My Lords, at this late hour and with so many noble Lords having spoken before me, I do not intend to delay this Second Reading. I shall concentrate a few remarks on some of the rural repercussions in the Bill—and, in so doing, declare an interest as a landowner in Cheshire.
Many of the projects that will come within the ambit of the new procedures will undoubtedly require land currently in agricultural use—for example, airport construction or extension, highways, reservoirs and so on. Also, agricultural businesses will continue to be affected in future as they have been in the past by the disruption arising from the construction and use of such works as pipelines and electric lines. It is important for the farming businesses and others affected that they can be assured that the works are justified as in the national interest and will not result in the cavalier overriding of their legitimate individual interests.
The establishment of the Infrastructure Planning Commission to speed up the planning process by taking decisions on major projects is a welcome and radical proposal. Clause 5(3) obliges the Secretary of State to carry out an appraisal on the sustainability of the policy to be contained in a national policy statement. Clause 10 obliges the Secretary of State to carry out functions,
"with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development".
However, there are differing views and trade-offs between differing aspects of sustainability—the economic, the social and the environmental. For example, some would argue that air travel is not sustainable from carbon emission viewpoint. I trust that my noble friend the Minister will explain at the relevant time what will be meant by these provisions and how the Government will deliver their duties under them.
The Minister is right to point to all the aspects contained in the Bill that strengthen consultation and the public say in the planning decisions. In speeding up decision-making, it is imperative that there is a minimum risk of a sense of forlornness and remoteness leading to real resentment over the manner and outcomes of decisions on major projects.
The parliamentary requirements firming up Clause 9 will ensure that the draft national policy statement will be debated and the Minister will respond to comments. Many noble Lords have commented on how important it is that this innovative process succeeds.
The list of projects in Clause 14 which will be subject to decision by the IPC does not include flood defence and coastal protection works. Some work of this nature is of modest scale and thus outside the scope of the Bill—but with climate change threatening increased inland flooding and the breaching of coastal defences, is it desirable to be able to give this priority on some major-scale projects?
Under Clause 44, it is right that owners and occupiers of land must be consulted by applicants, but it must be of concern that the minimum 28 days is deemed sufficient. The suggestion that 42 days should be a minimum requirement would be fairer. I realise that the mention of 28 days and 42 days is provocative, but I have the right Bill.
The deadline of only 14 days on Clause 50(5) for owners and occupiers of land to respond to applicants' inquiries is too short. Similarly, a period of 28 days in which to make representations to the ICP under Clause 54(5) is also too short. Large-scale projects will inevitably be complex and affected persons must be given adequate time to protect their interests.
Under Clause 118, a compulsory acquisition order can apply not only to land required for the development itself, but also to land,
"to facilitate or is incidental to that development".
As a general principle, it must be right that only the minimum of land necessary to the development is taken. Clause 90 creates a new right for affected persons to insist on a compulsory acquisition hearing, and must be applauded in that regard.
Clause 183 proposes to amend planning law so that the existing permitted development rights could be withdrawn by a local planning authority without the Secretary of State's consent, and, subject to giving 12 months' notice, could result in no compensation being payable. Many rural businesses rely on the use of permitted development rights to carry out modest scale development essential to the running of their businesses. The current requirements act as appropriate safeguards against the use of such directions except where there are compelling circumstances. The removal of these safeguards would allow more widespread interference with small-scale business decisions.
In response to amendments tabled in the other place, the Minister pledged that the Government are,
"keen to ensure that businesses retain the ability to carry out works without the need ... for planning permission".—[Hansard, Commons; 25/06/08; col. 392.]
I note that the Government intend to amend the clause in Committee.
Clause 198 proposes that the aim of the new community infrastructure levy—CIL—that replaces the planning gain supplement is to ensure that the cost incurred in providing infrastructure to support development will be funded by owners and developers of land, the value of which will increase due to the permission for development.
Clause 200(5) provides that the CIL may be payable even where the value of land has not increased. In such circumstances, the levy may make some small-scale rural developments unviable. There are many circumstances where a farming business invests in an agricultural development which makes no contribution to its profitability and little difference to the value of the farm, but which is desirable for the business, or even necessary to comply with environmental animal welfare or food safety requirements. As a fundamental principle, should not the CIL be levied in proportion to the likely impact of a development on infrastructure? This would result in a fair and more appropriate levy. The number of common occurrences would be minimal. First, replacement of like-for-like agricultural buildings and structures; secondly, temporary permission for temporary agricultural dwellings such as mobile homes, where permission is often renewed despite the fact that there is no impact on local infrastructure; and, thirdly, rural development that has a low impact on infrastructure, such as the improvement and reuse of redundant farm buildings. Lastly, small developments that take into account environmental technologies that promote carbon neutrality. There is a strong case that these developments should be exempt and that a de minimis threshold be set.
The CIL structure will be determined by regulations. It appears that charging authorities will be able to set their own rates, resulting in potentially huge variations in charges for similar developments from area to area.
These guidance regulations have yet to be published, yet they are crucial and fundamental to the successful operation of the new proposals. Many noble Lords have commented that there is time to draft these regulations during the Recess and bring them forward to informed debate and to enable this House to understand better the intentions in the Bill and to build in the necessary safeguards.
I agree with the Minister that the present regime is not fit for purpose. The Government have broadly got their approach correct to reform this tortuous process, and many noble Lords have highlighted future benefits. In my own area of Cheshire, many infrastructure improvements, such as a new station for Crewe and a second Mersey crossing, are now being proposed. I welcome seeing them progress under the proposed new system in the Bill.