Moved by Lord Greaves
203K: Before Clause 97, insert the following new Clause-
"Duty to promote sustainable development
(1) Each person who is carrying out functions under any Acts relating to planning and who is-
(a) a local planning authority,
(b) a county council in England that is not a local planning authority,
(c) the Secretary of State when carrying out functions relating to applications for development consent,
(d) a qualifying body for the purposes of Schedule 9 (neighbourhood planning),
(e) a body, or other person, that is prescribed or of a prescribed description,
must carry out their functions with the objective of promoting sustainable development.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1) "sustainable development" means development that meets the social, economic and environmental needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, based on the following guiding principles-
(a) living within environmental limits, namely respecting the limits of the planet's environment, resources and biodiversity, to improve our environment and ensure that the natural resources needed for life are unimpaired and remain so for future generations,
(b) ensuring a strong, healthy and just society, namely meeting the diverse needs of all people in existing and future communities, promoting personal wellbeing, social cohesion and inclusion, and creating equal opportunity for all,
(c) achieving a sustainable economy, namely building a strong, stable and sustainable economy which provides prosperity and opportunities to all, and in which environmental and social costs fall on those who impose them and efficient resource use is incentivised,
(d) promoting good governance, namely actively promoting effective, participative systems of governance in all levels of society and engaging people's creativity, energy and diversity,
(e) using sound science responsibly, namely ensuring policy is developed on the basis of strong scientific evidence, whilst taking into account scientific uncertainty (through the precautionary principle) as well as public attitudes and values.
(3) Section 10 of the Planning Act 2004 is amended as follows.
(4) After subsection (3) insert-
"(4) In this section "sustainable development" has the same meaning as in section (Duty to promote sustainable development) in the Localism Act 2011.""
My Lords, we return to the Localism Bill and have reached Part 5, which is about the substantial changes the Bill makes to the planning system. Amendment 203K, which is grouped with one other amendment, is about sustainable development. This is the third time during proceedings on the Bill that I have had the privilege of opening a debate on sustainable development. We had a comprehensive debate at the beginning of our consideration of the Bill, and a further, pretty comprehensive debate at the beginning of the planning section. Both debates took place in Committee. We are now on Report and come to sustainable development again. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, for adding his name to the three Liberal Democrat names on the amendment.
The amendment seeks to place in the Bill a definition of sustainable development. This debate reappears every time a planning Bill comes before the House, or a Bill related to planning or similar things. So far, although Governments have increasingly included the words "sustainable development" in legislation, they have always resisted including a clear definition of it in legislation. This amendment also sets out a duty of each person who carries out functions within the planning system, from the Secretary of State down to local planning authorities, to promote sustainable development. It also applies to the neighbourhood forums or parish councils which will be carrying out neighbourhood planning functions under the new provisions within this part of the Bill.
There are therefore two issues. The first is whether a definition should appear in the Bill. It has always been the view of the Liberal Democrat Benches in this House that it should, and we have not really changed in that view. The second is what that definition should be.
Sustainable development is a phrase which has been in current use for about 20 years. However, it has really come to the fore in the past 10 years. In 2005, the then Government issued a report called Securing the Future-Delivering UK Sustainable Development Strategy-I am not quite sure why the title does not have an "a" or a "the" in it. Page 16 lists a set of guiding principles, and it is those guiding principles which this amendment sets out, exactly as they appeared in the 2005 strategy. These are: living within environmental limits, ensuring a strong, healthy and just society, achieving a sustainable economy, promoting good governance, and using sound science responsibly-all with the detail set out. Although this strategy was issued by Defra, it was to apply across government, throughout all departments and all government activities. One assumes that that definition applied to the planning system, since the planning system is part of what the Government do, although parts of the strategy might be more relevant to planning, just as other parts might be more relevant to other aspects of government activity.
In 2010, we had the exciting development of the formation of the new coalition Government, who clearly had to review their policies and strategies, and in particular those which had been passed on to it by the previous Labour Government. In February of this year, the Government issued Mainstreaming Sustainable Development-the Government's vision and what this means in practice. That vision was very much based on the 2005 strategy, and according to the Defra website, which still existed when I looked last week, the Government are reaffirming their vision for sustainable development.
The website said in February this year:
"The Coalition Government has reaffirmed its commitment to sustainable development and set out its vision of achieving economic growth, improved wellbeing and a protected environment now and for future generations".
The word "wellbeing" has come into prominence recently since it appears in the health Bill as well, but I take it that in this context it encompasses the social side of the three prongs of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental.
"The Government is determined that as we reduce the deficit, we also rebalance the economy and put it on a greener, more sustainable footing. In order to achieve this, we must lead by example. I am pleased to see this document"-
He means the document entitled, Mainstreaming Sustainable Development-the Government's vision and what this means in practice published on
"sets out exactly how we can do that and take our place among the greenest governments of the world".
I am going to read out much of the introduction to the document because it is crucial:
"The Coalition Government is committed to sustainable development. This means making the necessary decisions now to realise our vision of stimulating economic growth and tackling the deficit, maximising wellbeing and protecting our environment, without negatively impacting on the ability of future generations to do the same. These are difficult times and tough decisions need to be made". that is what they say all the time, but it is true, of course. It continues:
"This Government believes in going beyond the short term with eyes fixed firmly on a long term horizon shift"- this is the crucial bit, and I think I know what it means-
"in relation to our economy, our society and the environment ... This refreshed vision and our commitments build on the principles that underpinned the UK's 2005 SD strategy, by recognising the needs of the economy, society and the natural environment, alongside the use of good governance and sound science".
These are the guiding principles that appear in my amendment. The introduction goes on to say:
"Sustainable development recognises that the three 'pillars' of the economy, society and the environment are interconnected. The Government has initiated a series of growth reviews to put the UK on a path to strong, sustainable and balanced growth. Our long term economic growth relies on protecting and enhancing the environmental resources that underpin it, and paying due regard to social needs. As part of our commitment to enhance wellbeing, we will start measuring our progress as a country, not just by how our economy is growing"- although clearly that is very important-
"but by how our lives are improving; not just by our standard of living, but by our quality of life".
I could not have put it anything like as well as that.
In launching the document, the then environment Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said:
"While the Government is committed to tackling the deficit and rebuilding Britain's economy as we recover from recession, not least through the development of a sustainable green economy, we recognise that our success and progress as a country is about more than economic growth".
The Prime Minister, when announcing the measurement of the nation's well-being in April, said:
"Prosperity alone cannot deliver a better life ... The Government must be focused on quality of life as well as economic growth ... Improved wellbeing is important to our goal of creating a more family-friendly country ... Sustainable development is also about ensuring a high quality of life for our children and future generations".
We appear to have a pretty firm commitment from the noble Lord, Lord Henley, Nick Clegg, David Cameron and from the Government themselves.
The purpose of the amendment is to suggest to the Minister that now is the time to put all this on the face of the Bill so that we are absolutely clear about what it is. If she cannot agree to do that on the wording in my amendment today, perhaps we might consider this again at Third Reading with wording suggested by the Government themselves. In any case, it asks her to give a firm assurance-in view of the controversy around the country, not least over the national planning policy framework-that the firm commitments made back in February this year by the high-ups in the Government to sustainable development are still the view of the Government. I beg to move.
My Lords, I agree with almost everything that my noble friend has said about the desirability of promoting the concept of sustainable development. I rise to speak only for one reason-namely, the news of the death of Sir Arthur Norman, who was a very distinguished president of the FBI, as it was before the CBI. He and the noble Lord, Lord Barber of Tewkesbury, came to see me when I was Environment Secretary. They were very concerned about what appeared to be a growing conflict between those who championed the environment and those who were concerned with the well-being of industry. Their view was that, in fact, they are mutually dependent on each other-you cannot improve the environment unless there are the resources there to do it; and business cannot hope to succeed if it flouts all the canons of good environmental behaviour. They came and asked me to help them set up an organisation that could reflect this-and, if I may say so to my noble friend Lord Greaves, this was well in advance of the Brundtland definition, which he has just quoted. I had no hesitation in offering them a launching grant to set up what became the United Kingdom Centre for Economic and Environmental Development-UK CEED. It is going strong today.
I believe that this has now become-as my noble friend has rightly said-absolutely embedded in the policies of, I suspect, every party in this country and, indeed, across the world. My only concern with my noble friend's amendment is whether it is actually going to achieve anything. "Sustainable development" is one of these expressions that tends to mean, rather like "humpty-dumpty", what I want it to mean when I use it. I am not sure how far it helps to seek to have a definition, because circumstances and conditions change and one is going to find oneself having to amend it as new developments, inventions and technology come forward. I support the concept of trying to build in sustainable development, as has been done in this Bill and certainly in the framework planning policy document. I just question whether putting an amendment of the sort that my noble friend has proposed in the Bill carries this forward. I say this with some background awareness of the huge importance of trying to get everybody-every major part of the economy and the community-committed to this principle of sustainable development.
My Lords, I, too, rise to speak in favour of the amendment put down by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I would like to begin by following up directly the final comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, about whether it is helpful to have this actually set out as a definition. Those in part of the diocese for which I am at present responsible-I am thinking particularly of the south-eastern part of the diocese-live with some of the most serious deprivation indicators anywhere in England, largely because of the very rapid death of the coal industry over the last 30 years. This has led to the death of community in many places. Many of you will have seen the film "Brassed Off", which focuses on Grimethorpe, which is in my area.
Alongside the death of community runs worklessness. There are sometimes two or even three generations of people who have never worked. Often, when talking with these communities, I use the term "loss of community" or "loss of corporate self-esteem". All of us who have families will know that when any of our young offspring, for one reason or another, is stricken by difficulties and they lose self-esteem, when we become most seriously concerned for them. It is something that might lead people into thinking about taking their own lives. There is a similar phenomenon which eventuates from the lack of a community feeling or no clear sense of purpose. Therefore, the headings in this proposed amendment are helpful in terms of economic, social and environmental issues.
However, perhaps there is more to be said than that. In Norwich, I was in a city that had enjoyed prosperity for 800 years, but not for the past 20. Great efforts were made to try to reverse the trend in the economy and eventually they were effective to a very good degree, but, once again, social and environmental concerns are key to building up a clear sense of healthy community. That seems to be the basis of sustainable development.
Another word that is often seen as controversial is "spiritual". It seems to me that spiritual development is also a key element in this. I do not necessarily mean Christian spirituality, or even religious spirituality; we all know that there is something about the human spirit. When the human spirit is lost in people, or when it is dampened, the community and the effectiveness of individuals within that community are affected.
Therefore, I ask the Government to consider looking at a definition like that and adding to it the spiritual element. Of course, the danger is that, if we do not do that, we all subscribe to saying how important sustainable development is but, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has just said, it is not entirely clear what we are saying. My instinct is to say that we need to define it more carefully. We had an interesting discussion yesterday on the term "multiculturalism". That is another great word which we think is very important, but no one wants to define it too much because then it could become more controversial.
Many years ago, I remember a former Prime Minister of this country-this shows my age-when asked to respond to a particular issue saying, "I'm not going down that road; that's just theology". As someone who has taught theology for many years, I am quite keen that there should be some clarity in what we are saying. I remember one of my teachers telling me that God was the incomparable who let things be, which I thought did not get me very far down the line at all. I do not want sustainable development which is incomparable but undefined. I say that, not simply because I am keen on a series of philosophical statements or philosophical definitions, but because I think that if we do that, it may mean that sustainable development does something for our communities.
I take noble Lords back to the place where I started, to the south-east of the area that I represent, to places like South Kirkby and South Elmsall, which are in desperate need of regeneration. If we have a clear notion of what we are going for in terms of economic, social, environmental and spiritual issues, perhaps we can begin to rebuild that community self-esteem of which, at the moment, there is a desperate lack.
I do not think that anyone would accuse me of not being committed to sustainable development. Indeed, I declare my interest in helping others throughout the world to promote this issue. However, I have a warning about this amendment. We are trying to change the planning system in order to achieve a number of ends including ensuring that Britain is able to grow in a sustainable way and that the time taken by the process should not be such that we avoid all those good ends. I started being concerned about a detailed definition of this sort when I realised how many people will use it to take the courts into consideration. I hope that the Government will recognise that there are two elements to this: there is the natural desire of those of us who are concerned with sustainable development to ensure that no future Government with less concern should be able to use this Act to avoid some of the necessary decisions which we are making while on the other hand not wanting a definition that brings sustainable development into disrepute because it is used as the mechanism for yet again holding up decisions. I hope that the Government, in considering this amendment whose spirit I wholly support, will think hard about how we do this in a way that does not open this whole thing up to a kind of justiciable approach where every person desiring development will be able to find something here which they can use to try to overturn what a local authority has done.
Secondly, I am concerned about the definition. I know it draws from all sorts of learned and worthy bodies, but the truth is that sustainable development is two words: "sustainable", and "development". An awful lot of green people talk about sustainability as if development is not in it, and a lot of people who are keen on development talk as if it does not have sustainability in it. It is necessary to stick these two together. If you read this definition, there is a great deal about sustainability, but I am not sure that there is a tremendous amount about development. Yet my noble friend Lord Jenkin, who taught me these things when I was his PPS, is absolutely right to say that these two things come together. They either fuse together, or neither is able to operate on the other side. I hope that in consideration we will take that into account as well.
The third thing we have to take into account is something very fundamental. It is that we ought to move to a stage in which you do not need both words. We ought to move to a stage in which the very word "development" inevitably means that you are going to develop in a sustainable way. Here I have to say something a bit hard about the Government. It does not help when the Government say things for convenience which suggest that they do not have their heart where it ought to be. It does not help when the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggests that we are going to move at a slower speed in dealing with our emissions than the law says we have to and proposes something illegal. It does not help us when those things happen because then others can doubt our fundamental support for these beliefs.
I say to the Minister that it is crucial that we go further than we have gone so far in making sure that people understand that we mean business. The first Prime Minister to use the words "sustainable development" was John Major. I know that because I wrote that bit of the speech but, in the end, people do not give speeches unless they are happy about them-at least, if they have anything about them. He used those words because he believed fundamentally-this has to be said-that it is in the nature of conservatism that we develop sustainability. That is what the country party, on which we are based, had as its heart. We conserved; we believed in handing on to the next generation something better than we received from the previous one. There is much in this Bill which will help us to do that. We need the speed to do it, but we also need the clarity to ensure that people do not fail to recognise the two elements of sustainability and development until it becomes so much second nature that we need only one word because it means both because we have redefined it properly.
My Lords, there is much that the noble Lord has said with which I agree. I must put on my English Heritage hat and declare an interest. One of the disappointments that we have tried to address in this Bill is the need to get greater clarity about the nature of sustainability. While I see the point that the noble Lord is making, that sustainability and development are two words, it is sustainability that raises greater confusion and there has been a marked lack of clarity about the whole notion. The debate that we have seen in recent weeks about the nature of sustainability in relation to development has exemplified the search for general agreement about the content of sustainability.
It is difficult because there are competing definitions, but I support the noble Lord's amendment. I spoke at some length in Committee about this and will not repeat it, but we have inclusivity in this definition, in terms of the lifetime issue of how we must address sustainable developments in future. It also specifies content and that gets us a long way down the track. It is also a definition that is fairly familiar, so we might be able to get some agreement on it. Whether it is workable, practicable and applicable raises enormous questions about the way that the planning system operates.
I also have a great deal of sympathy with what the right reverend Prelate has said about what else might go into a definition of sustainability. I may be drifting into the danger of a list, but I feel strongly that one of the elements that is not in this amendment-and the Minister might take this away and consider it-is including something about our vital cultural and heritage needs, including those of future generations. That is an important guiding principle for what we mean by sustainability in many different ways. It would also fit alongside this expression of a strong, healthy and just society.
I do not want to draft an amendment on my feet, but one might add, for example, "meeting the diverse social, cultural, heritage needs of all people in existing and future communities and promoting well-being and social cohesion and inclusion". This is important, because if we are to take this definition of sustainability seriously, this is a moment when we might be able to agree and implement something. It has been debated for goodness knows how long in this Chamber and I believe that our culture and heritage fit this Bill. They feed our sense of belonging, of pride, identity and resilience and they feed into our roots of personal and community life. They express, as the right reverend Prelate said, our sense of community. They help us to know who we are and what we are capable of. All that is about sustainability for future generations, for the future shape and feel of our country.
I hope that, if we are to debate the amendment-and maybe I should bring it back at a further stage-the Minister will consider whether she can be flexible in her approach to it and maybe include the new elements of the definition.
My Lords, the noble Baroness raises some extremely important points, wearing as she does proudly and properly her hat as chairman of English Heritage. I want to say one thing: sustainable development, as my noble friend Lord Deben has talked about eloquently, is not something of itself. We are talking about the context in which that development takes place. It is crucially important-if we are concerned about our heritage, the beauty of our landscape and the balance of it in this country-that what is added to our environment does not detract from it. For instance, if we are to have development in or near a historic town, village or particularly important building, that development should enhance the environment into which it is going and not spoil it.
That is my underlying concern about the Bill and some of the interpretations that have misguidedly been placed on it. I was greatly reassured after one conversation with my noble friend the Minister last week. I am utterly convinced that her heart is in the right place and that she does not wish to despoil any more than I do. But we have an opportunity as we debate this Bill to make it clear beyond any doubt that where there is to be an addition or development it must not only be sustainable in itself but must further sustain the environment into which it comes.
My Lords, as someone who passionately believes in the potential of planning to deliver sustainable development, I was very happy to add my name to the amendment. It is particularly helpful that the amendment spells out the depth of field covered by those who will have responsibility for planning to promote sustainable development. Those individuals, bodies and authorities need guidance on what the Government mean by sustainable development. Yes, a belief in localism means giving local councils the power to articulate their visions of sustainable development for their areas through their local plans, but in the absence of a clear vision from the Government, it is imperative that they define clearly and upfront what sustainable development means in order to determine the expected route of travel.
I support my noble friend in arguing that it is right to give a legal underpinning to the definition of sustainable development that is found in the UK Sustainable Development Strategy. Its five widely accepted principles provide a common framework for sustainable development and establish the twin goals of living within environmental limits and providing a just society by means of good governance, sound science and a sustainable economy.
The crucial thing is that the definition has widespread understanding and support. Only last year, 97 per cent of respondents to a Defra consultation exercise supported or did not object to the particular definition of sustainable development used in the 2005 Sustainable Development Strategy. Restating the principles of sustainable development as outlined in that strategy would make it clear that there is no hidden agenda by the Government to redefine sustainable development. I echo the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, but some of the comments by Ministers have been less than helpful in determining exactly what the Government mean by sustainable development. Therefore, by reiterating a position that is commonly understood and has been widely supported in recent consultations would suggest that the Government are serious about sustainable development and are not seeking to redefine the terms of the argument.
The Prime Minister himself recently gave an assurance that the purpose of planning is to balance the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development. Accepting the amendment would allow that assurance to be delivered.
My Lords, not having participated in proceedings on this Bill hitherto, I hope that the House will none the less tolerate me in making a very few remarks in response to what I have listened to this afternoon. It is desirable that the definition of sustainable development should be filled out, not least because of the suspicions that many people currently entertain in this country that sustainable development is no more than a euphemism for development at all costs.
I know that that is not the Government's intention but that is unfortunately the impression that has gained some currency. It would be desirable to fill out the definition in order to reassure people and in order to provide better clarification and guidance for planners and would-be developers as well as for the communities that would be affected by the development.
We should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for having tabulated so many of the components of sustainable development in an appropriate sense. I agree also with the right reverend Prelate that, however we formulate this, it ought to be clear that the spiritual dimension of our human existence is something that is to be supported and sustained in this process of sustainable development. I am also attracted to what my noble friend Lady Andrews had to say about incorporating references in appropriate wording on cultural and heritage matters. One might also add that it would be desirable for a definition of sustainable development to incorporate language relative to design, and that it should stress the importance of good design processes in achieving sustainable development.
I think that what I am saying illustrates that we are not yet in a position to agree on a definition of sustainable development, other than in the succinct-perhaps too succinct-Brundtland definition, which the Government use in the draft national planning policy framework. I am also wary about incorporating rhetoric and aspiration in legislation. It seems to me that our legislative tradition in this country is to be as specific as we can about legislation, to enable the courts to interpret it in a practical and expeditious fashion.
I agree also with the warning uttered by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that if an elaborate definition is placed upon the Bill, there is a danger that it will be almost an invitation, if not a challenge, to litigants to try to exploit it, whether their intention is to prevent or promote development-although the former is more likely. If the practical upshot is that development would be quite seriously inhibited by placing a more complex definition of sustainable development on the Bill, then perhaps we should be very careful indeed about doing that.
It seems to me, therefore, that if we are to fill out the definition, the right place to do this would be in the national planning policy framework itself, which is the gloss upon the Bill. This is the document that explains and interprets to the lay person, and all sorts of practitioners, the policy of the Government and what they seek to achieve through this legislation. Again there are difficulties, partly because there is not yet a sufficient consensus about how to define sustainable development. At least if you have a national planning policy framework, it is possible to update it from time to time without having to resort to all the processes of primary legislation.
Even if we put a complex definition into the national planning policy framework, that may still make the process more susceptible-too susceptible-to litigation. It depends upon the legal standing of the national planning policy framework, but I think that it does have some sort of legal status. So, I just counsel caution about this. I really do counsel caution about trying to place a satisfactory definition on the face of the Bill, and I think that we should even be rather cautious about trying to elaborate the advice given-the guidance-in the national planning policy framework.
My Lords, perhaps it is a little impertinent of me to deny a compliment that has just been given by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, to my noble friend Lord Greaves, but he congratulated my noble friend on tabulating the items, when I think my noble friend would say that he copied it out. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, referred to familiarity and we will all have recognised the words.
I would like to use this opportunity to ask the Minister a question. I have heard her say on a different occasion that two of the five principles are not as appropriate to planning as they are to other parts of government. These two principles are the use of sound science and the promotion of good governance. For my part, I must say that they both seem entirely appropriate. On the subject of science, let me just mention climate change and flooding. Governance, after all, is used both in the creation of local plans and in dealing with planning applications, as well as more widely. So they both seem to me to be appropriate. If that is to be a part of the Minister's response, I hope that my noble friend can spell out why that is so. I am open-minded to hearing it, but I will be interested to hear the detail.
I have some worries about the whole concept. Many noble Lords have talked about what should and should not be on this list. It is a very good list, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, certainly deserves a lot of credit for putting it together, if that is the right word. But there is not so much in it about development. There is lots about sustainability, which of course I love, but my slight worry is that-notwithstanding the debate going on at the moment about the presumption in favour of development, which I am sure we will talk about later-if there is to be development, it has to be done in an environmentally friendly way but must also be reasonably cost effective.
A Treasury report was produced by Infrastructure UK last year. It said that the civil engineering developments in this country are probably 60 per cent higher than they are in Germany, and goes on to say that the labour costs are much the same. The conclusion that one should probably draw from that is that the difference is to a large extent taken into account with the complexity of planning. Of course we need to have planning but, as my noble friend said just now, if we go too far down that road it will be a lawyers' bonanza and take a very long time and nothing will get built. In the end, we are in the end going to be competing with other European and world countries about what we produce.
It is useful to have a definition. I think that we need more in it about the development side, so that is sustainable. But we must also recognise that one of the benefits of having something like this in the Bill, and possibly the national planning policy framework, is that it enables us and other people to help to hold the Government to account. Governments in the past 20 or so years, ever since John Major apparently invented the world "sustainability", have all paid lip service to sustainability and a green environment until life got difficult. We have the 80 per cent carbon reduction target. The last Government made some attempt to go towards them, and this Government are also making some attempt, but if you look to where they have got to, in my view, many people will think, "Thank goodness that we will have retired and may even be dead by the time it comes into force in 40 years' time-so it does not really matter".
Yesterday the Department for Transport announced a trial of longer lorries. That is great for the environment, is it not, and great for road accidents and the quality of life? There is need for much more joined-up government right across these things, and some clauses like this would help us to hold the Government to account. I believe that we can get growth and development in a sustainable way, and this is a good contribution towards it-but possibly putting it in the national planning policy framework would be easier, and we could have a much better debate about what should be in it.
My Lords, I find myself very much siding with the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, on this. Sustainable development is rather like well-being; it is a concept that we think we know when we see it, and occasionally we will try to pin down what it means in definitions like the one we see before us. But actually it means different things in different times and different places, and should do so.
The development of a nuclear power station, looked at on a very local scale, is completely unsustainable, but on a national scale it may be sustainable. So scale is very important. Likewise, something which on a national scale may be an undesirable policy may be just what a village needs in order to flourish.
Again, when you set out a definition like this, even without including design or spirituality, you find that in every individual instance bits of the definition do not apply, or apply in very perverse ways. How does one apply great chunks of this definition to, say, the siting of a sewage farm? There are bits of it that do not seem to hang in there at all under those circumstances-
That is a nice illustration. There are bits of wording; as my noble friend Lord Deben said, if we are going to put something in legislation, then we must produce something that works in the courts. An authority must know that it is complying with the law and other people must be able to judge whether it has complied with the law. There are bits in here which are frankly impossible from that point of view. The words "of all" appear several times, and completely remove the definition from reality when it comes to deciding the matter in a court. There are things about future generations, where we cannot know or even begin to imagine. We hardly know what is happening to the economy next week, let alone what will be the effects of a future development on future generations. We can do our best to assess that, but we cannot be held accountable for whether it does or does not; one just produces an immediate morass in the courts if one goes down that route.
There is a lack, as several noble Lords have said, of development, or the understanding of development. If you are going to assess a sustainable development you have to look at it as a whole, as a picture of everything that is happening, and not its individual bits; as a picture of what will happen over time, and not at any particular instant. There is no recognition of that at all in this definition. You could trip up a development just because it is doing a bit of harm to something, even though looked at as a whole it was doing good.
Indeed, many developments harm things but do good in other ways, and some developments compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Every time you take a bit of coal, gravel or gas out of the ground, that is not available to future generations. It is inevitable that we are living with compromise and fuzziness in this area. It is up to us to do our best by some well designed guiding lights, but we should not try to pin down a legal definition to something which is not suitable for it.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for moving this amendment. We have added our names to it and give it our full support. On a point of detail, I wonder if the reference to the Planning Act in subsection (3) of the amendment should be 2008 rather than 2004. I particularly commend the spelling out of the guiding principles rather than the adoption of the usual shorthand of the 2005 principles.
The amendment adopts the formulation of promoting sustainable development rather than contributing to it or furthering it, which we discussed in Committee. As the noble Lord said, this amendment would enshrine in primary legislation the duty to promote sustainable development at every tier of the process, including the Secretary of State, although the duty imposed on the Secretary of State relates only to the functions concerning applications for development consent, and this would not appear to cover, for example, the Secretary of State's engagement with promulgating a national planning policy framework. We might just reflect on that.
There has been a divide in part of our debate today between those who say that these definitions should not be in primary legislation, those who say that it should be in the national planning policy framework and those who say that we should not necessarily seek to spell these out at all. We believe that it is right for it to be in primary legislation. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, on that. A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and my noble friend Lord Howarth, queried whether doing so in a sense gives litigants a chance to challenge every decision whichever way it goes. I would argue a corollary: that not having a reasonably sophisticated framework in which these things can be judged equally, if not creating a greater opportunity for litigation, which is one of the key issues with the national planning policy framework as it stands, is a lawyer's charter.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that we cannot possibly live every part of our life by this wording. He is right. There will always be a balance, a judgment, to be made about future generations and the current, and about local and national. To do that within the context that this wording creates gives us a real opportunity of achieving what we would broadly all sign up to.
When we discussed this matter in Committee, I understood that the Minister had indicated no change to the Labour Government's position on the meaning of sustainable development. I think that we had one exchange and I thought that that was confirmed. If this is correct, it is very hard to see how this is reflected in the draft NPPF, which might be interpreted as giving primacy to economic development and be a view that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, may support.
A number of inclusions or omissions suggest a move away from the definition reflected in the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. The abandonment of brownfield first, the lack of content around social justice or equality and weaknesses around affordable housing proposals do not seem consistent with no change to the definition of sustainable development. If this debate does nothing else, it gives us the opportunity to hear directly from the Front Bench whether that definition is something to which it adheres, however it may be expressed in legislation or be the framework itself.
The right reverend Prelate raised spirituality and the extent to which that is included. One might argue that it is encompassed within ensuring a strong, healthy and just society, which may be the root to addressing the issues identified by the right reverend Prelate. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, referred to sustainability as being what conservatism was all about. I read these principles and say that it is a fairly good description of what socialism is all about. I am not quite sure what conclusion we might reach from that. It will never be an all-encompassing definition. Certainly, it seems to me to be not inappropriate, if we can get this in the Bill, to spell it out, to expand it and to meet the aspirations of my noble friend about including cultural in the definition. It seems to me that a strong strand from this debate is that there does not have to be a conflict between growth and the environment. The two can be encompassed. There will always be a balance in that judgment.
I was as interested as ever to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, about his earlier experience and his historical references. He was there right at the start, although perhaps there is a competing claim that it was the noble Lord, Lord Deben, who produced, via John Major, the term "sustainability" first. I do not mind who produced it first but we should seek to make sure that we encompass it in these important planning changes before us in the most appropriate way.
We would sign up to the definition and to it being in the Bill. Given where we are in this process, it is very important that we have a clear position from the Government certainly no later than Third Reading. Whether we get partial satisfaction today on this remains to be seen but we certainly cannot let it drift beyond Third Reading. If the Government are not able to bring something forward by then, I urge the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, to revisit this-we would support him-and test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, in the daily horoscopes sometimes I am a Virgo and sometimes a Librarian. Today I shall be a Librarian because they are hugely well balanced and see both sides of any discussion. That is precisely the position that I am in today. It has been a very helpful discussion with, as so often, real feelings behind it. From the outset, I shall say that I hear what everybody has to say about this. I may not be able to provide a definitive answer by the end but we are getting nearer to one.
The balancing act here is to do with the question of a definition. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, put his finger on it: the more you define it, the more trouble you get into legally. This is something that we have to take into account. Indeed, what we have also learnt from the debate is that there are potentially still extras that people would like to put into the definition. I fully see why and accept the wish of the right reverend Prelate to see spirituality included, and what the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said about culture and heritage. I hear what my noble friend Lord Cormack says about the importance of development enhancing. However, with this we begin to string out a lot of things that sustainable development is meant to cover. This is a difficulty that perhaps both Governments have had over the period. We all believe in sustainability. We can all define it to our own satisfaction, but the question is whether through that definition you end up in a legal minefield. The comments and speeches today have been very helpful in that regard and will certainly take us forward.
The first thing that I want to say is that we support the principle that planning should promote sustainable development. Indeed, it is central to the approach that we have taken in the draft national planning policy framework. The framework, as presently structured, makes it clear that planning has three pillars: the environmental, the economic and the social. Those are the three pillars that contribute most to a planning decision. We fully recognise that we have to balance those three elements.
Secondly, we also believe that the objective of sustainable development is appropriate for statute. There is already a duty on those preparing local plans to do so with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development. That is already the situation. The Bill will introduce a new duty to co-operate in relation to planning for sustainable development, which will ensure that councils and other public bodies co-operate effectively on strategic planning matters, including sustainable development. Our Amendment 210D, which I will move formally at the end, would extend this principle to neighbourhood planning by placing on all neighbourhood planning proposals an explicit condition relating to sustainable development. This ensures that the principle of sustainable development runs through all levels of plan-making-strategic, local and neighbourhood.
Thirdly, I understand the desire to ensure that there is clarity and consistency in the meaning of sustainable development. We have heard this afternoon how difficult that is to achieve. Everybody sees just another little gate that they might open to put forward something that they feel strongly about. I recognise that there are strong views and, as I said at the beginning, I have heard clearly what has been said. I shall ask that we reflect on that when I come to the end.
We made it clear in the February statement on mainstreaming sustainable development-a document that has already been referred to-that we recognise that sustainable development must embrace the needs of the economy, society and the natural environment, alongside the use of good governance and sound science. All those have already been identified by noble Lords. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, pointed out, these are the 2005 sustainable development strategy statements, which continue to provide the starting point for how we think about these issues. They are important and widely agreed principles, and, as I said, we need to reflect on them.
I say again that I have considerable sympathy with the intentions of noble Lords in tabling Amendment 203K and with those who have spoken. At the same time, I am concerned that putting this amendment on the face of the Bill could give rise to the sort of significant, although perhaps unintended, consequences that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and others have already mentioned. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Jenkin, in wise words, said how difficult it is to provide a long-term definition and one which will be, if we put it no lower, sustainable. I think that, whatever we do and however we approach this, it has to be recognised that the definition will be high level, otherwise we will spend more time in the courts that anyone would care to think about.
The amendment would introduce an extremely broad new duty applying to any function under any Act relating to planning. This would mean that individual planning applications would be caught. Therefore, every decision-maker, on every decision, however small, would need to show how they had sought to promote sustainable development. Not only could that result in a disproportionate amount of box-ticking to avoid the risk of challenge to decisions but it would tie up planning committees for hours while they tried to sort out whether the plan achieved sustainable development.
As we see the situation at the moment, we believe that the right place to enshrine the objective of sustainable development is in plans-that is, not individual plans but local development plans, national framework plans and so on. It is the plan-led system that we all value. It is the one that people all agree on, it is the one that goes out to consultation and it is the one that is used to weigh up applications and integrate different goals. It is also the local plan which sets the framework within which individual planning applications are assessed. That is why we think that our Amendment 210D is important.
In defining sustainable development-we have had a lot of discussion about this-we must be careful that, in seeking to capture the key elements, we do not define it to such a degree that we either dilute that essential core or impose requirements that it would be difficult or impossible to meet through the planning system. I keep emphasising "planning system" because some of the pillars that have already been identified in 2005 are generic-they go right across our departments-and they do not specifically relate to value. Apparently the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, felt that they could. However, I think that there is a discussion to be had about whether they can.
My noble friend Lord Deben also raised a concern about definitions. I like the fact that he and, a little earlier, Prime Minister Major did "sustainable" and "development". That is a good matter to have had clarified today.
I worry somewhat about the amount of detail with which the amendment defines sustainable development and whether all the tests would have to be met in each and every application. How, for example, would someone assessing an application for a small extension to a house-a loft extension, for example-make sure that it was sustainable in terms of any definition? We have to look at those aspects.
I believe that the essential point in applying sustainable development to planning is to meet the social, economic and environmental needs of the present, in a balanced way. I say "of the present" because I agree that trying to plan for the future is pretty difficult. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, suggested that we have trouble getting from one day to the next without worrying about what will happen in 10 years' time. We do not want to compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, which may be entirely different from our own.
While I have real concerns that this amendment could have significant unintended consequences, I am not unsympathetic to its intent. We want to make sure that our commitment to securing sustainable development through planning is absolutely clear. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, not to press the amendment today, even if he intended to do so. I undertake to take the matter away and come back with the Government's view on whether there is any way we can put sustainable development on the face of the Bill or whether, taking account of what the consultation on the draft national framework may say, it is more appropriate to include it in there. I am not promising that the Government will do either but I assure the House that I will take the matter away and come back with a response before Third Reading so that if more discussion is needed at Third Reading it can take place, as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, pointed out. I hope noble Lords will accept that as a genuine offer in view of the points that have been made. We will try to put flesh on the bones with regard to this matter.
As everybody knows, the consultation on the national planning policy framework has not yet closed and I cannot therefore prejudice what will be in it. I believe that 10,000 responses to it have been received so far, which will have to be gone through. We are also going to have two further debates on the national planning policy framework. I was surprised to discover that one will be held tomorrow, particularly as we may well have finished this part of the Bill by then. However, I am looking forward to it. There are 16 speakers. The Government anticipated the House's desire to talk about the national planning policy framework and have tabled their own debate for
My Lords, I am grateful for that extremely helpful reply from my noble friend the Minister. I am particularly grateful to her for reiterating that the Government believe that sustainable development is built on three pillars-economic, social and environmental -and that balance is required to resolve this matter. That is crucial. I included the statement of existing government policy in the amendment but I certainly accept that it may not be appropriate to include this detail in primary legislation. Nevertheless, I commend the principle of the three pillars and balance to the Government. I hope that they will build that into whatever solution they come up with. As the Minister and other noble Lords have said, the problem we have when moving amendments and deciding what form this Bill should be in when it leaves this House is that it is running in parallel with the national planning policy framework. The question of sustainable development is one of the key areas-probably the key area-which links the planning aspects of the Bill with the NPPF. We are shortly going on to discuss a further amendment which would do it more overtly, but regardless of whether that is to be done, the link exists and is fundamental and a lot of the concern about sustainable development has arisen, as many noble Lords have said, from the wording in parts of the NPPF.
I am extremely grateful for the astonishing amount of experience, knowledge and common sense which noble Lords have contributed to this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, said that the problem with sustainable development is that, "It means what I want it to mean". That is indeed the problem, but, despite that, the words "sustainable development" now litter legislation, particularly planning legislation. They also litter the Bill: the Minister's little amendment tagged on to this group adds a requirement of neighbourhood development orders to promote sustainable development. It is normal practice in all legislation that when a Government use a term such as this it is defined in that legislation. It is normal practice precisely because the people taking action under the legislation know what it means and the courts can look at it, define it and interpret it. All Governments since, we now discover, my noble friend Lord Deben invented the term "sustainable development" for John Major-
Well, ever since my noble friend conducted it, if that is the verb that comes from conduit, I am not sure-I have forgotten the point that I was making in relation to that, so there we go.
That is right, it is a policy statement. It can be put as a policy statement and it is existing government policy-it is still there on the website and it is confirmed. However, it was effectively confirmed by the statements in February of this year. But there is, of course, a difference-a huge difference-between government policy, on the one hand, and the words that appear in legislation on the other, and certainly a great difference as far as the courts are concerned. I understand all that. Nevertheless, the Government are on something of a hook over this matter because of the controversy about the national planning policy framework. If we can help the Government to get themselves off the hook, we will be performing a service not only to the Government but to the country.
I was grateful for the contribution by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield. I am not sure that I understood all the theological allusions. I spent my teenage years living on the Yorkshire coalfield near Wakefield and I admire his skill in combining a speech about deep theological matters with what in those days we called the new pit villages but are now the former pit villages. I am not sure that I understood all the theological stuff, but I agree with his basic points.
The Minister has offered to take this matter to Third Reading-we have another fortnight. I am extremely grateful for all the debate and discussion that has been taking place with her Bill team and with herself and other Ministers on this matter. They are, in her words, "getting nearer". I am aware that they are not yet there-they are having terrible trouble with their lawyers, who keep finding reasons why they cannot do things-but those discussions are going on. I will bring it back on Third Reading on the grounds that that will, at the very least, give the Government the opportunity to say how much further they have got by then, if the Minister does not bring something back to Third Reading herself. On that basis, I hope the House will give me leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 203K withdrawn.
Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton
203L: Before Clause 97, insert the following new Clause-
(1) The Secretary of State must issue, designate and update a National Planning Policy Framework, which will establish policies to achieve sustainable development in the development and other use of land.
(2) Such policies should relate to mitigation of, and adaption to, climate change.
(3) Before designating a document as the National Planning Policy Framework for the purposes of this Act or before amending any such document, the Secretary of State must carry out an appraisal of the sustainability of the policy set out in the document or any amendments to it.
(4) A document may be designated as a National Planning Policy Framework for the purposes of this Act only if any consultation, publicity or parliamentary requirements set out by the Secretary of State have been complied with in relation to it.
(5) The requirements in subsection (4) above apply to any amendments to a National Planning Policy Framework."
"a National Planning Policy Framework, which will establish policies to achieve sustainable development ... including mitigation of, and adaption to, climate change".
This also requires a consultation process and a parliamentary process.
I am aware that some would argue against this proposition and that it opens the door to giving parliamentary sanction to a framework that they may consider to be flawed. However, given the potentially profound effect an NPPF can have, we consider that the better argument is for Parliament to be able to have its say. Obviously we welcome the opportunity for upcoming debates in your Lordships' House-even two of them-but this is not a substitute for a proper parliamentary process.
I remind noble Lords that the coalition agreement said:
"We will publish and present to Parliament a simple and consolidated national planning framework covering all forms of development and setting out national economic, environmental and social priorities".
As I said in Committee, if that commitment can be enshrined in the coalition agreement, why not in the Bill? To be clear, the amendment does not seek to put the NPPF in the Bill; it simply seeks the obligation for one to be produced and updated and to be subject to a consultation and parliamentary process, which can be determined by the Secretary of State.
When we debated this issue in Committee, we did so in the absence of an official draft of the NPPF. This of course we now have, although it did not see the light of day until we were embarking on the Summer Recess. Indeed, the announcement of the planning framework while Parliament was not sitting increased fears that Ministers were trying to steamroller through important changes without proper scrutiny or debate. An assurance of a proper consultation and parliamentary process could have lessened these fears and potentially obviated some of the more unpleasant exchanges that ensued via the national press.
This amendment does not seek to spark a debate on the merits or otherwise of the NPPF, but there can be no doubt about its significance, whatever its final form and interpretation.
The noble Lord has accused the Government of trying to sneak through the framework document because it was published during the recess. I am quite sure that he will have had, as I have, a letter from my noble friend that says:
"We are keen to take every opportunity to consult on and improve the text of the draft framework. We are inviting the Communities and Local Government Select Committee to comment ... and are seeking to secure time for both Houses to consider the draft framework in the autumn".
Did he have that letter?
Yes, I did. The point I was making was that the document came at the start of the recess and not everyone out there got that letter-and there are plenty of people out there with a very keen interest in the NPPF. We as parliamentarians may have done; others did not. If in fact the Government are happy and prepared to have these processes then let us get it enshrined in the legislation so that it can operate in the future as well. As I said, an assurance of a proper consultation and parliamentary process could have lessened those fears and potentially obviated some of those very unpleasant exchanges that took place.
The presumption in favour of sustainable development, the definitions of sustainability, the implications for the green belt and green space, the impact on housing, particularly affordable housing, and town centre policies are all matters that go to the heart of our national life. Planning is an important democratic means of mediating between different interests, in the public interest. There must surely be due process and a role for Parliament. Despite some misgivings, I understood that it worked for the national policy statements. I took it from our exchanges in Committee that the Government were not averse to this approach-indeed, if they are going to facilitate a process before Parliament, that would seem to support that conclusion. In the light of experience of the NPPF to date, I invite the Government to accept this amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I would like to ask the Minister a simple question. Under the Planning Act 2008, the national policy statements-which I think everyone welcomed at the time-require parliamentary approval and debate. I do not think that there has been any problem with that. They require consultation and they have had it, although some of them are receiving it rather later than some of us would like to see, though I am sure that they will come eventually. It seems to me that the national planning policy framework is a sort of parallel document to the national policy statements for planning and in respect of other smaller developments which do not come within the scope of the NPSs. As the NPSs have a link to the planning legislation, it seems logical that the national planning policy framework also should have one. I welcome the consultation and the debates that we are going to have. It would, however, seem to make it a simpler and clearer structure if there was a reference in the Localism Bill to the NPPF-not what it should say or anything like that, but just a reference.
My Lords, there could have been no doubt that the draft of the NPPF was coming out: we have had several discussions in this House and I made it quite clear that it was coming. It has been on the website since the day that it was published and some of the detailed comments on it bounced out almost the following day. So there has been a good opportunity for people to form their views. That is what the consultation is all about, and having got the 10,000 or so responses-indeed it may have gone up by another 2,000-by today, there will be ample opportunity to hear people's views. I hope that this will happen in a balanced way, because some of the discussion so far has been extremely unbalanced and not at all helpful. I think that it is calming down now and proper discussions are taking place against a real background. We can move on from there.
We are going to have two opportunities to discuss this further. In reply to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, the national planning policy framework is not an adjunct to the policy guidance statements; it is in replacement of. Somebody told me how many thousand pages the policy guidance statements run to and it was something like 1,500. They are becoming very big, very wide, and very difficult to work through to discover the actual policy. The framework is an attempt to cut those down without losing the emphasis and the position that they took.
That is the reason why the Government will be listening very carefully to what is said and what the consultation brings forward so that we do get this right. It is extremely important as it is the background to all planning decisions in the future and for the understanding of the things that we all hold precious-the heritage, the green belt and everything that makes up planning. So the consultation is real and will bring results. My honourable friend Greg Clark, who is in charge of this Bill, has already made it clear that he is very open to discussions on this.
I do not propose to worry the House much more about this. I hope that I have answered the relevant questions. If I am not careful, I will get myself in trouble-and having said that I was a nice, balanced Librarian, I do not want to do that. Having made my point about policy statements, I had better read out what this says because otherwise I will get the wrong thing in Hansard. The national planning policy framework is a very different document from national policy statements. National policy statements are the key documents for deciding on major infrastructure proposals. The national planning policy framework is used to inform the preparation of local plans. Local authorities must only "have regard to" the national planning policy framework rather than follow it specifically. I am sure that noble Lords understood that clearly, and I apologise if I misled the House on the way.
I am looking forward to the debates that we will have, particularly the one tomorrow. Perhaps I may comment briefly on the substance of Amendment 203L, to which the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, spoke. The amendment would put in the Bill provisions about the form and content of the NPPF-I ask noble Lords to forgive me if I stop talking about "the national planning policy framework" because I am tripping over the words all the time. I have heard the arguments about the need for the NPPF to have legislative force to reflect its importance. However, there is no doubt that everybody-the public, councils and the development industry-understands the importance of the NPPF. It is unnecessary to legislate further to give it status. Existing planning Acts already require a local planning authority, when making plans, to have regard to the policies and guidance issued by the Secretary of State. That is why the NPPF is government policy. Government planning policy and guidance is also capable of being a material consideration in the decision-making.
It is clear that the NPPF will bite in the same way as the previous policy guidelines on local decisions, and in a way that is understood. Putting it into legislation would risk changing the legal status of the framework in relation to local plans. It would cut across the primacy of locally prepared development plans. That is not what any of us want. The amendment would also mean that the policies of the NPPF would have to relate to addressing climate change. We all agree that that is crucial, but it is entirely unnecessary to legislate in this manner. There already exists a climate change duty on local plan-making. Local communities preparing plans can be in no doubt about planning's important role in climate change, and about the Government's commitment to this issue. The draft NPPF makes it crystal clear that this is the situation as regards primary legislation. We propose that planning should fully support the transition to a low-carbon economy in a changing climate, taking full account of flood risk and coastal change. There is no need to go any further than this.
The noble Lord's amendment also requires the planning framework to be subject to a formal appraisal of sustainability-here is that word again. The argument has been made by a number of organisations and we take it seriously. However, we are clear that the framework does not trigger the requirement for a strategic environmental assessment or a sustainability appraisal. It is not a plan or programme required by legislative, regulatory or administrative provisions, as set out in the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004. However, alongside the draft NPPF, the Government have undertaken to publish a draft impact assessment. We have invited comments on this, and will update and publish a final impact assessment.
In conclusion, the Government are entirely willing to enter discussions with all interested parties on the content of the framework to ensure that we get it right. We do not want to deliver a document which raises doubts about what we are trying to do, or one which leaves any doubts in the minds of those who have to work with it. Its status is clear so it does not require statutory provision. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will feel willing to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Parts of it, I am bound to say, I thought were a little strange. In terms of the comparison with the national policy statements, she suggested that the NPPF had a lesser impact because local plans only had to have regard to it. Given where the Government are on the presumption in favour of sustainable development and where they are so far on transitional provisions, is it not the fact, or the likelihood, that unless something else changes before we conclude with this legislation, the NPPF will be the key document for determining a whole range of development applications? This is because local plans may not be up to date or complete for all the reasons that we are going to discuss shortly. To make that distinction therefore seemed to me somewhat strange.
The noble Baroness also said that there was no statutory requirement to have a sustainability appraisal of the NPPF. But is there a statutory requirement-again we are pre-empting an amendment we will come to-to have a sustainability assessment associated with the revocation of regional spatial strategies? If the Government are doing an assessment for that on a voluntary basis, as I understand them to be, then that does not seem to be a very coherent argument for not having an appraisal of the NPPF.
We are partly looking back, and partly shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted on the first NPPF, but this is looking forward as well. It deals not only with the existing NPPF, but requires there to be some parliamentary process attached to it. Of course I accept that we have two debates, by one route or another, coming up in your Lordships' House. I am not sure what the arrangements are at the other end; the Select Committee always has the opportunity to review a policy and hold the Government to account. However, that is not the same as having a formal process by which Parliament can have its say and express its opinion on this hugely important document before it is finalised. If the NPPF were so insignificant and something that people only had to have regard to, then why on earth has there been this great furore both inside and outside Parliament? It is partly because of trying to understand the Government's intent, and I can see that that can be resolved in due course. I also accept that the Government are as a matter of fact involved in a lot of consultation and discussion, and that is to be welcomed. But what is so wrong in having that as an obligation written on the-
My Lords, I cannot avoid teasing the noble Lord, and I hope he will answer this question. The national planning policy framework will replace planning policy statements and such of the old planning policy guidance documents as still exist. Why was it not necessary to have a requirement for planning policy statements on the face of primary legislation if it is now necessary to have it for the NPPF?
My Lords, an argument could be mounted to that effect. I prayed in aid my absence from those debates before, so I shall excuse myself. The question is a fair one, but that does not necessarily mean that the balance should come down in favour of not having this process for the NPPF. It is such a hugely important document. One has just to look at the impact assessment of some of the changes being proposed covering town centre and parking policies. These things are very important and really go to the heart of our national life in so many respects. It is about communities, how we conduct our lives and how we plan for the future. To take that formally outwith Parliament does not seem to be right. In the circumstances, I am inclined to test the view of the House on this matter.
The Bill currently provides for the revocation of the eight existing regional strategies outside London and any remaining county structure plan policies saved as part of the transitional arrangements following the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.
Government Amendments 203M, 203N, 203P and 203Q provide the Secretary of State with the power to revoke the existing regional strategies and saved county structure plan policies by a free-standing order-making power. Amendments 203S, 203T, 248ZD, 248ZF, 248ZG, 248ZH, 248ZJ, 248ZK and 249F are consequential amendments. These are largely technical amendments that will provide the Secretary of State and Parliament with an opportunity to consider the environmental assessments of the revocations that we are undertaking before decisions are made on whether to revoke the existing regional strategies and remaining saved structure plan policies.
The Government intend to lay orders in Parliament revoking the existing regional strategies and saved structure plan policies as soon as possible after Royal Assent of the Bill, subject to the outcome of the environmental assessment process. In the mean time, councils should press ahead in preparing up-to-date local plans. These plans will be important in defining strategic priorities and setting the context for neighbourhood plans. Up-to-date local plans also provide councils with the opportunity to control how development and growth are planned in their area and they provide the basis for planning decisions. Until they are revoked by order, local plans must be in general conformity with regional strategies which remain part of the development plan.
Amendment 204E is a technical amendment that closes a loophole to ensure that the local plan meets the statutory requirements and is sound. This is an important amendment, otherwise councils could adopt a local plan without complying with the duty to co-operate. I beg to move.
My Lords, I was taken with the Minister's venture into the area of astrology earlier. However, I think she called herself a "Librarian". I think a librarian is someone who works in a library. I think she meant "Libran", which is rather different. I hope she will forgive me if I assume the role of a scorpion when we look at this amendment, as Scorpio is my astrological sign.
I am slightly puzzled by the explanatory letter that the noble Baroness circulated a couple of days ago. Perhaps, in her reply, she will be kind enough to elucidate it further because the letter refers to,
"an environmental assessment of the regional strategy".
I am not sure what that means. Are only the environmental aspects of regional strategies being assessed? Could she explain how the process of assessment is taking place? The letter also says that this is on a "voluntary basis", which I take to mean that it is a non-statutory exercise and that the Government will be consulting on these documents shortly. I do not know whether those documents are yet available or, if so, where they might be obtained, but I would also be grateful if she could indicate the nature of the consultative process. For example, we now have local enterprise partnerships, so will those partnerships be consulted? I assume local authorities will be, but one could also assume that those partnerships would be involved in all that.
Like other Members of your Lordships' House, I regret the demise of all the regional development agencies, although I accept that in some areas they were not particularly effective or popular. However, I suspect that we may see, just as in health, the quiet restoration of something rather similar-perhaps more at the sub-regional level, but no doubt under another name. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that that approach of looking at sub-regions will be part of this assessment and will also take note of some of the other developments in policy over the past few months; for example, the creation of enterprise zones and the operation, such as it has been, of the regional growth fund. These are matters that are clearly relevant to the planning regime, but it is not clear whether and to what extent they will be part of this assessment.
This group also refers to the position of transitional arrangements. The noble Lord, Lord Best, will no doubt be speaking about that, and I do not want to anticipate what he will say, but I strongly support the terms of his amendment because there is a considerable danger of a gap which would create difficulties in the light of the arrangements that the Bill contains. I hope the Minister will consider sympathetically the amendment that the noble Lord will, no doubt, move shortly. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify, if not today, then subsequently, the questions I have raised.
My Lords, like my noble friend I was puzzled by this group of amendments, and I hope the Minister can help us on a range of points. This seems a further twist in the saga of regional spatial strategies. The Secretary of State sought to do this by diktat and was ruled out of order, then it was provided for in the Bill before us and now, according to the letter from the Minister to which my noble friend Lord Beecham referred, by a stand-alone order-making power. Along the way, the Government seem to have determined voluntarily that they wish to undertake an environmental assessment of the revocation of the regional strategies and the structure plan policy, so it is the process of revocation which is the subject of that assessment.
Can we hear a little more from the Minister about how this all came about? At what point was the decision taken to undertake an environmental assessment of the proposed actions? Who is conducting the assessment and what are its precise terms of reference? How long is it expected to take? What is the status of local development frameworks in the interim? Can the Minister explain how this fits together with the NPPF and, in particular, the presumption in favour of sustainable development? We know that there are local plans which, together with existing regional spatial strategies are, one might say, complete one day but not the next, unless the transition provisions are put in place. The statement that we want to do away with regional spatial strategies as soon as possible and then the caveat about "subject to the sustainability assessments" smacks a little of predetermination rather than predisposition. Does this hold out the prospect of some regional spatial strategies being revoked and others not? If so, how does this all fit together? Is there not a risk that all this just creates further uncertainties in the planning world? Will the order be subject to the affirmative or negative arrangements? The Minister may say that this is all code for having some fairly loose transitional provisions, but this seems a rather strange set of amendments. Like my noble friend, I would greatly appreciate some further explanations.
Perhaps I can buy the Minister some time while she looks at her notes by asking another question about the nature of the order. Why is an order necessary? Does this help to deal with the issues we raised in Committee about transitional arrangements that would have involved saving part of the regional strategies where they were relevant to the LDFs, so that local authorities would not have to repeat all the work that went into making that part of whatever strategy had been located in the regional strategy? If so, it would be very welcome.
In reply to the noble Baroness's question, the noble Lord, Lord Best, has an amendment on transitional arrangements that we will get to later, so perhaps we can deal with that when we get to it.
I will answer as many questions as I can and then, if the noble Lord will forgive me, I will write on those I have not answered. The public consultation is 12 weeks. Local enterprise partnerships will be able to respond if they wish. They are not required to, but they will be consulted as one of the organisations that will be expected to have an interest. It is an environmental assessment from the regional strategies, exactly as it says it is. Initially, if there is a major objection with one strategy that has to be looked at under the environmental assessment, it will not be able to go forward in a bulk order. At the moment, the expectation is that that order will come forward separately or they might all come forward on the same day. It is the negative process at the moment.
The intention is to revoke the regional strategies and all eight strategies as soon as possible after Royal Assent to stop muddle of any sort occurring. We can do it separately or together. The face of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, always delights me because it is so revealing. I know when I am saying something he does not agree with. The provisions are simply to make sure that those orders can be revoked. The local development frameworks still have to conform to the regional spatial strategies until they are revoked. Anything in them that is required, even if they are developing them at the moment, will have to be taken into account.
I did not pick up all the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. I will make sure that he gets an answer. He has the puzzled look of one who is going to ask me again.
I congratulate the Minister on her anticipation. Am I right in thinking therefore that although an environmental assessment is being undertaken, upon which there will be a consultation, the revocations will go ahead anyway?
I did not say that. I said that they will be put forward as soon as possible after Royal Assent. The consultation on the environmental assessment is taking place. You cannot do anything without having taken account of the consultation, so the revocations will be only after the consultation has been considered.
I am sorry to ask the Minister again, but I think it is important we get to the bottom of this. Can she tell us why there is this change in approach? This was not the original plan, was it? If it was, this group of amendments would not be necessary. How does the presumption in favour of sustainable development work in the interim? For so long as those local plans and the regional spatial strategies which support them are in place, will they hold sway? That will obviously change the minute the plug is pulled, if it is, on the regional spatial strategies. I am interested to understand why and at what point it was decided to undertake these environmental assessments. Can the Minister confirm that what is being assessed is the consequence of the revocation of those strategies? It seems a fairly significant change in where we all thought we were heading and did not want to head.
My Lords, I think I am right in saying that there was a legal challenge that required these environmental assessments to be carried out. It is a necessity to make sure that they are all carried forward properly. The noble Lord asked about the relevance to the presumption in favour of sustainable development. There will be no change to that until the local development frameworks are developed and the national planning framework comes in.
If the noble Baroness would forgive me, I am trying to understand the status of the NPPF in the interim before-or if-these strategies are revoked. Where does that leave the presumption over that period? It seems from what she said that there has been a legal challenge which, essentially, has forced the Government to go down this route. I therefore presume that this is not just a cosmetic exercise but is real; and the consequence could be that some strategies might be revoked and others not. Is that right? It seems to me to leave an entirely chaotic situation. Does the Minister recognise that it could lead us into a situation which nobody has contemplated or to date recognised?
My Lords, the national planning policy framework is being consulted upon and, once it is an approved document, it will be the document to which people will refer and will replace the regional strategies. The consultation on the environmental impact assessments is a consultation, as I have said, and we will need time to consider it. If all the orders can be dealt with at, or nearly, the same time, they will be. All I can say is that a consultation is a consultation and there are always results; you cannot ignore them so we will have to wait and see the response and the impact of it. I will not know that until the 12-week period is over and the consultation can be considered.
As for regional spatial strategies, their effect stays until they are revoked. The national planning policy framework will then either have been put forward just before that or very shortly afterwards. By that stage, anyway, it will be capable of being the primary document.
I am sorry that I have not succeeded in convincing the noble Lord but, yes, of course we are happy to discuss this issue further and we will make arrangements to do that.
Amendment 203M agreed.
Amendments 203N and 203P
Moved by Baroness Hanham
203N: Clause 97, page 75, line 7, after "82(1)" insert "and (2)"
203P: Clause 97, page 75, line 8, leave out "(effect" and insert "(interpretation and effect"
Amendments 203N and 203P agreed.
Moved by Baroness Hanham
203Q: Clause 97, page 75, line 15, leave out subsections (3) and (4) and insert-
"(3) The Secretary of State may by order revoke the whole or any part of a regional strategy under Part 5 of that Act.
(3A) An order under subsection (3) may, in particular, revoke all of the regional strategies (or all of the remaining regional strategies) under Part 5 of that Act.
(3B) The Secretary of State may by order revoke the whole or any part of a direction under paragraph 1(3) of Schedule 8 to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (directions preserving development plan policies) if and so far as it relates to a policy contained in a structure plan.
(3C) An order under subsection (3B) may, in particular, revoke all directions (or all remaining directions) under paragraph 1(3) of that Schedule so far as they relate to policies contained in structure plans."
I must advise your Lordships that if 203Q is agreed to, then I cannot call Amendment 203R by reasons of pre-emption.
Amendment 203Q agreed.
Schedule 8 : Regional strategies: consequential amendments
Amendments 203S and 203T
Moved by Baroness Hanham
203S: Schedule 8, page 315, line 36, leave out "omit paragraph (a)" and insert "in paragraph (a) after "situated" insert "(if there is a regional strategy for that region)".
(2) Omit section 38(3)(a)."
203T: Schedule 8, page 316, line 31, at end insert-
17A In section 70(5) (which provides for how a regional strategy is to be interpreted) for "the regional strategy" insert "a regional strategy under this Part".
17B In section 82(2) (during the interim period, a regional strategy does not include the regional economic strategy) for the words after "For the purposes of that section," substitute "a regional strategy under this Part is to be regarded as consisting solely of the regional spatial strategy under section 1 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 that subsisted for the region concerned immediately before
Amendments 203S and 203T agreed.
Clause 98 : Duty to co-operate in relation to planning of sustainable development
Moved by Baroness Young of Old Scone
203U: Clause 98, page 75, line 33, leave out "maximising" and insert "relation to the planning of sustainable development and to maximise"
This amendment and those in the group tabled by my noble friend Lord Whitty and myself relate to the duty to co-operate. The importance of this duty is indubitable and there has been considerable discussion about it. The mechanism for strategic planning is now only the duty to co-operate. It is new and the only mechanism, so it is important, not just for strategic infrastructure and economic development, that the duty to co-operate applies. It should take proper account of issues that need to be planned on a wider basis than a single authority, such as adaptation to climate change, flood risk, coastal erosion, biodiversity and other environmental measures.
To give two examples: river basin management plans need to operate on a wider basis than a single authority and they are a statutory requirement under European law. Likewise, landscape scale biodiversity can often be resolved by two or more authorities working together. The Government's Natural Environment White Paper and the importance of landscape scale land management for conservation have already been outlined in the ecosystem assessment that the Government conducted. There are many reasons why it is really important, because this is now the only mechanism for strategic planning at a higher level than a single authority that this duty to co-operate works.
It is doubly important now because the national planning policy framework has no spatial element to it. It is simply a set of policies that do not refer to any particular part of land or the country. Since the regional spatial strategies are disappearing there must therefore be a stronger duty for adequate co-operation between local authorities.
The groups of amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and I have tabled cover four points. Amendments 203U and 203W strengthen the wording within the duty to co-operate to ensure that co-operation is for the purpose of achieving sustainable development. The purpose of achieving sustainable development is in the heading, but not in the text of the Bill as it stands. It also tries to ensure that the duty to co-operate is linked with the sustainable development duty under Section 39 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act, so that the two duties are carried out simultaneously and in a complementary way.
The second issue covered by this group of amendments to strengthen the duty to co-operate is to ensure that co-operation is consistent and complementary across administrative boundaries-Amendment 203V. The third issue is to make clear that this duty to co-operate should cover all development, not merely development that is sustainable. We seem to be falling into the trap both in this Bill and in the national planning policy framework of seeing "sustainable development" and "development" as almost interchangeable terms. Of course, they are not. If I had a pound for every development that I have argued against that was manifestly unsustainable, I would be an extremely rich woman. We should not just assume that the two are interchangeable terms.
To leave out, as is outlined in this group of amendments, "sustainable" in Clause 98 is to make sure that co-operation will be around all strategic developments whether they can truly be said to be sustainable or not. It is probably more important to have co-operation around the ones that are not sustainable. This interchangeability of the words is a worry in the way in which the Bill and the NPPF are pitched.
The fourth area covered by this group of amendments is again to ensure that the whole issue of consultation and preparation of joint documents between authorities is not optional. Amendments 203ZA and 203ZB remove the word "considering" so that it does not become an optional process but becomes a requirement to consult on co-operative approaches and on local development documents in these important strategic issues that cover more than one authority. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have great sympathy with what the noble Baroness has put forward. However, we should be careful about putting the words "sustainable development" into every sentence. We are in a slight difficulty. As three or four authorities all have responsibility to do these things in the context of sustainable development, it is difficult to consult without doing it in those terms. Each individual consultee already has that responsibility and by the sound of what the Government are prepared to do will have that to an even greater extent. I would like to say to the Government that I hope they will be careful with the confetti element-every time there is a doubt add the words "sustainable development". I say that as someone who is much in favour of sustainable development.
Secondly, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that sometimes in the document the word "development" has been used when we mean sustainable development. It is important for the Government to say again that on those occasions real care will be taken to make sure that we have that right.
Thirdly, I would like to repeat the view that one day we will be able to use the word "development" and automatically mean sustainable development. That is what we would like to see, but the noble Baroness is absolutely right that that is not where we are at the moment.
Fourthly, I suggest to the Minister that the idea of a localism Bill is for it to be local. I worry when those who have always been enthusiastic about central direction suggest that on this or that occasion people should be required to do things. Co-operation is something that you do because you want to or it is not co-operation. Otherwise, you may as well return to a situation in which people are bossed about. We are trying to create a world in which we are not bossed about.
I have just looked on my iPad at the advice given to me by yet another of the green organisations that are so helpful in giving me advice, but I notice that most of them are central organisations, which find it difficult to deal with the concept that associations between Norfolk and Suffolk, for example, might be conducted differently from those between Warwickshire and its neighbouring counties.
It is very simple. The point about localism is that it will be different. We think and do things differently in East Anglia. We do not include either Essex or Bedfordshire, which the previous Government did in their curious manner. We do things differently and we will do them together because we want to not because some superior person tells us that it is good for us.
I have to warn the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that that will mean that we will often do things that she will not like but that is because we want to do them and it is our sustainable development for our place. We will want to do things in our way. The Government must not have a localism Bill that is a fraud. That means that although it is proper to say that consultation will be a duty, it is improper to say that the consultation will be a duty to be carried out in the way that the Government or anyone else suggests is a good idea.
In thinking about this, I hope that the Government will take on board the perfectly justifiable concern that we do not do things without sustainable development being close to our hearts and minds. That concern has not actually been helped by some of the statements by Ministers in circumstances that sometimes lead people astray. That was the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, earlier on. I thought that it was a good way of expressing it. There was a rueful look on the faces of the party opposite at the same time. They also know about party conferences. We understand that, but it means that we have a backlog to make up.
So we have to repeat the words, but we should not repeat them so that it becomes like motherhood and apple pie and means nothing. Let us also be careful that we do not trumpet localism and then suggest that the only way to get it is by telling people how to be local. We know how to be local: please let us do it.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on showing signs of becoming the second free radical on the Government Benches in these matters. He is a better informed free radical than I am but I welcome his addition to the ranks. Secondly, I confirm, having connections with both counties, that Essex and Suffolk do not always do things in the same way. I will not judge which is best because I would be dead in one county or the other if I did, but they are certainly different.
Thirdly, I will show that I am an uninformed free radical on this occasion by saying that what is mystifying me, especially in the wake of the non-pressing of the amendment that appeared to be trying to define sustainability a few minutes ago is whether there is a definition of sustainability in the Bill. I cannot find it. If it is in the Bill, where is it? If it is not, what is it?
My Lords, my noble friend has missed a little of the discussion this afternoon. I have to confess that I always thought that Essex was in East Anglia and I claim to be a geographer. I stand corrected and I will never make that mistake again. All I know is that all those places in that easterly bulge in the country are deplorably flat.
The serious point that I want to make on these amendments is simply to lend my support to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and the noble Lord, Lord Deben. It would be good for the Government to use "development" and "sustainable development" in a rather more rigorous manner and not confuse them with each other quite so much.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Young's amendments are entirely reasonable and I see the thrust of them, but I thought that they were about removing the term "sustainable" from provisions in the Bill and not adding it.
On the duty to co-operate, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, makes an interesting point about knowing how to be local. However, to be local on a sustainable basis in some respects needs co-operation and engagement not only with near neighbours but on a broader front. Some of us have ongoing concerns about the demise of regional spatial strategies. They were not necessarily the answer to everything and were perhaps not perfect, but with those gone the only thing that exists between the regional strategies that were there hitherto and local authorities is this duty to co-operate.
It seems to me that there should be requirements on local authorities to co-operate. Part of the problem is knowing how extensive that co-operation would and should be-for example, on transport or waste issues. Unless there is recognition that this must be an integral part of the way forward, then I think this really is going to be a recipe for isolationism, that we are going to draw up the barriers around our little location, irrespective of what happens around us. As regards definitions of the eastern region, I can say as somebody who lives in Luton-long since known as the urban bottom of the county-that Luton and the rest of Bedfordshire do not always do things the same way. I must apologise-I have been referring to the noble Lord, Lord Gummer, and it should be Lord Deben. I do apologise. Thank you for that correction.
I hope that I have made my point. It seems to me that my noble friend is addressing the strength and importance of the duty to co-operate, and in that we support her.
Well, I did not make the point that it was flat. Never mind, we shall get around that.
I must say at the outset that we are committed to promoting sustainable development through the duty to co-operate. I do not want to take a confetti approach to sustainable development in every single sentence-as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, suggests we are doing-but to some extent I am going to have to in reply to this amendment.
We looked at Clause 98 in Committee to see whether there was scope to give sustainable development even more emphasis. The noble Lords, Lord Deben and Lord Newton, are concerned about the localism aspect, but there are clearly times when it is important that local authorities and others work together to ensure that there is a proper plan.
We have gone on to consider this matter carefully during the months since Committee, and Amendments 203U and 203W provide me with an opportunity to explain why I do not think further amendments are necessary. There is already a duty to co-operate on councils preparing local plans, with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development. The duty is contained in Section 39 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. It will also now apply to local and county councils and all the other bodies covered by the duty to co-operate as they plan for strategic cross-boundary matters in local plans. This is the important aspect-not to negate localism, but to make sure it can be carried out where strategic plans are being developed because the proper people have been consulted at the proper time.
Councils are already required to promote sustainable development through the duty to co-operate. We have also made it clear in the title of Clause 98 that the duty relates to the planning of sustainable development, and we have put sustainable development at the heart of the strategic matters on which we expect councils and other public bodies to co-operate in preparing local and marine plans.
I hope that my description of the duty to co-operate and its relationship to the wider duty in Section 39 of the 2004 Act illustrates why we do not need to amend this Bill. We believe this policy is a more appropriate way to emphasise the important role of the duty to co-operate in promoting sustainable development, and we will consider further, as part of the consultation responses on the National Planning Policy Framework, whether that is necessary. We shall also consider whether it would be helpful to emphasise the importance of sustainable development in any guidance that the Secretary of State issues on the duty.
I understand that Amendments 203X, 203Y and 203Z are intended to ensure that co-operation between councils and other public bodies is not limited to co-operation on sustainable-and I put that in inverted commas-development. The key issue here is that the duty applies to the preparation of local plans and where they relate to strategic cross-boundary matters. Local plans will set out policies for the sustainable development and use of land.
As I said earlier, councils and other bodies covered by the duty will already have to work jointly on local plans, with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development. Given these requirements, we do not consider that Amendments 203X, 203Y and 203Z are necessary. However, we shall consider whether this needs to be addressed in guidance issued subsequently on the duty to co-operate.
Amendments 203ZA and 203ZB would provide more prescription regarding the engagement that is required between councils and other public bodies under the duty to co-operate. We agree that the duty must be effective. That is why this has already been strengthened during the Commons stages, and we have worked closely on this with external experts such as the Royal Town Planning Institute. I do not think we are going to want to up that any more; this has already been done as a result of the Commons' intervention.
Strategic planning is not-and I think other noble Lords have suggested this-a one-size-fits-all approach. It is now localised. It needs to be flexible, allowing councils to respond to particular issues and local circumstances. Our requirements for engagement will give councils and others the flexibility to decide how to fulfil their responsibilities, rather than forcing them into specific actions. We believe this strikes the right balance, ensuring that co-operation will result in effective local plans, and strengthening accountability to local communities, businesses and interested parties. We are pleased that this view is supported by others. For example, the RTPI believes that the duty now has the potential to improve planning at the larger-than-local level and encourage effective solutions to cross-boundary issues.
The further Amendment 203V adds detail to the description of engagement required under the duty. We have looked at this text carefully, but do not think that it adds to the clause in drafting terms and have concluded that it is not necessary on the face of the Bill.
If I could amplify how extensive this duty should be, the draft national planning policy framework sets out the strategic priorities that we expect councils to address in local plans, working cross-boundary and with other public bodies. The issues include housing, economic development, environmental protection, climate change and infrastructure, which of course will deal with the transport matters that the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, referred to.
So, with the explanation that in fact most of this is either already in or has been strengthened since coming from the other place, I hope the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I would like to thank the Minister for her words, and to thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for his support for my worries about "sustainable" being tacked on to every use of the word "development". I would also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Deben, though I must admit I agree with him on the fact that Amendments 203X, 203Y and 203Z should not have "sustainable" tacked on automatically, but do not agree with him on Amendments 203V and 203W, where I think the word should be present. So that was the selective approach to using the sustainability word.
I would like to object that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, portrayed me as a top-down, centralist, Stalinist control freak. I am simply expressing concerns about the quite voluntary nature of the duty to co-operate. It is a duty, but it is not particularly well prescribed, for all the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, outlined. I just hope that if Essex and Suffolk decide that they are not collaborating at some stage we do not have a very large flood defence on the Essex side of the rivers and a very small one on the Suffolk side, because that could be rather unfortunate for the folks who decided that they did want to collaborate but were rebuffed by the folks who decided that they did not want to do so. The Minister used the word "encouragement" in the duty to co-operate. Some of these very important issues need more than a bit of encouragement, but that may be because I am a top-down, centralist, Stalinist control freak.
I very much welcome the encouragement that the Minister gave us to look at the final version of the national planning policy framework and the guidance. I thought that I might chance my arm and ask for a bit of guidance to be forthcoming on the duty to co-operate, but I thought that in terms of how the Government were speaking the guidance was probably far too much to expect in a localism Bill. I am gratified to hear that not only will there be guidance on the duty to co-operate but that it might be quite explicit. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 203U withdrawn.
Amendments 203V to 204 not moved.
Clause 99 : Local development schemes
Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton
204A: Clause 99, page 77, line 35, leave out subsection (2) and insert-
"(3) The scheme must contain-
(a) an assessment expressed in numerical terms concerning the present and projected levels of accommodation need and demand in the district of the housing market area within which the local planning authority falls; and
(b) the authority's proposals for addressing such needs and demands.
(3A) The proposals referred to in subsection (3) shall include the authority's plans relating to the provision of housing, including affordable housing, in its district.""
My Lords, in moving Amendment 204A, I shall speak also to Amendment 204G. These amendments focus on housing and housing assessment.
A consequence to the change in planning, especially the demise of regional spatial strategies, means that local authorities will no longer be able to blame development on regional requirements. It is now down to them. This places particular emphasis on assessment of housing need, including, importantly, the needs of the vulnerable and affordable housing requirements. That is why, at the urging of the National Housing Federation among others, we seek to ensure that there is a clear and comprehensive statutory duty on local authorities to maintain an adequate assessment. The federation states that structurally the focus is on the planning system in the medium term at least being plan-led. Again, this is good, although it places a greater burden on housing associations to forward plan development programmes, since proposals may have to be made through the local plan process, given that local plans will be expected to identify the key proposed housing sites so that the plan can demonstrate that it is sustainable. In the short term, it is likely that there will be more appeals, as house builders try to take advantage of the presumption in favour of sustainable development where plans are out of date and a five-year plus land supply cannot be demonstrated.
The appeal process may raise issues about whether affordable housing policies are up to date, and some developers will argue that present policies fail to reflect the affordable rent regime or the changes in grant availability. They will also argue that viability prevents them providing full levels of affordable housing. Housing associations may need to monitor appeals to ensure that affordable housing levels are not squeezed, potentially offering support to local planning authorities to evidence need for affordable housing in the market area. Housing in its broadest sense-accommodation needs-must be robustly assessed in preparing local plans. With 1.7 million households on social housing waiting lists across the country, it is vital that this is laid down in law.
The reforms to the planning system outlined in the Bill offer a new opportunity for local people to play a more active role in shaping development in their area. However, in order for them to do this, it is vital that they have access to the information that they need. This will enable them to make informed decisions and hold their local authority to account. Hence these amendments will put a duty on local councils to outline in detail in their local plan how they will address housing need. To support this, councils will be expected to provide good-quality data on affordable housing need and demand. There are a number of benefits to this approach, such as transparency; by ensuring that local authorities undertake a robust assessment of housing need, residents will have the information that they require to fully understand local planning decisions. Then there will be comparisons; detailed information will allow residents to compare the performance of their local council to that of neighbouring authorities, which will allow local people to develop a better understanding of how their council is performing. In addition, there is accessibility, with complex data put in an accessible format. Local people without a formal planning background will be able to engage in the planning decisions that affect their local area.
These amendments will also put into law a clear requirement on councils to undertake a strategic assessment of housing and accommodation needs and demand in their local areas. While the national planning policy framework promotes this, we firmly believe that the issue is too important to leave to regulations and guidance alone. With millions of people on social housing waiting lists, many with complex care and support requirements, this duty will ensure that councils have the information that they need to appropriately house people in their communities. The information will be invaluable in determining the amount of accommodation required, including affordable housing.
In Committee, the Government said that they would be requiring an absolutely clear, transparent and robust numerical assessment of housing need. However, it was argued that Section 13 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 already outlined the necessary duty, when that section does not require local authorities to consider future need and demand in their areas. For the sake of future generations, it is vital that councils are required to make and act on these projections. To avoid local plans concentrating narrowly on immediate housing need to the exclusion of future requirements, it is crucial that that duty is put into law. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on tabling these amendments, which deal with one of the most crucial social issues that affect the country today. Looking round this Chamber, I almost regret to say that most of your Lordships will recall the famous television programme from the 1960s, "Cathy Come Home", which really drew attention to the acute state of housing need at that time. We are not quite in that position, but we seem to be approaching it, and the lack of house building currently planned would seem to bring the day nearer when we would be back to the future in those terms. So these are very timely and relevant amendments, not least because there are some indications that already there is a willingness on the part of some local authorities to waive or reduce the proportion of affordable homes within developments. But even if that were not correct, we need a further elucidation of what is meant by affordable homes.
Affordability will vary from place to place, but more than that the issue of tenure needs to be addressed. While it may be perfectly reasonable to prescribe a proportion of homes for owner occupation, the demand for rented accommodation is still high. I can speak from the experience of the ward that I represent in Newcastle, where a significant regeneration scheme is under way, with a very modest element of affordable homes within it and, within that, an even more modest allocation of homes to rent. Yet given the socio-economic profile of the area, I suspect that there will be much greater demand for rented accommodation than there is likely to be in the course of this regeneration.
I am sure my noble friend and the Minister will agree that, whether or not these amendments are passed, attention needs to be given to assessing separately, as it were, the need for rented occupation and owner-occupied accommodation. That rented accommodation need not necessarily be in the form of social housing by local authorities or registered social landlords-it could be private rented accommodation but at rents which are affordable to the local community to meet that local demand. I hope that, as this matter goes forward, whether in the statutory form or otherwise, that further refinement of the concept of affordability can be taken into account and reflected in policy.
My Lords, I am sympathetic to this amendment, an amendment directed to the essential issue of having a really reliable assessment based on the best possible numbers about the needs for housing in the various districts-this of course relates to Clause 99, on local development schemes. That is important because it underlies the whole question about the proper provision of affordable housing in these areas, which is a major priority for all of us. The Minister may feel that there is something in this point-that it is pretty self-evident, when you read the text, that you ought to have an assessment in numerical terms concerning the projected levels of accommodation, need, and demand. That seems pretty self-evident.
We know that in addition to the various public dissatisfaction-I do not say that it is justified-about the prejudgment in favour of development, there is also, from time to time, a feeling that some of the information available in local authorities is not actually up to date. For example, last weekend I attended a meeting, when I was informed that the figures for the net immigration into the district, on which were based the forward provisions for housing, were wrong by 400 per cent in relation to the more recent figures because the figures on which they were operating were ancient.
There is some concern about these issues; even though it may seem self-evident that we ought to have the best figures, people are not always satisfied that that is the case. So I am sympathetic to this proposal, and I hope that we can establish bases in the local development schemes which can be relied on-relied on-by people who examine them as having the best basis for the amount of housing needed and the demand for housing, and that they should not be seriously underestimated on the one hand, and on the other hand not seriously overestimated.
In supporting Amendment 204A for all the reasons powerfully set out by the three previous speakers, I should like simply to add that this provision will go some way to taking care of some otherwise very awkward problems: a housing shortage which a small area cannot or will not address on its own; adequate provision for Gypsy and Traveller sites so that brutal confrontations, evictions, further illegal roadside stopping, are avoided, and gradually some inroads are made into the accumulated shortage of legal sites. The words "accommodation needs" reflect exactly the wording in Section 225 of the Housing Act 2004, and will readily be understood to refer to all homeless people, whether itinerant or settled, with the right degree of equality and fairness.
My Lords, I have not spoken previously on the Localism Bill, nor would I claim any particular expertise in the planning system, but I would like to respond to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, in the context of this debate, with particular reference to Gypsies and Travellers.
The noble Baroness and I, and indeed my noble friend Lord Avebury, have participated over a number of years in the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gypsy Roma Travellers, and we have always been conscious of the difficulties that that community faces in adequate site provision, and also the degree of lack of salience-or should I say lack of appetite, perhaps-by local authorities in meeting their existing obligation. I can well understand her fears that these might be projected into the future.
Perhaps I may just comment from my experience over nearly a quarter of a century in another place as a constituency MP. The two planning issues on which I tended to wrestle most assiduously were either at the macro level, major infrastructure projects, or at the micro level, difficulties about Gypsies' and Travellers' sites-whether they were organised or not-but more typically, when there was no adequate provision, and they were moved on; although the provision in Northamptonshire tended to improve over the years.
This particular amendment is of course about making an adequate assessment, and that is a proper start. The difficulty, in my experience, is that very few authorities see themselves as having an interest in carrying out this assessment-one or two enlightened ones do, maybe for economic reasons, in order to secure a temporary labour force. Most will do as little as they might. And yet, one could fairly say that the amount of land required to meet all these needs across the nation is quite small, and in local authority areas is even smaller. It would certainly be in the interests of local authorities, who wanted to put some order into this process, to make adequate provision so that people could move to those sites and away from others. We do not want to open the recent wounds about that matter, but I think that a number of authorities are very diffident about doing so.
The reasons for that are perhaps, first, that they may fear that they are shouldering a disproportionate burden; in certain cases they may feel, secondly, that the very fact of assessing provision or having a discussion about it may, as it were, attract or create an additional population whose need has then to be met; and thirdly, they are, to be frank, often facing the hostility of the local settled population, and a very strong political pressure not really to meet their duties.
This has to be balanced; what I have always said locally is that the one thing I do not take is a one-dimensional view of this. There is a need for give and take, sensitivity and a proper discussion on both sides, but it has to start with a proper assessment. There may be a feeling that this is not going to happen.
In addition to this, I should just make the point-and it does look back to the issue of cross-border co-operation-that of course the nature of the travelling population, by definition, is that people move around; not all the time, or in every case, or outside or across local authority boundaries, but it does mean that they have to be looked at with at least a degree of flexibility and sensitivity, given, as the noble Baroness has said, some of the social pressure which is upon many of them, and which is evinced by many frightening social statistics in terms of a perinatal mortality or health outcomes, education, and the rest of it, which we need not go on to tonight.
I am not an ideological opponent of the Localism Bill-I think it is a good approach for the reasons that my noble friend Lord Deben very eloquently brought forward a few minutes ago. But we have to look at meeting the needs, indeed meeting wider statutory responsibilities for equality, which are enshrined in the duties of local authorities, and seeing whether they are adequately discharged.
I hope that encouragement will be sufficient for the local authorities so that they meet their obligations. All I can say is that I very much hope that the Minister can reassure us that she will be able to keep a watch on the situation, and I hope, if it is necessary-though one trusts that it will not be-that she will keep an open mind to any other measures or contingencies that may be required to see that this small but significant and vulnerable section of the population and their housing needs are assessed and met.
My Lords, being from Essex, albeit from Braintree and not Basildon, I am a bit hesitant, as my noble friend will probably understand, to follow him down the path of the issue that he has raised. I have to say that it was a brave speech and I have considerable sympathy with the approach that appeared to underlie it.
I want to come in on a different aspect of this, which is emboldened by the speech of the noble Lord from the Cross Benches. My concern in this field is that the more you go for localism and devolve decisions downwards, the more you will risk people saying, "We don't want this in our back yard. Put it in somebody else's". As regards affordable housing, we need to recognise that even in the smallest units, which are not always recognised by villagers in some quite small villages-I live in a fairly large village in Essex-or the most articulate and active people, there is a need to provide houses for the families and young people who are perhaps not so comfortably off but who are essential to the overall life and social structure of the village or the neighbourhood, as it is defined in this Bill.
We need to recognise that with the disappearance of pressures from above-that is, the spatial strategy-on local authorities to build this, that or the other number of houses, we slightly strengthen the ability of everyone to say, "Yes, we all know that a lot of houses are needed but not here, thank you". We may need to do something to correct that. The thrust of the point of the noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite, although not the wording particularly, is probably well made, and I hope that it will receive an understanding response.
My Lords, if I understand it correctly, the purpose of these amendments is to make sure that a proper assessment and evidence base for housing needs is incorporated into the work on the local plan. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, spoke about the immediate crisis in housing. Of course, these amendments will not solve the problem in the short term. The problem of why houses are not being built is far more to do with the financial situation, and the lack of availability of finance for building houses and of mortgages for people buying them. It is nothing to do with the planning system per se but the points he is making are very valid in the longer term.
However, the argument comes down to whether this kind of requirement on local planning authorities should be in this Bill in primary legislation or should be provided in guidance. I have no doubt that the Minister will point out that the draft national planning policy framework, with which we all live and sleep at the moment, has a great deal in it about this. For example, on page 30, under the heading "Significantly increasing supply of housing", paragraph 109 reads:
"To boost the supply of housing, local planning authorities should ... use an evidence-base to ensure that their Local Plan meets the full requirements for market and affordable housing in the housing market area, including identifying key sites which are critical to the delivery of the housing strategy over the plan period".
Paragraph 111 is rather longer, and therefore I will not read it all out, but it requires that,
"local planning authorities should ... plan for a mix of housing based on current and future demographic trends", which I think was a point made very eloquently by the noble Lord. I suspect that there is not a great deal of difference between what the noble Lord is putting forward and what the Government want to happen, and that it is simply a matter of where the requirement should be and whether it is necessary to be in the Bill.
Reference has been made to "Cathy Come Home". I confess that I am old enough to have seen that programme, but I did not see it because we were old-fashioned enough not to have a television at our house at the time, which seems astonishing nowadays when everyone has a television in every room. Televisions themselves are now supposed to be old-fashioned and you are supposed to watch it all on your PC, laptop or strange little devices that can be carried in one's pockets.
However, the important point made here by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, was the need for affordable housing. I would say that the phrase "affordable housing" is another phrase which seems to be a bit vague and fluffy in the way in which it is used. There are a number of different sorts of affordable housing. There is affordable housing to buy; affordable housing to rent, which is nowadays called social housing, a phrase which still grates with me; public housing or third sector housing; and affordable housing in the private rented sector. I live in a part of the country which is not only a great deal more hilly than East Anglia but I suspect that we have a lot more-or perhaps we do-poor quality, rented accommodation in the private sector, which is extremely affordable by any standards because the levels of rent are set at the level of housing benefit. Anyone who qualifies for housing benefit can afford that housing.
In any case, that housing by standards across the country is very cheap to buy and to rent. But the quality is not very good. I am old-fashioned enough to think that what is required is not just a lot more rented accommodation, but rented accommodation in the social housing sector, council housing, housing association housing and similar types of housing. I keep being told by coalition Ministers that this coalition will provide much more of such housing than did the previous Government. I still cannot quite work out exactly how it will happen but they believe it will. I wish them the best of luck. The outcomes will be the outcomes, which we will see. If that happens, the coalition will be able to trumpet it as a great success. Frankly, the previous Government in this area was a bit of a flop.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions. As one would expect, it ended up with a wider discussion on housing. We have had that on earlier parts of the Bill, which does not mean that we do not have to listen again to the important points that were made. Before I start on the amendments, two areas of thought were triggered in my mind. A concern was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Newton, that with localism and local neighbourhood planning, no one would accept having housing in their area and that they keep trying to shovel it off to somewhere else. That will not be possible because the neighbourhood plans will have to conform to the local development plans, which will have a clear indication of, first, the number of properties and housing they expect to be built and, secondly, the general area. The neighbourhood plans will be able perhaps to say, "Well, we would rather not have it there but we could have it there". There will be no possibility that they will not deliver what the local development framework requires. That should be helpful.
The Government are committed to 150,000 new homes before the next election, which will be a great deal more than we have seen over the past few years. My honourable friend Grant Shapps at the other end is actively pursuing policies to ensure that housing is developed. The new house bonus is meant to contribute to and encourage both the building of new housing and the improvement of properties. It covers affordable rents and encourages other capital expenditure. The pressure to produce more housing will be there from the Government.
We are asked to talk here about the possibility of a mandatory housing assessment, which we have already discussed a couple of times. I have tried to persuade the House, so far without success, that it is unnecessary to put this in the Bill formally. As my noble friend Lord Greaves has just helpfully pointed out and as I was going to say, the draft national planning policy framework has very clear policies on how much housing must be built and what the local authority's responsibility will be. That has been combined with the guidance on strategic housing market assessments, which already sets out a framework for local authorities to take account of need and demand for both market and affordable housing, and to keep this under review over the plan period.
Local authorities already need to prepare an annual monitoring report covering housing delivery, which they must publish locally and which sets the context for reviews of plan policies. Preparing evidence is part and parcel of the plan-making process that has its own robust requirements for publication and consultation. Making local authorities publish assessments prior to undertaking local plan preparation would add yet another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy. I fully agree that local authorities should understand and plan properly for housing and affordable housing requirements. However, since existing requirements perform the functions intended by these amendments, I cannot support them. They are already being carried out.
An important point was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and much supported by my noble friend Lord Boswell, on Gypsies and Travellers. I am sure noble Lords are aware that local authorities have a statutory responsibility for assessing Travellers' needs. Every local authority, when undertaking a review of housing needs for its district, is required to consider the needs of Travellers under Section 8 of the Housing Act 1985. Local authorities are also required to prepare a strategy to demonstrate how they will meet the accommodation requirements of Travellers. All the requirements are there; it is up to the local authorities to make sure that they fulfil them and carry out their obligations under the various aspects of legislation.
With the explanation that these amendments are not needed, and that there are good, robust policies to ensure that there is housing assessment as well as to make sure that affordable housing and other housing will be built, I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her response, although I do not agree with some of what she said. More than 150,000 new homes a year-
I am sorry-over four years. However, even 150,000 a year is less than what the previous Government achieved. If you go back a couple of years, the number of housing starts was the highest for around 20 years. The Government constantly quote a later figure, which was affected by the financial crisis. However, if you look at the data over the period you will see something else.
Indeed, the noble Lord is absolutely right. However, I understand that the mechanism to achieve affordable housing is through 80 per cent of market rents being the primary funding source for it. Therefore, what the Government have done has slashed capital funding for affordable housing by driving an approach that jacks up rents, which for many people will be paid out of the housing benefit budget. It is difficult to see the logic of that approach from the Government's point of view.
The Minister's response to the noble Lord, Lord Newton, was to say that local development plans have to be adhered to. I thought that the noble Lord's point was about what happens in adjoining local authorities and how they can be persuaded to provide affordable or other housing when a neighbouring authority is fully developed or has little room to develop further. As I have mentioned, that is precisely the situation in which we find ourselves in Luton, as do other local authorities. The noble Baroness says that the route is through the NPPF; I think the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, quoted from that. However, as we have debated, it is a question of having regard to that. We want to put something transparent in the Bill. That transparency will help the understanding of local people as well.
That may be the case up to a point. How that works in practice remains to be tested, particularly given the pressures on the inspectors. We shall come to that point in a moment.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that I am old enough to have watched "Cathy Come Home". I think I did; it was on a black and white television. It was a defining moment in our country. We are at risk of going back to that. These assessments must also be seen in the context of what is happening to housing benefit. We know that many people will be made homeless and that many will be uprooted from their current communities and forced into new ones. Following the point of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, about how robust and up to date those assessments are, they would also need to take account of such movements, which could be very significant.
I very much warmed to the comments of my noble friend Lady Whitaker and the noble Lord, Lord Boswell. The Minister's response was that there is already a statutory responsibility. However, the reality is that to date it has not delivered for Gypsy and Traveller families. It is right that we should focus on that. It was absolutely commendable of the noble Lord and my noble friend to do so in the course of this debate.
My noble friend Lord Beecham, in supporting the amendment, said that we should look not just at social housing or affordable housing-whatever description we apply to it-but at the private rented sector as well. That is absolutely right: we have to look at all areas, particularly the private rented sector. We know that the formation of households over the next decade will increase-certainly at a faster rate than new homes are projected to be provided. That is the source of some challenge.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, made the point that it is not just about whether somebody can afford a property but about what they are affording. What is the quality of the home that they are able to access? That is why, like him, I am a great supporter of the social housing sector. I am sure the noble Lord himself remembers council house-building when it took place and Parker Morris standards, with decent garden sizes. That may not be easy for us to return to but it was indicative of a time when we believed that people should be properly and decently housed.
I should be very interested to learn what the noble Baroness wanted to say about Parker Morris standards. Perhaps we can speak in the break.
My understanding is that the real difference between us here is whether this matter should be dealt with in guidance, through the NPPF or in the Bill. We believe that it is such a fundamental issue that it should be in the Bill. Indeed, if we are on the same page regarding what we want to achieve, I do not see why the Government cannot accede to having this as an integral part of the legislation. It is a key and fundamental-
I am told that I am not out of order and that I can therefore ask the noble Lord a question. Is he aware that when the Parker Morris standards were in force, the standard of all the local authority housing, as it was at that time-social housing has widened since then with housing associations -was way above that produced by any commercial developer? I have heard noble Lords in this Chamber say the reverse of that, but that is not the case. Parker Morris was the town clerk of Westminster City Council. His standards were too high and could not continue to be afforded. Is the noble Lord aware of that?
Indeed. I am certainly aware of the challenges that that produced but I hang on to the point that it was a good period for the provision of housing, with people, whatever their means, having the chance to live in decent houses in good neighbourhoods. Indeed, for 20-odd years I had the privilege of representing a patch on Luton council built just after the Second World War to those standards and it was a great place. However, that is a bit of a diversion from the amendments before us, and that is my fault.
As I said, the difference between us is whether this matter should be in the Bill or otherwise. I accept that the Government are not going to be moved on this. We will continue to make the arguments but, for the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 204A withdrawn.
Moved by Baroness Smith of Basildon
204B: After Clause 99, insert the following new Clause-
"Development plan documents: climate change and carbon budgets
(1) Section 19 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (preparation of local development documents) is amended as follows.
(2) For subsection (1A) substitute-
"(1A) Development plan documents must include policies designed to ensure the development and use of land in the local planning authority's area-
(a) achieves reductions of greenhouse gas emissions in line with the carbon budgets set under the Climate Change Act 2008; and
(b) meets the national planning policy objectives on assessing the risk of and adapting to climate change in relation to that area.""
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister has noticed that the amendments in this group are the same as the ones that I brought forward previously, but she will be relieved to know that I shall not be repeating that discussion. I have brought them back in order to seek clarification on a couple of points.
When I read through the Hansard for that debate, it seemed that, although the noble Lord the Minister who responded to me on that occasion and I were heading in the same direction, we were on different paths. I think that there was some misunderstanding about the issue at the time.
During that debate, I listened to the Minister's response and agreed that I would take note of what he said. However, I also wanted to read his comments to be clear about his reasons for not being able to agree to the amendment, because he certainly agreed to the principle behind them. He agreed with us that responsibility for the policies to tackle climate change relate not to just one government department but cut across departments. If the Government are to achieve their targets, they need to have policies across all areas, including planning, which is very important. Therefore, as I said to the noble Baroness, I am not repeating previous comments but am simply seeking clarification.
First, in the previous debate the Minister said that the amendment was unnecessary because neighbourhood development plans would have to be drafted, and he used the phrase "in general conformity with" the strategic policies of local plans, which would obviously include policies on climate change. I think that he was trying to be helpful. We thought that the Government would accept the amendments that we had brought forward because, if the plans can be "in general conformity with"-the phrase used by the Minister-that can exclude specifics. The reason for tabling this amendment is to see whether the noble Baroness can tighten that up a bit. I think it was agreed that, if neighbourhood development plans had to be in conformity with strategic policies and local plans, that would be a little stronger and give a clear indication and guidance that the Government intend neighbourhood development plans to take into account climate change. At the moment there is a little bit too much wriggle room, which could be damaging for the Government in trying to reach their targets.
Secondly, at that time the Minister was concerned that neighbourhood development plans should achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in line with carbon budgets set under the Climate Change Act 2008. I think he was under the impression that this would mean that every area would have to achieve the same level of reduction. That is clearly impossible and was never intended in the amendment, and I shall therefore be happy if someone can come back with different wording. Both these amendments seek to ensure that all plans, at whatever level, take these issues into account so that they can make a contribution to the targets and the issue is not ignored.
The intention is no more than that, and I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to come back on both those points. Amendment 204B seeks to deal with the question of "in conformity with" and the second amendment, Amendment 206B, tries to make a contribution to the climate change targets but does not insist on equal contributions being made. I fear that, although it is not the Government's intention, this issue could be ignored. I know from the comments made by the Minister on the previous occasion that that is not the intention but I seek to ensure that it is not the effect.
My Lords, there is an issue here with which I hope the Minister will be very careful. Local authorities need to be reminded all the time, and we have had some difficulty in the past in concentrating the Government's mind on the place of local authorities in carrying through the nitty-gritty of fighting climate change. Unless we make sure that they understand that they are on the front line and that what they do contributes a huge amount to the totality, we are going to be in difficulty. I do not think that it would matter so much had we not taken quite some time to get that into the whole run of things. This was a big issue in earlier Bills, and I hope that the Minister will understand that there is a real appetite for her to be pretty tough about this and to make sure that local authorities recognise their role.
My Lords, notwithstanding my noble friend's strictures, I think that this is a daffy amendment due to its wording. How can development ever achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions? Building a house emits greenhouse gases. The process of development necessarily involves the emission of greenhouse gases, and when you have created something at the end of that process, that continues to emit greenhouse gases, even if it emits far fewer than would have been emitted with a development done some years ago. Proposed new paragraph (b) at the end of the amendment would do great things for East Anglia. You would be allowed to build only off-shore windmills, waiting for the day when the place flooded.
My Lords, my regard for the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and his commitment on climate change is second to no one. He has been one of the leading spokespeople, showing a good deal of courage on the importance of this issue. Because of my respect for him, I can say that I think that what he has just said in this debate illustrates a contradiction between what he said earlier on a previous amendment and his position here. On a previous amendment, he argued very strongly that he believed in a society in which people were not told what to do at a local level. He felt that there had to be co-operation and that one could only suggest what might be the responsibility of a local authority or the points that should be taken into account.
This issue illustrates a tension between national priorities and localism, to which there is no absolute answer. The Government may decide that in the interests of the survival of the British people it is necessary to have certain levels of activity in order to make our contribution on climate change. However, unless there are mechanisms for delivering those targets, they become part of the world of dreaming aspiration, as distinct from real, hard policy. I wish that in the deliberations on the Bill we were all more realistic that it will not only be on climate change but on quite a number of issues that we have to strike a balance between national priority and localism.
My Lords, I underline what the noble Lord has just said, particularly in terms of the requirement to adapt to climate change. Noble Lords may remember that the Climate Change Act contained strong reporting requirements as regards authorities reporting the action they were taking and their readiness to adapt to climate change. However, those requirements were not laid on local authorities. They were laid on a huge range of other authorities, but local authorities were not required so to report because at that stage they had a performance indicator which established their readiness to adapt to climate change. However, that performance indicator has since been swept away along with all the other performance indicators for local authorities. If I am correct, we no longer have any mechanism at all to make local authorities accountable for adapting to climate change and demonstrating that they are so doing. Therefore, I very much welcome this amendment as it would at least give us hope that a requirement was being laid on local authorities to demonstrate that they were adapting to climate change.
My Lords, as this is my first intervention at this stage of the Bill, I declare my interest as a landowner. I object strongly to these amendments. When I sought to introduce an amendment in Committee that related to the costs incurred by local authorities contesting appeals in wind farm development cases, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, chided me for introducing an inappropriate discussion of energy policy into a planning Bill. I could now say the same about the noble Lord's friends who are moving this amendment.
As the noble Baroness more or less explained, the intention of these amendments is to impose on local authorities a responsibility for helping the Government to achieve their renewable energy targets. The principal effect in practice would be to make it even harder than it is already to resist the attempts of subsidised developers to cover the countryside with wind farms, for, of course, that is the one technology on which, in practice, the Government are, or were, pinning all their hopes for achieving those targets. I say "were" because at the recent conference of my party there were the first interesting signs that second thoughts are being entertained at last in government circles about their energy policy, owing to its expense which seems suddenly to have become apparent to the Government. To be sure, so far the changes have been in rhetoric only but I find it hard to see that that will not be followed by action for the point is that the Government's deliberate pursuit of a renewable and, therefore, an increasingly expensive, energy policy is coming into ever greater conflict with the Government's attempts to protect living standards.
In the Financial Times yesterday its energy correspondent produced an estimate that at the current rate by the time of the next election the average household will be spending more than 10 per cent of its income on its energy bills. In other words, they will be officially in fuel poverty. That will be an astonishing and, I suggest, intolerable outcome. Noble Lords will remember that when the previous Government were in power it was their stated policy to abolish fuel poverty, but, of course, that is quite impossible if you are pursuing a renewable energy policy. Under their watch the number of households in fuel poverty doubled in five years to around 5 million. With the present Government pursuing the same policies, this figure has continued to rise until it has now reached 6 million or even on some estimates 7 million. Therefore, it surprises me that in these circumstances noble Lords opposite continue blithely to propose measures that can only have the effect of further adding to fuel costs for the consumer. It did not surprise me, however, that in that same article in the Financial Times the director of consumer policy at uSwitch was quoted as saying:
"I believe there is going to be a U-turn because I believe the government is listening and they're going to have to face reality".
The Government, of course, could have done so a long time ago. I can hardly think of a single prominent independent newspaper columnist who has not over the past two years or more-in many cases much longer-succeeded in exposing the crippling expense of our climate change targets and the complete futility of wind farms. I should have thought that that probably covers virtually all the famous names in journalism, at least in the newspapers and magazines that I have read.
The Government therefore cannot say that no one warned them. Yesterday it was the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, who had the opportunity to have his say in the Times. His article was headed:
"This is no time to waste our money on windmills".
The noble Baroness may laugh but I cannot think of a more unsuitable time to contemplate putting a statutory obligation on local authorities to give yet more priority to the installation of subsidised renewal energy projects. I hope that the Minister will give this amendment short shrift.
My Lords, it has had a slightly longer shrift than I thought it would. I think this amendment was slipped in on the basis that there would be a two-minute discussion on it. I might have known that it would generate a bit more than that. I hope that I can deal with it quite swiftly. In the draft national planning policy framework there is a very clear description of what is expected in terms of the planning responsibility. The Government's objective is that the planning mechanism should fully support the transition to a low-carbon economy in a changing climate, taking full account of flood risk and coastal change. That requirement is contained in the national planning framework, which is subject to the consultation.
There is already a climate change duty on plan-making. That duty seems sensible and was introduced by the previous Administration. I do not think that we are likely to change that at present. It is not worth rehearsing how the duty works but a local council's development plan policy documents taken as a whole-that is their local plan-include policies designed to contribute to mitigating and adapting to climate change. The neighbourhood plans have to fit in with the local development plans, so the neighbourhood plans cannot duck the issue. Therefore, there is a clear line between the local development plans and the national policy framework as one leads into the other-it goes down from the national to the local to the very local and there is a requirement to take it all into account. Local communities when they are preparing plans will be in no doubt about the planning requirement.
We have proposed in the framework that the planning system should aim to secure, consistent with the Government's published objectives, radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. These objectives include the carbon budgets set in law which now cover the period to 2027. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, is correct to say that the emphasis on how you do this will differ in different places. Kensington High Street in my borough is one of the worst areas in this regard but then all the traffic in the world comes past our front door. It is difficult to see how one borough can make the full contribution that is required but it has to contribute to the target. That is clearly understood in the national policy framework. The noble Lord, Lord Reay, has raised wind farms previously and I am sure that he will do so again but at the moment the planning is pretty clear on what is required. I hope that with that explanation the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness as I think she has understood what we were seeking to do-to get these issues taken into account. I thought that when the amendments were moved at a previous stage we were on the right track but that we did not quite tie up the loose ends. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her explanation. Like her, I was surprised that the debate took the direction it did but I should know that at any mention of climate change the noble Lord, Lord Reay, will always talk about renewable energy and wind farms. However, that was not the intention behind the amendment. It was exactly as the Minister described. As I say, I am grateful to her for her helpful explanation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 204B withdrawn.
Further consideration on Report adjourned until not before 8.49 pm.