Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill [HL] — Report (Second Day) (Continued)

– in the House of Lords at 8:20 pm on 23rd March 2009.

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Votes in this debate

Clause 67 [Regional strategy]:

Amendment 157C

Moved by Baroness Hamwee

157C: Clause 67, page 50, line 9, leave out "growth" and insert "development and regeneration"

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government 8:30 pm, 23rd March 2009

My Lords, in moving the amendment I shall speak also to Amendments 157D, 157F, 164K, 165A and 166A in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Tope. The last of those amendments, if accepted by the Government, would go a long way to reassuring us on the points raised by the other amendments. That amendment may look slightly eccentric, as it would move the clause about sustainability up to the start of this part of the Bill. Clause 80, as it is now, may not be an afterthought, but it reads that way. The rubric says that it is supplementary to particular provisions, but in no way is it secondary when one looks at the issues in the round. It would do much to confirm what the Government have been saying about the place of sustainability if it were part of the introduction to this part of the Bill rather than coming in at the tail end.

Amendment No. 157C would change the reference to "sustainable economic growth", policies for which are to be set out in the regional strategy, to,

"sustainable economic development and regeneration".

In other words, it would change the word "growth" to "development and regeneration". The words have different connotations, or at least different nuances, "growth" implying that sustainable development, which this should be, must encompass growth. I prefer development and regeneration, which is what we are about.

Amendment No. 157D would add to the requirement for policies in relation to sustainable growth or development and policies in relation to the development and use of land a requirement for,

"policies in relation to the protection and enhancement of the environment and social welfare of the region".

That continues my argument that all the aspects of sustainability should be recognised and that the regional strategies should be rounded. The Minister at the previous stage resisted the term "sustainable development" in this part of the Bill for technical reasons—in planning terms, "development" has a special meaning—she and we are persuaded of the importance of the other policy areas. My argument therefore is that they should be interwoven and melded together and that the third area of the protection and enhancement of the environment and social welfare should be included. When preparing for today, I was sure that I had got that wording from somewhere, but I could not remember where; it is either in a government document or possibly in a statute somewhere.

Amendment 157F requires consistency between the policies. This is not a frivolous point. The policies should be consistent, and, therefore, economic policy should not outstrip the others—or the other way around. In this Bill, I am so aware of the dangers of economic policies taking priority instead of being set in their proper context.

Amendment 164K would require—after a period in Grand Committee one misses having a table to rest papers on—that a plan must,

"deliver sustainable growth, using a full range of social, environmental and economic indicators".

That is pretty much the same argument.

Amendment 165A is about the regional development agencies. This is one amendment that would not be satisfied by transposing Clause 80. In Committee, I tabled the same amendment to provide that the regional development agencies' remit and responsibilities should be updated. I see that the same typo, which did not come from me, has been repeated. I am sure that the Minister recognises that it should read "section 4(1)" and not "section 41(1)". The purposes should extend not just to "economic development" but to "sustainable economic development". In having regard to issues of sustainability, each RDA should think more widely than its own region. In Committee, the Minister told me that was not necessary but, increasingly, I see the paragraph in the 1998 Act as too limited. Thinking has moved on.

The amendment uses the phrase,

"where it is relevant to its area".

It is possible that an RDA could come up with a scheme that is economically advantageous to its own area but would have an impact on another area. The Government's consultation on the proposals to reform regional planning acknowledged that the RDAs would need to undergo significant change in what they did and how they operated. I agree with that, but I do not think that the changes are adequately reflected in the Bill. The RDAs will have to work across boundaries. At previous stages, I have mentioned carbon emissions and the wider climate change agenda, which are obvious.

Since tabling the amendment, I have learnt from the CPRE that it carried out work in partnership with WWF and Friends of the Earth on the sustainability of the regional strategies—in other words, the work that has been undertaken so far. They noted that the regional spatial strategies and the regional economic strategies across all regions would have—do have, I suppose—a significant combined cumulative negative impact on some environmental resources. They tell me that policies on air and road transport and on water resources were of particular concern. Each region has developed strategies that it thinks have relatively minor negative impacts, but, taken together, they have considerable significance. If our country is to move towards sustainable development, the regions cannot operate in isolation from one another.

Secondly, the Government have confirmed that the economic prosperity boards can be formed from local authorities that work across regional boundaries. The EPBs are likely to work with RDAs. However, in order to ensure that the RDAs can work with the new bodies to enable sustainable economic growth, their purpose must be altered in the way that I propose.

The Regional Development Agencies Act 1998 required each agency to,

"contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in the United Kingdom where it is relevant to its area to do so".

This suggests that there is no obligation to contribute to sustainable development unless it is relevant to its own area. That in turn suggests that there may be instances where it is not relevant: that cannot be so. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, this is an important set of amendments. I am grateful for the opportunity presented by the noble Baroness to address some issues raised by them. The amendments are detailed and, as she said, intended to strengthen the requirement for regional strategy to be based on sustainable development principles. I will start by reassuring the noble Baroness about the way in which sustainability is embedded in the Bill and in the policy. I will come to Clause 80 at the end of my speaking note: that is the logical sequence.

The integrated regional strategies that we are creating are underpinned by the strong commitment to sustainable development that runs through our planning policies and that is fundamental to the way in which we develop our ability to survive and grow as a nation and an economy. I am pleased to say that we are acknowledged world leaders in our response to the mitigation of climate change. Sustainable growth cannot be achieved unless it is within regional environmental limits. We have been absolutely clear about this in our definition of sustainable economic growth, both in the Bill and in the policy document that accompanies it.

Clause 80 makes clear our commitment to sustainable development, which is also in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and the Planning Act 2008. I completely understand the intentions and aspirations of the noble Baroness, and of environmental stakeholders such as Natural England. However, it is important to be clear, first, that the Bill must be read in the round. Individual clauses cannot be applied in isolation. Secondly, there are several further safeguards to ensure that sustainability plays a key role in shaping the new regional strategies.

I will run through the clauses briefly. Clause 67 makes it clear that regional strategies must set out policies on sustainable economic growth, development and land use, and must include policies designed to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Clause 73(2) makes it clear that regional strategies are required also to undergo a sustainability appraisal and a strategic environmental assessment under the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004.

Clause 71 makes it clear that the process for preparing regional strategies also requires full community involvement, including from statutory consultees such as Natural England and the Environment Agency, which will use their scrutiny and expertise to ensure that the strategy takes full account of all sustainability considerations. Clause 72 ensures that strategies will have to be tested by an independent panel which, in the course of its examination, will take account of the sustainability appraisal and the strategic environmental assessment, as well as of all the representations from stakeholders including NGOs.

Clause 73 requires that, in preparing their strategies, responsible regional authorities will need to have regard to national policy and guidance. This means having full regard to the principles set out in the cornerstone of the planning system—PPS1 on delivering sustainable development and its climate change supplement—and applying the policies in other planning policy statements and guidance.

There are further checks about how sustainable regional strategies are because under Clause 77 responsible regional authorities must prepare and publish a report on the implementation of the strategy. That will include an assessment of how well other bodies that work within the context of the regional strategies, including EPBs, are delivering on the commitments they contain, including commitments on sustainable development.

It is significant that we are also starting work on a national core sustainability framework, which we announced in our SNR consultation document last year. When finalised, this framework will replace the existing separate sustainable development framework documents for each region and will be a key yardstick against which all regional strategies can be appraised. Therefore, we have a clear set of provisions that ensure that sustainability is fully embedded in the Bill and in the policies that will follow.

I turn to the specific amendments. Amendment 157C seeks to remove the reference to "growth" and to replace it with the words "development and regeneration". My difficulty with this is that the word "growth" is there for a purpose, not to indicate an overriding imperative for growth at all costs, but because our regions must work towards stronger regional economies based on skills, jobs, investment, innovation and enterprise, which all underpin sustainable economic growth. At a time of serious challenges to our economy and growing unemployment, I would be very reluctant to indicate in any way that jobs are a secondary issue. Removing the word "growth" changes the focus of regional strategies, including the requirement to deliver the regional economic performance PSA that challenges regions to increase their prosperity and enhance their competitiveness. We must ensure that regional strategies secure the right outcome for future generations. Shying away from the economic outcomes of the strategy is not the way to do this. It can be done only within the context of sustainable development because, as I said in Committee several times, I believe that the two are interdependent.

I know that the noble Baroness is very serious about Amendment 165A, which would require the RDAs, as a key purpose, to further sustainable economic development instead of economic development. I really do understand the concerns here, but let me reassure the noble Baroness that Section 4(1)(e) already gives the RDAs a duty to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development alongside their economic development duty. The Bill provides for the RDAs to exercise their functions in relation to the regional strategy for the region with the objective of contributing to sustainable development—that is under Clause 80—and requires regional strategies to have policies in relation to sustainable economic growth—under Clause 67—so the safeguards are there.

As the noble Baroness said, the amendment also removes the words,

"where it is relevant to its area to do so", in Section 4(1)(e) of the RDA Act. As she said, that would increase the scope of an RDA's sustainable development purpose so that the purpose would be to contribute to sustainable development everywhere else in the UK as well as in its own area. This issue has been well debated by both Houses on several occasions. I understand the noble Baroness's argument, which she made very powerfully, but if we remove from the RDA legislation the phrase,

"where it is relevant to its area to do so", each RDA would have a duty to take actions contributing to sustainable development that is not relevant to its area. That makes its purpose and focus less credible and realistic. The qualification enables sustainable development to be relevant to a RDA area, but not restricted geographically to it. That is the best legal balance to capture what we want the RDAs to do. It is a difficult balance, but the appropriate one. It would not be sensible for RDAs to spend time and money on activities that might arguably contribute to sustainable development across the UK, but might have no relevance to the region.

Amendment 157F seeks the introduction of further wording into Clause 67(4) to ensure that the policies prepared under subsections (2)(a) and (b) are consistent. The noble Baroness made a strong case about the logic of consistency. For reasons I have set out, I feel that the argument is partly made because the Bill achieves that. Any strategy which has inconsistent policies is not going to be sound. We have an independent examination of strategies to test for soundness. Internal consistency is an essential requirement and we can safely leave it to a panel of inspectors to test for soundness and consistency against the criteria contained in the guidance.

We also debated Amendment 157D in Committee. That would expressly require regional strategies to have policies concerning the protection and enhancement of the environment and social welfare of the region. Clause 71 already requires responsible regional authorities—the RDA and the leaders' board—to have regard to national policy when preparing a regional strategy and to guidance issued by the Secretary of State. Given that the Secretary of State has published policy on the need for plans to protect the environment and promote sustainable communities, this amendment would not have much practical effect. I understand the concern to promote sustainable development and protection of the environment. They are fundamental to our policies on plan-making and development management. We have been explicit that they form part of our expectation of the outcome of the strategy because the published definition of sustainable economic growth is growth that can be sustained and is within environmental limits but also enhances the environment and social welfare. They certainly form part of our policy expectations in relation to the development and use of land and policies designed to contribute to the mitigation or adaptation of climate change.

Amendment 164K seeks the introduction of a new paragraph under Clause 77(3), requiring the regional strategy monitoring report to demonstrate how the implementation plan will deliver sustainable growth by using a full set of indicators. It is not the purpose of the monitoring report to demonstrate how the implementation plan delivers the strategy. That is the role of the implementation plan itself under Clause 77(1), which, as we have said, focuses on how the outcomes will be achieved and how the strategy will be implemented. The purpose of the report is to provide an annual update on how effective the regional strategy has been in delivering its vision.

It is the role of the sustainability appraisal report under Clause 73(2) to test how sustainable the strategy is. I can reassure noble Lords that we intend to take forward, and if necessary develop further, the core set of output indicators which we published in revised form in July 2008. They provide clarity on what regional spatial strategies should report on in their annual monitoring reports. I recognise the concern raised in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that the new regional arrangements will skew the focus of local development frameworks and local planning decision-making towards economic growth outcomes at the cost of sustainable development. The noble Baroness referred to her anxiety in general, so it is right that I should provide assurance on that point.

Local Authorities remain local planning authorities. They will not lose their planning powers; they will not be faced with a change in either the principles which underpin the system or their responsibilities under this Bill. They will continue to be subject to legal requirements regarding sustainable development, sustainability appraisal and, like regional strategies, they will need to have regard to national policy in preparing their policies and when making planning decisions. Local plans will still need to be in general conformity with regional strategies, and that will be for the planning inspectorate—those expert independent adjudicators—to determine and not for the responsible regional authorities. Having gone through that in some detail, I hope I have provided some assurance.

My pièce de résistance is Clause 80. I accept the case put by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that there is a good chance that this might be overlooked because of the position it occupies at the end of this part of the Bill. It is there because it relates to the exercise of all functions of the responsible regional authorities and the Secretary of State as regards regional strategy and bodies that are described only from Clause 67 onwards. So in drafting terms it follows logically from the description of those functions and bodies. I understand the force of the argument that it needs to be made more visible, more salient and more significant. Therefore I am sympathetic to Amendment 166A which has the effect of moving the clause to the front end of the regional strategy clauses, flagging up in lights the significance of that. I will therefore table an amendment at Third Reading to move Clause 80 to after Clause 69, ensuring that it follows the key clauses on regional strategy, Clause 67, and Clauses 68 and 69, which relate to the bodies which implement them.

I hope that even though the beginning of that rather long speaking note was disappointing, I made up for it in the flourish of the final few seconds.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government 8:45 pm, 23rd March 2009

My Lords, I am particularly grateful for the final flourish, as the Minister put it, and for the care with which she answered on the amendments. We do not regard jobs in any way as secondary. Our take on the Bill is to be sure that short-termism does not skew the architecture, a term quite often used by the Minister. If you skew the architecture, the building might fall down, so perhaps it is not a bad analogy.

On RDAs, my concern at the moment is to go further than the Bill; I am sure that the Minister recognises that. I understand her argument as it relates to the Bill but I am still concerned about what I see as too narrow an approach from the RDAs. I recognise that different priorities between different government departments may have something to do with the way in which RDAs are promoted and supported.

On the Minister's interpretation of my amendment, I do not agree that requiring an RDA to look beyond its own area would have the adverse effect described. Nevertheless, I dare say that that is a debate that we will have again on another day on another Bill. I am grateful for the Minister's approach to the last of my amendments in the group. When she said that she was going to accept my amendment, I wondered how she would accept it but bring it back as hers. I now see that it will come back a little further on in the Bill and will have to be in a different place, but that is good enough for me. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 157C withdrawn.

Amendments 157D to 157F not moved.

Amendment 157G

Moved by Baroness Andrews

157G: Clause 67, page 50, line 20, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert—

"(a) the regional spatial strategy for the region subsisting immediately before that day, and

(b) the regional economic strategy for the region subsisting immediately before that day."

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) 9:00 pm, 23rd March 2009

My Lords, the amendments that we are considering, in this group and in a later group, relate to the powers of the Secretary of State, which we debated thoroughly in Committee. In speaking to my Amendments 157G and 164G, I shall have to address the Conservative amendments, although not the others in the group, because they will be automatically addressed by my amendments.

The group relates to two distinct matters: first, Clause 67(6) and the role of the Secretary of State in defining what constitutes the regional strategy on the day that the legislation comes into effect; and, secondly, Clause 74 and the process for approving any revision to regional strategy. In Committee, noble Lords expressed concern about the extent to which the Bill provides for the Secretary of State's role and powers in relation to regional strategy. As I explained then, there is nothing new in the powers provided in the Bill other than those attached to the leaders' board, which is, of course, a new entity. They are essentially the same powers, in broad terms, as exist in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. They are minimal powers, which are included to deal with any risks that might arise. As we discussed in Committee, the first risk is that there could be disagreement between the different parties in the region, such that the Government might be required to arbitrate. The second risk is that the regional strategy does not reflect national imperatives.

It seems that we agree on the principle that the Bill needs to be abundantly clear about the role of the Secretary of State and to achieve the right balance between different parties in strategy making and delivery. I would not want there to be any confusion over the way in which those powers are distributed. In that context, I have looked afresh at the powers that the Bill provides for the Secretary of State and at the provisions that particularly exercised noble Lords. I am now proposing to amend the Bill both in relation to the initial strategy and in relation to the process of approving revisions to the strategy.

On the initial strategy and Clause 67(7), as I said in Committee, we want a smooth transition to the new arrangements. I intend that the regional spatial strategy and the regional economic strategy should in combination form the regional strategy on commencement of the legislation. In Committee, we debated a series of amendments on the provision and now we have Amendments 158 and 159 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. They would give the responsible regional authorities instead of the Secretary of State the power to specify how much of the existing regional spatial and economic strategies would form the regional strategy on commencement.

I accept the principle that the Secretary of State should not be given responsibility for determining how much of existing strategies should form the regional strategy on commencement. I cannot accept that it makes sense, however, for such responsibility to be given to another party, given the ensuing uncertainty and the risk of inconsistent decision-making. We explored that in Committee. We have therefore tabled Amendment 157G, which removes the concept and the process involved in a transitional arrangement. We are proposing instead that it should be automatic and that, on commencement, the regional strategy would simply consist of the RES and the spatial strategies that subsist on that day. That is a much more sensible outcome. It reduces the uncertainty, removes unnecessary procedure and recognises that considerable work has already gone into aligning the regional economic and spatial strategies such that we consider the risk of significant contradictions between them to be minimal. This approach would also deal with the concerns at the heart of Amendments 158 and 159, which would remove the Secretary of State from the process.

We have also taken a fresh look at the process for approving revisions to regional strategy with a view to ensuring the right balance. The Secretary of State retains responsibility for approving the strategy but the end product is jointly owned by the responsible regional authorities. Our Amendment 164G takes up the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in Committee. I am sorry that he is not in his place, as I would have liked to have seen his delight as we accepted this amendment. He proposed to remove the requirement for the Secretary of State to publish the approved strategy and to replace it with a requirement for responsible regional authorities to publish the approved strategy. That means that the regional authorities will publish the approved strategy. It does not take away the Secretary of State's responsibility for approving the final version but it gives the regional authorities a clear responsibility for publishing the final approved version. That confirms the leadership role that they have in drafting the strategy. I trust that both the amendments will meet with noble Lords' approval.

Photo of Lord Brougham and Vaux Lord Brougham and Vaux Conservative

My Lords, if Amendment 157G is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 158 or 159 due to pre-emption.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Shadow Minister, Transport

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her comments. We recognise that the Government have gone some way with their amendment and we are grateful for that. That is encouraging and it is the second time today that they have removed some of the powers of the Secretary of State along the lines that we wanted. I hope that there might be further movement as we go through the legislation. We argued throughout the Committee that that should be so.

I am still a little unclear about what elements of the existing strategies we are talking about. I gathered from the Minister that the Secretary of State would not look at RDAs' individual strategies where they do not affect national policy and that they would be able to decide what they took forward. I give noble Lords an example. Since this legislation was written and thought about, there have been dramatic events and changes in the way in which development is taking place. Only this morning, I was looking at a large development in north Essex that has collapsed because the developers cannot afford the Section 106 agreements that they entered into because of the collapse in the price of the land. They want local authorities to put in some of the infrastructure that would have come out of the Section 106 agreements. Therefore, whatever strategy the Secretary of State or the RDA has, a lot of local decisions will have to be made. We are talking about 15 years for a development that was going to take place in the next three.

The planning strategies in this legislation will be very much dependent on the economic situation in the next few years. Some of them are almost irrelevant for the moment; they might be more relevant in five years. It is very difficult to see how we are going to build some of the houses that are planned for. Therefore, whatever the Secretary of State says, a lot of local decisions will have to be made. I would like to see more of that in the legislation; I shall come back to that in a moment. However, I am grateful to the Minister. She has moved in our direction and clarified that the Secretary of State will not be as involved as we first feared. None the less, I would like to know a little more about how she sees the RDAs developing the regional strategy from day one under their own auspices.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, we have three amendments in this group, Amendments 164C, 164E and 164H. On Amendment 164G, I think that my noble friend Lord Greaves would probably say that he is glad to see the Government accepting sensible propositions and wishes that they would do more of it.

Clause 74, to which our amendments relate, deals with the approval of revision by the Secretary of State. The amendments would ensure that any modifications to the draft revision of a regional strategy proposed by the Secretary of State were published for consultation so that any member of the public could make representations about the changes, with the views being considered by the Secretary of State before the revision was finalised and published.

As the Bill stands, the Secretary of State has the right to determine whom to consult. This exclusive discretion contrasts with the current process for the revision of the regional spatial strategy. Our first amendment would give the right to anyone who wished it to be consulted. Draft revisions of a regional strategy would be developed by the regional development agencies and the leaders' boards in consultation with stakeholders—that horrible word—and local communities. It is important that those who live and work in a region are able to feed in to the development of the strategy, hence the second amendment.

If, under the process for revising a regional spatial strategy set out in the current legislation, the 2004 Act, the Secretary of State proposes to make changes to the draft revision, those changes have to be published for public consultation. It seems to us that, if the Secretary of State decides to modify the strategy at this stage in the process, the changes should be published for consultation, so that views can be given and taken into consideration, as is consistent with the process for developing regional spatial strategies.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, these amendments cover a number of detailed aspects of the process for approving revisions to regional strategy, and I can understand the intentions behind them. Noble Lords want to strengthen the consultation requirements on the Secretary of State before approving or revising the draft strategy. It is absolutely not our intention to limit the Secretary of State's consultation in any way. Amendment 164C would make it explicit that the Secretary of State must publish a draft revision of a regional strategy for consultation and would delete the current provision for the Secretary of State to,

"consult such persons (if any) as the Secretary of State considers appropriate."

Clause74(3) already requires the Secretary of State to engage in consultation which would automatically include publishing a document for consultation, which would obviously go as wide as possible.

Amendment 164E would insert into Clause 74(3) a provision that "any person" can make representations on the proposed changes. Clause 74(4) already makes it clear that any person can make representations and the Secretary of State must have regard to those representations. That also takes care, in part, of Amendment 164C.

Amendment 164H would insert an explicit requirement into Clause 74(5) for the Secretary of State to set out reasons for making any changes to the draft strategy revision submitted by the responsible regional authorities. We have had the regional spatial strategy process for some time now; it is a well established and welcome practice for the Secretary of State to set out the reasons for making further changes to strategy revisions. It is done in some detail so that everyone can see why the Secretary of State is recommending a different approach. It seems to me that there is little substantive difference between what the noble Baroness is proposing and the existing provisions. The important principle, on which we are absolutely agreed, is that there should be wide public consultation on the final draft of the strategy. We will make sure in guidance that that will be as clear a commitment as possible.

I may not be able to answer the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, in exactly the context in which he raised it. He is absolutely right that we are in a very dynamic situation, and it is clear that the landscape over the next few years is going to look very different, whether we are talking about management of resources or the trajectory of housing starts. Clearly, our regional spatial strategies will have to be dynamic. We are looking at revisions to some strategies at the moment as more demographic information comes online.

The important point about the amendment is that, instead of having what we originally proposed—the concept of a transitional arrangement—we will just have the regional spatial strategy in its present status and condition and the regional economic strategy. Together they will form the regional strategy on the day of commencement. There will not be any waiting for further changes or negotiation of accommodation—that will be the starting point. The noble Lord was absolutely right that the delivery of our strategy will be affected by local economic realities. It is the combination of evidence, intelligence and forecasting that comes out of the RES and the RSS which forms the framework for development. In local decisions, of course, economic conditions are always a material consideration. There will be a feed-through into local decision-making as well. I am very happy to write to the noble Lord if he would like some more detail on how we see that process working.

Amendment 157G agreed.

Amendments 158 and 159 not moved.

Amendment 159A

Moved by Lord Hanningfield

159A: Clause 67, leave out Clause 67

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Shadow Minister, Transport 9:15 pm, 23rd March 2009

My Lords, I do not really expect the Government to accept this amendment, but I want to talk to it. We talked a lot about regional strategies, their success and how they are going to happen or not going to happen, and I am sure that we will talk more about leaders' boards and other things. Our contention is that regional strategies are not successful, do not work and that we would do better without them.

When the Government published their proposals for this legislation, I thought that something might be happening that one could begin to agree with. We talked about economic assessments and EPBs, which are sub-regional, as well as MAAs and the development of LAAs, which everyone can support because their local authorities are working together for the best for that area, or groups of areas. They could all be successful because there are people on the ground who know the problems. As long as they are on EPBs and are mostly elected rather than appointed members, all three are recipes for success.

The noble Lord, Lord Smith, has talked about the north-west, and I accept that in some places it works differently. But that is my argument; the Government's whole approach should have been more flexible. Flexibility and different arrangements for different places would have delivered better results, because the country is very varied. In the east and the south-east, the regional strategies that we have had so far have not worked at all; they have resulted in a lot of arguments, with one area arguing against another and no decisions or conclusions being made about anything, even after four or five years. No real conclusions have been reached and no real sites have been developed in the south-east or the east, which contains 20 million people—a great chunk of our country.

As I have said several times during the passage of this legislation, I have spent most of my life in local government trying to get things to work and things to happen. I want to see housing and the economy improving, and a more flexible approach would have been much better. The Government have missed a tremendous opportunity here in developing that. I know that with legislation it is difficult to be flexible, but I would have liked to see some attempt to do that.

The House of Commons Business and Enterprise Committee published a report a couple of weeks ago on RDAs and this Bill. Some interesting, revealing and illuminating evidence was given to the inquiry, which has produced a report. Paragraph 89 says:

"Many witnesses raised the lack of RDAs' skills in relation to spatial planning. RDAs stated that they were already addressing this shortage and would both inherit some staff from regional assemblies and recruit new staff".

That does not sound very encouraging to me, when many local authorities, whether at unitary, district or county level, have very good planning officers and the capacity to do more of that work. We were defeated on an amendment a little while ago that might have involved different tiers of authorities in creating more of the planning requirements. The committee said other things about this legislation, which have not been addressed at all in our debates.

I know that the Government will not agree with this amendment, but it is not too late to have a bit more flexibility in this legislation. It would have helped if the EPBs had more power, and perhaps that is the future. If there is a change of government in the not-too-distant future, EPBs could become much more responsible bodies, because they are at a sub-regional and more local level. They might get local authorities to work together to deliver what we all want to see. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I am surprised to hear the noble Lord promoting EPBs after the debates that we had in Committee. Perhaps it is all comparative.

I am puzzled by this amendment, because it removes Clause 67 alone. The noble Lord has not tabled amendments to remove any of the subsequent clauses that follow on from this, on the review of regional strategy in Clause 70, and so on, or Clause 82, which brings in Schedule 5 and repeals, including among others the repeal of the first 12 sections of the 2004 legislation—the regional spatial strategy clauses. I am not sure whether the noble Lord is intending to revert to the 2004 situation or to the pre-2004 situation. As and when he replies, he can deal with that and, perhaps, be a little clearer about the technical position, if I may put it that way. Although I absolutely take his point that one should deal with realities and then make the technicalities support them, I do not understand the technicalities, so I do not know whether we are going back to structure plans, or what.

As I understand it, the argument of the noble Lord is that there should be no strategy at a regional level. On these Benches, we take the view that what the Government have put in place is too over the ears—too heavy, or too top down. We would much prefer a less heavy or rigid model than that, but we believe that there is a need for strategic work above the district level. That is where the noble Lord would leave us in some places, so I have some difficulty in following him on this.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, this amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, seeks to remove Clause 67, on regional strategy preparation. I take the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has just made: without Clause 67, the effect is that Part 5 of the Bill cannot be implemented, so the amendment is clearly significant. When we debated this issue in Committee, I resisted it strongly. I completely respect the experience and commitment of the noble Lord—certainly his commitment to making sub-regional arrangements work, and to being highly innovative in his own area—but I must disagree with him about the need for a spatial strategy that occupies the regional space.

In Committee I spoke at some length about the role and scope of regional strategies and why I believe that a regional perspective and policy capacity will be needed even more in future, in the post-recession world. That world may well be faced—the noble Lord has already indicated that he understands this—with radical differences in location, in terms of jobs, regeneration, skills and housing, and with the extraordinary challenge of building a low-carbon economy. I do not want to reiterate those arguments, but I must briefly say why we need this part of the Bill and why the noble Lord is quite right that we cannot accept his amendment.

This country has had regional strategy-making provision in various guises for decades, because successive Governments have recognised that there are strategic issues that can only be addressed at the right spatial level, whether that is national, regional, sub-regional or local. We are a country of regions, just like other European countries. Our regions have different strengths, demographics, histories and geographies, and they face different challenges on resources, land use, housing and regeneration, and on employment and natural environments. Each of our regions could put forward a different profile; each presents a different contribution to the future of the UK, the European and the world economies; and each faces different challenges in how to build aspirations, skills, jobs and enterprises, and how to deliver sustainable growth.

Finding a solution to those challenges—although the solution will differ and sometimes be more difficult in different regions—can be effectively sought only at the right spatial level. Working at a regional level to link across higher education, for example, to plan for social cohesion, to create knowledge-based jobs, to reduce travel-to-work times and to target the right investment and regeneration, are all challenges common to all regions. To compete with global challenges means a level of analysis and planning that works with local authorities but opens up regional possibilities as well.

More than ever, we need a regional perspective and regional opportunities. The creation of a single regional strategy is a crucial tool to help strengthen our local and regional economies in a sustainable way. If every local authority had to prepare its own strategy in isolation, it would be a recipe for confusion and uncertainty. It is the opposite of what business and communities want. They want certainty, transparency and leadership. That is why our response to the consultation showed near universal support for the principles of a single regional strategy.

The new strategies we are legislating for in the Bill will help support and grow our regional and local economies in a particularly potent way. The current system of separate strategies has led to fragmentation of both the number and range of strategies and organisations at the regional level.

I took the liberty of taking some advice from the north-west as it moves towards its own analysis and configuration of its regional strategy. I am very grateful to be able to quote from its most recent document, Principles and Issues Paper, as I think that it is a very compelling argument. It states:

"We ... know that there will be increasing and sometimes competing, land-use pressures on the countryside, urban fringe, open spaces and brownfield land. All will be needed to deliver economic growth, infrastructure, housing, energy, adaption to increased flood risk and climate change, recreation, less intensive farming, food, and a valued landscape ... All these issues mean that we must ask ourselves fundamental questions about how our economy and society work. We will need to be radical in considering how we can integrate environmental, economic and social issues to achieve economic prosperity without unsustainable use of resources. We will need to address what sustainable models of business look like post recession, where the jobs of the future will come from and any fundamental long term changes in the world economy".

The north-west has set out how it sees that vision unfolding for its region. That means an integrated vision for 20 years or so—a strategic framework—bringing together the spatial elements of policy on land use, planning, demographic and housing needs, which have been expressed so far in the regional spatial strategies. That has to be brought together with the evidence and planning for jobs, investment and enterprise, which has been held by the regional economic strategy. It is not so much an alignment of strategy, whether it is alignment in evidence or policy, as a way of expressing those elements together to get the right results in the use of natural resources, planning for urban and rural areas and housing, locating suitable transport, jobs and business. It is the only way we can hope to meet our greenhouse gas targets and our budgets and to identify the right regional parties and local interests which ensure that we have a strong delivery focus.

Therefore, in all those new strategies, we are looking for more than an alignment of evidence or policy; we are looking for a framework which will provide a more streamlined and timely process, with a better balance of priorities and local interests and a clear alignment between economic and spatial planning with a strong delivery focus. We also believe that, contrary to the fears raised by noble Lords opposite, this will increase the amount of local involvement in the preparation of regional strategies because of the considerable flexibility for local authorities to identify the priorities they feel able to tackle at local or sub-regional level, and to identify, through active participation in the leaders' boards, what they consider to be regional priorities. The local authorities are in the driving seat of those proposals. We have talked about the importance of consultation and stakeholder engagement. The proposals do not centralise power because—after extensive consultation, not least with the local authorities themselves—we are confident that the balance is right for a genuinely equal partnership, a collaborative approach between the RDAs and the local authorities.

We have also made it clear that there are improved requirements to consult and engage communities and stakeholders with the process of independent testing of the regional strategy though an improved examination in public. Where the legislation provides for the Secretary of State to intervene, this intervention is limited. Where there are Secretary of State's powers, they are either not new or they are limited in scope.

I understand that the noble Lord has a deep-seated opposition to what we are doing. However, our proposals are widely supported by those whose job it is both to anticipate and to manage the future in practical ways. That came out in the consultation with a strong degree of consensus across the private and public sectors. The joint statement from the chief executives from the RDAs and the LGA, which was published last year, welcomed the strengthened role for local government in economic development and the introduction of a single regional strategy. As we have debated on a previous amendment, we do not want regional strategies that promote economic growth at all costs without full and proper regard and testing of whether they follow sustainable development principles.

I understand that we will probably not agree on the need for a regional dimension for policy. However, we genuinely believe that a single integrated strategy is more crucial given our economic circumstances and how we will have to plan for the future. It will provide a better mechanism to address the challenges and opportunities facing all our regions and will put in place important preconditions for recovery in a sustainable way.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Shadow Minister, Transport

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that answer. It was quite long and I could give as long a reply with detailed arguments on all her points. I agree with virtually everything that she said towards the end, but I totally disagree that a regional strategy delivers it. Instead, we need a strategy worked out by authorities working together with a common aim and purpose.

In the south-east, where the authorities have no common identity and the distances are so great, this would be unworkable. Most regions in Europe have about 1.5 million people. We have established artificial regions in this country, but European regions are historical and there are some very small ones. There are some big ones in Germany and Spain, but generally regions throughout Europe are much smaller and therefore people in them have a greater ability to work together. I am pleased that the north-west is so successful but, if we asked detailed questions of people in Cumbria, I am not sure that they would totally agree all the time. There are differences.

After many years, what we want is some system that will work. To answer the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, one would not want to go back to the position pre-2004. A development from that would be bottom-up and one would not have the same type of plans that one had in 2004. On the sorts of arguments that we have all been making about how you take the local government frameworks through to a county level and then through to a sub-regional level, you would get some results on both economic and planning strategies. However, there will be no results from this new legislation.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, the noble Lord says that we would not quite go back to where I think we would go back to if his amendment were carried. Can he explain to the House how we would get to this utopia without more than just this amendment?

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Shadow Minister, Transport

My Lords, I agree. Certainly, if the noble Baroness would like, we can table a whole series of amendments that would make this work. The pre-2004 position would need rethinking because the world has changed a lot, but it was much more local. I would like to see the development of a much more bottom-up approach. We did not table a lot more amendments, because we did not want to detain the House for a long while. If anyone wanted a lot more detail about what might happen if there were ever a Conservative Government, they could read the Conservative Green Paper on local government.

Let us get back to this issue. I accept the noble Baroness's integrity on this and I think that she really believes it will work. It might work in some places, but it will not work in a lot of places. We are creating a piece of legislation, like we did four years ago, which someone will have to redo in two or three years' time, because it will not work on the scale that has been suggested. I do not think that we will get very far today, but I should test the opinion of the House to make certain that it is on the record.

Division on Amendment 159A

Contents 18; Not-Contents 102.

Amendment 159A disagreed.

Division number 3 Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill [HL] — Report (Second Day) (Continued)

Aye: 16 Members of the House of Lords

No: 100 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Clause 68: Leaders' Boards

Amendments 160 to 160B not moved.

Consideration on Report adjourned.

House adjourned at 9.45 pm.