Permitted development: use clauses and demolition of drinking establishments

Neighbourhood Planning Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:00 pm on 13th December 2016.

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“(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) insert—

“(p) drinking establishment.”

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

(4) The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (SI1995/418) is amended as follows.

(5) In Part 3 of Schedule 2—

(a) in Class A: Permitted development, leave out “A4 (drinking establishments)”.

(b) In Class AA: Permitted development, leave out “Class A4 (drinking establishments)”.

(c) in Class C: Permitted development, leave out “Class A4 (drinking establishments)”.

(6) In Part 31 of Schedule 2 under A.1 at end insert—

“() the building subject to demolition is classed as a drinking establishment”.”—(Dr Blackman-Woods.)

The purpose of this amendment is 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, unless they have been listed as Assets of Community Value with the local authority, can be demolished or have their use changed without such permission being granted.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 10—Funding for local authority planning functions—

“(1) The Secretary of State must consult local planning authorities prior to the commencement of any new statutory duties to ensure that they are—

(a) adequately resourced; and

(b) adequately funded so that they are able to undertake the additional work.

(2) In any instance where that is not the case, an independent review of additional cost must be conducted to set out the level of resource required to allow planning authorities to fulfil any new statutory duties.”

This new clause would ensure that the costs of new planning duties are calculated and adequately funded.

New clause 11—Planning obligations—

“(1) The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1) of section 106 (planning obligations) after paragraph (d) insert—

“(e) requiring that information submitted as part of, and in support of, a viability assessment be made available to the public.””

This new clause would ensure that viability assessments are public documents with no commercial confidentiality restrictions, except in cases where disclosure would not be in the public interest.

Amendment 14, page 11, line 1, leave out clause 12.

This amendment would remove from the Bill completely the changes to planning conditions.

Amendment 11, in clause 12, page 11, line 18, leave out subsection (2)(a).

This amendment would ensure that “acceptable in planning terms” does not mean that conditions can be overlooked because they are unacceptable for other reasons.

Amendment 12, page 11, line 27, leave out subsections (4) to (7).

This amendment would ensure that local authorities are still able to make necessary pre-commencement conditions on developers.

Amendment 13, page 11, line 34, at end insert—

“(6A) The Secretary of State should provide guidance for appeal routes where an agreement cannot be reached on pre-commencement conditions, along guidance on pre-completion and pre-occupation conditions.”

This amendment ensures that there is clarity on appeal routes, pre-completion and pre-occupation conditions.

Amendment 15, in clause 13, page 12, line 32, at end insert—

“(e) information on the number of permitted demolition of offices for residential use to a similar scale including—

(i) the impact on a local plan;

(ii) an estimate as to how many homes the development will deliver; and

(iii) a consultation with the local authority regarding the effect of the change of use on any urban regeneration plans.”

This amendment would ensure monitoring of the impact of permitted right of demolition on offices on urban regeneration that requires office space and on the provision of housing.

Government amendment 20.

Amendment 16, page 13, line 21, at end insert—

“(9) The cost of compiling a register and gathering the information to underpin it should be met by the Secretary of State.”

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing)

I will speak to new clause 9, tabled by Greg Mulholland, because I have added my name to it. It would require the demolition or change of use of pubs to be subject to planning permission. That seems very sensible. It is something that I feel very strongly about. As a shadow Minister, I was at the forefront of the fight against the changes to permitted development rights that the Government started to force through two years ago. I have spoken on pubs and permitted development many times. It is very important, as a pub can often be a real central point for a local community, and so it is right that local residents are given the chance to have their say over what happens to it.

Although pubs can be protected if they are designated an asset of community value, the process for that can be very cumbersome. I believe it is much more appropriate to return the decision on whether a pub can be demolished or converted to the local community, where it belongs, rather than dealing with it through permitted development.

I will move straight on to—

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing)

If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not, as I am very short of time. I might a bit later, once I have made a bit of progress.

I also want to speak to new clause 11, on the need for the viability assessments to be transparent to the public. Labour has consistently raised this issue, and we continue to believe it is of huge importance. If the public are to accept development in their area, they have to be absolutely certain that viability arrangements for site—in particular, safety integrity level requirements and section 106 requirements—are all that they should be.

As things stand, a viability assessment lays bare to council officers the economics of a project, providing detailed financial evidence for a developer’s claim that a particular scheme would not be viable without reducing the number of affordable homes. The problem is that the assessments are not available for public scrutiny. Labour has commented that despite planning practice guidance encouraging transparency, developers may opt not to disclose their viability assessments to the public on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. It is widely accepted that that is sometimes done so that they can negotiate down their section 106 obligations without public scrutiny. As a consequence, affordable housing may be reduced and the quality of the built environment may suffer. We need a uniform approach to transparency, across the country—I am sure the Minister supports that—so that developers know that they will be open to public scrutiny wherever they decide to operate.

I move on to amendment 14. This Bill is the Government’s sixth piece of legislation on the planning system in six years. I hope that the current Minister will not continue what we saw in the past, namely the Government blaming the planning system, or various elements of it, for their failure to build enough homes. On this occasion, pre-commencement planning conditions are in the firing line. But as the Minister well knows from our time in Committee, there is a distinct lack of evidence that pre-commencement planning conditions slow up development. In fact, we heard a lot of evidence that they often make a development acceptable for a local community.

Pre-commencement conditions are also advantageous for a number of different stakeholders in the house building industry. They have certain advantages to developers, who may not be in a position to finalise details for a scheme but wish to secure planning permission as soon as possible. They have advantages for local authorities, because councils may, in practice, have limited legal ability to enforce conditions once a scheme is under way. Conditions are useful to the development industry in general, because they make it possible to permit schemes that might otherwise have to be refused.

It makes little sense to us to make such important changes as the Minister wants to make to pre-commencement planning conditions, especially as the evidence that we received suggested that the problem was not with the conditions but with the signing off of planning conditions in a timely manner. The evidence suggested that the problem was mostly with the resourcing of planning departments and the fact that they did not have enough officers to carry out enforcement, rather than with the pre-commencement conditions. We heard that that could slow up development or result in development being rejected because the conditions are not applied to it.

We intend to press to a vote new clause 11 and amendment 14, because we want to ensure that measures are in place not only to deliver the homes that we want in this country, but to make sure that they are in communities that have access to the services, jobs and general good-quality built environment and natural environment that people want.

I will give way to John Redwood if he still wants to intervene.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham 7:15 pm, 13th December 2016

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. My question goes back to her first amendment on pubs. Does she not accept that there are some cases in which no one can run a commercial pub, and no one wants to? In such cases, surely, action has to be taken.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing)

We are not against a change of use for a pub; we are against the fact that that change goes through permitted development, taking away local people’s right to have a say over what happens to the pub. The new clause is designed to remove those changes from permitted development and put them back into the planning system, which is exactly where they should be.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing)

I will give way very briefly to the hon. Gentleman; he spoke for a long time earlier.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I am very sympathetic to pubs, and always voted on what we might call the pub side of the argument, including over the tenancy issue—the tied pubs issue—during the previous Parliament. I am concerned that if we say to a struggling pub that it has to get planning permission, the bank might pull the plug on it much more quickly, because there will be no guarantee that the bank will be able to get its money back—as it can at the moment—if it keeps lending the pub money. I wonder what the hon. Lady makes of the idea that the proposal could be inadvertently counterproductive for pubs that are struggling.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing)

When we are considering the future of a pub, it is really important that the local community has a say in that. In the totality of the scheme, it is rarely the case that the cost of a planning application will make the whole scheme viable or unviable in the long term.

I want to speak briefly to new clause 10, which is designed to press the Minister when it comes to ensuring that planning departments are adequately resourced, not only to undertake their current work but to deal with any new burdens that the Minister places on them. I will leave it there, to allow Greg Mulholland to come in on new clause 9.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I do not intend to trouble the House for long, but I want to focus on new clause 9. I am pleased that Greg Mulholland is in his place, and I pay tribute to him for the work that he has done over many years to support pubs. Just to show that I do not want to ban things that I do not do myself, I remind the House that I do not drink. I am a teetotaller, but I still believe in pubs and their importance in the local community, and in people’s freedom to do as they please.

The hon. Gentleman has done a fantastic job of supporting the pub industry. As I made clear in my intervention, during the previous Parliament I voted on the side of pubs on the question of whether they should be tied. I felt that too many pubs were tied to unfair conditions that affected their viability, and I was pleased that the Government lost that vote. My instinct is to want to support the hon. Gentleman’s new clause 9, because I support pubs and the work that he does.

I will not blame Dr Blackman-Woods, who is very impressive, but I clearly did not explain myself very well when I raised my concern. It was not her lack of understanding; it was clearly the fault of my explanation. I apologise for putting her in the difficult position of trying to make sense of something that did not make any sense at all.

I would be very pleased to hear how the hon. Member for Leeds North West can address my concern about new clause 9. If a struggling pub needs support from the bank to keep it going and the bank knows that the site of the closed pub can easily be changed to an alternative use without going through a bureaucratic planning process that may end up with the plans being rejected, my fear is that the bank—it knows that if all goes wrong, it can get its money back by changing the pub’s use or building something else on the site—will pull the plug on the pub much earlier in the process, instead of investing more money in the pub to help it to keep going and to turn it around. The bank might think, “If this goes on, we’re not going to get our money back. If we can’t get planning permission on this land, we’ll be left with a debt we’re never going to be able to recover. We do not want to get ourselves into that mess in the first place, so we will pull the plug on the pub.”

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is my constituency neighbour, for making that point—I also thank him for his support on pub issues in the past—but his concerns are entirely misplaced. I may not have the time to convince him of that today. The reality is that profitable pubs are being closed up and down the country, but that is nothing to do with the pubs. No one is saying that, when a pub is not viable and no one wants to buy it to run it as a pub, it should not be given planning permission. However, because of these absurd loopholes at the moment, people are deliberately targeting profitable pubs because they will make a good supermarket. Surely as someone who believes in localism, he cannot support that.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good case, although as someone who worked for a supermarket chain for 13 years, I am not sure that was the best example he could have given to try to persuade me. I take on board his point, which is a good one.

I will not go on for much longer, because I want to listen to what other Members have to say. I am genuinely in a difficult position on this matter because I can see both sides of the argument. I will, however, reiterate my fear about a new clause that has the best of intentions. It aims to do what I think we would all want, which is to help the pubs sector to flourish. Pubs are important to our local communities, and I am all for them. In some instances—perhaps not in every instance, and perhaps not even in the majority of instances—new clause 9 may have the unintended consequence of leading to the closure of pubs much sooner and much more often than would otherwise be the case.

I will listen to the cases that other Members make. I will do a rare thing in this House: I will listen to the debate before deciding how to vote.

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

I thank my colleagues on the save the pub all-party group, particularly the hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), who are vice-chairs of it. I thank Dr Blackman-Woods for very kindly opening the debate for me. I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the House for not being present at that time, but I was wandering over to the Chamber expecting a vote and suddenly saw that the debate on new clause 9 had begun. I also thank the hon. Lady and her colleagues for their consistent support on this issue. Above all, I thank Antoinette Sandbach for having the courage to add her name to the new clause. She will be toasted by many groups around the country.

I thank Protect Pubs for its excellent campaigning. It is now the leading organisation in the country for standing up for and protecting our pubs. I also thank the British Pub Confederation, which represents 14 pub sector organisations in the UK. I declare an interest as I am its chair.

Today we are campaigning on exactly the same issue that the hon. Lady’s colleague and great friend of pubs, Charlotte Leslie, set out in an amendment in February 2015 as vice-chair of the save the pub group. Too many pubs are still closing. The statistics go up and down slightly, but in excess of 20 pubs are closing a week.

Philip Davies has missed the point. The new clause is not about stopping pubs that are not viable from being converted into other things. Pubs are being converted into other things all the time. Some pubs might be unviable, but a considerable number of them are viable and profitable. Unfortunately, they are closing because of permitted development rights. Surely it cannot be right that a wanted, profitable business can be closed without local people having any say.

I will not go into the detail, because I know there is limited time, but I think that people are aware of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, which allows people to turn pubs into shops, supermarkets and offices, or to demolish them, without planning permission. May I ask how long I have to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker?

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the debate has to finish in just over 20 minutes’ time and that several other people wish to speak. Of course, if the House does not wish to hear the Minister, that is up to the House. I would like to hear the Minister, but I cannot insist upon it.

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

Of course we must hear from the Minister, but we need to hear the argument or people will not know what the new clause is about, as is clear from the comments made by the hon. Member for Shipley.

The new clause is about the simple principle that if someone wants to demolish a pub or to convert it into anything, the proposal should go through the planning process to allow residents to have their say on whether they oppose or support it. That is all we are talking about. This simple, common-sense change would mean that—as is the case, strangely, for theatres and launderettes—proposals for pubs would have to go through the planning process.

Let me quote a Conservative councillor. Councillor Michael Iszatt of Cheshunt North ward in Hertfordshire was quoted in The Guardian in 2014, talking about the closure of the Victoria. He said:

“It wasn’t a quiet pub”.

He clearly knew that it was not a failing pub, as did the planning authority, but it could do nothing. Councillor Iszatt said:

“Localism doesn’t apply here… Localism’s got to be a little village where the big supermarkets aren’t interested, because there aren’t thousands of people to buy things. We’re not allowed to have a community. But the reality is, we do.”

That profitable and wanted pub became a Morrisons. It was the victim of the sort of predatory purchasing that we see all the time.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I was mistaken and have misled him. There are only 11 minutes left in the debate.

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

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will speak for no more than a minute to conclude, because otherwise people will not have heard any of the arguments for the new clause.

The Victoria was a profitable, wanted pub. It was closed in 2014 and turned into a Morrisons. And guess what? Because people did not want that and did not have the chance to comment, the Morrisons has closed. Permitted development rights have doubly failed that community, because a profitable business was closed and a supermarket that was not wanted has also closed, meaning that the building is empty.

I know that the Government will not listen and make a concession; frankly, they have not had the chance to hear the arguments properly. However, I urge Ministers to sit down with me and the save the pub group, with the hon. Member for Eddisbury and with Councillor Michael Iszatt to discuss how the Government can address the problem. While communities up and down the country—and councillors, including Conservative ones—are in uproar about the situation, it cannot continue.

Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South 7:30 pm, 13th December 2016

I rise as a member of the Campaign for Real Ale and one of the vice-chairmen of the all-party group on beer and brewing.

Given what we hear about the number of pubs closing each week, a proposal such as new clause 9 has a superficial attraction. After all, pubs are at the heart of our communities not only as a place for people to come together, with all the social and health benefits that that brings, but increasingly as community hubs, as more and more services are operating out of licensed premises.

Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South

I am afraid that I must continue.

Unfortunately, the new clause smacks a little of, “Something needs to be done. This is something, so it must be done.” What we really need is thriving pubs, but the new clause would do little to support them. Removing permitted development rights for change of use would put many more pubs at risk because those rights are a genuine asset that pubs can borrow against. They have a real value and mean not only that pubs can invest in development, but that they have a little more leeway when times are tough, knowing that should they fail, they will still have value because a change of use is available under permitted development. Although the mind is drawn more immediately to the 21 pubs a week that close than to the many more that are just about managing to stay open, the latter would be hit the hardest by the removal of permitted development rights.

We have heard a number of examples of successful pubs being converted into supermarkets, and addressing that is the purpose of the new clause. However, where there are successful pubs at the heart of our communities, they can already be added to the register of assets of community value so that permitted development rights are suspended, or councils can use article 4 directions to suspend those rights. The new clause is therefore not necessary, which is why I shall vote against it this evening.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

I can be brief: I hope the Minister will resist amendment 14 entirely; clause 12 is an excellent clause.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

I start by congratulating my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin on one of the finest speeches I have heard in this Chamber.

First, I will briefly address Government amendment 20. This minor technical amendment clarifies the fact that the Secretary of State is able to require only certain kinds of application or notification to be placed on a planning register.

In the short time available, I will do as much justice as I can to the new clauses and amendments that have been spoken to. On new clause 9, I start by saying to Greg Mulholland that I would be very happy to sit down with him and other colleagues who feel strongly about the issue. I do not think that we have had the time tonight to air the issues involved properly, but I will briefly say two things to him so that he at least knows where I start from.

First, the hon. Gentleman will know that the current Government, and the coalition Government who he supported, have done a lot to try to help our pub industry. There is the community pub business support programme, which is providing more than £3.5 million of funding for people to buy their local pub. There is the community right to bid, and people can list their local as an asset of community value, with more than 1,280 pubs listed to date. There has been the scrapping of the beer duty escalator—appropriately, my hon. Friend Andrew Griffiths is in his place as the Whip on the Government Front Bench. Beer duty was frozen in the 2016 Budget, having been reduced in each of the three preceding Budgets.

The Government’s starting point on the detail of the new clause—I am happy to discuss it with the hon. Gentleman—is that, from 6 April 2015, permitted development rights for the change of use or demolition of a pub were removed for those pubs that a community has demonstrated it values by nominating them as an asset of community value. It is not only the Government who believe that that strikes the right balance. A briefing note from the British Beer and Pub Association makes the point that removing permitted development would not only stop the conversion of pubs to supermarkets and whatever else we would want to stop, but might prevent pubs from doing improvement works to their premises, which we clearly would not want.

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

Surely the Minister knows what the so-called British Beer and Pub Association is—it is the representative body for the large property companies called pubcos, which are selling off pubs. Of course it wants its members to be able to continue this appalling asset-stripping and to continue doing deals with supermarkets.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

I am well aware of what the BBPA is, but I tend to take the approach that, when I see briefings, I look at the points they make. If they make a sensible point, they are worth looking at. The BBPA makes a serious point. As I have said, I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss those issues further.

We discussed viability assessments, which are the subject of new clause 11, in Committee. There is existing legislation in the form of the Freedom of Information Act and environmental information regulations. The Government release information, and local authorities are free to make viability assessments publicly available. In the time available, I shall make one simple point. Dr Blackman-Woods said that she wants a uniform approach across the country. I am interested in seeing councils trial different approaches to see what works most effectively. The Mayor of London is not a Conservative politician, but I was interested to see the policy that he announced recently. That policy is a different way of tackling the problem—a tariff is set, and if developers meet the requirements, they do not need to go through a viability assessment.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing)

The point I was making was that people should have access to viability assessments no matter where they live.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

The hon. Lady is entitled to hold that view, but I take a slightly more localist one. Local authorities should decide whether they want to publish that information. Commercial confidentiality makes that difficult in some cases. To a degree, her proposal recognises that, because it would not mean access in every single case. However, I am not persuaded of the need to legislate.

In the two or three minutes available, I want to address planning conditions, which my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset mentioned in his excellent brief speech. It is not the Government’s approach to blame the planning system or anybody else for the housing problems the country faces. For 30 or 40 years, we have not built enough homes, and a range of people are responsible for that. Governments of different political colours have not done enough on infrastructure funding. There are problems in our planning system, but that is not a personal attack on planners. We need to reform that system to make it easier to release land and to speed up the process of building homes. We need to change the local house building politics in our communities. To a degree, that is what neighbourhood planning is all about. We need to diversify the market so that a far bigger range of people build our homes.

The Prime Minister has given me a very clear brief, however. We should look at anything that makes it more difficult to build the homes that we desperately need in this country. There is very clear evidence about this, and that is not just from developers—hon. Members might say, “Developers would say that wouldn’t they”—but from the District Councils Network. In its evidence, it acknowledges that an overuse of planning conditions means that it takes longer to move from the point at which we get planning approval for housing to the point at which spades go into the ground.

In the year to June 2016, the planning reforms that the coalition Government and this Conservative Government have enacted led to the granting of a record number of planning applications for housing in this country—for 277,000 homes. Rather than being complacent about that, I take the opposite attitude. People cannot live in a planning application. It is all very well reforming the planning system and getting consent for more homes, but we need to turn those planning consents into built homes around the country. That involves looking at a range of issues, one of which, as the hon. Member for City of Durham rightly said, is the resourcing of planning departments, and their ability to deal with this work and to conclude section 106 agreements quickly. We will do something about that. Another problem is the performance of our utility companies in some parts of the country, and we will do something about that. Another is the performance sometimes of our major developers, which are too slow to build out, and we will address that.

There is clear and compelling evidence, however, that one of the factors that leads to this problem is the overuse of planning conditions and, in particular, the use of pre-commencement conditions—when a local authority essentially says, “Before you can even get a spade in the ground, here is a long list of things that need to be done.” In some cases, such conditions are justified, such as for archaeological works, when things need to be done before building starts, but there is plenty of evidence, as presented to the Public Bill Committee, that such conditions are being misused in many cases, and the Government are determined to put a stop to it. We are determined to get the homes that we desperately need in this country built, and the Bill is a first step in that process.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The House divided:

Ayes 161, Noes 274.

Division number 108

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Aye

No

Question accordingly negatived.

More than four hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

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

Clause 11