Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:25 pm on 15th July 2008.

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Photo of The Bishop of Liverpool The Bishop of Liverpool Bishop 8:25 pm, 15th July 2008

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the clarity and the conviction of her exposition of the Bill. Planning is clearly about creating safe, secure and healthy landscapes and environments in which communities can flourish. As we all know today, they must be sustainable and as carbon-neutral as possible. I welcome the duty on Ministers expressed in the Bill to contribute to sustainable development in the preparation of national policy statements. I also welcome the Government's commitment, given in the other place, to fulfilling the demands of the Climate Change Bill through the mechanisms in the Planning Bill.

My concern, however, is that the Bill does not go far enough and will not deliver sustainable development or contribute sufficiently towards the move to a low-carbon economy required by the Climate Change Bill. It may be there in spirit, but it is not there in the letter of the law. Without the law unequivocally on the side of carbon reduction, there are now too many pressures to take us in an opposite direction of carbon profligacy.

The Climate Change Bill is an overarching Bill affecting policy across government departments. We are treading a new path with the Climate Change Bill and we must work together on how to draw up future legislation that interweaves with that Bill. The Planning Bill is an opportunity to do that but, as presently drafted, it fails fully to take up that opportunity. Despite the Minister's assurances, there is nothing legally binding to say that decisions taken under the Planning Bill will take climate change into account. We are to take on trust that climate considerations will be embedded in decision-making, but neither Bill makes clear how to do that or makes specific provision for it.

The Climate Change Bill requires the Secretary of State to establish a process for managing the reduction of carbon emissions, but there is no obligation on the Secretary of State in either Bill to consider climate change during the preparation of national policy statements. Surely, there must be a requirement on the Secretary of State to consider climate issues in framing the national policy statement, in line with the provisions of the Climate Change Bill and recognised carbon budgets. At the moment, it is unclear how the carbon footprint of each national policy statement will be considered as a whole or, more importantly, in relation to one another.

I also believe that the new Infrastructure Planning Commission must have a legal duty to reduce carbon emissions. That is essential if we are to hit our 2020 and 2050 targets for emissions. Planning of major infrastructure provides a way to ensure the delivery of a low-carbon economy. That is possible only if carbon-intensive infrastructure is closely examined for its impact on overall emissions.

The IPC will have the authority to grant permission for the building of major infrastructure, including airports and power stations. It is vital that the process of decision-making fully considers climate change, with the objective of supporting the Government's own carbon reduction trajectories. There is anxiety in the air. Observers fear that, as the economy turns, there is increasing pressure on the Government to reduce the level of ambition in carbon reduction and sustainability. A sustainable development duty for the IPC is an important environmental safeguard, and would mirror the duties of other developments. The Bill should make clear what factors need to be taken into account in contributing to its achievement. Although local government already has a sustainable development duty, and will have a new climate duty as a result of the Bill, no such duty or obligation in the Bill applies to the Government or the IPC.

I urge the Government to be clear about the importance of considering climate change in the planning of major infrastructure. As it stands, neither policy-makers nor decision-makers can be clear about the weight and importance that must be given to this issue if we are to honour our international obligation to reduce carbon emissions and to achieve the reduction in emissions required by the Climate Change Bill. The Minister may reply that this is assumed in the Bill, but I urge the Government to signal this intention explicitly and place a clear duty on both the Secretary of State and the IPC to consider climate change in decision-making on major infrastructure. We are in effect asking for consistency and for joined-up Bills as a proper expression of joined-up government.