Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:20 pm on 15th July 2008.

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Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Crossbench 8:20 pm, 15th July 2008

My Lords, unsurprisingly my remarks on the Bill concern first, the proposed arrangements for handling major infrastructure projects, and secondly, the community infrastructure levy. On both these points, my perspective is one of support for the Government's reasons for introducing the planned new measures.

From 1999 to 2001, I served on the then Department of Trade and Industry's foresight panel on the built environment and co-chaired a study on major infrastructure projects with Robert Upton, secretary general then and now of the Royal Town Planning Institute. Our study concluded, not least following an enlightening visit to Holland, that decisions on nationally significant infrastructure projects should be the subject of national policy statements and of decisions taken at the national level after full consultation on the principles behind the policy statements had been concluded. The international evidence we assembled certainly pointed to the wisdom of this approach, which leads me to welcome the Government's conceptual framework for considering major infrastructure plans and for establishing an infrastructure planning commission.

To curry favour with your Lordships, bearing in mind the number of speakers this evening, I shall cut to the chase and my second issue, which concerns the community infrastructure levy. I am quite sure the Government have brought forward a basis for funding some of the costs for infrastructure that is significantly better than the previous ideas for a planning gain supplement. Even in the difficult market conditions ahead, a levy that extracts some funding from the increased value of land following planning consent could be a significant mechanism for meeting essential infrastructure costs. However, there are two major hazards with the levy. First, there are considerable anxieties, which have already been raised in this debate, for charities and for housing associations. If housing associations are required to bear an additional levy, they will need higher levels of social housing grant, which simply recycles funds from one government department to another, or, worse, if the level of grant funding remains the same, the community infrastructure levy will mean fewer affordable homes, which would be a terrible outcome. I hope the Minister will be able to bring forward amendments to address these concerns.

Secondly, and more broadly, there are the dangers of the community infrastructure levy being the final straw that prevents neighbourhood regeneration or required development of new homes proceeding because it means that potential schemes would make a loss. I have very little sympathy with the housebuilders' arguments that higher standard of design, accessibility or a quota of affordable housing should be abandoned now that the housebuilding industry is in such a parlous state. This is no time to renege on obligations and commitments to improve design, to achieve carbon-neutral housebuilding by 2016, full lifetime home standards by 2013 and more affordable homes through the Section 106 agreements. I am sympathetic to the point that there is a limit to how much can be extracted through planning gain—through the increase in value created by the granting of planning permission, especially for contaminated, brownfield and complex regeneration projects.

Adding a community infrastructure levy will be a step too far in some cases, and local authorities must be given the flexibility to vary or waive the levy where that pushes projects over the line of financial liability. Rather, this seems the moment for some Keynesian economics, with central government funding the roads and other infrastructure which, in better times, the community infrastructure levy can support. I look forward to debating those key ingredients of the Bill as the legislation moves forward, but in respect of both Bills, I bring a positive and supportive recognition of the Government's reasoning behind the new measures.