After Clause 70 - Local authorities: hybrid meetings

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:20 pm on 24 October 2023.

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Votes in this debate

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

With this it will be convenient to consider the Government motion to insist on disagreement to Lords amendment 45, and Government amendment (a) in lieu.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

As we know from proceedings on this Bill in this place, the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill is important to this country’s future. It will ensure that this Government and future Governments set clear, long-term objectives for addressing entrenched geographical disparities. It will devolve powers to all areas in England where there is demand for that, allowing local leaders to regenerate their towns and cities and restore pride in places. It further strengthens protections for the environment, so that better outcomes are at the heart of planning decisions.

In the course of the many debates on local authority remote meetings during this Bill’s passage, the Government have consistently expressed our strong view that councillors should be physically present to cast their votes and interact in person with citizens. Our position on this matter has not changed. Therefore, the Government cannot support Lords amendment 22B, which would enable any Government in future to go as far as allowing all local authorities to meet virtually at any and every opportunity.

Turning to climate change, I reiterate that the Government agree that the planning system must support our efforts in meeting our legal net-zero commitments by 2050 and tackling the risks of climate change. However, we have heard the strength of feeling in both Houses about making sure that national planning policy supports our efforts in tackling the risks of climate change. Therefore, the Government have now gone a step further in tabling an amendment that will require the drafting of policies that are to be designated as national development management policies to

“have regard to the need to mitigate, and adapt to, climate change”,

taking into account the range of climate scenarios and risk relevant to the policies being developed.

I will conclude my brief remarks by again expressing gratitude to my colleagues here and in the other place for their continued and dedicated engagement with this complicated and complex Bill during its parliamentary passage. I am sure that hon. and right hon. Members will agree that the Government have shown that we have listened carefully to the views of Members from all parts of the House as we seek to improve this nationally important piece of legislation.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

I supported the two amendments that the other place has returned to us in their previous guise last week, when I urged the Government to accept them. It is welcome that we have the opportunity to consider these two important issues again.

With regard to the holding of virtual meetings by councils, I prefer the original Lords amendment 22, which provided local authorities with the local discretion to pursue a common-sense and pragmatic approach on the form and conduct of their meetings. That said, the amendment in lieu tabled by my right hon. and noble Friend, Baroness McIntosh, is pragmatic, conciliatory and takes into account the Government’s concerns about council meetings being held solely online. I urge the Government to consider it in the spirit in which it has been put forward.

I also re-emphasise other considerations that were raised in last week’s debate. Set in the overall context of a Bill that gives local communities and local councils greater discretion and greater autonomy and looks to devolve powers away from Whitehall, it is perverse that the Government are dictating to local authorities how they conduct themselves. There is, as we heard last week, 90% to 95% support from local councils, clerks and their representative bodies for this provision. They understand best the challenges that they face, and they are responsible people who will use wisely any discretion with which they are provided. The provision will strengthen local democracy and will make it easier for such groups as the disabled, parents with young children, carers and those in full-time employment to participate in decision making in their own local communities. For those local authorities that cover large geographical areas, such as Suffolk County Council and the Broads Authority, it is sensible to hold some meetings virtually, rather than insisting that councillors—some of whom are elderly—travel long distances, often in inclement weather, such as we had last week.

When we debated this issue last Tuesday, there was widespread disquiet on the Government Benches about the straitjacket approach that the Government are pursuing. I would be grateful if in her summing up my hon. Friend could outline the strategy that the Government will be putting in place to address those concerns, if they reject the sensible and conciliatory amendment 22B.

In the wake of Storm Babet, the Lords have asked us to look again at amendment 45. The weekend’s events highlighted the need for climate change mitigation to be fully and deeply embedded in local and national planning policy. Although the Government are proposing again to reject the amendment, they have proposed their own alternative, which is to be welcomed. It is necessary to consider, first, whether that will help deliver a more consistent alignment of planning policy and development management with the existing framework for tackling climate change and, secondly, whether it will provide the certainty, consistency and clarity required to deliver the enormous amount of private sector funding required to achieve our net-zero obligations.

I would be grateful if my hon. Friend answered the following questions in her summing up. Will the Government’s amendment bridge the gap in planning policy due to the delay in the review of the national planning policy framework? Will she give an assurance that the review will start as soon as possible, and ideally provide a timescale?

Secondly, there is presently an inconsistency in that a local planning authority’s well thought-through and bespoke climate change mitigation policies can be overturned by either the Secretary of State or the Planning Inspectorate. In that context, will my hon. Friend advise whether the Government’s amendment in lieu removes that contradiction, which undermines proactive and bespoke local planning?

I am grateful to you for your time, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is welcome that the Lords have provided us with a further opportunity to improve the Bill. While the two amendments are in many respects very different, they both give local communities a full opportunity to shape the future of the places where they live and work and, in doing so, achieve meaningful regeneration and levelling up.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:30, 24 October 2023

It is a pleasure to follow that characteristically sensible speech from Peter Aldous. I put on record our thanks for their lordships’ continued engagement on the Bill and all the work they have done on it over many months. After considering an extensive number of Lords amendments to the Bill last week, just two issues remain for us to debate again. The first is remote local government meetings.

Labour remains firmly of the view that while in-person council meetings should continue to predominate, there are circumstances in which virtual or hybrid local government meetings might be either useful or necessary. We also maintain that permitting their use in certain instances would have a number of additional benefits, not least in helping to reduce barriers to public engagement in the planning process, which is a goal shared across the House. As has been previously noted, an extremely broad range of organisations support change in this area, including the Local Government Association, Lawyers in Local Government, the Association of Democratic Services Officers, the Society of Local Council Clerks and the National Association of Local Councils. Indeed, as Greg Smith pointed out during last week’s debate, evidence from NALC suggests that support for it among local councils is overwhelming, with 90% of town and parish councils wanting the ability to hold virtual meetings in some form to widen participation.

As we just heard, it is not just those organisations and authorities and those on the Labour Benches who support greater local discretion in this area. In last weeks’ debate, the right hon. Members for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) and for North Somerset (Dr Fox) and the hon. Members for Buckingham, for Waveney and for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) all expressed support for a degree of flexibility so that councils could enable remote participation in meetings in certain circumstances. No one is arguing that we should require every local government meeting to be virtual or hybrid. Doing so would clearly undermine the principle that members of the public should have suitable opportunities to interact in-person with their local representatives. Instead, the case is being made for a degree of local discretion so that such meetings would be permitted in certain circumstances.

Lords amendment 22B addresses the Government’s understandable concern that permitting councils to hold wholly virtual meetings might have unintended and adverse consequences for local democracy. The amendment would allow Ministers to determine by regulations the range of circumstances in which hybrid meetings could take place. For example, they might choose to enable parish councillors in more remote parts of a given authority area to attend meetings virtually while ensuring that most are still required to be present in person. To take another example, they might choose to allow members of the public—say, people with mobility issues or those with children—to participate actively in planning committees, while councillors would still be required to attend in person. We believe that this is a reasonable and proportionate amendment, and we will support it.

The second issue concerns the planning system’s role in mitigating and adapting to global heating. The Government’s amendment in lieu is noticeably weaker than Lords amendment 45 as it applies only to national development management policies rather than all national policy, planning policy or advice relating to the development or use of land. It also excludes precise statutory definitions of what constitutes mitigation and adaptation. Nevertheless, we welcome that the Government have made a concession on this issue by tabling their amendment.

However, while we welcome the fact that the Government’s amendment in lieu would ensure consideration of climate mitigation and adaptation in the preparation or modification of NDMPs, it would not achieve what Lords amendment 45 would: namely, to establish genuine coherence between the planning system and our country’s climate commitments, not least by requiring local planning authorities to have regard to climate when making decisions on individual planning applications. The planning system in its current form is manifestly failing to play its full part in addressing the climate emergency. Indeed, one might go so far as to argue that it is actively hindering our ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change in myriad different ways.

The Bill is a missed opportunity to fully align the planning system with our climate mitigation and adaptation goals and ensure that new development produces resilient and climate-proofed places. The provisions in the Bill that require local plans to be designed in such a way as to contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change are welcome, but they are transposed from existing legislation introduced 15 years ago, and, alone, they are not sufficient. The promised related update to the national planning policy framework to ensure that it contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation as fully as possible is vital, but it will not take place until well after the Bill has received Royal Assent if it materialises at all during what remains of this Parliament.

As we have argued consistently throughout the passage of the Bill, there is a pressing need for clear and unambiguous national policy guidance on climate change, a purposeful statutory framework to align every aspect of the planning system with net zero, and an overarching duty on the Secretary of State, local planning authorities and those involved in neighbourhood plan making to achieve climate change mitigation and adaptation when preparing plans and policies or exercising their planning decision-making functions.

The Climate Change Committee recommended in its 2022 progress report that

“Net zero and climate resilience should be embedded within the planning reforms” contained in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

As things stand, they have not been. In this week—of all weeks—when we have seen once again the impact on communities across the country of the more frequent extreme weather events that climate change is driving, we should look to improve how the planning system responds to the climate emergency. The Government amendment in lieu is welcome, but it does not go far enough. For that reason, we will support Lords amendment 45.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

I would like to start by thanking the Minister for her involvement in the very long saga that is the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which, finally may be drawing to a close. It is good to see the areas of difference between the two Houses reduced.

I appreciate that Lords amendment 22 on councils meeting virtually is a significant issue, as it could set a precedent for other parts of the public sector. I understand the Government’s concerns and why they have resisted it up to now, but I hope there is room for further compromise and at least some flexibility to allow councils to deploy hybrid meetings. If the amendment still goes too far, I hope that Ministers can come up with something, perhaps specifically in the planning context or in at least some circumstances, to make the life of our local councillors a little easier. We must remember that they do a difficult job; they work hard and many are trying to hold down day jobs at the same time. A bit more flexibility for virtual meetings could help to enhance democratic participation.

An amendment that we did not get back from their lordships was on NDMPs. I have a certain amount of regret about that, because I continue to believe that the replacement of local development management policies with a single centralised diktat is the wrong approach. However, I welcome the fact that, thanks to the Government’s amendments in lieu, we now see in the Bill a commitment to consult on NDMPs. That was an important part of the compromise announced last December by the Secretary of State to tackle problems outlined in the amendments package headed by new clause 21, which I tabled. It resulted from concerns felt by many on the Government Benches about problems leading to massive pressure for blocks of flats in the suburbs and housing estates on greenfield and agricultural land in rural areas. Now, we need to see the remainder of that package delivered by the national planning policy framework. Once again, I encourage and urge Ministers to get that published.

We also need to see the new set of planning policy guidance—another document that will be crucial to ensuring that the reforms promised in the planning system deliver real change. Concern remains among Back Benchers about the rush for volume of units at all costs. We all accept the need for new homes and want more homes built, but they need to be the right homes in the right places. I know that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, strongly agree with that.

With that in mind, I can understand the rationale of Lords amendment 45 on climate change mitigation and adaptation. We need to do more to ensure that the developments that come forward for approval are consistent with our net zero goals. I am not necessarily saying that Lords amendment 45 is the right vehicle to deliver that, but if we are to make that huge transition to carbon neutrality, construction and development has an enormous part to play, and significant change needs to be delivered. I hope that the Government will make every effort to ensure that the new NPPF reflects our climate goals, in terms of both mitigation and adaptation.

In particular, as we have heard many times during the debate on the Bill, we must take care in relation to areas prone to flooding since, even if we deliver net zero on time, the climate has already changed to make such episodes more serious and more frequent. I would like to take this opportunity to put on record my great sympathy to anyone who has been affected by the floods of recent days. I hope they are back in their homes soon. I truly understand what a miserable experience it is to be subjected to these climatic episodes.

Returning lastly and briefly to the December compromise announced on Report by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my right hon. Friend Michael Gove, I reiterate what I have said a number of times in this House: we need the compromise to be implemented. The issues raised in new clause 21 on excessive targets have not gone away. Back-Bench concern has not gone away. We are all determined to defend our constituencies from overdevelopment. We believe it is vital to shift the focus of home building to big urban city sites like Old Oak Common, Beckton and central Manchester. The Docklands 2.0 approach outlined by the Secretary of State in his July speech and in his long-term plan for housing reflects our climate commitments by situating people close to jobs, services and public transport systems. It helps to take the pressure off suburban and rural areas, protecting green spaces and the green belt, and supports our ambitions for nature recovery. So, please, let us make sure that that change really happens.

Photo of Anum Qaisar Anum Qaisar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Levelling Up)

I would like to begin by expressing my disappointment, but not necessarily my surprise, at the unelected other place’s refusal to push for amendments that would protect devolution. Given how unclear, unfocused and unfit for purpose the Bill is, I had hoped the other place would advocate for some revisions to mitigate its impact. I will keep my remarks relatively short. Both amendments do not necessarily relate to Scotland and, unlike the actions of the Conservative Government which would imply otherwise, it is important that we respect the devolution settlement.

Lords amendment 22B sought to allow local councils in England to conduct procedures in a hybrid environment. Throughout the covid emergency, we saw how critical those procedures were in raising participation and in opening meetings to different demographics in society. We saw that virtual meetings can work well in response to challenging circumstances. Actually, we saw that over the last week. The storms that Scotland experienced— England also experienced them—provided a perfect use case for hybrid meetings. It is unlikely that a physical meeting could have taken place in those storm conditions. Hybrid meetings also allow people from different demo-graphics, who historically have been disengaged due to the challenges of getting to and from physical meetings, to participate. If Lords amendment 22B is accepted, it will mean that groups such as lone parents and those with caring responsibilities can engage. I am also concerned that the resistance to hybrid meetings stems from a larger culture war narrative being propagated by out of touch Tories who want to remain in the 1800s. We have seen those culture wars being fought in this very Chamber. It is a disgrace and a disrespect to democracy that my hon. Friend Amy Callaghan, if we all remember, was unable to participate remotely in this Chamber after she had a brain haemorrhage. In February 2022, she attended Parliament physically against her doctors’ orders to raise the plight of her constituents, and she continues to attend today. While that is an incredible depiction of her service to her constituents, it is shameful that when solutions such as hybrid meetings exist, we slam the door in their face.

Since the pandemic, Scotland has continued to allow local councils the autonomy to hold hybrid proceedings. It is particularly beneficial for local authorities that cover large geographic areas, allowing those who live far away from council headquarters to access democracy if they so wish. Such measures only increase participation in local democracy. I think we can all agree that that is essential to a healthy democracy.

Lords Amendment 45 relates to climate change duties on planning authorities. Again, the amendment does not cover Scotland. However, with the storm and the harsh weather conditions over the last week, and the likelihood of such once in a generation weather events seeming to happen on such a regular basis, it is imperative that we take the necessary action to tackle climate change.

In this place, we might not necessarily feel the impact of the legislation we pass straightway. As Members, we have a duty towards future generations. Now, I am only 31, so I count myself in one of those future generations. I am not sure that some of my more experienced colleagues can say the same.

One of my favourite quotations is an old Greek proverb which has not been attributed to anyone in particular: “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit.” When I think of that quotation, I often think of climate change provisions. The reality is that the planet is on fire, and we are simply not doing enough to help our future generations. We need to pass legislation whose benefits we may not see, but the generations to come will. I appreciate that the Government still recognise the need to tackle climate change with their amendment in lieu, but the measures that it outlines are simply not strong enough. It is important for us not to get into the way of thinking that these are binary choices: it is perfectly possible to construct while maintaining our moral duty to tackle the climate crisis.

The SNP will not be voting on these amendments, but we do hope that our neighbours in England are able to participate in a hybrid system, and engage in local democracy and have the ability to take the climate emergency seriously.

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West 3:45, 24 October 2023

I do not propose to detain the House for long, but I want to refer specifically to Lords amendment 22B. Part of me wants to be sympathetic towards it, especially after the measured speech by my hon. Friend Peter Aldous. However, I have a concern about the understanding on which it is predicated, namely, that councils do their job properly. Unfortunately I have experience of Soviet Sandwell Council, which does not do its job properly.

I remember the pandemic, and I remember the lack of accountability that we saw when virtual meetings cut out halfway through and the public were seemingly unable to access meetings at which key decisions were being made. It therefore frightens me that we might consider potentially giving a local authority—I am sorry to say this—as corrupt as Sandwell Council any possibility of hiding itself behind virtual meetings. The fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had to intervene on this local authority some 12 months ago because of the utter failure in its governance processes is one reason why I hesitate to support the Bill.

I recognise that local authorities broadly can and do get this right, but where it goes horribly wrong, we have seen it and we have lived it, and it terrifies me. Even today, when we are back in physical meetings, let me give Members an example of what might transpire if the amendment were passed. If a monitoring officer fails to advise that a council is in breach of section 31 of the Local Government Act 2003, that effectively allows councillors to vote on a pecuniary matter in which they have an interest, which, as Members will know, is against the law. I believe that this local authority would use the provisions in the amendment to hide itself and mask itself, and to allow even more of the inept and, in fact, borderline corrupt behaviour that we have seen. Unfortunately, officers at a high level—I do not mean all officers, but certainly the officers in the local authority with whom I have dealt—seem quite happy to be complicit in some of that behaviour at times. That is why it would terrify me to allow this amendment to be passed.

The core of the amendment, however, involves accessibility. Matthew Pennycook touched on that, and I agree with him: I think we need to get better at accessibility, and to consider broader ways of doing that. Although the amendment may not be passed, I think it has drawn out something that we have to do. Whatever the colour of our Government, we need to get more people into council meetings to talk about their experiences. However, I am terrified by what this amendment would do to my constituents. Effectively, it would allow the authority to mask itself even more.

I have come to one conclusion on this. I think there is a way in which the amendment might work. Sandwell Council is, ultimately, an embarrassment for the Black Country and a stain on local government in the west midlands, and we are undergoing a review of local government in the west midlands at the moment. The only conclusion I can draw is that it is now time to abolish Sandwell Council, and subsume the towns that make it up into other parts. I am thinking particularly of my communities in Tipton and Wednesbury. They need their identity back, but, more important, they need that accountability. It is time for Sandwell to go, because it has been an embarrassment for the last 50 years. It is time to put it in the bin.

I support some of the underlying aims of the Lords amendments, which I think we must take forward. I think we can all agree on that, across the House. However, owing to the experiences I have had for the last four years as a Member of Parliament, this particular mechanism concerns me a great deal, and I can only support it if there is some sort of guarantee that Sandwell Council will be put in the bin.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

I call the Liberal Democrat spokesperson.

Photo of Helen Morgan Helen Morgan Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Levelling up, Housing and Communities), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Local Government)

I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I am going to make some brief comments because I spoke in the debate last week. I reiterate the concerns about this legislation, which has been poorly drafted. Lords amendment 22B would allow councillors to attend meetings virtually or hybrid-style meetings. The amendment is a good opportunity to increase participation in local politics and I think that we should be encouraging it.

For many councillors, the reality of fulfilling their role means working around another full-time job, working late into the evening as well as at weekends, or balancing their parenting commitments, so councillors’ time is under great pressure. Most councillors are in their post purely because of their commitment to their local community, and we should be helping them out by allowing the occasional virtual attendance at a meeting if that reduces the time burden on them. I have heard the argument that our constituents rightly expect us to attend Parliament in person and that elected members of the local council should therefore be expected to do the same, but that argument misses the incredibly important point that, for most people, being a councillor is not a full-time salaried job. To expect them to sacrifice yet more of their time to travel to meetings to offer contributions that could otherwise be made online is simply unfair.

Travel brings me to a particularly pertinent point at the moment. In my constituency and other rural parts of Britain, it is not uncommon for council meetings to be held many miles away from the ward or division that a councillor represents or from where they live. In some cases, that will mean travelling 20 to 50 miles one way to attend a council meeting. Clearly this is a problem in poor weather, as we only have to look at the damage and chaos of the last week to see. It also means that councillors usually have to have their own car, not least because an evening meeting will be held when most bus services have stopped running for the day. That means that people are being excluded from becoming involved in local democracy simply because they do not have access to a car. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill was supposed to put greater devolution at its heart and encourage more people into the democratic process. If we really want to engage people in politics and widen representation and access, we should be making it easier for people to represent their communities, not more difficult.

I move briefly on to Lords amendment 45. It is the Liberal Democrats’ view that the original amendment is superior to the Government’s amendment in lieu. It would place duties on the Secretary of State to mitigate and adapt planning policy to reflect climate change. Planning is an integral part of achieving net zero, and as such it is only right that it puts climate considerations at its heart. At the moment, net zero goals are inconsistently applied to planning applications. Local development plans consider climate complications, whereas individual planning applications do not and, without the Government’s amendment in lieu, national development management policies—NDMPs—will not either.

The Lords amendment would extend environmental duties to all aspects of the planning system with a sharpened focus, ensuring that new plans would contribute to specific climate and nature targets. A dual approach is particularly important because climate and ecological decline are closely intertwined, and unfortunately both are accelerating. I do not think that this amendment should be controversial. It is publicly backed by environment businesses, local government and environmental NGOs. The time has run out for looking at climate change simply as an add-on or an afterthought, and given the Government’s recent back-pedalling on their net zero commitments, this should be an easy opportunity to put climate change at the core of the planning process.

Without these Lords amendments, the Bill will miss two key opportunities to encourage local democratic participation and consider climate complications to planning applications. Both these factors are surely at the core of what levelling up should be about.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions to the debate today and for their contributions throughout the passage of this important Bill. I will address briefly the points made by Members. First, let me turn to the comments made by my hon. Friend Peter Aldous. He has spoken with his customary good sense and practical bent, as have others, including Helen Morgan, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, and Ms Qaisar, who speaks for the Scottish National party, about the real problems faced by people who wish to take part in local democracy without being excluded because of where they live, because they do not have a car or because of other barriers. This is important, and the whole House recognises those barriers and supports that admirable objective. We need our politics to be as inclusive as possible.

However, I have also heard loud and clear the comments of my hon. Friend Shaun Bailey, who alerted us to the problems that could exist if we were to accept Lords amendment 22B. It is right that we consider all the possible consequences, and it is the Government’s view that the amendment goes too far and is too expansive. It would allow any future Government to allow any local authority to meet virtually at every opportunity, which is not something the Government can accept. It is a long-standing principle that local democracy should take place face to face.

I agree with some of the shadow Minister’s comments, and we are looking very carefully at how we encourage more engagement from the community, particularly on planning applications. We can do a lot of that through technology and wider reforms to our system, and it is right that we continue that work.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

What is the Government’s view on how effective such arrangements might be? Is remote working more effective or less effective? Do the Government have a view on that?

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I thank my right hon. and gallant Friend for that point. He will know that, with this Bill, we are pushing power down to local people, local areas and local councillors, who are elected to represent their communities. As I said, the Government have a very clear view that local democracy should take place face to face. Through our levelling-up work, we are in the midst of a once-in-a-generation devolution of power to allow local areas, such as the one he represents, to make the best decisions for their local communities, notwithstanding this particular point, on which the Government have strong views.

The vital issue of climate change was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney and my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers. It is important to stress that the planning system already has considerable systems for taking account of climate change and further work is under way, as my hon. Friend knows. He specifically asked about how to bridge the gap in planning policy. I make it clear that, as part of our proposed changes to the planning system and as we committed to in the net zero strategy, we were the first Government to legislate for net zero. We stand by those commitments both in the planning system and elsewhere, and we intend to do a fuller review of the national planning policy framework to ensure it contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation as fully as possible, following Royal Assent of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill.

Last but by no means least, I turn to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet. She reiterated what is a vital issue: the Government’s commitment to publishing the response to the NPPF consultation after this Bill, with Godspeed, receives Royal Assent. We remain committed to doing that, and I reiterate that it remains the Government’s policy to ensure that we identify and build on urban brownfield areas such as the ones she mentioned in Docklands, Beckton, Silvertown and elsewhere. We need to see housing delivered there. We have seen 30-year record highs in housing delivery under this Conservative Government, and we intend to continue delivering the right houses in the right places, supported by local communities. I want to take this brief opportunity to put on record, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet did, my thanks to councillors who represent my communities in Redditch, Wychavon and Worcestershire, and to all the frontline services involved in the responses to the floods—to the emergency services, the Environment Agency and others. We all wish everybody to be back in their home soon.

I hope that all Members, having seen that the Government have listened and responded to their concerns, will feel able to support our position. Our amendments are effective and proportionate, and I hope that they are agreeable to all. I commend them to the House.

Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 22B.

Division number 347 Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill — After Clause 70 - Local authorities: hybrid meetings

Aye: 291 MPs

No: 175 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


The House divided: Ayes 292, Noes 177.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment 22B disagreed to.