Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:39 pm on 15th July 2008.

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Photo of Lord Cobbold Lord Cobbold Crossbench 10:39 pm, 15th July 2008

My Lords, I declare an interest as a landowner in the green belt in Hertfordshire. I welcome the principal objective of the Bill to make more efficient the planning and implementation of nationally significant infrastructure projects. However, I cannot but wonder whether it would be possible to achieve the objective with a Bill of fewer than 189 pages.

What is not needed is a massive increase in bureaucracy in an area that is already complicated enough. In this context, a part of the Bill that I found confusing was Clause 59(2), in which the chair of the Infrastructure Planning Commission must decide whether an application is to be handled by a panel or by a single commissioner. However, before making the decision, under subsection (4) the chair must consult the other commissioners who are members of the council. This is the first mention of the word "council". You have to go to paragraph 6 of Schedule 1 on page 142 to discover what the council is. It is not clear even then exactly what the respective roles are of the commission, the council and the panels.

Another difficult issue is whether, having issued a national policy statement, the Secretary of State can really escape responsibility for the underlying projects. Because of their national importance, the projects concerned are bound to attract political controversy in spite of a published national policy statement.

The Bill is not limited in its coverage only to infrastructure projects of national importance. Part 9 deals with proposed changes to existing planning regimes. I propose a modest change to green-belt regulations that is not in the Bill. While I fully accept the basic objectives of green-belt policy as set out in PPG2, their blanket application has had the effect of freezing in time all development in villages and hamlets that are within the green belt. There are many small and medium-sized sites in green-belt locations where modest, well designed and appropriate development could be permitted without threatening the value and openness of the surrounding green-belt landscape. This would permit villages and hamlets to continue their natural evolution, while some affordable housing would enable the next generation of village dwellers to stay in the area. The Minister is aware of my concerns in this area and I hope that we can address them positively in the later stages of the Bill.

Part 11 introduces a proposal for a community infrastructure levy, which is designed to ensure that costs incurred in providing infrastructure to support the development of an area can be funded wholly or partly by owners or developers of land whose value has increased due to permission for development. These functions are covered by Section 106 agreements, the need for which is recognised by landowners and developers. However, to retain Section 106 agreements, as is proposed, at the same time as introducing the CIL sounds excessive and dangerously reminiscent of the dreaded development land tax, which dried up the supply of development land in the 1970s.

A lot of work needs to be done on the Bill, but in principle I welcome its objectives.