Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:57 pm on 15th July 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 9:57 pm, 15th July 2008

My Lords, I always find that the reflections of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, bring real quality to important deliberations of the sort in which we are engaged tonight. I am glad to declare an interest as president of the Friends of the Lake District, which represents CPRE in Cumbria, and as a vice-president of the Campaign for National Parks. There is a great deal to welcome in this Bill. A more strategic approach to planning, rather than a piecemeal tactical system with all its dangers of nimbyism, could prove immensely valuable. I therefore make my observations in a positive context.

We all want the United Kingdom to be a decent, civilised, thriving, sustainable and, crucially important, qualitatively good place to live and to leave to our grandchildren. A strong, sustainable economy is essential to underpin it, but this is obviously complicated by the new realities of climate change and the challenges surrounding energy and power. That is well illustrated as we move towards a new generation of nuclear energy by the imperative that we should do so only having resolved what we do with nuclear waste. To fail convincingly to have resolved this first could prove selfish and irresponsible towards future generations.

To be a good place to live, our culture, history and heritage, together with the wonderful natural inheritance of the aesthetic and scenic glories of the countryside, must at all costs be preserved and enhanced. They are essential to our psychological and physical well-being as a nation. They are our lungs and are indispensable to our spiritual fulfilment. As we gear up economically for survival, we must learn from the Industrial Revolution. With hindsight we can all see that the ruthless rape of some of our finest and loveliest assets was not necessary. The revolution could have been done better. It would, literally, be criminal to make the same mistake again. I assure my noble friend that if the Government's purposes for this Bill can be demonstrated to be 100 per cent behind meeting these priorities, they will generate strong and articulate support across a wide spectrum of caring people. From that standpoint, it is essential to be convinced about the issues I am about to list, some of which have already been referred to in the debate.

Exactly how will the Bill guarantee that the vital national importance of aesthetic considerations—beauty, wildlife habitats and the wider well-being created by space, regeneration and recreation of the community—will not only just be protected but enhanced? Where will real accountability lie? How will the Bill safeguard a commitment to the historic environment and ensure that the essential relevant inputs of scholarship and expertise are available to the Infrastructure Planning Commission? How will commitments to social justice, equity, and environmental quality and culture that have been so much at the heart of the town and country planning system since 1947 be sustained and underwritten? How will we ensure that all development is genuinely sustainable and that it has not just been put through a "green wash" exercise? How will the legitimate anxieties about the dangers inherent in combining the investigative, advisory and decision-making powers of the IPC be met? How will the IPC itself be made effectively accountable? Will national policy statements carry more weight than the existing planning policy statements, and if so, why?

We must remember that the present system deals with sustainable development, housing, rural areas and biodiversity, ensuring that environmental issues are treated on an equal footing with economic considerations. Will that continue to be meaningfully the case in the future; and if not, why not? Is there an intention to regard, for example, the aviation White Paper as in effect a national policy statement? This would allow both for the consideration of alternatives and for the strategic assessment regulations fully to be taken into account. If an NPS is to designate sites, will civil rights remain inviolate—the right to be heard and the right to cross-examine? Do not issues like these make a full planning inquiry process still essential?

Currently, regional planning powers are held by regional assemblies. As we have just heard, it is now being proposed to transfer them to the regional development agencies. How does this improve democratic accountability? Arguably, Clause 171 will have a greater impact on day-to-day planning than any other aspect of the Bill, but could not this change in effect weight planning towards economic development without giving proper consideration to the potentially high cost of other social priorities? How can this be avoided? If ever there was a sphere of government in which the strength of the outcomes is dependent upon a broadly based consensus on the objectives and the methods in place to achieve them, planning is a prime example. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend, whose concern for the qualitative dimensions of society I know personally to be second to none, will be able to reassure us on these matters during the proceedings on the Bill.