Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:16 pm on 15th July 2008.

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Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative 9:16 pm, 15th July 2008

My Lords, my reason for speaking today is that I consider this new Planning Bill to be of great importance and yet of some cause for concern. I have not myself been actively involved as a planning decision-maker since my GLC days, but I have followed many development applications through a local amenity society of which I am a committee member—and also through finding myself in London in the unfortunate position of being in the centre of a building site for more than the past seven years, with all the dust and dirt and inconvenience that necessarily accompanies such work.

In your Lordships' House, at the time when such matters of major infrastructure were dealt with as Private Bills, I took the London Transport Bills through the House. It was a long, slow process, with objectors' hearings taking an inordinate amount of time before consideration reached the Chamber at all. The then-chairman of London Transport told me that he had built the whole of the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway, from first thought to completion, in less time than it took to get the planning permission for the Jubilee line extension. I therefore welcome the idea of a much more speedy process for the "nationally significant infrastructure projects". I am less sure about the Infrastructure Planning Commission, as I prefer to see a democratically accountable body dealing with these matters.

Clause 91 deals with "open-floor hearings" and I see that the examining authority must arrange this if at least one interested party informs the authority within the time limit. Are these open-floor hearings to be available for all or only for some applications? Clause 92(8) has what I consider to be helpful limitations, particularly subsections 8(a)—"irrelevant or frivolous"—and 8(c), whereby representations cannot be made if they,

"repeat other representations already made".

A small, vociferous group can extend hearing times almost interminably by sheer repetition. Many speakers have mentioned the example of Heathrow. I welcome Clause 104, which creates a duty to make a decision within three months on an application for development consent.

Part 8—"Enforcement"—is very important in any planning situation. The late Lady Castle added her name to mine on an amendment on enforcement to an earlier Planning Bill when she first became a Member of this House. We were not successful. I am pleased to see that Clause 153 makes it an offence to carry out development without consent, and Clause 162 gives the local authority the right to demand reinstatement or remedy the breach of unauthorised development.

I have long thought that it is a vicious system where someone carries out a development without permission, much to the detriment of neighbours, and then applies for, and is granted, retrospective permission because the local authority feels that so much money has been spent that it would be unfair to refuse retrospective development permission, although it would normally not have granted permission at all. Lady Castle told the House that she had exactly that experience.

Part 9 is headed,

"Changes to Existing Planning Regimes".

Clause 167 is important in that it covers Section 106 agreements whereby local planning authorities are able to negotiate a better deal for an area or for other local residents or prospective residents at the time of consideration of a planning application. Usually permission is granted,

"subject to a Section 106 agreement", and the final details are agreed between the planning authority and the developer. Through this means an element of social housing is often agreed, and usually a condition established, that this must be an early part of such a development to be constructed before the more expensive housing for sale.

Where I am in London our footpaths are just being rebuilt and the road resurfaced under a Section 106 agreement. This goes some small way towards compensating locals for the seven plus years of development, dirt, noise and traffic that we have all had to endure.

I note that London Councils is concerned about the community infrastructure levy regulations and the effect that CIL will have on the ability of local authorities to use Section 106 agreements should they opt not to adopt the discretionary CIL. London Councils states:

"Local authorities should be able to choose whether, and how, to introduce CIL. In practice this means that the introduction of CIL should be discretionary and should not prevent local authorities from using S106 agreements. It is not yet clear how CIL and S106 agreements will work alongside each other and a concern that boroughs have is that proposals would reduce the funding available for affordable housing and other elements to be negotiated via S106. This is of particular concern to boroughs if a proportion of the CIL raised were to be a regional contribution ... the introduction of CIL should not replace other sources of funding. CIL will only generate funding towards the cost of the infrastructure needs generated by new developments and the government needs to make it clear how the upgrading of infrastructure to meet existing demands is to be funded".

The Local Government Association states that there was no time to debate CIL as a key aspect of the Bill during the final Commons stages. More debate is essential as in the past the introduction of levies and incentives has dramatically influenced what has been built and the impact, sometimes quite undesirable, has been far greater than expected. Local government is best placed to understand local needs. I support the LGA view that local flexibility must be maintained. Local authorities can work with local communities and developers to determine local needs which are very diverse and vary from community to community.

My hope is that this House will deal with the remaining points in the Bill that require amendment.