Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:16 pm on 15th July 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative 11:16 pm, 15th July 2008

My Lords, I regret to have to say that this is the worst Second Reading of a major Bill that I have ever attended in my 38 years or so in this House. It started badly with the complete shambles of the Government's programme for the first legislation today. I have to say to the noble Baroness the Captain of the Gentleman-at-Arms that she has done a superb job as Chief Whip, but today she made the wrong call. As soon as she knew that there would be late government amendments to the previous legislation, she should have deferred consideration of this important Bill to another day, so that we could start it at the usual time. After all, what is the hurry? The Government have just wasted two weeks in another place while they bought off rebels in order to secure the progress of the Bill.

Another reason why this is the worst Second Reading that I have attended is the lack of detail in so much of the Bill. We should all read, and read again, the demolition job that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, did of Chapter 11. It is extraordinary that the Minister, for whom I have immense regard, should have allowed a Bill to come before your Lordships' House where so much approval was needed by another place with no input at all from this House. That has to change. The Minister owes it to this House to produce a great deal more detail so that we can at least have sensible debate in Committee.

I declare an interest as a surveyor. I have been a developer and I have acted for developers in the past. Planning affects us all. It is integral to how we shape the world and this country in which we live and which we love so much. I agree with all noble Lords that there is no doubt that the planning system needs reform. However, let us not blame it just on the planning system. Half the problems with planning come from the prevarication and delay of Ministers who have refused to bite the bullet and take decisions when they should have done.

I thoroughly approve of the principle of the national policy statement. It is a good idea, which I have thought for many years is badly needed. However, in this country's system of adversarial politics, I am concerned about what happens when we have a change of Government. My mind goes back to 1997. If we had had a national policy statement on transport at that time, undoubtedly one its key elements would have been the improvement of the A40 in west London. The moment the Labour Party came to power, Mr Prescott decided to put an end to that, which was to the huge detriment of UK plc. That is a good example of where, when we get a change of Government, the Opposition will seek to curry votes from a section of the community in a way that will affect a national policy statement. That needs careful attention.

A second example is that of nuclear. It is now all the talk in Parliament, but could you get a government Minister to even mention the subject five years ago? No. I seem to remember that when Labour came to power it said that it would not build any more nuclear power stations. We have eight if not 12 coming along; with a little education and time in government, Labour has changed its mind.

Missing in the areas that should be considered in the national policy statement is flood defence. I ask the Minister why flood defence, which is so important when it comes to climate change and securing our coastlines, is not considered important enough to be included in the national policy statement.

We must not forget that every single national policy statement will be open to judicial review. The noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, approves strongly of the review in two years' time, but I want to have a little bet with him that there will not be a national policy statement in two years' time—there certainly will not be any planning permission under it, because such statements will all be subject to judicial review. We know that Government NGOs are looking at this at the moment and I fear that those who have been bought off with the promise of a review two years hence will find that there is nothing to review.

Let us move on to that unelected super-quango, the IPC. This is a sad development because it just continues the policy started by Mr Prescott in 2002 to abolish local democracy. It is not a sensible way forward in terms of tackling the important decisions that are needed. Moreover, I do not think that anyone has mentioned the fact that the IPC will cover offshore wind farms. At 9.30 tomorrow morning, a number of us, including the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, will be working on the draft report on the Marine Bill that will come before your Lordships in due course. The major role to be played by the IPC in that arena is clear. I know that the noble Baroness knows all about it and will tell us more.

On the question of wind farms—in the north of Scotland we suffer badly from the problem—it is not the wind farms themselves that are holding up development; the national grid is the real problem, as it has no capacity. A lot of good tidal power development, which to me is much more important than wind farming, is being delayed not by the planning process but because there is no capacity in the national grid. It is a good thing that our party is committed to abolishing the IPC if it ever gets off the ground.

I turn to the community infrastructure levy. The Minister calls it CIL; I shall go one further and call it silly, because I think that it will stop completely a whole lot of development. We saw that with the development land tax, which I remember well when I was a surveyor—it stopped all development. The CIL will do exactly the same. One has only to listen to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham and the noble Lord, Lord Best, who have huge experience in the charity and church worlds, to know that there will be no development. From the heritage and conservation point of view, it will be exactly the same, particularly if the land or the property is owned by a charity. If, for instance, a charity is trying to preserve an historic building—I declare an interest in that I am trying to preserve a castle in Scotland—and it has to pay the CIL for putting up a visitor centre whose whole purpose is to help to preserve the monument, there is no way financially that that could ever happen, so the building will fall down. The Government are destroying the one thing that they are seeking in other parts of government to maintain. This is a real concern and the noble Lord, Lord Best, was right to mention housing associations in this context.

I also think that the CIL will be used by local authorities to stop developments such as intensive livestock units. I can see that being a really good one if they are allowed to set the CIL at whatever level they choose; farming will not benefit from the authorities that do not like it. Also, I do not trust the Government or local authorities. One has only to look at Purbeck District Council and see the charges that it is levying on people who apply to add a bedroom to a house. Local authorities will abuse the silly CIL system to raise extra revenue because it will be a wonderful opportunity to do so. If they start to do that, development will stop.

It concerns me hugely that local planning authorities will be allowed to withdraw permitted development rights without the approval of the Secretary of State. Again I put on my on countryman hat, because many farmers use the facility to put up small-scale developments and will be severely affected if the local planning authority can take away that right. I hope that the Minister will confirm that, in the event of a local authority taking away that right, compensation will be paid to those who are adversely affected.

In general, there is no doubt that we need to address the planning system and make it speedier. Sadly, what is in the Bill—or, more particularly, what is not in the Bill—will be a matter of huge debate at later stages, if we get anything tangible to debate at all.