Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:41 pm on 15th July 2008.

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Photo of Baroness Valentine Baroness Valentine Crossbench 11:41 pm, 15th July 2008

My Lords, the business community has long advocated reform of planning to overcome long delays in delivering vital national infrastructure. Does democratic accountability have to equate to as much as 20 years from concept to delivery?

We need to find a better solution for UK-level, strategically important projects which affords proper scrutiny and accountability but secures reliably prompt decisions in the national interest. I support the Bill as it stands in this regard.

I shall focus today on the community infrastructure levy, or CIL. London is forecast to grow by nearly 1 million jobs and people by 2026. That means more than half a million new homes, new offices, shops and other developments. Much of it is in the East End, where if the 2012 Games do not catalyse regeneration, we will have missed a great opportunity.

Development is critical if we are to grow and remain competitive. If London does not continue to grow, the whole UK economy will stall. It is important to improve and speed up planning for essential major infrastructure but also to deliver, at the right time, the infrastructure needed to support development of homes and commercial floor space at a local level.

The Beatle John Lennon said: "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans". While we are making plans, we must provide the infrastructure to support life. I mean improvements to transport capacity, schools, parks, doctors' surgeries and community facilities. They are what create living neighbourhoods and make development acceptable to existing communities.

The Government must plan longer term for infrastructure funding: three-year funding commitments sit uncomfortably with 15-year local authority development plans, especially when the proposed CIL requires councils to prepare infrastructure plans alongside those development plans. Local authorities will assess what development is needed to support growth, the infrastructure therefore required, availability of public funds and, finally, what developments can contribute towards the cost.

Infrastructure delivery needs to be integrated with development. When the housing development is planned, the primary school should be planned alongside it. If public funds can provide only £9 million of the £10 million cost, CIL might provide the additional £1 million from the developer, but the delivery of the school at the right time remains down to the public sector.

This is of course iterative. If the proposed CIL cost is too high for developments to bear, the infrastructure priorities and phasing will have to be reviewed. Yes, CIL is a major step forward in infrastructure planning, but it must be established and refined through the well tested, democratic processes of the development plan system. It is not a panacea. In many cases, it will represent a small part of the overall cost. If the CIL is set too high, development simply will not happen. We will not get the homes and commercial development needed to support economic and population growth.

CIL must be considered alongside other planning requirements such as those for affordable housing and sustainability. There is a real risk that if this is not done holistically, affordable housing delivery will fall as developers are priced out by high CIL charges. Local authorities must not make developers pay for the same infrastructure twice, under CIL, and as part of scaled-back Section 106 agreements. Those agreements should address only site specific matters.

London First, the organisation that I lead, was one of the proponents of this alternative to the Government's potentially counterproductive planning gain supplement proposal. Delivery has been at the heart of the idea and should be fundamental to the way it works, not raising revenue. Delivery is what matters to communities, business and developers.

In summary and to close, we have the chance to make real progress on timely and integrated delivery of infrastructure—not just the big ticket items such as Crossrail but the nitty-gritty that supports everyday lives. We must get it right and establish the right framework and mechanisms to plan and deliver infrastructure. CIL must be part of the development plan system and must not reduce or replace government funding. Clarity is needed on how and when infrastructure will be delivered, including long-term government funding commitments. Infrastructure covered by CIL should be set out in regulations, not overlapping that sought from Section 106.