Duty to have regard to post-examination neighbourhood development plan

Neighbourhood Planning Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 28th March 2017.

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Photo of Natascha Engel Natascha Engel Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Lords amendments 2 and 3.

Lords amendment 4, and amendment (a) thereto.

Lords amendments 5 to 9.

Lords amendment 23, and amendment (a) thereto.

Lords amendment 24 to 84.

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

The shadow Minister has caused confusion by not objecting to proposals that some anticipated he might object to. That is fine by the Government, and I will happily proceed. I am probably also right in saying that Members who wish to speak on this group of amendments might have anticipated the debate on the second group lasting for longer. I will try to talk at a little more length to give my hon. Friends time to arrive in the Chamber to take part.

This is the third group of amendments and I want to provide the House with an update on the other amendments made to the Bill in the House of Lords—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend Nick Herbert is here. There we are.

First, on the amendments relating to neighbourhood planning, I thank all hon. Members and peers who contributed to the debate as the Bill has progressed through Parliament. It is clear that there is strong cross-party support for this important reform, which was introduced by the coalition Government. I very much welcome the positive and constructive debate we have had on the clauses. We are all seeking to ensure that neighbourhood planning—the quiet revolution, as described by my ministerial colleague Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth —continues to go from strength to strength. In that regard, I point the House not only to the important clauses in the Bill, but to my written ministerial statement, which we talked about on Report, and the further clarification provided by the housing White Paper.

The definition of a post-examination neighbourhood plan in clause 1 is clarified by Lords amendments 1, 2 and 3 to ensure that decision makers are in no doubt as to when they must have regard to them. On Lords amendment 4, I committed on Report in the Commons to return to an important issue raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs and others on the voice of communities in planning decisions. The Government have therefore brought forward Lords amendment 4, which will require local planning authorities automatically to notify parish councils and designated neighbourhood forums of any future planning applications in the relevant neighbourhood area. Automatic notification would apply once parish councils and designated neighbourhood forums had in place a post-examination neighbourhood plan, as defined by clause 1. Parish councils and designated neighbourhood forums will be able to opt out of automatic notification or request that they are notified only of applications of a particular type. However, they will have the automatic right to be notified, exactly as requested by my right hon. Friend, and that is now on the face of the Bill. Rather than respond at this stage to the amendment that he has tabled, I might allow him to speak, if he intends to do so, and respond at that point.

Lords amendment 5 will allow the Secretary of State, through regulations, to prescribe further requirements that an examiner of a neighbourhood plan or a neighbourhood development order must follow in engaging with those with an interest in the examination. Subject to consideration of the outcome of the housing White Paper, which is still out for consultation, the amendment will allow the Secretary of State to make regulations that place a duty on the person appointed to examine a neighbourhood plan or a neighbourhood development order to provide information to, and hold meetings with, parish councils, designated neighbourhood forums, local planning authorities and others, and to publish their draft recommendations.

I thank all hon. Members and peers who have helped to shape these amendments, and I particularly thank Baroness Cumberlege, who was heavily involved in shaping this amendment in the other place. The concern is that people often put a huge amount of work into producing a neighbourhood plan, which is then examined and the examiner requires amendments to be made without people having any opportunity to discuss those proposals or to understand the logic behind them. That is why we have introduced these amendments. We want to ensure that this process helps people who give up their spare time and put effort into producing neighbourhood plans to get the result they want in terms of how their local community develops. As I said, I am really grateful to Baroness Cumberlege and others in the other place for the time and effort they have put into these amendments and for the meetings they have had with me and my ministerial colleague, Lord Bourne, to try to get the detail right.

On Report in the Commons, my hon. Friend Heidi Allen, who is not in her place, raised the vital issue of planning for the housing needs of older people and the disabled. All hon. Members will appreciate the importance of this issue not only in ensuring that this group of people, which will grow over the coming years, has a range of housing provision suitable to its needs—many of us will have seen in our constituencies that that range of provision is not there at the moment—but in helping with some of the wider housing problems I am trying to deal with. Clearly, if greater alternative provision is made available, and people can downsize from their existing accommodation, that releases vital family housing on to the market. This is therefore a really important issue, and I made it clear that I was grateful to my hon. Friend for raising it. I committed to look at it carefully, and the Government subsequently brought forward amendment 6 in Committee in the Lords.

There was considerable cross-party support for the amendment in the other place. It amends section 34 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to require the Secretary of State to produce guidance for local planning authorities about how their local development documents, taken as a whole, should address the housing needs of older and disabled people. Page 62 of the housing White Paper sets out some of our key ambitions for this new guidance. In essence, without going into all the detail, the White Paper has two main areas that are focused in this direction. First, we are looking at our planning policies and how we can make sure that our local authorities are planning for a suitable range of alternative provision. There is definitely a partial solution to this problem in relation to planning reform. Secondly, we are asking whether people have thoughts or ideas about whether other measures are needed to incentivise people to downsize. In other words, is the problem just a lack of suitable provision in the area, or are there other barriers that we need to try to find a way to overcome to enable people to access accommodation that is more suitable to their needs? We are very much looking forward to seeing the responses to the White Paper as they come in so that we can consider these issues in more depth.

It is probably worth touching briefly on supported housing, which is clearly crucial in this regard. Hon. Members will be aware that we recently consulted on the new funding model that we have in mind for supported housing. We received a huge response to that consultation. We are analysing that at the moment, and we will come forward with a Green Paper later this year. Again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire, whose initiative ultimately lies behind Lords amendment 6.

Lords amendments 7, 8 and 9 to clause 11 will encourage early conversations between the local planning authority and its community about the future local growth and development needs of their area by allowing the Secretary of State to make regulations that set out the matters that local planning authorities must address in their statements of community involvement. We talked about this in Committee. For example, the regulations might require local planning authorities to set out the advice they would provide on the relationship between their local plan and neighbourhood plans in the area, and ensure that communities, including parishes and designated neighbourhood forums, are left in no doubt about when and how they will be able to get involved in the planning of their area.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Devolution)

On community involvement, there can be a conflict when mayoral plans—the strategic development plans for combined areas—are being developed in areas where no neighbourhood plan is in place, and local people at times feel that their voice is not being heard. In my area of Greater Manchester, there is a significant tension because the combined authority is proposing to build on green-belt land without an accurate or full brownfield register being in place. Where areas do not have a neighbourhood plan in place, and the local plan has been stalled pending the strategic plan, people feel frustrated that they do not have a voice in the process. Will the Minister give a bit of detail on how they might have a voice?

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

I am obviously aware of the Greater Manchester spatial strategy. I need to be a little careful, for reasons I am sure the hon. Gentleman will understand, not to comment on the detail of that, because it may well end up on my desk. However, he raises a really important point. The Government are very interested in the wider application of the process that is happening in Greater Manchester. As he says, a number of individual local authorities have decided that rather than produce their own plans, they will produce a strategy for the wider area. There is lots to commend that in principle. However, if that plan is slightly more distant from individual local communities, it is important that there are mechanisms by which people can engage in the process and do not feel that planning is something that is being done to them rather than something in which they have an involvement.

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

I will in a second, because I suspect that my hon. Friend has a very similar issue—potentially —in his area.

I will certainly reflect, in any regulations that we might bring forward, on what the issues might be when there is a wider strategic plan. If Jim McMahon wishes to talk to me informally about some of the things he has experienced, I would be very happy to have that conversation.

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

For once my hon. Friend is wrong, because I do not have a problem with my own devolution settlement. In fact, I am a sinner repenting: I was quite hostile to it, but now I think it is going to work out for my constituents in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

May I take the Minister back to the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Heidi Allen? Will he ensure that any guidance on the neighbourhood planning regime also takes into account strategic housing issues relating to projections of housing need and the strategic housing market assessment to which local authorities have to refer before they put together their own local plan? That is an important document and it needs to be robust.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London) 3:45 pm, 28th March 2017

The Government and the Whips Office in particular always welcome a sinner who repenteth. My hon. Friend makes two very good points. The White Paper proposes moving to a standard methodology for the assessment of need, and we will incentivise all local authorities to use it. None the less, it remains the case that that methodology will provide a number of the total amount of housing need, but local authorities will still need to think about the mix of housing and of tenures relevant to their local community, and the demographic profile of the need for housing in their area. He makes a very important point and we will certainly ensure that the guidance covers those issues.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

If a local authority is making progress with its local development plan but waiting for the Secretary of State’s approval, and if a new city region or combined authority that it joins during that period decides to take a different overall strategic approach to housing, what effect would all that work and decision making have on that scenario? Will that be part of the guidance, to ensure that communities that have been fully consulted and that have made decisions are not sent back to the drawing board, which would delay rather than promote future housing, because of that possible crossover?

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

That is not an easy question to answer in the abstract. Generally speaking—I am not an expert on this; I am sure the hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—in most of the devolution agreements that have set up a requirement to produce a spatial strategy, each of the individual constituent authorities in the combined authority has a veto. That is certainly the case in Greater Manchester, and I believe it is the case everywhere other than in relation to the London plan, the key difference being that that plan cannot allocate specific sites in the same way as the Greater Manchester spatial strategy. In that situation, I believe that the hon. Gentleman’s own local authority would have a veto over any wider strategic plan.

I think that the hon. Gentleman was also driving at the issue of transitional arrangements. In other words, if an authority is nearing completion of its own plan and work is about to get under way on a wider strategic plan, would that authority still be able to complete its work on its own plan? I am happy to reflect on that, but my instinct is that it should be able to do that, because there are clear advantages in getting a plan in place, in terms of protection from speculative development.

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

If I allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene, that will give me more time to think, so I will happily take another intervention.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

The Minister’s instinct is very good, in my judgment. I hope that he will think through, perhaps not at this very moment, a scenario whereby a district council that is on the verge of getting its development plan agreed and endorsed in law is not put in the position of having to use its veto against a wider authority that it has joined, because that veto might undo the work that has already been done. In other words, is there potential for hybrids that allow housing developments to proceed, rather than an absurd structure that, in essence, allows different processes to collide? It strikes me that that may be a possibility somewhat near to my home in future.

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

I will find out from my officials when I leave the Chamber whether my instincts about that were good. I will happily discuss the matter further with the hon. Gentleman, perhaps when I have the opportunity to visit his constituency.

We have been thinking about the question of transition in relation to the new standard methodology, and we will consult on that shortly. I have no doubt that, when it comes into place, a number of authorities at various stages of their plan making will ask whether the Government are suggesting that they should stop and start again using the new methodology, or whether they should complete the plan they have nearly finished and do a fairly quick review. We have given thought to that question. The hon. Gentleman has just asked a related question about the situation in which a strategic plan is in the early stages of preparation and a local plan is nearly complete. I will reflect on that, and perhaps we can have a discussion about it outside the Chamber when I have had a chance to talk to my officials, but I have given him a steer on my instincts.

We have digressed a bit—with your forbearance, Madam Deputy Speaker—but we were discussing Lords amendments 7, 8 and 9, which, as I said, are about giving the Secretary of State the power to produce regulations about the matters that local authorities should cover in their statements of community involvement. Hon. Members will recall that my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell—I do not believe he is in his place today—highlighted this matter on Report. I am pleased that, as I promised, we have been able to table an amendment that reflects the intention behind his amendments.

I turn to Lords amendment 23. The White Paper highlighted the Government’s commitment to legislating to enable the creation of locally accountable new town development corporations. The existing institutions report to the Secretary of State, but there is a strong desire for locally accountable institutions. Lords amendment 23, which was tabled by Lord Taylor of Goss Moor and Lord Best, was entirely consistent with the White Paper and the Bill’s aim of further empowering local areas, and I am pleased that the Government were able to accept it. Several pieces of planning legislation have been introduced in recent years, and the White Paper left open the possibility for further legislation to follow. It is good that, by accepting Lord Taylor’s amendment to the Bill, we have been able to get into statute one of the measures that we set out in the White Paper.

In summary, the amendment would support the creation of locally led garden towns and villages by allowing the responsibility for any development corporation created under the New Towns Act 1981 to be transferred to a local authority or authorities covering all or part of the area designated for the new town. My right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs has tabled amendments on the issue, and I think it might be best if I allow him to speak to his amendments before I tell him how the Government intend to respond to them, to give him the opportunity to persuade me of his case.

I turn to compulsory purchase. In the other place, the Government tabled a number of primarily technical amendments based on further engagement with expert practitioners to ensure that the compulsory purchase provisions will make the process clearer, faster and fairer. Lords amendments 24 to 62, together with amendments 76 and 78, deal with temporary possession to refine the new system so that it will work as intended.

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

I was just looking around to see whether my near neighbour, my hon. Friend Robert Neill, was there, and he is. I will happily give way to him.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee

On behalf of those who have engaged with the Minister on this matter, may I say how much we appreciate his time and courtesy? The expert practitioners in the sector whom he and I have talked to regard the amendments as valuable. They are not necessarily the sexiest amendments we will ever see, but they clarify a number of important pieces of procedure. I hope that, in that spirit, those of us who take an interest in such matters may be able to come back to the Minister in due course with further refinements, which may not require primary legislation. I am grateful to him for the way in which he has approached this aspect of the Bill.

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

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words, and I have tried to approach the entire Bill in the same spirit. It is fair to say that the Housing and Planning Act 2016 had a rather difficult passage through Parliament, and with this Bill we wanted to build the broadest possible coalition behind the changes that the Government are making to try to drive up the amount of housing that we build. It has been pleasing to see, both in the other place and here today, the fairly widespread support for the way in which the Government are trying to take forward this agenda.

I will briefly describe, for those who do not have my hon. Friend’s expertise in such matters, Lords amendments 63 to 68. They deal with the no-scheme principle; that is the key principle that defines the world in which compensation is assessed when compulsory purchase powers are used. The amendments basically refine the provisions so that they will work as intended.

Lords amendments 69 to 73 extend the ability of the Greater London Authority and Transport for London to make a joint compulsory purchase order for a combined housing or regeneration and transport project. I think I am right in saying that both the GLA and TfL have these powers at the moment, but they are not allowed to use them together on a combined project, which is what we are seeking to allow. In particular, Lords amendment 72 would allow TfL to work with a mayoral development corporation as an alternative to the Greater London Authority.

I thank the experts at the Compulsory Purchase Association and Transport for London for their advice, and Members of this House and of the other place for their constructive contributions to the debate on a very technical area of law. As I said on the first group of amendments, when not so many Members were in the House, I thank one of my most distinguished predecessors as Housing Minister, Lord Young of Cookham, who ably steered these provisions through the other place.

Responding to concerns raised in the other place, the Government tabled Lords amendments 74, 75, 77, 79, 80 and 83, which replace the power within the consequential clause of the Bill so that the Secretary of State’s power to make consequential changes—in essence, when something is spotted after the legislation has gone through that has a knock-on effect on other legislation—is limited to part 2, or in other words only to the CPO provisions. We made those changes because of concerns in the other place about the broad scope of the consequential provisions. The possibility of things being spotted really arises in relation only to the CPO provisions, which is why we have limited this power to part 2.

Lords amendment 81 commences the regulation-making power in Lords amendment 4, and Lords amendment 82 commences the regulation-making power in Lords amendment 9. Lords amendment 84 will apply the same changes proposed by Lords amendment 5 to examinations that take place under the new streamlined procedure to modify a neighbourhood plan that is in force, as introduced by clause 3 and schedule 1.

I commend the Lords amendments in this group, and I will come back in later when I have had a chance to listen to the arguments of my right hon. Friend—and my very good friend—the Member for Arundel and South Downs.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

I will comment on three aspects of the amendments in this group and what the Minister has said on them. The first, briefly, is about changes to housing for the elderly. It is question of whether a local community or a local council can actually designate specific pieces of land explicitly for accommodation for the elderly, which would open up the potential for planning gain, particularly on service sites. For example, saying that a specific piece of land within a larger development should be allocated for a few bungalows would precisely address rental need and possibly purchase need.

The other added key value that arises from the Minister’s comments about having an effective approach to accommodation for the elderly is equity release. There would be a boost to the local economy from large numbers of people wanting to downsize—both those who want to purchase smaller accommodation and those who want to move to social renting but are in essence excluded from doing so at the moment—by releasing the modest equity in the house they have spent their lifetime purchasing. They want to do so to be able to live in more comfort and more cheaply, but also to be able to assist their grandchildren to get on to the housing ladder. Spending that equity would be a huge boost to the economy in a community such as mine. Is the possibility of creating zones that could be serviced or, through planning gain, developed, a greater option as a result of the amendments?

Secondly, on neighbourhood planning, the Minister has taken the right approach in listening to considerations. It is worth highlighting that there is often a myth that neighbourhood plans are designed purely in leafy, well-to-do areas, and that they are a way of stopping housing. However, in the authority with the highest proportion of the population who have agreed, or are in the processing of agreeing, neighbourhood plans, the reality is the exact opposite. The first and quickest to do so have been communities in Elkesley and in Harworth and Bircotes, which are both primarily former mining communities. Every single proposal for a neighbourhood plan has been for housing growth, including in communities that had previously objected to proposals for housing growth. In other words, the supremacy of power to the very local level is bringing forward significant amounts of extra housing, not restricting housing. I commend the Minister and hope for guarantees that his direction of travel will not in any way undermine the local democracy that has been crucial in areas such as mine to bringing forward new areas for housing.

Finally, it would useful if the Minister let us know in passing the progress of those requesting Government money to get housing on the move. With the Bill and the Government putting significant amounts of money into housing development, there is a potential win-win for communities if all the ducks are lined up effectively in a row, whereby local people see huge benefits from planning, as opposed to seeing planning as a problem if they ever want to change anything or as an afterthought if they are ever consulted. That is why I think the Minister’s approach is in exactly the right area, but further reassurance would be very welcome.

Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Conservative, Arundel and South Downs 4:00 pm, 28th March 2017

I am grateful to Madam Deputy Speaker and to my hon. Friend the Minister for giving me the opportunity to speak to two amendments that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have tabled: an amendment to Lords amendment 4 on neighbourhood plan notification, and an amendment to Lords amendment 23 in relation to the powers that may be given to local authorities to set up new towns. I have two sets of concerns in relation to those amendments.

First, on neighbourhood plans, may I echo what John Mann just said about the value of neighbourhood plans in often producing more housing than anticipated? That is the case nationally and that was recognised in the Government’s White Paper. In my constituency, neighbourhood plans have, quite often unexpectedly, produced more houses than local villages were required to produce, because the incentives are turned around and people start to ask themselves what they want in their villages rather than what they do not want. The development of neighbourhood plans, giving local communities control over their own area, has been a very important and welcome localist reform introduced under this Government.

However, the last time we debated the Bill, I said, as I have on many previous occasions, that it is important for the neighbourhood planning process not to be undermined by speculative development applications which are then upheld either by the local authority or on appeal by the planning inspector. That has the effect of demoralising those who subscribe to the neighbourhood plan: those who are either in the process of drawing up plans but are at a late stage, or those whose plans have actually been made and are subjected to a referendum. There is then real local anger when it turns out that a neighbourhood plan which they thought would give protection to certain areas of their local community while allowing for housing in others does not give that protection at all when, because there is not a five-year land supply or for some other reasons, the development application is allowed. There is a real danger—I stress this to the Minister—of confidence in neighbourhood planning being undermined if the widespread perception is that the plans are not worth the paper they are written on. I believe that this is an important issue that the Government still need to address.

I recognise the considerable steps forward taken when the Minister agreed in Committee to measures that would give protection to made neighbourhood plans in relation to the five-year land supply issue. I was very grateful, but he will understand that I was utterly dismayed when, last Friday, I received a letter from the planning inspector informing me that a speculative application in the village of Hassocks in my constituency had been upheld against the wishes of the emerging neighbourhood plan. For whatever reason—the Minister might be able to explain why this happened—the welcome measures that he announced when we last debated this issue were of no help in that situation.

The parish council, which has worked very hard on its neighbourhood plan, is now demoralised and is seriously considering whether to bother going ahead with its neighbourhood plan. Why should it bother if this plan can simply be wrecked by developers and, worse, those speculative applications are then actually upheld by the planning inspector who of course sits in the Minister’s shoes? I take at face value and accept the Minister’s assurance that the Government are serious about protecting neighbourhood plans, but I tell him that the measures that he has announced so far do not go far enough to achieve that. Villages all over my constituency are now saying that they wonder whether the neighbourhood planning process is one they wish to continue with. We must stop that message getting abroad.

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

I praise the right hon. Gentleman for the work and leadership he has provided to many right hon. and hon. Members who have had exactly the same experience as in Aireborough, for example, on this issue. We hear this nonsense that we are not even allowed to go through the neighbourhood planning process unless we entirely agree with the decisions that we have campaigned on and objected to for many years. Does he agree that, working with organisations such as Community Voice on Planning and others, the Minister and his officials now need to sit down and do this properly so that we get the kind of localism that we all thought we were voting for and that he and I supported in 2011?

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

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I know that the Government have to square the circle in that they want to see a considerable increase in housing, which is the right ambition so that we can spread opportunity in a country in which house prices are out of the reach of so many young people now and rents are correspondingly high. As I say, the Government are right to seek to address that, but the whole point about neighbourhood planning is that it delivers more houses than was expected. This is not a measure to stop house building; it is a way to ensure that we have a system that is planning-led and not developer-led, so that we do not have a return to the unwelcome days of planning by appeal.

I tabled my amendment with the support of many right hon. and hon. Friends who are equally concerned about this issue, as the Minister will know. It states not just that the neighbourhood forum is entitled to give its views to the planning authority about a planning permission that will have an impact on its emerging or actual neighbourhood plan, but—this is the crucial wording—that the authority must “take into account” the views of the neighbourhood forum. It is very important that that happens.

Frankly, I would personally rather go much further. It is not within the scope of the amendment or the Bill to do so at this point, but I would give much more weight to emerging neighbourhood plans and I would make it very hard for neighbourhood plans to be overturned. The Minister will find that unless that happens in the future, the neighbourhood planning policy will start to be eroded. I hope that the Minister will nevertheless go as far as he can at this point to give the required reassurance to local communities that it is worth pursuing a neighbourhood planning process, that neighbourhood plans will be respected and that speculative developments will not normally be allowed. I would like to understand what I should say to the people of Hassocks about the decision that the Minister made, which has so dismayed them.

Let me deal secondly with the proposed delegation of powers to local authorities to create new towns. I have no objection in principle, speaking as someone who has always advocated localism, to the delegation of these powers, but I want to talk about one possible practical effect that this House should consider when it comes to the making of the future regulations that would allow this to happen.

At the moment, the powers of compulsory purchase that are needed for the creation of new towns under the New Towns Act 1981 rest with the Minister, which I think is right because the compulsory purchase of land is a serious step. Essentially, the state is confiscating land from private ownership, and I think that that should be authorised by Ministers, after very careful consideration. If the power is handed to local authorities, we will risk the creation of serious blight all over the country when authorities, working with developers, consider that they may have designs on land that was previously not available for development or where developers have no options.

In my constituency, a proposal for a new town has been strongly rejected by the two district councils concerned, Horsham and Mid Sussex. Both councils are planning for the right number of houses to be built elsewhere in their districts, but this is an inappropriate location for a new town. The developer, Mayfield, owns very little of the land concerned, and has options on very little of it. A huge number of landowners, responsible for some 4,000 acres of the area, are saying that they do not want their land to be developed. The new town, therefore, could only be built in future in the event of compulsory purchase of the land.

The developer has sought to disrupt the planning process at every stage, arguing against the plans of Horsham and Mid Sussex district councils in an attempt to get its own way. I should point out that an adviser—a paid adviser—to this new town promoter is Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, who was the promoter of the amendment. He declared his interest properly, but it is nevertheless important for us to understand that. Lord Taylor gave the game away when he moved his amendment. He said that what he wanted was a device whereby it would be possible

“to capture the value of land in order to create supplements.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 15 March 2017;
Vol. 779, c. 1894.]

I want the House to understand what Lord Taylor meant. He meant that he wanted to give powers of compulsory purchase to local authorities so that local authorities could purchase land at below the market rate.

Huge blight has already been created in that part of my constituency because of the predatory activities of a developer that does not have sufficient options on the land for a new town in an area where it will never be built. Can the House imagine what would happen were we to give these powers to local authorities which, all over the country, could start to consider where, using powers of compulsory purchase, they might acquire at below the market rate land on which they simply had designs to build?

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

Under the code of conduct on standards in public life, someone who has declared an interest—certainly in this House—is prohibited from moving an amendment in which that person has a pecuniary interest in relation to any organisation, as has been the case ever since the Nolan Committee reported in 1996. Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that the House should reflect on that?

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

I should emphasise that Lord Taylor made his interest clear when he moved the amendment. As for the rules in the other place, I am not aware of them, but it is the case that Lord Taylor has had in the past, if not currently, a commercial interest with one of the developers that would stand to gain from the transfer of powers that may be effected by the permissive legislation that the Government wish the House to accept.

I believe that this raises a question of principle, namely whether the powers of, specifically, compulsory purchase should ever be delegated to local authorities. I suggest to Members on both sides of the House that we should not allow that. While it might be appropriate to delegate other powers to make it easier for new towns to be established by local consent, I think it would be a grave mistake to delegate powers of compulsory purchase in a way that would cause Ministers to lose control altogether of the process whereby land may be compulsorily purchased. It would have the effects I have described in this area all across the country. The amendment would forbid such a transfer of power in this specific instance in relation to powers of compulsory purchase, and I seek reassurance from my hon. Friend the Minister that the Government have no intention of allowing such a transfer of powers of compulsory purchase. He will know that this is also of huge concern to my right hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Soames, who is unable to be here today but shares my concern about the impact of the Mayfields new town, which crosses both our constituencies.

My hon. Friend is an excellent, conscientious and assiduous Minister, who is always willing to listen to concerns of hon. Members on both sides of the House; I know that from personal experience and the way he has responded to me before. Nevertheless, I am concerned about the decision he took on Friday and about this proposed transfer of powers, and would be very grateful if he would reassure me on both counts.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London) 4:15 pm, 28th March 2017

Let me briefly respond to the points made by John Mann and my right hon. Friend Nick Herbert.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether a council can designate particular sites for housing for the elderly, and the simple answer is yes, it can. They have powers to do that already, and in the guidance we issue we might want to look at the extent to which we allow that to be a matter for local decision making, or whether it is something we wish to promote.

The hon. Gentleman made two vital points in relation to neighbourhood planning. First, neighbourhood planning is not just for affluent rural communities. This is an opportunity for communities right across the country to have more of a say about how they develop in the future and how we make the tough and difficult choices that must be made in order to provide the housing we so desperately need and the land for employment and other community uses. The Government are very much committed to ensuring that neighbourhood planning is not just for affluent communities and that we see it adopted right across the country. I have said before that I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the role he personally has played as an advocate of this policy. He will know that we make additional financial support available to groups in deprived areas, recognising that they need capacity support to produce the plans, and we recently confirmed that that support will be going forward over the next few years. He made a crucial point, however.

The hon. Gentleman’s second point was picked up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs, but it is worth reiterating from the Dispatch Box. Although at the moment the sample size is relatively small, there is clear evidence that neighbourhood plans that allocate sites for housing have actually provided for more housing than their relevant local authority was going to propose. I do not wish to make a party political point, because I am trying to encourage consensus, but I believe in passing power down to people, and it is a very powerful argument for doing so when we trust people to make decisions about their area and they respond in exactly the way we would want.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

That is a good socialist principle.

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

Both sides of the House can lay claim to that good localist principle. The evidence is clear, and that is why the Government are keen to see neighbourhood planning turbocharged around the country. I will say a little more about that shortly, but first I want to respond to the points my right hon. Friend made, because the overall argument is relevant to both aspects.

I will deal with my right hon. Friend’s two amendments first, and then come on to the particular planning application he refers to. On amendment (a) to Lords amendment 4, the Government absolutely agree with him about the importance of neighbourhood forums and parish councils having sufficient time to consider planning applications when notified by local planning authorities, and, crucially, about the importance of their views being taken into account when local planning authorities make decisions. I can assure him and the House as a whole that we intend to update the secondary legislation to provide requirements for where forums and parish councils are automatically notified of planning applications under the new provisions.

The provisions will be consistent with the existing provisions in the development management procedure order relating to consultation on planning applications. They will include providing that a local planning authority must not determine any planning application where a parish council or designated neighbourhood forum has been notified and wishes to make representations before a minimum of 21 days has elapsed. It is already the case that a local planning authority must consider the representations received and whether considerations are raised that may be material to the application, but detailed requirements relating to the operation of the planning application process best sit in secondary rather than primary legislation, to ensure that we have the flexibility to keep procedures up to date. It would not surprise me if my right hon. Friend wanted to come back with further suggestions, and it is much easier to make suggestions if the matters are in secondary legislation. Having provided him with all the reassurances he wanted, I respectfully request that he does not press his amendment.

It is not necessarily for me to defend amendment (a) to Lords amendment 23, but let me say what I think Lord Taylor was driving at and then reassure my right hon. Friend on his particular points. At the moment, when somebody owns a piece of land that is not designated as suitable for housing or any other use and then, through a local plan process, the council changes that designation, the landowner sees a significant uplift in value. If a company or individual then acquires rights over that land and secures planning permission, there is a further uplift, and that planning permission may be traded several times. At the end of the process, several organisations or individuals have made a great deal of money and there is not a great deal of value in the land for providing the infrastructure that all our constituents tell us is vital to go along with housing. I think Lord Taylor is considering the extent to which, when changing the designation of land, the public sector can try to secure that land early in the process, avoiding the long chain I described and ensuring that more value is available to provide the required infrastructure.

Having said that, it is important that I provide my right hon. Friend with clarification about the regulations that will be made. I reassure him that the functions that could be transferred would not include functions that are the prerogative of the Secretary of State. Under the New Towns Act 1981, any compulsory purchase order sought by a new town development corporation must be submitted to and confirmed by the Secretary of State. That is the case for compulsory purchase orders sought by all bodies, and there will be no change to that position. That will be clear from the regulations, which will, subject to the enactment of this Bill, come to this House for approval. On that basis, I hope that my right hon. Friend will withdraw amendment (a) to Lords amendment 23.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Devolution)

An important point that needs addressing relates to the conflict of interest of the Member in the other place. It is perhaps not something for now if the Minister does not have the information, but we need a commitment that it will be looked into seriously.

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

It is not an easy question for me to answer, because I am not aware of the nature of Lord Taylor’s interest in this matter, so I cannot really respond to it at the Dispatch Box. However, I am sure that his attention will be drawn to the concerns raised on the Floor of the House and that he will make the record clear.

I want to say a few words about neighbourhood planning in general and address the specific point about the application mentioned by my right hon. Friend. He will understand that I must be careful about not saying too much about particular applications, even after a decision has been made, because the decision letter is the record of the decision, but the key point to draw the House’s attention to was that a relevant neighbourhood plan was not in place. Work was under way to prepare one, but that work was at a sufficiently early place to mean that I was unable to give the plan a great deal of weight in making my decision.

A clear lesson for when such decisions have to be made—if it is possible to spread this out to the generality—is the importance of two things. First is that the relevant local council above has a five-year land supply in place so that the presumption does not apply. Second is ensuring that the processes for producing neighbourhood plans are as streamlined as possible from the point at which people start work on them to when they receive examination. It is worth putting on the record that the Bill will give plans weight at an earlier stage in the process—as soon as they have gone through examination. We want to make that process as quick as possible, so that planning decisions that undermine what a community is trying to achieve are not being made during the preparation of plans.

I have a couple of general observations that will allow me to give my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs the clear assurance he wants. I am a real advocate of neighbourhood planning, in which I strongly believe. There are tensions in public policy, and it is important that Ministers are honest about that. If the Government were to give complete protection to all neighbourhood plans in all circumstances, there would be a danger that in areas with a large level of neighbourhood plan coverage but where a local authority does not have an adequate five-year land supply in place and is not delivering homes, we would have no mechanism for getting homes delivered. There has to be a balance, and I tried to strike the right balance in the written ministerial statement we published before Christmas, but the Bill will bring plans into force quicker, will make it easier to simplify plans and to change the areas covered by plans, and will put more pressure on councils to engage with neighbourhoods that want to produce a plan. We are taking a significant step forward from the written ministerial statement.

More widely, my main reflection having been in the job for eight or nine months is that it is a great privilege to serve in this position, but the thing I like least about my job is having to take decisions on planning applications for places I do not know. One of my main objectives is therefore to ensure that, across the country, we get local plans in place that are up to date, that have a five-year land supply and that are delivered by local authorities. I say clearly and categorically to my right hon. Friend from the Dispatch Box that if a council has an up-to-date plan, has a five-year land supply and is delivering the required number of homes each year, I do not expect my inspectors to be overturning the planning decisions of local communities in anything other than the most exceptional circumstances—I have to add that last caveat because all Members will know that sometimes councils take decisions on individual applications that are contrary to their plan because in a particular case there are pressing reasons for it being the right thing to do. If councils are doing the right things, the Government should generally leave the decisions to local authorities. That is where I am trying to get housing and planning policy to, and I know the Secretary of State shares that view.

Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Labour, Hyndburn

I share the Minister’s view that decisions should be taken locally. It is costing Lancashire constabulary an absolute fortune to police the fracking protests in Lancashire. Can he explain why that decision was taken by Lancashire County Council and then overturned by the Secretary of State, who approved the planning application, which is now costing £14,000 a day to police? If local people know best, why was it not the case then?

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

There are exceptions to every rule. Although I cannot get drawn into discussing that case, perhaps I can give some hypothetical examples. Certain types of application raise issues of key pieces of national infrastructure that have relevance beyond an individual local community. I invite hon. Members to imagine that a neighbouring local authority to their own were considering an application for a large out-of-town retail centre, which would clearly have implications for local high streets not just in that authority’s area but in neighbouring areas, too. There might therefore be an interest in ensuring that all those wider communities have a say, rather than in the decision being taken by a specific local authority.

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

I will happily talk to the hon. Gentleman outside the Chamber, but there is a difficulty. I cannot discuss individual applications, so I will not take a further intervention. I am happy to have a separate discussion.

There have been no votes on the two areas on which the Government disagree with the Lords amendments, which I hope sends a clear message to the other place about the unanimity in this House on pubs and planning conditions. I hope this will be the last time I speak on this Bill.

I shall end my contribution by saying that the Bill, on its own, is not the answer to the housing problems we face in this country, but it makes an important contribution: by supporting neighbourhood planning, which is delivering more housing in those communities that adopt it; by speeding up our system, through the reform of planning conditions and compulsory purchase; and, vitally, by ensuring that we do a better job of getting up-to-date planning policies in place right across this country.

Finally, on my behalf and that of the Secretary of State, I wish to thank the outstanding officials in our Department for their work on this legislation. I also thank my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price, one of the stars of the Government Whips Office—given my background, that is a very high compliment —and my hon. Friend Rebecca Pow for their support during these proceedings.

Lords amendment 1 agreed to.

Lords amendments 2 to 9, and 23 to 84 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 4, 5, 23,40, 44, 48 to 50 and 84.

Ordered, That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendment 22 and 12.

That Gavin Barwell, Jackie Doyle-Price, Vicky Foxcroft, Chris Green, Jim McMahon and Rebecca Pow be members of the Committee;

That Gavin Barwell be the Chair of the Committee;

That three be the quorum of the Committee.

That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Steve Brine.)

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