accept my earlier argument. The motions that stand in the name of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to agree with the other place mean that homes will be delivered faster as a result, the planning system will run smoother and the way we manage and deliver housing will be faster and fairer.
The first thing I want to say about the planning section of the Bill is that it is a pity that it has not had more resonance in the public realm, because it is bringing about far-reaching changes to the planning system that many local communities should be concerned about. Two issues that I will highlight are the extensive use of permission in principle on brownfield sites and the contracting out of planning services to private providers. Both risk drastically reducing the say that local communities have over what is built in their area and are a further nail in the coffin of the Government’s localist credentials.
I will begin with those Lords amendments that the Government are opposing or seeking to amend. Introducing Lords amendment 97, which provides for a neighbourhood right of appeal against an application for planning permission, Lord Kennedy said in the other place:
“It is right that communities have a direct say in developments in their area, and the amendment provides a mechanism for a limited right of appeal in certain circumstances. The right of appeal would apply only to parish councils and neighbourhood forums whose plans progress to formal submission to the local authority.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
We accept that the Government have come forward with an amendment that seeks to make clear how the plan will be taken into account in making a planning recommendation and identifying points of conflict, and we can see where the Minister is coming from, but we are not sure it gives the protections that hon. Members are seeking, so we will have to monitor the situation in due course.
Lords amendment 108, tabled by Lord Kennedy, Lord Young and Baroness Parminter, aims to ensure that new homes contribute to meeting our greenhouse gas targets and help to lower fuel bills by requiring that new homes built from
That was the evidence given last October to the House of Lords Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment by representatives from both the Home Builders Federation and the Federation of Master Builders. Their evidence completely contradicts the Minister’s point. The House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee has also added its voice to the call for a reinstatement of the zero-carbon homes policy. Higher regulatory standards should be considered not as burdensome red tape but as a requirement that is essential both to reducing energy costs and to tackling the threat of climate change.
The zero-carbon homes standard is important to delivering on our climate change commitments. The cost of building to standards is reducing all the time and is now probably only about £1,500, not the £3,500 the Minister mentioned. Introducing the standard would result in homes that have lower energy bills and reduced carbon emissions. Given that Labour introduced the zero-carbon homes policy for homes built after 2016, which was disgracefully stopped by the previous Government, we will support the Lords in their amendment to bring back carbon compliance measures from 2018.
Given all the flooding we have had in this country recently, it is very strange that the Government are seeking to vote against amendment 110, which would require that 1 million new homes be built with sustainable drainage systems, helping to protect homeowners against flooding and delivering wider environmental benefits. Almost every environmental organisation and organisation concerned with flooding supports the amendment, from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust to Water UK, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, the Angling Trust, the Rivers Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds—I could go on.
New developments will put new pressure on critical infrastructure, including drainage and flood defence. New homes continue to be built in areas of flood risk without resilience measures, such as SUDS, and many conventional drainage systems are already over capacity. In many cases, capital costs for sustainable drainage will be lower than conventional connections, as recognised in the 2010 impact assessment by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We also know that retrofitting is considerably more costly. The amendment would offer considerable protections against damage from flooding in the long term, and I do not think the Minister justified why he was voting against the amendment. I ask him to have a rethink.
We consider Lords amendment 111 to be a good one, because it seeks to limit to five years the time during which the pilot to test the privatisation of the processing of planning applications can run. We appreciate that the intent is to limit the policy, but we do not agree with the policy at all, because we believe it could lead to extremely difficult conflicts of interest at the local level and would take away much-needed resources from local planning departments.
Let me deal briefly with some of the Government amendments. Government amendments 98 and 99 would amend clause 129 to ensure that the Secretary of State, or the Mayor in the case of London, could prepare a local development scheme that sets out the development plan documents that the authority intends to produce and the timetable for their production for an authority that has failed to prepare one, and then direct the authority to bring the scheme forward. In effect, this means placing a requirement on authorities to have a local plan in place and it is what Labour proposed in the Lyons report, so it is good to see that the Government have taken our proposals on board.
Amendments 100 to 106 relate to clarifications on permission in principle, and the time limits are welcome. I must commend Baroness Andrews for all her work in the other place; it is also good that the Government accepted Lord Beecham’s amendment on developments on brownfield sites being housing-led, but we still have huge reservations as to whether this whole policy of permission in principle will bring forward more land, more quickly.
It is particularly good to see in amendments 240 to 243 that the Government have accepted what Labour argued for both in Commons Committee and in the other place—that where they consider it expedient to do so, it would be possible in principle for local planning authorities to revoke or modify permission granted by local plans or registers. We look forward to seeing the regulations that will accompany this, but we wonder why the Minister did not agree to this in Committee—still, better late than never!
Similarly, we accept amendments 124 and 127, which simplify the process for setting up new town corporations and urban development corporations. Again, this is something we argued for in Committee, and we would like to see an updated version of new towns legislation as soon as possible to deliver the garden cities and villages our country needs.
Lastly, we accept that amendments 128 to 179 clarify changes to the compulsory purchase orders process. We will monitor these in practice to see if they do enable a speeding up and a wider use of CPOs to help local authorities to deliver the additional housing that our country desperately needs.
I shall speak briefly to Lords amendments 108 on carbon compliance for new homes and 110 on sustainable drainage systems. Both have considerable merit, and I would be inclined to support them both if the Government were not already committed to reviews on both matters. It is best to bring in such measures after full consideration of all the evidence, having weighed up and carefully assessed the pros and cons.
An understandable concern with both amendments is that they might have a disproportionate negative impact on smaller buildings. While there is a concern that a carbon compliance standard is an additional regulatory burden that could add to building costs, evidence shows that such a target incentivises innovation, leading to cost reductions and the achievement of its objective of increasing energy efficiency in new buildings.
On sustainable urban drainage systems, I have in mind my own Waveney constituency. As in many places, much new housing is proposed there in the next few years, and it saw devastating flooding of homes last year, caused partially by large new developments that did not have sustainable drainage systems.
I find it significant that Anglian Water, the statutory drainage authority for the area, is backing this amendment. It pointed to the following merits: a reduction in occurrences of surface water flooding; a reduction in the £2 billion cost of flood damage in England each year; the creation of additional drainage capacity that will help to deliver more new homes; lower bills to customers, as SUDS are cheaper than conventional drainage systems; and bringing the system in England in line with the rest of the UK.
I welcome the Government’s reviews of those two issues. The reviews should be wide-ranging, should be conducted in a timely fashion—both should certainly be completed by this time next year—and should be subject to full debate and scrutiny in the House and its Committees.
I want to say a little about the “alternative provider” clauses and the relevant Lords amendment, which I understand that the Government will be accepting.
I continue to be concerned about what I consider to be a most peculiar form of privatisation. Normally, in cases of privatisation, the council is able to choose the companies or organisations that will provide the service and put that service out to tender. In this case—very peculiarly—the applicant will decide who will conduct the process on behalf of the council and eventually, presumably, supply information and advice to the planning committee. In other words, the council which is ultimately responsible for making the decision—and that, I think, is what the Lords amendments further clarify—will have no role in deciding which organisation will be involved in the process of working with the applicant to decide, eventually, what the recommendation on the application is to be.
There seems to be an idea that suddenly, at the end of the day, a recommendation comes out of thin air. It does not; it results from a very detailed process involving a major application, in which a planning officer and an applicant work through all the details of the scheme. The Bill, however, proposes that that should be done by an alternative provider appointed by the applicant. I think that that is a very strange process, and one that is difficult to justify.
There is also a potential conflict of interests. The alternative provider in one council who advises the planning authority about a scheme could also be a consultant operating directly on behalf of someone in another authority making a very similar application in relation to a very similar scheme, and being paid for doing so. We should be very aware of that possible conflict of interests.
The Lords amendments clearly state that the council—the planning authority—is ultimately responsible for making the decision, and nothing that the alternative provider does should bind the council. I want to know whether, in the context of the pilots, the Minister intends the alternative provider to do all the work and make the recommendation to the planning committee, or whether the alternative provider will make information available to council officers who will independently make a recommendation to the planning committee. I think that that is incredibly important. Will a councillor who receives an application and a recommendation receive the recommendation from a council officer who is independent, on the basis of advice from the alternative provider, or receive it directly from the alternative provider who is appointed by the applicant? That is a fundamental point, which has not been clarified even by the Lords amendments.
I want to speak briefly about Lords amendment 97. The issue of planning has been at the forefront of the minds of people in my constituency. I have often said in the past that my constituents felt that planning was something that happened to them rather than something in which they could become involved. I therefore welcome the move towards neighbourhood plans.
Much of this has come about because we have had masses of development on old brownfield sites. That is, of course, a good use of such sites, but we now face the prospect of having to build 70,000 homes over the next 14 years, as that is the target that the city council has set itself. There is a great deal of concern in the constituency that we are going to have to release green-belt land to match that demand.
This has galvanised a lot of local action, and I pay tribute to those involved in the Aireborough neighbourhood development forum and in the Rawdon and Horsforth parish councils who are now working hard to develop local neighbourhood plans. However, their experience in the past has been that the city council can turn down an application on very good grounds, only for it to go to an inspector who will turn it around. Those people want to feel that they have all the necessary support and tools at their disposal to defend their neighbourhood plans. They feel that this is far too often a one-way process.
I understand what the Minister has said about this, and I am grateful to him for the time he has taken to speak to me personally, as well as to other colleagues, about this. I welcome the fact that he is sympathetic to the idea that those groups should have a right to appeal, and I hope that he will work with all of us to see what can be done to give them the confidence that they want. Those parish councillors should be allowed to defend the neighbourhood plans that they have drawn up. Many of them are volunteers, and they have spent a considerable amount of time developing first-rate plans. They want to have confidence that the system will support what they have drawn up rather than working against them. I hope that the Minister will look into that. I hope that he will also ensure that emerging neighbourhood plans will have equal weight with those that have already been adopted.
I welcome the Lords amendments that introduce exemptions from permission in principle and clarify the qualifying documents under which permission in principle can be granted. I also welcome the amendments that will allow permission in principle to be overturned on the basis of new information, such as archaeological remains being discovered on a site. I argued for this in the Public Bill Committee.
I am concerned, however, that too many aspects of technical details consent are being left to be set out in regulations. Technical details could include the height or density of a development, open space provisions, design, layout and many other considerations. I maintain, as I did in Committee, that while those details can be informed by technical studies, their substance can often make a fundamental difference to how communities feel about a planning proposal. They are therefore often far closer to matters of principle than the description “technical details” implies. I had hoped that, by this stage, we might have seen some of that detail being set out in the Bill.
I am also concerned by the ability that will be introduced in this legislation to appoint third parties to assess planning applications. This will remove democratic accountability from the assessment of the applications. I welcome the fact that the Government have clarified that councils will be the final decision makers, but important judgments are made during the assessment process, which involves a substantial amount of work. Councils would effectively have to repeat that process to enable proper scrutiny or to unravel that work. A far better solution would be to allow councils to recover the full cost of the development management process from planning application fees, so that they could be properly resourced to carry out this democratic role with full democratic scrutiny and accountability.
Fundamentally, the planning aspects of the Housing and Planning Bill miss the opportunity to set out a positive vision for planning, to engage and involve communities in solving the housing crisis, to strengthen our plan-led system, which is highly valued and highly regarded across the world, and to give communities and homebuilders the certainty they need as we face an unprecedented need to build new homes in this country.
I know that the Minister is aware of my constituents’ feelings in the light of an avalanche of applications by developers against adopted neighbourhood plans and an avalanche of objections by developers to emerging neighbourhood plans. I have seen this in Tarporley, in Moulton and in Davenham. My constituents describe themselves as being under siege. In the light of the debate that we have had today, particularly on clause 97, I urge the Minister to take this opportunity to review the planning legislation so that we can have some certainty about the interplay between neighbourhood plans and local plans and provide stronger protections for residents such as mine in Eddisbury. My constituents have put time and effort into creating robust neighbourhood plans that have been passed by inspectors, but they now feel as though they are under siege. We need a full review of the planning process if we are to strengthen local democracy and achieve the localism that everyone in Eddisbury so desperately wants.
I want to spend a couple of minutes on two amendments. I am disappointed by what the Minister had to say about amendment 108, which he said would cost homebuilders some £3,000. We heard from the Labour Front Bench team that it might be as little as £1,500, and as builders get used to building homes to high emissions standards, I suspect that the cost will fall further in years to come. Over the lifetime of a property, the savings to its owners will be significant and much greater than £3,000—if that even is the figure. I am therefore disappointed that the Minister is not willing to support amendment 108.
The Minister said that amendment 110, which I will be pressing to a vote, was faulty, but it was not clear whether he was saying that it was defective. If that is the case, the Minister could have amended it in a way that was acceptable to him to ensure that it was not faulty. He has heard the long list of organisations, including the water industry, community groups, and a range of water management experts, that feel that the current arrangements for sustainable drainage systems are inadequate and unsatisfactory. Amendment 110 would ensure that developers provided SUDS to reduce the pressure on existing systems, which we know from the flooding up and down the country cannot cope with current levels of water.
If there is a vote on amendment 108 this evening, I will certainly support it. I will also press amendment 110 to a vote.
I know that we are tight for time. I listened with much interest to what the Minister said about sustainable drainage systems, and I urge him to ensure that the best possible use is made of devices to protect people’s land and to manage surface water, regardless of the size of the development. Having witnessed the consequences of the terrible flooding in Taunton Deane in 2013-14, I am conscious that we must harness every tool in the box to deal with flooding. According to the Met Office, an awful lot more water is coming our way, so we have to be ready.
I am also conscious that Taunton Deane, much like other parts of the country, has seen a massive, rapid increase in house building, which I applaud, because we do need it. I fully support the Government’s proactive house building plan, but I call on the Minister to give due consideration to the water run-off from new houses so that that does not add to the flooding risk. Developers are currently encouraged to install SUDS, but they retain the legal right just to connect new properties directly to the sewerage system, which probably makes more economic sense in many cases. Lords amendment 110 has much support, including from water companies, the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, and the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change.
In Somerset and elsewhere, we are required to consider a wider catchment approach to how we address water management and flood prevention. The use of the SUDS will inevitably play its part as time goes on. Both the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee are conducting inquiries into flooding and water management. We await their conclusions with interest, and they will no doubt have many useful things to say. We, as a population, will have to look seriously at holding more water on our land to control the rate at which it rushes into rivers and the rest of the water system.
The Minister has spent a lot of time on this important issue and has considered Lords amendment 110 in detail. I listened to his reasons for not including it in the Bill right now, but I would welcome any future deliberations and review. I would be most willing to work with him on the matter to bring forward the best possible outcomes and to ensure that we encourage our house building programme without exacerbating the risk of flooding or causing unnecessary environmental degradation.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will keep my comments brief.
As the Minister knows, I have campaigned for a community right of appeal for many years, and it is now time to consider that issue seriously as there is more and more support for it across the House. The Minister said that the original right of appeal was introduced to redress the balance in favour of the landowner, who was effectively having his freedom taken away. I suggest that the time has come to redress the balance in favour of communities that, in the words of many, are now having development thrust upon them. I hope that the Minister will consider this issue, as it is perfectly possible to introduce a community right of appeal. That is not the same thing as a third-party right of appeal, and I am sure that he could come up with something that would work and not stop the building programme.
In defending his position, the Minister said that the community has a voice through the local authority. I understand where he is coming from, but electing a local authority once every four years is not the same as giving local communities a voice in planning decisions that affect them. It is now time to look seriously at giving the community a real sense of democratic responsibility and accountability. The Minister relies on the local authority to be the arbiter, but in many cases—certainly in my constituency—the local authority is conflicted, and an obligation to write a report will not solve the problem. One of the biggest issues—the Minister knows this, because I have spoken regularly to him about it—concerns infrastructure decisions, because at the moment there is no right of redress if the local authority gets something wrong. That is one of the most significant issues on my desk today.
I understand why the Minister wants to reject the proposal on SUDS, but in my south-west constituency, flooding has been a chronic issue. This is about proper funding as well as planning, and about ensuring that those who make infrastructure decisions understand the issues and are held to account. I cannot think of anybody better to do that than the community.
The debate has summed up just how important the planning system is to many of those who write to us, or who come to see us in our surgeries every week. My hon. Friends have spoken passionately and clearly about the importance of empowering local communities, and all those in my Department who have responsibility for planning understand how deeply a decision about where a new development should go affects those who live or work nearby.
Good planning is about more than just buildings. It is more than just maps, numbers, assessments and forms, and more than calculations about housing need and the ability of our vibrant high streets to deliver local growth. Good planning is about people, and we have heard good things said by good people this evening. Good planning is about seeing past documents and planning applications, and being able to judge the impact of the changing nature of our places on the families and communities that grow up there.
That is why, as my hon. Friends have rightly outlined, neighbourhood planning is so important. It is the future of a community being agreed and designed by that community, and such work must be respected. It is about local people deciding where their children will live when they grow up and leave home. It is about local decisions that affect the future of our schools and our shops. That is why it is so effective and empowering—the ultimate localism. Local support for house building has doubled in the past four years, while opposition to local house building has more than halved. We have empowered more than 1,800 communities to start the process of neighbourhood planning, which we introduced in 2012, and nearly 10 million people in 72% of local authorities are now represented. On average, 89% of people voted yes in their neighbourhood plan referendum.
We are seeing that engagement with the planning system leads to undeniably positive results, which is why I am so passionate about getting right our reforms and our delivery of neighbourhood planning. It is reassuring to hear so many colleagues making their case so passionately to ensure that the voice of their local community is heard and properly represented in the planning system, as that is exactly what neighbourhood planning is about. There is no point in building expectation into the planning system if we then to slow it down with red tape and extra bureaucracy. There is no point in getting local authorities to engage properly with local communities if we then prevent building with other red tape and regulations. That is why we have made our points in the debate about drainage and energy-efficiency. It is important that we get this right, that we do the work to get this right, and that we listen to what colleagues have said to make sure that we do just that in the period ahead. We are here to deliver the housing that our country needs.
Debate interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
Question agreed to.
Lords amendment 97 accordingly disagreed to.
The Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (
Government amendment (a) made in lieu of Lords amendment 97.
Government amendment (a) made to Lords amendment 111.
Lords amendment 111, as amended, agreed to.
After Clause 143
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 108.—(Brandon Lewis.)
The House proceeded to a Division.
I must remind the House that the motion relates exclusively to England. A double majority is therefore required.
The House divided:
Ayes 286, Noes 163.
Votes cast by Members for constituencies in England:
Ayes 277, Noes 149.
I must now put the Questions necessary to dispose of the remaining Lords amendments. First, under the Standing Order, I must put the Question on the remaining Lords amendments that relate exclusively to England.
Lords amendments 100, 98, 99, 101 to 107, 112 to 127 and 240 to 243 agreed to.
I must now put the Question on the remaining Lords amendments that relate exclusively to England and Wales.
Lords amendments 128 to 179 and 244 to 282 agreed to.
I must now put the Question on the remaining Lords amendments that have not been certified.
Lords amendments 180, 181, 189 and 192 to 194 agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (
That Brandon Lewis be the Chair of the Committee;
That three be the quorum of the Committee.
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Julian Smith.)
Question agreed to.
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.