Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 25th November 2008.

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Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government 3:15 pm, 25th November 2008

My Lords, clearly this matter has different resonance in different parts of the country. In my area, suburban London, it is a major issue. I readily agree that it is a multi-faceted issue; it cannot be divorced from the matter of getting homes built that offer a good quality of life and do not inappropriately reduce the quality of life of those in existing homes. Yesterday, the Minister in another place said that there was no evidence of a problem, although he appeared to pray in aid information from the inspectorate as evidence on the other side. I do not know how many anecdotes are required to become, in aggregate, evidence, or at any rate a strong pointer, but there is clearly at least a strong pointer.

From these Benches, we very much welcome the proposal for a review and congratulate the Minister on pushing for it, as she clearly has. She mentioned this afternoon targets for brownfield development, where brownfield comprised back gardens. I do not know whether she can tell your Lordships whether one can have a target of nil for such development. In taking the review forward, I hope that the Government will consider consulting on its terms of reference and on the definitions and methodology to be used.

I hope that the review will pay attention to the fact that the sort of developments that your Lordships have been discussing are often for small units, usually flats, which are not necessarily what is most needed to address the housing crisis, and that it will also pay attention to applications for a number of units which, oddly, comes in just below the local threshold at which affordable housing has to be included. I also hope that the views of the inspectorate will be sought. Why are some local development frameworks easier to uphold than others? Why are some decisions, by which I mean refusals, easier to uphold than others?

The noble Earl rightly asked about timing. We have heard that the review will start in the new year, but the timetable is unclear. When the Minister in another place said yesterday that he failed to see that this was an urgent and pressing problem, that was an unfortunate turn of phrase. The noble Earl also referred to the economic difficulties. Those alone make it a particularly urgent matter. Developers who are able to do any work at all will look for the easiest sites to develop, and they are often those which are the subject of the amendment.