Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:26 pm on 15th July 2008.

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Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs 11:26 pm, 15th July 2008

My Lords, I am sure that the Government think that the Bill addresses the question of sustainable development. The problem is, as the Minister's introduction showed, that at the moment the Bill is heavily tilted towards the economic, to the detriment of society and the environment. She mentioned the modern economy and building on economy and society. I lost count of the number of times she mentioned economy; it was on at least three or four occasions.

I associate myself with the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Howarth, about the value of landscape and the need for there to be in the Bill a duty to have regard to landscape, biodiversity and all the other things that add up to the environment. In my experience as chair of the planning committee of a local authority for a number of years, the large infrastructure projects were not always the most controversial. Projects which deeply affected society were often more controversial. Plans for rehabilitation hostels, for example, were almost impossible to pass unless councillors from all parties stuck together. This is where I part company with the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, because councillors of all parties did stick together quite well and tried, against enormous local opposition and nimbyism, to pass plans for facilities such as rehabilitation homes for drug addicts, Travellers' sites—another extremely difficult example—and even supported housing for the mentally ill. It is shocking to think that such projects are so often opposed by the very communities within which their mentally ill live. The Bill sees infrastructure entirely in terms of large energy and transport projects, but I suggest that infrastructure also includes the kinds of projects that I have mentioned which society needs.

The Bill focuses too much on economy by giving powers to the RDAs to take over planning functions. As the Minister will appreciate, RDAs are primarily bodies with economic targets, with success measured by their sponsoring department largely in economic terms. I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Cameron of Dillington, that this is undesirable. RDAs should not be a part of the planning picture; that is not what was envisaged when they were set up.

I wonder why there is a need for the IPC. Various bodies have reflected democratic accountability better. I can see the point of national policy statements and, on a regional basis—whether we call them, as in the past, the regional strategic planning framework or whether we call them RPBs—a collection of local authority executive planning members, who are accountable to their electorates and who come together to form regional bodies to deliver the national planning statements, would be a lot stronger a method of building on democracy than inventing an IPC which will undermine it. It was a tried and tested system for delivering housing numbers, which was not an easy thing for the Government to deliver. Perhaps the Minister could point to where regions actually failed in that. Yes, they had big fights, but they delivered in the end, even on the Government's predict-and-provide model.

I shall use the rest of my time to mention the issue of the IPC and the marine environment. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, referred to that, and I agree with his comments about the fact that much of the issue of energy generation at sea is to do with grid capacity and bringing that energy onshore, rather than anything else. As a member of the Joint Committee on the draft Marine Bill I have learnt a great deal more about the issues. I am not going to comment at all on that report because we are simply discussing the draft in the morning, but the split in the Planning Bill between the Marine Management Organisation and the IPC is totally premature. The draft Marine Bill, which creates the spatial marine planning system, will not even be introduced until the new Session. No one knows yet what the duties of the Marine Management Organisation will be or what it will look like; we know very little about it at all. There are substantial arguments to be had about its responsibilities and duties. If the IPC exists, maybe it should be responsible for some of the permissions at sea, but it is wrong to decide now in this Bill that the figure should be the amount of power generated rather than, say, the area of sea covered or the area of seabed covered, or whether indeed the Marine Management Organisation might be more relevant to those developments inshore up to the six-mile limit while the IPC could cover those between six and 200 miles offshore. Those decisions should not be made until the Marine Bill is in place. To do so now is premature.

I shall be tempted to table an amendment to Part 3 to say that nothing designated under that part should come under those clauses of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act that criminalise protesters so extremely, should they trespass within the sites that the Secretary of State can choose to designate. I can see that, with democracy undermined in the way that the IPC threatens to do, there will be a need for protest. Provided that the protesters are protesting within the law, that law should not include the SOCPA clauses that mean they are treated virtually as terrorists and subject to terms of imprisonment that are quite inappropriate for protesters. Swampy made a good point. He would probably just be coming out of prison now if SOCPA had applied then and the Newbury bypass area had been designated. I say to the Minister that that is an amendment I shall want to debate.