Planning — Debate

– in the House of Lords at 11:40 am on 13th October 2011.

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Moved By Lord Rooker

To call attention to the Government's consultation paper on proposed changes to the planning system; and to move for papers.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour

My Lords, in contemplating the consultation document on planning reform published by the Government, I start by saying that in principle, and in general, I am actually with the Government on this issue, although I may differ on a few points-the two most important being brownfield and on how local the decision-making should be. I am pro-development and if I do not always use the prefix "sustainable", you must add it in. To me, it means the water, the transport, the density, the schools, jobs and GPs; for housing, it means mixing the tenures and affordability. In fact, it is about what has been discussed in the Localism Bill-sustainable communities and how to plan for them.

Ministers have had a torrid time from their friends at the Daily Telegraph, the owners of which are not really entitled to a view on this issue from their offshore island. There has been much misleading hype from the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England. I do not think they believe everything they put out. As Planning Minister, I had disagreements with them, but they did not feel they had to resort to hype on the current scale. We have to realise that it is a draft policy framework and we do not always need to blame the communications-sometimes we need to look again at the message. In this respect, I have some helpful advice for Ministers. Cut out the petty party points and do not insult those who oppose you. Above all, do not ignore what has been done before by other political parties.

When I was at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in 2002-05, with the then Deputy Prime Minister, we set about delivering a genuine policy for growth which was controlled and sustainable. The principles were set out in the February 2003 communities plan. We were, as we said at the time, able to build on previous work by John Gummer-now the noble Lord, Lord Deben, in this House-who had the courage to rework the policy regarding out-of-town retail developments in order to encourage city centre growth and prevent sprawl; and on that of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, who had created the Thames Gateway. Both were visionaries, and we said so at the time as we promoted our communities plan. The Minister could well take a look at the ideas, content and explanations in the plan published by the noble Lord, Lord Prescott. It is not perfect but they can learn from it. Indeed, I suspect that many of the same civil servants who worked on that plan are still around working for the Minister.

The policy is about England. So, let us get the facts. Over 90 per cent of the land of England is not built on. National parks account for 9 per cent; designated areas of outstanding natural beauty account for 15 per cent; the green belt accounts for 13 per cent; urban developments-the roads and everything-are 9 per cent. That is a total of 46 per cent. From memory, when I was at the relevant department, the land that was thought needed for development-housing and other infrastructure-was about 1 per cent. So, what on earth is the problem? That is all we are talking about in terms of the scope of the land of England for proper development. The last Government managed to leave behind more green belt than they inherited, two new national parks and sustainable development-even though I do not think there was enough of it.

The draft planning policy nowhere near seeks to destroy our countryside, areas of outstanding natural beauty, the green belt or our vast open countryside. Those are the facts-it cannot do that given the amount of land that is required. We need to get real on this matter. I accept that we have to be very careful in the use of land. There was a time in the south-east-the region most deprived of brownfield sites; I will come back to that-when dwellings were averaging only 22 per hectare on greenfield sites. That led to a density directive stipulating a minimum of 30 dwellings per hectare, although I think that that is too low in any event. There are countless examples, set out in publications, of very high-quality housing in this country at much higher densities, indeed more than double that rate. This should not lead to room sizes so small that living space is compromised and specially made small furniture needs to fitted in the show houses as a disguise.

The green belt, which is what a lot of the debate is wrongly about, is what I sometimes used to call-I know people got annoyed about it-rubbish land. It is the collar around the urban areas to prevent sprawl. That is what it actually is. The urban fringe is not nice in most areas. By definition it is touching up on the urban areas. I know farmers who suffer on the urban fringe from the dumping of rubbish, even supermarket trolleys, in fields about to be machine-harvested.

In the communities plan we took the view that to obtain sustainable growth it is sometimes necessary to have the odd incursion into the green belt, but with a commitment to designate more than was taken. That can easily be done now. You might, for example, need a new bridge over a river or a railway line to get access to land for development that would not otherwise be available. It builds on what is already there in communities-it is not necessarily greenfield, open-span development; it is adding to towns and cities.

In fact, we had a specific plan, which I do not see anywhere in this policy, for greening the sustainable development. It was quite separate. I was reminded of it earlier this week when I got an invitation to celebrate the first 20 years of the Forest of Marston Vale in December. That was a project high on our greening list of areas to green as we were also intensively developing them.

City centres need to be vibrant places for people to live, work and play. We do not want any closed-off areas and no-go areas at weekends and in the evenings. But you need planning and management to achieve that. You also need to restrict out-of-town greenfield growth, and, in my view, you need to do it for both retail and offices. It needs a very positive approach to maintain our city centre areas. I recall on one occasion-I have never visited the site-when an Ikea was built on top of its car park rather than waste the land alongside for the car park. It did not happen by accident, and it was not the first choice, but it was a solution that prevented taking too much land.

Much of the debate has been about rural areas and I suspect that we will get some of that this morning. I do not see rural areas like the lid of a chocolate box. That is not to say that I want to concrete over them, far from it; but I do not have that romantic view. These areas are where millions of our fellow citizens live. There is a lot of hidden deprivation in rural areas with job losses, poor transport and everything else.

Small towns and villages die and become residential dormitories if they are not replenished by encouraging the reuse of old buildings and allowing new activities to replace older ones. We should not have to wonder why the shops, the banks, the schools, even the pubs go. You lose what you do not use. Young people are forced away to start a life and a family in the big cities and therefore these places die. You lose the children, you lose the school. It's not rocket science.

This does not mean that villages need to be swamped by massive new additions. They sometimes need no more than a handful of new homes for local people, maybe just by infilling the boundaries of the small villages and towns. I recall going to see the leaders of one area to push for growth-it was in Buckinghamshire but I will not mention the town; it certainly was not my political area, I went there as the Minister. I had to sell them growth. To my surprise they had embraced the planned growth because towns to the south of them in the M4 corridor were taking off in growth and their town was dying.

We pumped capital into the town to pump prime and developers did the rest at the outer edges of the town. The town grew considerably. This plan in turn was used by the leaders-which was a surprise to me, and I used it elsewhere. They said, "We'll grow our town because if we have a plan for growth we can oppose the developments in 100 villages in our county that are way beyond what is needed. We can go to planning appeals and say that the growth is there in our county because we are deliberately growing our towns. We can stop the pepperpotting among the villages". I thought that that was a very positive approach to development because it meant more sustainable growth and a lot less commuting.

One of my central points-and I do not think that it is in the policy; there is too much hope in the policy-is that growth has to be driven. I do not think that the issues will be addressed by the locality. Sustainability will not come from local decision-making. Nobody at that level sees the big picture when you are planning growth-and you have to plan, otherwise the infrastructure does not appear. That is one of the key issues. Large new housing without infrastructure is bad. We have done it in the past and we know where the failures are. Has anybody ever wondered why parish councils do not do planning? It is self-evident. The answer is there. So do not force the local decision-making so low that you get a complete log jam. You have to have discussion, co-operation, partnership and sensitivity. That is crucial in a modern democracy. We are not like France, which has a different planning system; the Government decide what they are doing and it gets done. Nothing will happen if the decision-making is too close to the developments. That is an area where some work has to be done on the policy.

I shall deal just briefly with agricultural land. Ministers could again learn from the past; they would do very well to dig out in Defra a web-based report on barriers to diversification by farmers. The key barriers were identified as planning and business education. So we need a presumption in my view on the reuse of redundant buildings in the countryside, with a limit-maybe double the floor area-to allow new developments for jobs and enterprise. It is no good planners saying, "Use the old building as it is, or not", because the "not" will win out and you will get no development and you will get dereliction. The level of planner interference sometimes knows no bounds. A farm with holiday cottages and physical activities for city folk, such as climbing frames and skateboarding down hills, fell foul of planners because of the roof shape of the shed used for storage. It was at the bottom of a slope 30 feet below the road, where it could not be seen because of the hedge. The farmer put a sloping roof on a 10x10 shed, and the planner said, "Oi, you've got to get that off-I want a pitched roof!". It is ridiculous the way that planners interfere with their personal views at this level.

One final area that I raise on the countryside is on the permanent show grounds around the country. They are used for shows other than agricultural shows, but they have an inbuilt infrastructure and, in my view, there should be a presumption for building indoor recreation and sports activities as a norm on such sites. Sometimes they are alongside a golf course, so why should you not have indoor sports facilities on some of these grounds? They have the infrastructure; it helps to make them viable and sustainable, because the infrastructure already exists.

Finally, I turn to the subject of brownfield, which is referred to in detail in the impact assessment. There must be a policy that encourages brownfield on previously developed land. I agree that the policy for housing targets on brownfield, first established in 1995 and carried on till the present day, is too rigid. It does not fit all the circumstances in the country. I was once a factory manager in Surrey, and there ain't a lot of brownfield land in Surrey born out of our industrial revolution there. Ten years ago, the National Land Use Database identified 66,000 hectares of brownfield capable of redevelopment. Remediation was at about 1,000 hectares a year. I simply do not see how that can have dried up, as has been claimed, given the amount of land that was there 10 years ago. Of course, greenfield is cheaper, but brownfield is virtually always more sustainable given its location. We know that there are developers who have made a real business out of developing brownfield, and with affordable housing, including the Berkeley Group and Urban Splash, which are leaders and innovators regarding redundant buildings such as waterworks, offices and factories for new homes. As an aside, I do not think that ex-factories and ex-offices should have to have planning permission to be converted to housing. By definition they were occupied by hundreds or thousands of people in the past; the road infrastructure and everything is always there. It is a bit different for sewer works and waterworks, and things like that, but I think that people should be able to get on and do it. Brindleyplace in Birmingham was built without planning permission, right in the centre, with offices, shops and everything, because it was that kind of zone, which was designated. So it can be done.

The Minister has to find a middle way between the two extremes. The final policy has to include encouraging the use of brownfield. It will remove a major plank from the sometimes misleading opposition to the draft policy. It is a draft-and what draft cannot be improved? But the central thrust should remain a presumption in favour of sustainable development. It is not a plan to concrete over our manmade countryside or destroy the quality designated areas. Those who claim this are plain wrong, in my view.

I encourage the Minister to look again at the work of the three noble Lords in the past. Things go off the boil as Ministers change and civil servants come and go. Things need driving, and I discovered that as one of the issues relating to this area of policy. If you do not drive it forward from the centre-it is not all top-down-it goes off the boil locally, and then you are at the behest of the personal views of planning inspectors and planners, who have caused us major problems in stopping sustainable development in this country.

We do not need to start again. Use the work of others. Find a way to explain and communicate. The principle of planned growth is right, and I applaud the fact that the Government have continued to do this. But they have got to change some aspects of the policy level, and use some good ideas from previous Tory and Labour Administrations. There were some good ideas, so you do not have to start again with a clean sheet of paper. I beg to move.

Photo of Viscount Goschen Viscount Goschen Conservative 11:55 am, 13th October 2011

My Lords, there are a great many planning experts in this House, many of whom demonstrated their great skills and experience during proceedings on the Localism Bill over many days. Many of its amendments and debates focus on areas that are closely related to the current consultation on the national policy planning framework. We have heard an impassioned speech from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who invited the Minister to choose the middle ground between two extremes. My view would be exactly the same. While I agree with some of his detailed points on conversion of buildings in rural areas and so forth, I have one principal point to make today, which is one of balance.

I certainly welcome the Government's focus on streamlining planning regulations. The current morass of regulations is certainly overcomplex. When there is overcomplexity in government policy, it leads to that policy perhaps not being given the degree of respect that it requires. The Government should therefore be commended in attempting to make sense out of the situation, to make the system more comprehensible, and thus better respected by those it affects.

It is certainly also true that the current system is unduly cumbersome, particularly with regard to the delivery of major infrastructure projects. There are many to look at, but one has only to look at the length of the planning inquiry into terminal 5 to realise that there is too great a gap for companies and the Government to be able to plan major infrastructure developments in this country. It just takes too long.

However, like many others, I am concerned about the nature of some of the proposals set out in the consultation document that we are considering. In my judgment, the way in which the document is phrased is very one-sided. It states one objective, which is promoting development. I cannot recall seeing a statement of government policy addressing sensitive and complex issues which takes such-one might say "definitive"-an approach.

Throughout the document, from the very beginning, the Government set out their stall with admirable clarity. Paragraph 9 states boldly:

"The purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development".

I am not at all sure that this is the case; or, at least, not without qualification and the exclusion of other priorities. For someone who is very definitely not one of the planning experts that I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, it could be argued that the purpose of the planning system is quite the opposite; that is, to act as a check and balance against an unrestrained charge for development. The authors of the document take comfort behind the term "sustainable" to qualify development. I was interested in the debate that took place yesterday, and would certainly agree that the term has been so overused as to lose any meaningful impact, as we have heard in recent debates. What is "sustainable development"? Today's definition of "sustainable" may well not be tomorrow's.

I was struck by the force of the Government's determination to support one side of this debate, particularly with regard to housing. The consultation paper is packed with strong statements to remind the reader of the Government's one-dimensional view. Paragraph 14 states:

"At the heart of the planning system is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan making and decision taking. Local planning authorities should plan positively for new development, and approve all individual proposals wherever possible".

That strikes me as an exceptionally bold statement, which could have been drafted in the dreams of those who might seek to benefit from the conversion of muddy fields into sparkling new dormitory towns. I urge the Government to think carefully about the balance between development-a great deal of development could be sustainable and very welcome-and conservation, the requirements of the rural economy, the preservation of open spaces, the importance of farming and biodiversity, principles which have led and guided the planning process for so long.

In paragraph 28 the document directs that local planning authorities should plan for the scale of housing supply necessary to meet demand. I question whether that is not a naive aspiration. The demand for housing is not quite infinite but it is certainly very large indeed. In my submission, an attempt to satisfy this demand would lead to housebuilding on an unprecedented scale, which would fundamentally alter the fabric of the country. I certainly understand the motivation behind this policy. We want to arrive at a balanced state of affairs whereby planning does not act as an unreasonable check and hindrance to development and boosts the economic capability of this country, for example, through industry. The Government are looking for any means of unlocking growth. However, I suggest that to put the emphasis so much on the need for development, as the consultation does, and attempting to promote development wherever possible is not going to achieve that. I am also interested to know where the funding is going to come from for all this proposed new housing stock. Debt financing is, of course, the answer. I wonder whether there is a need for a new mountain of borrowing.

If a country with extensive tropical rainforest assets had put forward a planning document suggesting that logging should take priority over all other considerations wherever possible, I suggest that environmentalists, and perhaps policy-makers in the developed world, would be up in arms about that. I think that there is a comparison to be drawn with what is proposed in this document. No doubt I will get "roughed up" by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, but in fact I agree with a lot of what he said about the need for balanced, sensible and well considered development. However, whatever we say at this stage, there is the law of unintended consequences. If this becomes the policy framework, those who are keen to sponsor large-scale housing development in large and, in my view, unsustainable dormitory-type schemes will have those schemes approved over and over again. I urge my noble friend to take account of the voices raised to counterbalance the gung-ho attitude of the Government.

Photo of Lord Hart of Chilton Lord Hart of Chilton Labour 12:03 pm, 13th October 2011

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Rooker for introducing this debate and for enabling us to make representations direct to the Minister without having to fill in a consultation form.

It is not surprising that the draft national policy framework has caused controversy. Planning decisions necessarily involve balancing competing objectives-policy and politics, legal issues, public and private interests and above all the making of choices which can directly affect villages, towns, cities, the countryside and those who live in them.

Such decisions are often controversial. They frequently attract passionate opposition, from professional and lay or local opinion, quite apart from organisations representing sectional interests. They are sometimes regarded as unfair or just plain wrong. In a relatively small country with finite land resources, the third highest population density in the world and the population rising fast, it could scarcely be otherwise.

Those who approach the subject, therefore, should do so carefully and in a consensual mood; not as some have done recently in an intemperate manner because that only creates antagonism and leads to the conclusion that the only thing wrong with the planning system is the people who operate it. I am not complacent, but there is no substantial body of evidence to substantiate the claim that the planning system is broken, or that it can legitimately be made a scapegoat for a lack of economic growth.

For example, in my own local area there is at least one extant permission for a large housing development in suspense; not because of problems in the planning system, but because of the financial problems of the developer. I am quite sure that this is replicated by many other examples across the country and the statistics seem to indicate that. I am not opposed in principle to the framework. I want to make it better, but today I wish to draw attention to three issues that I fear will give rise to potential legal difficulties. I must declare an interest as one who, for many happy years, used to practise in this area.

First is the framework itself. Any reduction of policy guidance from 1,300 pages of statements, guidance and correspondence down to 52 pages comes with a risk of challenge by way of judicial review. I say that because simplicity of language does not necessarily make things simple. Sometimes it is quite the opposite because quarrels over interpretation and nuance inevitably lead to delay at the very time that the human resource in each local planning authority required to give effect to this policy is at a low ebb, with cutbacks making things worse.

Policy guidance is, of course, a matter for the Secretary of State. It is a material consideration in deciding planning applications. However, like all material considerations, it is also a matter for the courts to construe if invited to do so. Of course, the weight to be placed upon each material consideration is for the decision-maker, but it is not possible to avoid the courts construing whether or not something is a material consideration.

In several respects, the framework lacks clarity. I am rather on my own here, but I very much regret the cancellation of a number of the planning policy statements, some of which were published recently, and in practice I found them exceedingly helpful. I do not believe that short, summarising sentences will adequately replace the detail contained in, say, planning policy statement 5, dealing with the historic environment and the setting of listed buildings. There are others, too. I am not saying that there is no room for cutting out repetition and out-of-date material, but much of the recent guidance has been extremely useful and I will be sorry to see it go.

In future, practitioners will refer back to the cancelled statements and track the wording. Where the wording of the new framework is unclear or open to more than one interpretation, battle and consequent delay will commence; leading, if the stakes are high, either to more and more planning appeals or more and more litigation by way of judicial review. So I believe the framework should be rescrutinised and, where necessary, added to or provided with supplementary guidance.

My second point relates to the term sustainability and the presumption in favour of sustainable development. It cannot be the Government's intention to leave a policy vacuum while developers leap to take advantage, but I fear that it might happen. The concept of sustainability has been around since at least 1994 with the parliamentary Command Paper Sustainable Development:The UK Strategy and has given rise to considerable debate. The framework does not contain a full definition in the glossary of terms and it should. I believe that the current definition is inadequate because it contains insufficient environmental balance and concentrates on the short term.

The Government, of course, argue that if you read the document as a whole, the balance is there, but the tone is otherwise. It is almost as though one can hear the dog whistle from the Treasury. Some have said that there has been sufficient controversy-I believe this-about the current attempt at definition to make one believe that it is absolutely necessary for the draftsmen to go back to the drawing board.

Paragraph 14 of the statement raises concern because it requires planning approval to be granted in accordance with the framework "without delay" and,

"where the plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date", and applies,

"unless the adverse impacts of allowing development would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policy objectives in the National Planning Policy Framework taken as a whole".

There is a presumption in favour of sustainable development. That needs clarification in the context of other material considerations and statutory obligations imposing duties on the Secretary of State and the local planning authority which may be inconsistent with the new presumption, quite apart from the separate obligations to produce environmental impact assessments and to comply with European directives.

To a lawyer, presumptions and statutory duties, and each and all of the phrases that I have mentioned, carry with them issues of interpretation and require greater clarity and guidance to avoid litigation. For example, what is "indeterminate" or "out of date"? What is "significantly and demonstrably", which is a new planning concept?

On the text itself, where is the presumption in favour of using brownfield land before greenfield land so that developers are prevented from seeking cheaper land in the interests of growth? Why have office developments and cultural activities disappeared from the sequential test in the section on town centres? What will be the implications of that and where does one find a long-term strategic view for the future? How can it be right when almost all major developments involve significant traffic issues? Should it be said that there should be no refusal unless the impact is severe?

Thirdly, I turn to the development plan, which I link to the presumption. Since 1947-strengthened in 1990-it has been the position that planning permission should be granted for development which is in accordance with the plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. The plan itself has undergone serial major changes which continue under the Localism Bill. This is not the first time that the development plan has been subject to complaints of being responsible for delay and harming the economic well-being of the country. It has been a recurrent theme over the past 30 years, as has the desire to involve the public in the planning system.

Currently, however a large number of local planning authorities are consulting the public on core strategy draft documents, which constitute part one of the new local plan. In my own area, consultation lasts until 2 December this year. To maintain confidence, public involvement is of critical importance. It is, therefore, extremely alarming to see the draft statement refer to a default position whereby, in the absence of a plan or where relevant policies are said to be out of date, the presumption will be in favour of development. That cannot possibly be the right way to go because, although plans are in the process of formulation, they should be allowed to continue to a conclusion and there should be no framework presumption until that has happened. To do otherwise will undermine public confidence in the plan-making process. In any event, the plan must conform to the policy framework. As a result, further time and delay will be taken up in achieving this and, of course, no community order can come into play until it conforms to a local plan and hence the framework. In this respect localism will be in suspense.

Although I understand the natural desire to encourage economic growth and speed up the planning process, I do not believe that any action should be taken that brings the risk of increased litigation or an increase in the number of planning appeals, which is the very opposite of the coalition's intention. So much more work is needed and it almost makes me want to go back into practice.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat 12:14 pm, 13th October 2011

My Lords, I declare an interest in that I am a member of a local planning authority and the local development control committee in Colne, which is the Colne and District Committee. Perhaps I should think about retiring.

I sometimes complain that your Lordships' House does not spend enough time talking about important nitty-gritty things I am interested in, such as planning, but at the moment we are discussing that almost every day. We were discussing it yesterday in the Localism Bill, we will discuss it again on Monday in further debate on that Bill and here we are again today. Perhaps I should be careful what I wish for.

My initial reaction when I read this draft national planning policy framework was that a lot of the language is wrong. It does not fit neatly into a planning framework; it is written more like a manifesto and there is quite a lot of sloppy wording. Sloppy wording is something that must be avoided here; otherwise it is a recipe, as the noble Lord, Lord Hart, said, for lots of appeals, judicial review and lots of money for rich lawyers. My second thought was that a lot of it is internally inconsistent and it needs sorting out. Whatever message the Government want to give in this document, it has to be consistent. My third problem is what it misses out and that is inevitable when all the PPSs are being condensed into a shorter document. I hope that the Government will not get hung up on 50 pages, but if they do, I would say that it needs increasing a bit and perhaps they will have to use a smaller typeface. Nevertheless, I understand the purpose of the document. My final concern is: what does it really mean? This leads us on to the meaning of "sustainable development".

Last night, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, pointed out that the Government are often in a state of confusion between the meaning of the word "development" and the phrase "sustainable development". They are not the same thing, but they seem to be being used interchangeably. The absolute minimum, from our point of view, is that a definition of "sustainable development"-an explanation, if they do not want a definition in this document-must recognise that it consists of three pillars; economic, social and environmental. That is absolutely fundamental. Planning decisions and planning policy-making has to involve a balance between those. A reading of this document suggests that the balance is not there. If the Government wish to set a great premium on growth-and I understand why they may-it must be within the context of those three pillars and the balance between them. In particular, it must be set within clear environmental limits.

The noble Lord, Lord Hart, has already referred to paragraph 14, which has caused a lot of the problems. It reads:

"At the heart of the planning system is a presumption in favour of sustainable development".

That is fine.

"Local planning authorities should plan positively for new development".

That is fine, but then it says,

"and approve all individual proposals wherever possible".

At the very best that is such sloppy wording that it cannot be allowed to remain. All things are possible. Then it says,

"approve development proposals that accord with statutory plans without delay".

Again, it is sloppy wording. Of course there should be no inefficiency, no unnecessary delay, but as a member of a planning committee for very many years and the former chairman of one, I know that planning applications very often require negotiation, discussion and attempts to reach consensus. Simply because a proposal, whether it is small, medium-sized or big, is in accord with the plan does not mean that there are not lots of details that require sorting out-things such as access and the implications on the local highway network; whether it requires changes to and support for local bus services; the detailed design of proposals. These are absolutely crucial and yet do not necessarily follow automatically from what is in the plan. All those things and a lot more require time. It is better to spend some time getting it right because, for people who live in or visit an area, what is done very often will last for many years-perhaps for hundreds of years. Spending a bit more time getting it right is absolutely vital. Planning is for the lifetime of people who live in an area. Developers looking at the wording of parts of this document may well feel that Christmas has arrived. They may think that it is wonderful-but planning is for life, not just for Christmas.

The final bullet point states that local planning authorities should:

"Grant permission where the plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date".

The point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hart. It leads to a discussion that we will have on Monday when we return to considering the Localism Bill and debate amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Best, and myself about transitional arrangements in local plan-making and decision-making. There is a concern that the Government did not think this through as well as they should have done when they wrote the Localism Bill and drew up the draft national policy framework. Some of us feel that clear transitional arrangements for the local plan-making system and how it will adapt to the new policies should be set out in the legislation, along with guidance on how planning applications should be dealt with in the mean time. I am aware that the Government are considering putting this instead in the national planning policy framework. I do not mind where it is so long as the system set out is the right one. We need to understand how the process for local planning authorities to get their local plans in line with the new system will work in the absence of regional strategies and planning policy statements, and with just the new NPPF.

Initially, Ministers said that local authorities would have six months to sort themselves out. It is absolutely clear that six months is totally inadequate. A period of 18 months is now being talked about-and probably even that is not enough. The context is that some councils do not have new core strategies in place and still rely on old-style local plans that predate the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. Some have new-style local development frameworks and core strategies in place, based on the 2004 Act. Some are moving towards it: they have core strategies, key diagrams and proposal plans that are moving towards the process of inspection and of being adopted. However, seven years after the 2004 Act, what we were told was a new, wonderful, streamlined planning system that would sort everything out clearly has not worked. None of us wants to see that kind of delay applied to the new system.

If the local authority has an approved core strategy, it must still go for its statement of conformity under the new system. How much change will that involve, how long will it take and what procedures are in place? If the authority does not have a core strategy under the 2004 Act but it is moving towards it-perhaps it has submitted it for inspection or is about to do so-how much work will it have to do to take it back, amend it, get new evidence and check it against the rules of this new document? How long will that take and what procedures will be in place? If the local authority is nowhere near this, what on earth is it going to do? What weight can it still take from its existing local plans, at whatever stage they are, to apply to new planning application? If the answer is that after a certain period of time, perhaps six or 18 months, these are dropped and swept away and it is free for all, then we are in chaos. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some clear answers to these questions on Monday, but in the mean time they are fundamental to this NPPF and there must be some clear guidelines included in this document, unless the local planning system is simply going to collapse.

Photo of Lord Reay Lord Reay Conservative 12:25 pm, 13th October 2011

My Lords, this is a timely debate on one of the most contentious issues of the moment, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for introducing it and doing so in an absolutely excellent speech.

It is appropriate that this Motion should be introduced from the Benches opposite. The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 was one of the great achievements of the post-war Labour Government and has been responsible for the quite remarkable degree of preservation that has been achieved for the British countryside, including specifically its protection from ribbon development and from inappropriately sited high-rise buildings. To that one could perhaps add protection from suburbanisation, although I must be careful of what I say in front of colleagues who come from Surrey.

The result of this cultivation of one of our most precious national assets is widespread international envy and admiration, and a vibrant rural tourist industry. It would be foolish and tragic to throw this away. I have no objection in principle to this attempt in the NPPF to codify planning law in 50 pages, and I understand that economic activity must be permitted to develop and grow and that an expanding population needs to be accommodated in our crowded island, but as the Prime Minister eventually acknowledged in the letter that he wrote to Dame Fiona Reynolds, it is important to balance environmental considerations against social and economic factors.

I regret that the NPPF has dropped the previous requirement that brownfield sites should be developed ahead of greenfield sites, and I am intrigued and delighted that the party opposite has taken up this issue. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said last night in support of the amendment to that effect, such a requirement would also benefit the regeneration of run-down urban areas.

I think it is wrong that where local plans have not yet been drawn up-the case with over half of local authorities-or where they are out of date, development can then expect a green light. This is the issue of transition that was taken up last night during proceedings on the Localism Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Deben. Frankly, it would be chicanery to thus trick local authorities out of their rights, given the complicated legal and bureaucratic requirements for drawing up local plans; so this issue must be addressed. Nor do I see why local authorities should be instructed that poor transport links should not be used to justify refusing development plans. Once again, this is unnecessary direction from the top.

Above all, there should be a statement supporting the preservation of the countryside, taking account of its landscape value, outside the designated areas of green belts, AONBs and national parks. After all those areas account for more than half the countryside in England, and without its protection we can expect urban sprawl and the countryside to become scattered with bungalows. That was the purport of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Marlesford last night. The Government may have reaffirmed, and the NPPF may also confirm, the previous protection for designated areas, but to leave out any appreciation of the value and the need to protect countryside outside the designated areas is to leave the impression that all such areas will and should receive no protection.

All these changes could be made with the alteration of just a few words here and there in the NPPF document. Even to add on page 46 after the words "protecting valued landscapes" the words "including non-designated landscapes" might be enough to cater for the inclusion of such areas.

I am not sure whether even designated areas do not require greater protection. In the past two years, there have been two attempts to acquire planning permission for large-scale wind farms six kilometres within the Forest of Bowland AONB. This was undoubtedly a try-on by the developer, and if it had been successful it would have led to a full-blown assault on AONBs nationwide. That suggests that the present protection could and should be improved.

I think there is a tendency for Governments, desperate to produce economic growth, to find in planning policy a scapegoat for the failure of other policies and the imperative of ineluctable circumstance. There is no observable correlation, as the chief executive of CPRE pointed out in a recent published letter, between loose planning regimes and strong economic growth: Germany and the Scandinavian countries having strong planning regimes and economies, Ireland and the Mediterranean countries having weaker ones.

In our small, crowded island, with many precious natural and manmade assets to be preserved as best as possible, it is only right that planning approval should be a laborious process that seeks to find acceptance for a compromise between competing interests. It is the slowness of the process that itself helps to provide the acceptance of the outcome.

There is one other matter to which I wish to refer. We have spent many fruitless hours, and will doubtless spend many hundreds more, bandying about the word "sustainability". The irony is that there is nothing less sustainable than the Government's entire renewable energy policy. I referred last night to what we saw at the recent Conservative Party conference and to how the leaders of the party are beginning to signal a difference of emphasis with regard to their green policies. They are evidently beginning to be worried about the expense. This expense is, of course, set to rise exponentially and quite unaffordably, so the change in rhetoric will have to be followed by a change in policy, as I said last night, unless we want living standards in this country to be driven back to pre-industrial age levels. That will then make pages 42 and 43 of the draft NPPF, which amount to genuflection before the altar of global warming, entirely out of date.

What will happen then? The Government will have to row back from their instructions to local authorities to pay so much attention to climate change, but that moment cannot come too soon, for the greatest destruction taking place today to our countryside is due to the proliferation of wind turbines, ever larger in size, maintained by subsidies that are largely paid to foreign companies, impoverishing a new generation of consumers, driving large-scale manufacturing overseas so that the carbon emissions are produced abroad but the unemployment is produced at home, enriching a few farmers and landlords but arousing violent antagonism among thousands more. It all amounts to a ruinous tribute to a toppling idol. To give it a final push would do more than anything else to save our countryside and our economy. Is the party opposite not interested in taking up that cause?

Photo of Lord Rogers of Riverside Lord Rogers of Riverside Labour 12:33 pm, 13th October 2011

My Lords, I declare an interest in Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners and as a director of the River Café, Hammersmith. I join in congratulating my noble friend Lord Rooker on introducing this timely debate. I will discuss the effect that this national planning policy framework is likely to have on our cities and our countryside, which are two sides of the same coin. In fact, cities need to be contained by a belt-green or other-to optimise the benefits of both rather than letting the city sprawl.

I am a practising architect with considerable experience of planning systems around the world. I have advised presidents and mayors in the UK and abroad and retain strong views on planning for the future. Planning systems exist for the benefit and protection of the public good, and I believe that our existing planning system is one of the very best. However, it needs rationalisation. Economics drive the city, but culture is its heart. The urban renaissance is fragile, and if we are not to return to the failing cities of the 1980s, cities need careful love and attention. The proposed national planning policy framework does not recognise the nature and culture of cities. This is the age of cities. More than half the world's population lives in cities. It was 10 per cent 100 years ago and is expected to be 80 per cent in 30 years' time.

People move to cities to find jobs, to be creative and to mix. There is a correlation between prosperity and urbanisation. There continue to be strong economic and social arguments for prioritising the intensification of existing settlements over greenfield or otherwise remote development. Surprisingly, there is no mention of the use of brownfield or derelict land in the national framework, even though there is no shortage of brownfield sites. The Department for Communities and Local Government's own figures show that despite substantial reuse, there remains virtually the same quantity of available brownfield land as there was 10 years ago, when I chaired its urban task force.

I believe the only sustainable form of development is the compact, polycentric city, which is well-connected and encourages walking and the use of public transport, where public spaces and buildings are well-designed and the poor and rich can live in close proximity. The intensification of existing settlements is economically efficient because it optimises the use of existing infrastructure and the embedded energy within schools, hospitals, roads and homes. Cities such as Vancouver, Portland, New York, especially Manhattan, and compact European cities are more than five times as energy efficient as sprawling cities such as Detroit, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

The success of retrofitting cities and neighbourhoods has created an urban renaissance that has come about through relatively tight controls on out-of-town retail and commercial development and residential buildings. Over the past decade, the empty gaps in eroded cities and neighbourhoods have been filled in as people moved back into cities. This brings vitality, wealth and security to these cities, but this is a very selective and delicate situation.

Let us take the examples of some areas of Manchester, Liverpool and London. In 1990, there were 90 people living in the heart of Manchester; today there are 20,000. Over the same period, the population of central Liverpool increased fourfold, and London had three-quarters of a million people added to its population, all housed on brownfield land.

The new policy framework favours sustainable development, which I applaud, but it fails to articulate what it is beyond putting economic growth first. I believe that sustainability means social well-being, design excellence and environmental responsibility within a viable economic and legislative framework. Sustainability is about long-term thinking and ambitions. My noble friend Lord Hart clearly defined sustainability in his speech, and I agree with his other points.

The compact city is the only form of sustainable development where poor and rich can live side by side. By cutting over 1,000 pages of proposed legislation to just over 50 pages, careful, detailed advice has been abandoned in favour of generalities. There is a risk that the courts will decide planning applications rather than communities. For example, granting planning on the basis that local plans are absent or incomplete is totally unacceptable and certainly not environmentally sustainable. More houses need to be built, but there is no proof whatever that the fall in the number of dwellings over the past years has anything at all to do with the lack of buildable land. Currently there are 66,000 hectares of brownfield land in England, and this increases every year. Some 330,000 planning permissions for dwellings have not yet been built, and 750,000 homes are lying empty-well enough to meet all our housing needs. Dereliction and the fragmentation of towns where buildings stand empty create no-go areas, which is why we have to start building and retrofitting in these places.

The Government's attempt to give local councils and communities independence is attractive. However, it needs careful studying and long-term planning, as there will be a need for more decision-making bodies, which in turn will require well-trained specialists who even now are in very short supply. Even in London only a handful of boroughs are actually capable of performing planning tasks.

The good design of public spaces and buildings is critical to improve the quality of life. Bad design impoverishes and brutalises. Much of what we build today will last for hundreds of years. If the framework is not greatly improved, it will lead to the breakdown and fragmentation of cities and neighbourhoods and the erosion of the countryside. To conclude, retrofitting an existing city brings life back to that city, minimises the cost and allows the countryside to be used for pleasure.

Photo of Baroness Parminter Baroness Parminter Liberal Democrat 12:41 pm, 13th October 2011

My Lords, while respecting what planning has achieved over the last 50 years, there is no doubt that it can still be improved: to encourage local people to get involved in the decisions that affect their lives; to reduce delays; and, indeed, to deliver the sustainable development that we all know we need. As such, the Government's attempts to reform the planning system should be welcomed, and I understand the rationale for cutting the plethora of guidance and regulations down to a manageable size, into this new national planning policy framework.

A readable document for committed but time-poor councillors at the sharp end of planning decisions up and down the country seems no bad thing. However, in slimming things down, policies get lost and confusion can-and indeed has-been created. I believe the Government when they say this is a genuine consultation because I have found Ministers receptive to listening to the real concerns over a number of policies that I and others have raised, and for that I am grateful.

Today I would like to concentrate on two overarching issues. The first is the clarity of intent. It is to be welcomed that the national planning policy framework defines the first principle of planning as helping to "achieve sustainable development". However, the current document is insufficiently clear or coherent in its articulation of what sustainable development is. The reference to Brundtland in paragraph 9 is effectively marooned because the document does not outline any detailed mechanism for its implementation. Part of the reason for this must be our belief in localism-something we Liberal Democrats share with our coalition partners-and that means giving local councils the power to articulate their vision of sustainable development for their area through genuinely sovereign local development plans. However, the lack of any strategic vision means that we will be the only country in northern Europe not to articulate a spatial strategy.

In the absence of such a clear vision from the Government articulating what might or might not be appropriate in spatial planning terms, it is imperative that the definition of sustainable development is clear from the outset about the expected route of travel. If we do not do this, we risk failing to meet the multiple challenges facing us over the next 20 years and beyond: the challenges of a rising population, the need to mitigate the effects of climate change, and the transition to a low-carbon economy. Therefore, it is imperative to revise the draft national planning policy framework to incorporate upfront the definition of sustainable development that is currently used in the UK sustainable development strategy, as has been previously mentioned by Members on the other Benches. 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, social science and a sustainable economy.

Secondly, I would like to comment on the language of the document-or rather, as I see it, its poverty of expression. In the national debate about the future of planning, there is insufficient conformity in the language about what sustainable development means. Throughout this document, and indeed in ministerial statements and comments, the language of sustainable development too often morphs into references to the importance of sustainable economic growth. This lack of conformity leads to a sense that economic imperatives are not equal but superior to social and environmental imperatives.

One notable example is in paragraph 13, the first paragraph under the heading "The presumption in favour of sustainable development". Its focus on sustainable economic growth, arguing that,

"without growth, a sustainable future cannot be achieved", is reinforced with a demand that,

"significant weight should be placed on the need to support economic growth".

This sends out an unequal message about the relative importance of economic growth in delivering the presumption in favour of sustainable development. The language of the document needs to be tightened up throughout to indicate that, while economic growth is vital, it does not equate to this Government's understanding of what sustainable development is.

Recognising that economic growth is vital should not make us fearful of articulating what is special and precious about our landscape. However, gone from this document is the statement of the importance of protecting the countryside for its own sake, leaving a sense that what matters is only what can be counted or how much something contributes to GDP. Of course our natural environment has an economic value. The recent UK national ecosystem assessment found that ecosystem services and the natural environment are worth billions of pounds to the UK economy, and hundreds of thousands of jobs are supported by the natural environment through industries such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, conservation and tourism. Tourists flock to see the majesty of the Highlands and the Lake District, to wonder at the rugged coastline of Cornwall, to travel through the patchwork quilt of Devon fields or indeed the wooded coombes of my native Surrey.

The rallying cry in my local church the other week was, "Beauty is to the spirit what food is to the body". I am reminded of that as I pause to consider that our country is more than a geographical mass. It is a place where humans interact with nature, where cities reflect our shared history and where our culture and our sense of who we are is often expressed through our sense of place. It should be no crime to want to articulate what makes this country-particularly our countryside-so special. We should not be afraid to say that what makes it special is worth protecting and enhancing so that we can hand on a country to our children that can enrich their lives as surely as it has ours.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour 12:48 pm, 13th October 2011

My Lords, the Draft National Planning Policy Framework is well on the way to becoming a sensible and civilised policy document.

It secures a strong role for planning within the new localism. In the future that it envisages-provided local planning authorities have plans, local development frameworks, and provided those plans are up to date-communities will be strongly placed to shape development in their areas.

The document seeks to remove unnecessary barriers within the planning system to the creation of badly needed new homes and jobs, which are needed in rural areas as elsewhere. In doing so, the draft NPPF puts forward a planning regime that would balance economic with social and environmental objectives. It commits the planning system to sustainable development-development which, in the Brundtland definition, meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

It requires that housing development should be planned so as to satisfy the variety of needs for different tenures in mixed communities. It is alert to the needs of disabled people. It proposes an inclusive planning process which would, more than in the past, offer opportunities for people in their neighbourhoods to have their voices heard and indeed to have power to shape the places where they live.

The NPPF is admirable in the importance that it attaches to good design, which is essential to integrating economic, social and environmental objectives, building public confidence and delivering sustainable development. Echoing the Labour Government's document Better Public Buildings, the Minister says in his foreword:

"Our standards of design can be so much higher. We are a nation renowned worldwide for creative excellence, yet, at home, confidence in development itself has been eroded by the too frequent experience of mediocrity".

The document wisely gives much weight to design review at the pre-application stage, which provides a more positive approach than reliance on development control post-application. I applaud the insistence that,

"planning policies and decisions should not attempt to impose architectural styles or particular tastes", the adjuration that,

"significant weight should be given to truly outstanding or innovative designs", and the clear authorisation to planning authorities to refuse permission for development of poor design. Equally, I applaud the document's ambitions for the historic environment.

So why is there such a row? The policy has been grotesquely misrepresented by the National Trust. On 28 July in the Guardian, Sir Simon Jenkins accused the Government of having,

"sneaked out the most astonishing change to the face of England in half a century".

He alleged that the national planning policy framework,

"encourages building wherever the market takes it".

Of the Localism Bill, he said that it is

"a straight developers' ramp ... Pickles and Cable are mere purveyors of building plots to the capitalist classes ... This Bill is philistine, an abuse of local democracy and an invitation to corruption".

As a columnist Sir Simon is free to put forward his personal views, however extreme, although that intemperate tone seems inappropriate. His devotion to the heritage is not in doubt, but in his capacity as chairman of the National Trust a balanced and fair exposition of the issues is expected.

The National Trust, unlike the CPRE, does not provide on its website a link to the draft NPPF; far from assisting its members to become correctly informed about the Government's proposals, it is polemical and misleading. The National Trust's daily planning blog purveys, without correction or criticism, slurs from elsewhere: the RAC pointing to,

"the traffic chaos that would occur"; and the Association of British Insurers emphasising,

"the increased dangers of flooding from the concreting of Britain."

They must have been reading a different document from the one that I have read.

The National Trust does not report alternative views. For example, Colin Wiles, writing in Inside Housing, has observed that,

"if we built 250,000 homes a year for the next ten years only around a third of one percent of countryside would be affected", and that,

"the voices of the homeless and badly housed are not being heard in this debate".

The National Trust's operation is a case study of the mischief that can be created by unscrupulous digital campaigning. It is aided and abetted by irresponsible media-not just columnists indulging themselves but reporters who think that they have done their job by reporting what people are saying rather than what, on the basis of careful investigation, they believe to be a fair account. Members of the National Trust, who are almost by definition responsible citizens with a deep commitment to the well-being of our country, must be embarrassed by the antics of their normally revered organisation.

The campaign by the CPRE has been altogether more balanced and responsible, but we need, I suggest, less campaigning and more debate. In that spirit, I have criticisms to make of the draft NPPF, which, for all its merits, has serious weaknesses.

The most crucial problem with the policy is that, according to the invaluable analysis by the CPRE, 48 per cent of local planning authorities do not yet have a local development framework. The NPPF states that planning authorities should,

"grant permission where the plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date".

This could indeed lead to inappropriate development if the framework becomes operational too soon.

The department is already urging planning authorities to proceed on the basis of the NPPF even before it has become formalised. The Government should not be so impatient. A great deal of anger and grief, and some damaging development, could be averted if the Government would allow planning authorities reasonable time-I think two years are needed-to draw up or update, consult upon and establish local plans. It is not as if in current economic conditions there is a great logjam of viable development proposals, and there are plenty of extant planning permissions. By delaying implementation of the new planning regime we would not be blocking economic activity that would lead us to the growth we so badly need.

The Government should also be realistic about the resources needed to enable planning authorities and the Planning Inspectorate to fulfil all the demanding requirements set out in the NPPF. Even before the Government imposed cuts of approaching 30 per cent on local authority expenditure, many planning departments were weak. The Government's policy should mean a rehabilitation, indeed a renaissance, of planning. But as things are, more qualified planners, so I am told, are employed by developers than by planning authorities. Local authorities are cutting historic environment services-13.5 per cent of conservation officers and 9 per cent of archaeological officers in the past year. It will take time to rebuild planning authorities. A hasty implementation of the new planning policy risks creating new disillusion.

Will the Minister explain how parishes and neighbourhood forums are to have the skills needed for the role that the NPPF proposes for them? How are they to avoid capture by developer interests?

The Government's approach abandons strategic vision transcending local planning areas. The duty to co-operate is a poor substitute for regional spatial strategies. Policy on transport, other infrastructure and economic development cannot be made satisfactorily by individual local authorities. The willingness to co-operate may not be there. The interests of different communities may be antagonistic. Regional development agencies were able to take a wider and objective view of the public interest, promote co-operation, mediate and reconcile differences.

Why could the Government not bring themselves to reaffirm explicitly the principle of brownfield first? They suggest that that is what they still want, but nowhere in the draft does the word brownfield occur. If they would just reinstate that doctrine, which is universally accepted other than by the volume housebuilders, there would be a huge national sigh of relief.

I have no objection to slimming down the volume of planning regulation. But to reduce 1,300 pages to 60 is inevitably to replace the specific with the general, sometimes the stratospherically general. Why junk the planning policy statements? These were the product of a huge amount of work in recent years by expert and committed people. They represented arduously achieved and invaluable concordats. By all means have a simple overriding statement of planning philosophy as in the NPPF, but support it with more detailed guidance in planning policy statements.

Unless there is greater substance, more specificity, in the NPPF, I fear that the new planning regime will be vulnerable to endless litigation. How are these decent generalities to be interpreted in practice? Feelings run very high over planning issues, where not only investment is at stake but quality of life. The planning framework needs to be clear and robust. The wording on advertising is dangerously vague. How will the concept of sustainable development itself fare in the courts? How much investment will there be if the legal framework is too uncertain? Is there a risk that legal delays will be a greater impediment to development than the so-called bureaucracy of the planning policy statements?

I acquit the Government of barbaric intentions. There is, however, some unrealism in the draft NPPF; a tightening of definitions is needed; and there are important omissions to be repaired. The document should unequivocally and unmistakeably make clear that the purpose of planning is equally to conserve and improve the quality of the environment as it is to promote development. The planning system should not be distorted in legislation to deliver short-term financial gains. If the Government pay heed to sensible representations-there are indications that they will-we could reach a consensus which will serve us well.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat 12:58 pm, 13th October 2011

My Lords, I must begin, as did my noble friend Lord Greaves, by declaring an interest as a councillor on a local planning authority. However, unlike my noble friend, I have managed to spend 37 years as a councillor without ever serving on a development control committee, except perhaps for a couple of years when we made the mistake of giving development control powers to our area committees on which all of us have to serve. We quickly learnt the lesson to which the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, referred, as to why it is so obvious that development control powers do not go to parishes.

I am also, I know, the only London borough councillor to be speaking in this debate. Therefore, I feel that it is incumbent on me to remind your Lordships, particularly the Minister who I am sure as a former London borough council leader needs no reminding, that London will be the only part of England to retain a regional tier of planning and a regional plan, the London Plan. It would be very helpful if the final form of the national planning policy framework document recognises the position of London and the London Plan and has something to say about how that will relate to the local development plans of each of the London boroughs and indeed the City of London and what the relationship will be between those two under the new regime.

At 10 o'clock last night, I was seriously wondering whether I would be able to follow the usual custom of welcoming the debate today and congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on bringing it to us. This was because-as my noble friend has also said-we had already spent five or six hours debating planning in the Localism Bill. In my view, a number of speeches would have been more appropriately made today rather than yesterday, except that they would not have fitted within the time limit imposed upon us today. We will return to it on Monday. We already know that we will have another debate on the NPPF on 27 October. However, the quality of the debate today-not least the introductory speech from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker-has convinced me that I was perhaps just at a low ebb at 10 o'clock last night and that this has been a very good debate.

The whole process got off to a very bad start. First, we were getting very mixed messages from Ministers. The neighbourhood planning proposals were launched, which were described as a charter for nimbyism, followed not long afterwards by the NPPF, which was described as the charter for developers. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, has made reference to the rather extreme campaign launched by the National Trust. I suppose I must now declare an interest as a member of the National Trust, which is a membership that I intend to retain because I like the free visits to its properties. However, I entirely share the noble Lord's comments about the extremely unhelpful nature of the way in which it expressed its views. It did not help to have a sensible and well informed debate, which is what the consultation process should have been about.

When Ministers come to consider all of this-and clearly they will consider the responses that have been received-I hope that they will also consider the communications strategy that they have followed in the launch of the NPPF. It has to be said that it has not been a success. As I have said, we had a very bad start. I pay tribute to the planning Minister, who has been working very hard and quite successfully to retrieve ground that need not have been lost in the first place.

Part of the problem is that consultation has got a bad name from successive governments and indeed from many local authorities. Consultation is so often believed by those consulting to be simply a formality-necessary to be gone through-whether in order to comply with the law or simply because it is the right thing to do. More often than not, I suspect, the final document and decisions are more or less exactly the same as those in the original consultation. This is often proper and legitimate provision of public information and public debate but it is not consultation. Therefore on this occasion-and on others, but particularly on this one-Ministers and others speaking for the Government have said, "No, no, no-this time it is real consultation". If we have consultation, all of it should be real. I certainly accept and believe that this is a real consultation. I am sure that when we eventually see the final NPPF, it will be different in a number of significant respects from the original.

The Minister told us during proceedings on the Localism Bill yesterday that there had so far been 10,000 responses. Speak as co-chair of the Liberal Democrats communities and local government parliamentary committee, I can tell her that by Monday she will have at least 10,001 responses because we have this morning agreed our response. I will not spoil the eager anticipation with which I know she will await the post on Monday in order to read the response, but she will have had a flavour of it from two of my noble colleagues who have spoken today. We will welcome the aims of the NPPF. As my noble friend Lady Parminter says-and I speak as a local councillor-having something reduced to a readable document of readable length is a great assistance to those of us who do not earn our living working in planning law. It is far more likely to be read by councillors, whether on development control committees or generally, than is now the case.

We feel that there needs to be a conformity of language throughout the document. It reads at present as if it has been prepared by a number of different government departments with different priorities. This might be the reality, but the final document needs to be a single government document that reflects those priorities and reflects a proper balance between those priorities. Reference has been made to the three pillars. Unless those three pillars are given an equal strength and recognition, the structure that rests upon those pillars is likely to be slanted and eventually to collapse altogether. We stress the importance of equal priority to all three pillars.

Next is the perhaps difficult question-which many have raised-of having a proper definition of sustainable development, which is in the framework document and which applies and is used throughout it. We believe that we should use the definition in the 2005 UK sustainable development strategy for a very good reason. It is well understood and generally supported. Trying to invent a new one is bound to lead to lengthy argument and dispute and serves no useful purpose at all. I have heard it said that this strategy applies to government as a whole and that it is not wholly relevant to planning. I dispute this. It is based on a number of guiding principles: living within environmental limits, achieving a sustainable economy, ensuring a strong, healthy and just society, using sound science responsibly and promoting good governance. All those principles apply very importantly to planning, particularly promoting good governance. These are important principles and they fit planning extremely well.

Others, particularly my noble friend Lord Greaves, have made reference to the need for a clear statement on the transition period. I know that the Government are working on this. It is an extremely important period when we move from the disappearance-rightly or otherwise-of regional spatial strategies next April through to updated or, in many cases, new local plans. I have not too much sympathy for those surprisingly large number of authorities which, in the five or six years that they have had, have not managed to developed a local plan. All local plans are likely to need to be updated in the light of the new regime; that takes time. The framework document needs to be clear not only on the process for the transition period but also for the length of time to be allowed for that transition period. At our committee meeting this morning we had some discussion on what that time period should be. One council leader suggested that it should be at least two years if councils are allowed to decide for themselves, and at least twice as long if the planning inspectorate and central government get involved in the process. This was not said in jest and I think it very sensible. It may well be that three years-or between two and four years-is about right. Whatever it is, it needs to be there.

We also support the view that "brownfield sites first" needs to remain and be clear in the document. We strongly support the need for more housing but question the need to dictate that local authorities must identify five-year land supply plus 20 per cent regardless of circumstances.

I know that the Minister must be constrained in what she can say in reply because the consultation has not yet closed and Ministers have not had the time to consider the responses. However, perhaps she can set out for us in her reply what is to be the process to be followed in producing the final document from now on-from the close of consultation-and when might we see it.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Labour 1:10 pm, 13th October 2011

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Rooker for having created the opportunity for this debate. As noble Lords can imagine, as a planning Minister he was a rather difficult act to follow. For a long time, people were obviously disappointed that I was not my noble friend. They would say, "But Lord Rooker said that we could-", whatever it was. He approached his brief with the same boldness he showed when, as a Minister at the Dispatch Box, he tore up his script. But this has been an excellent debate and I am glad that we are to have another one on 27 October because a lot of questions still need to be raised, and we will have moved a little further forward by then.

I declare an interest as the chair of English Heritage and I shall start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, on her speech and the emphasis she put on place. Indeed, place and what that means to us is absolutely central to how we conduct ourselves and feel ourselves to be part of the community. The meaning and wealth of our heritage and the local historic environment are important to our notion of our place in the world and in our society. As a planning Minister, I often wrestled with the issues raised by heritage and development, but like other noble Lords, I was deeply impressed by the way the planning system was constructed and how it worked, and by the integrity and passion that went into making decent local plans. So I do not believe that the planning system is broken. It can be improved, and I shall come on to say a bit about that.

What I did learn as a Minister was the vital importance of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. It has proved to be one of the most successful pieces of legislation ever enacted. Without it, London would now stretch as far as Brighton. On the whole, it has served us well, with its enduring impact on the necessity for balance in planning, although in effect it has always had a presumption in favour of development. It is important to keep that in mind because the NPPF now sits at the heart of a radically reformed planning system governed by the Localism Bill, along with the changed frameworks and devolved planning responsibilities that it will bring forward. It is indeed a new landscape, and that is why we must take extreme care over what we in this House provide by way of advice to the Minister. The Government themselves need to take care. I think that the Minister has already been given a lot of good advice in the debate today.

The NPPF has been worth waiting for, although we could have done with it at the Second Reading of the Localism Bill. I say that because never during my brief career in planning was I able to arouse much interest in planning. I felt that, with the exception of noble Lords in this House, I was ploughing a lonely furrow as I enthused about its power to create better places and sustainable futures. Today, not least thanks to the National Trust, it is on the front pages in a big way.

I shall summarise what English Heritage feels about the NPPF document as a whole before going on to talk about some of the specifics and the general issues. Many things about the NPPF are to be welcomed. A shorter, integrated document will probably be more accessible, better understood and possibly more effective. However, as other noble Lords have said, in the distillation of so much planning guidance into such a short statement, some of the encouragement to aspire to better quality development has been lost in the staccato instructions of the new document. For example, I particularly regret the loss of emphasis on the positive role our heritage plays in making new places-in its regeneration role. I, too, share the concerns expressed by many noble Lords about the tone of the document, and the NPPF, having established an interweaving of social, economic and environmental strands to create sustainable development at the beginning of the document, then starts to unpick it in subsequent parts of the framework. The frequent entreaties to favour economic considerations over social and environmental ones give the impression of imbalance and inconsistency in the document. That is one of the strong messages that has come across the Chamber today.

I turn now to issues around heritage. The document as it stands is not only a distillation of PPS 5, as my noble friend Lord Hart pointed out, it is also a distillation of what that document did only last year, which was to reduce two massive planning documents-PPS 15 and 16-into one concise paper. It took a lot of effort, but it produced a workable and coherent document. Like my noble friend Lord Rooker, I hope that the Government will learn from the major beneficial achievements of previous Governments, not just the previous Government, and take up and develop what does work.

What I can say, in terms of picking up the key policy points of heritage protection set out in PPS 5, Planning for the Historic Environment, is that the Government have done a good job, but there are still a number of changes to the text as a whole, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and I have exchanged correspondence. Our heritage in this country is extremely fragile and fine-grained because of the country in which we live and our historic market towns. We need to be careful to ensure that our heritage protection system remains robust and resilient. It is, and that must be sustained, which is why the NPPF document is so important. However, one problem is that the NPPF does not contain any policy for decision-makers to deal with proposals where there is moderate or minor harm to heritage assets such as listed building consents. Not only does that make it difficult for us to prevent the accumulation of small damages to the environment, it also makes it more difficult for us to use those buildings and places to encourage regeneration or to alter what is available. It puts a brake on the best sort of development. I would ask the noble Baroness to look carefully at this.

We need also to recognise that the historic environment is a non-renewable resource. In that context, the document misses out one of the powerful arguments for heritage, which is that it does not serve the past, but the future. It is part of the economic and social solutions for the future. We are certainly not interested in preservation for the sake of it, but we want to see the sensational buildings of the past fashion the future. For example, the way in which the wonderful Georgian buildings of the Royal William Yard in Plymouth have been brought back to life will serve the area for the future. At King's Cross we have the best of Victorian design matched by the brilliance of the best designers in this country. That is what we should be aiming for.

I know that the NPPF has sparked off a general furore and that the Government are looking for accommodations. We are reasonably confident, within the bounds of heritage protections, that our conversations with Ministers are going ahead very positively, but there is still concern across the heritage sector about the unbalanced emphasis in favour of development and the impact of that presumption which, as it stands, seems to pit economic development against social benefits and environmental protections. I welcome the assurances given by Ministers, including the noble Baroness, that there is no intention to diminish heritage protection, but some changes still need to be made to ensure that it will hold up in the context of the whole document. For example, the consequence of requiring local authorities to grant permission,

"unless the adverse impact of allowing development would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits" which, as my noble friend says, is a new concept in the presumption, will conflict with the heritage policies in the historic environment section and other environmental protection policies which require that the benefits of development should outweigh harm-there is a contradiction there-that favours conservation where the decision is balanced. We need the Government to clarify the primacy of policy requiring local planning authorities, when considering the impact of proposed development on a designated heritage asset or its setting, to give weight to its conservation. It could be done explicitly by stating that the historic environment policies are to override the generality of the definition of the presumption in favour of sustainable development. I believe that that would be logically unsatisfactory. Much more preferable would be clarity as to the true meaning of sustainable development-development that meets the tests set out in the NPPF. It is that sort of development which we should be presuming. That would resolve many of the objections that have been raised.

In conclusion, I shall speak briefly on the wider canvas. I thank the noble Baroness for what she has done to improve the conditions around neighbourhood planning. We still have an outstanding issue to do with archaeology, as I am sure she knows, and I think that there are questions on the generality of neighbourhood planning issues in terms of the clarity of new plans and development orders: the notion of what an up-to-date plan is and the vacuum that might be created if plans are not in date.

In due course, I hope that we will continue our discussions on sustainable development. We need absolute clarity on brownfield, including the term used in the document. We need the "town centre first" policy restated and not watered down. We also need to see specific protection for the countryside, although possibly not in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, offered yesterday. I believe that there is a way of doing that which seeks to protect and enhance the quality, character and amenity value of the countryside and urban areas as a whole and picks up the lost parts of previous documents. I offer those suggestions to the Government.

Let us not forget that all this is happening at a time when local authorities are losing resources, confidence and skills. We have placed a huge challenge in front of them to deliver a planning system that is more responsive, but let us not miss out on some of the absolutely crucial protections that have sustained the balance and made our planning system so successful.

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative 1:20 pm, 13th October 2011

My Lords, I had not intended to take part in this debate, but I have been so impressed by the quality of the debate introduced by my noble friend Lord Rooker that I want to make one or two comments in this reunion of Planning Ministers. When we first came into Government in 1979, I had that responsibility for four years in the Department of the Environment.

I also wanted to add a voice from these Benches to my noble friend in support of some of the helpful comments that have been made. I particularly thought that the noble Lords, Lord Hart, Lord Howarth and Lord Rogers, made most interesting speeches.

I shall make just three points. First, there must be a presumption in favour of brownfield land. That is not just important because you are saving green fields. It is crucially important for urban renewal-town centre and city centre renewal. It is more difficult and takes a little more time but the benefits are very real. The noble Lord, Lord Rogers, brought that point out very clearly.

Secondly, a point was made that some people had been pretty slow about local plans. Wiltshire, which I know quite well, has formed itself into a unitary authority within the past 18 months. It is now in the process of trying to create its local plan. It has not been dilatory: it is just that it does not have one at the moment. I hope that those points have been taken into account. I do not know whether the period should be one or two years-the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, suggested two years-but it would be intolerable if developers were able to take advantage of the absence of a local plan, perhaps for perfectly valid reasons, to establish quite unacceptable developments.

Thirdly, I understand the enthusiasm of new Ministers coming in when they launch these new policies. It seems a wonderful statement to get rid of 1,000 pages and have only 52. I have a certain feeling that I am probably responsible for one or two of the pages that will now be swept away by the great reformers. I dare to believe that there can now be a period of reflection when we might just draw on-the noble Lord, Lord Hart, made this point-the merit in some of the stuff there. If we do not quite achieve a 52-page outcome, it might be worth while seeing what is really of merit and quality that can be kept.

I particularly welcome the splendid way in which my noble friend has dealt with a very difficult situation. This was not magnificently launched at the start and there were many misunderstandings. I think that we can find our way through to a sensible planning policy that must have continuity and good sense behind it. Some of the arguments have suggested that it does not matter about planning because we have plenty of green fields and areas. After a short break, I went from being Secretary of State for the Environment to Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. There are an enormous number of green fields in Northern Ireland but anyone who looks can see how planning has gone wrong there. People have been allowed to build in quite inappropriate places in really wonderful countryside.

Of course we must encourage growth where sensible, but getting sensible planning policies in place on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis is very sensible and I admire very much the way in which noble Lords have conducted this debate.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 1:24 pm, 13th October 2011

My Lords, I do not know whether I am the first to do so, but I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, on her appointment and welcome her to the Front Bench. I should also like to congratulate, as other noble Lords have done, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who has occasioned this debate and introduced it with his customary brio. He will not be entirely surprised to know that I do not agree with everything he said. In fact, I think he would have been rather disappointed if I had.

In my more charitable moments, and oddly enough I have a few, I am tempted to feel sorry for Ministers, assailed as they have been by the leftist leader writers of the Telegraph, the closet revolutionaries of CPRE and the naysayers of the National Trust-or the national trots as I understand they have been referred to occasionally by Ministers. The case against them has been overdone, although there are serious reservations about aspects of the framework that we need to address.

I am particularly glad that the noble Lords, Lord Rogers and Lord Hart-as formidable a duo in this context as their namesakes in the realm of musical comedy-have demolished the myth that somehow planning has been responsible for the failure of the national economy, the low number of houses being built and the rest of it. That is not the case. Indeed, I heard recently the director of a major building company which develops a number of properties in urban areas agree about that. Some 80 per cent of planning applications are agreed and, as we have heard, substantial permissions are extant but without development occurring. Perhaps that is a matter that the Government need to address, possibly by levying taxes on undeveloped land as an incentive to those who own it and have planning permission to get on and develop.

However, one of the problems with the framework-it is not a particular problem with this document-is that there is no national context. There is no plan for England into which this framework would fit and which would provide a context for planning decisions about such crucial matters as economic growth reflecting the demographic change, the challenge of climate change and the rest of it. This is a framework that addresses individual decision-making but there is no national concept about dealing with infrastructural or overall needs and demands. That is something that the previous Government did not get round to doing and I hope that the present one will look to that.

The difficulty is compounded because there is no longer any regional strategy either, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, made clear. For that matter, there is no sub-regional strategy. These create difficulties for those working in planning.

One of the issues that has been touched on and may reflect problems with the system is the lack of capacity in the planning world in terms of planning officers. That was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. In that context, it is perhaps unfortunate that the Government have abolished the planning development grant which encouraged capacity within the profession and within local government. At some point, that might be worth revisiting.

One of the difficulties with the framework is the lack of definition about what sustainable development really means. The emphasis seems to be entirely on economic growth, although there is actually no definition of that either. Presumably, a petrol station or out-of-town shopping centre could constitute economic growth. That lack of context is worrying. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, suggested, we need get to back to the 2005 code for sustainable development and use that as the basis. We also need to ensure that we reflect adequately the issues around the need to respond to climate change-the mitigation and adaptation-and to promote green development, including, the noble Lord, Lord Reay, will be very disappointed to hear, renewables, as part of the combating of climate change, but also, possibly, as an engine itself of the economic growth that we all want to see and which the framework clearly seeks to promote.

However, sustainability is not simply a matter of sustainability in one area. You cannot look at sustainability in one local authority area, any more than you could develop, as Stalin hoped to do, socialism in one country; you have to look at the impact of development in an urban area on its rural neighbour, and vice versa. Sustainability needs to be seen in a somewhat broader context. Many of your Lordships have referred to the need in particular-this is a relevant aspect of the point I have just made-to be very clear about the question of brownfield sites. The Minister did refer to this last night although it does not seem to be in the document. Perhaps, as a result of the consultation, a clearer and greater emphasis could be made on that aspect, as well as on the issue of town centre first, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews.

In planning development, one has to look beyond housing development, for which, contrary to the views of the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, there is a clear need. It is not just a question of housing demand; there is palpable housing need, not least in rural areas, although not for large-scale development.

Photo of Viscount Goschen Viscount Goschen Conservative

I am not sure I said there was no need for housing development. I said I felt there was an almost infinite demand and that to try to meet that substantial demand was probably optimistic.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

That is possibly right, which is why I want to refer to need as the basis of a housing programme. There is also the question of the duty to co-operate, which some of your Lordships have mentioned, and which I entirely endorse. However, there is no actual mechanism, either in the framework or elsewhere, to secure that. I refer, yet again, to what is the planning equivalent of the Schleswig-Holstein question, which is the Stevenage question-an authority wanting, or even needing, to house some of its people outside its boundaries and finding no accommodation with the adjoining authority. In the absence of a regional spatial strategy, there does not seem to be a mechanism to secure that; so that, again, needs to be looked at.

There are significant issues about the presumption in favour of development, in particular where there is no local development plan. As we know, there are no local development plans in a number of areas-that is unfortunate, but it is the case-and we need to look at how we cope with the transition. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred to this and he is absolutely right. We will no doubt touch on this further as the Localism Bill goes forward but if the Minister could give an indication of some direction on the question of transition, that would be helpful. There needs to be a general presumption in favour of development, but in favour of planned development. That has been the case until now, and that does seem to be the right way to take matters forward rather than have a simple carte blanche for any sort of development.

The debate today has been an interesting one and we have heard a number of views. A better balance has been struck here in your Lordships' House than has been struck in some of the media. Nevertheless, there are genuine concerns, particularly-but not exclusively-in the countryside, about the potential impact of the thrust of the new framework. I hope that after the consultation process has ended the Government will be able to reassure people in the countryside that it is not a question of threatening the viability and attractiveness of the countryside but of strengthening rural communities alongside those of urban areas. We have to be careful about the industry, which is always prone to finding someone to blame for its problems and always prone to taking the line of least resistance in terms of where it seeks to develop. We have to incentivise development where it is most needed. Some of that will be to meet the needs of rural areas and communities, particularly in terms of housing for younger people. Much of it must be within the urban core, where, as your Lordships will be aware, the number of people seeking housing, particularly to rent, is growing significantly. As I said yesterday, we have to look in terms of affordable housing; not only in terms of owner-occupation-which of course is very desirable-but also affordable rental housing, whether social or otherwise, for the large numbers of people who are living in unsatisfactory conditions and for whom this national planning framework does not, at the moment, seem to do enough.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 1:35 pm, 13th October 2011

My Lords, this has been a fantastic and fascinating debate. There is always a depth of experience and wisdom around this House that very many people in other places will be jealous of. We pull together so much here that perhaps simply gets diffused elsewhere. I am enormously grateful to everybody who has taken part and to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for having taken up the baton and introduced this debate today.

I was slightly diffident as to whether this debate was being held at the appropriate point in discussions. However, I think that I have now come to the conclusion that this debate as well as the one on 27 April will provide-

Noble Lords:

October.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I am always in trouble on this-the debate on 27 October also will produce extra thoughts. I am encouraged by the comprehensive nature of the points brought forward today. However, I shall inevitably not be categorical in responding to any of the points raised today as this is still the consultation period and, as I said last night, the Government are listening carefully to what is being said. I do not think that anyone would deny that this has got off to a reasonably bad start. It has not been helped, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said, by some pretty acerbic and unjust comments from some of the bigger organisations. There has been some criticism of our communications strategies, but to some extent it falls on to the other side as well. If you are going to be controversial and against something then you really must start from a different place to where some of the criticism hurled at us has come from.

These are all practical areas that we are talking about. If ever there was a practical aspect of local government, it is planning. It is very immediate and affects individual people very strongly. As a former member of a planning committee as well as leader of a council, I know that planning is probably the subject that fills one's postbag most. There will not be many in the country who do not have views on what is being put forth, in addition to the views we have heard today. I therefore welcome the debate very strongly. I can assure you that I will not be able to respond to everyone, although I will try to mention one or two people on the way. However, we have a careful note of what has been said; Hansard will be scrutinised tomorrow; and the points and concerns raised today will be put forward into the consultation. If we have 1,001 contributions by tomorrow, including that of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and add up all the comments today, I am not sure that one is going to be a sufficient justification.

I very much welcome the fact that the noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Howarth, welcomed this framework. I totally accept that they did not do so without reservations. Both noble Lords certainly had criticisms, but both also understood where the starting pace for this came from. It is fine to have 1,300 pages of planning policy, statements and guidance, but what that actually means is that only about three people in the country actually know-and one of those may have forgotten-where all the documents and high-level policies are. It also makes it quite unfathomable to ordinary people who want to try to find out what the planning policies are, because they have to find their way through so many documents. We want the national planning policy framework to be accessible to everybody so that they understand where the high-level policies come from, as well as how they are going to be implemented.

The basis for this, as we discussed yesterday and will discuss again on Monday, will be the local plans. They are the generator of all that is going to come about from our national policy framework. We believe that planning is local. It is all about what people like and want to protect about their neighbourhood. It is about how people are affected by what somebody next door to them does and how you make sure you sustain the sort of reasonable life that one hopes for them. We are therefore, as we also discussed last night, proposing within this to have local planning frameworks and local documents and then to pass that down even further to neighbourhood planning. That will require guidance. I fully accept, as noble Lords have said, that it will also require good professional support. The neighbourhood plans will very much reflect what local communities think and need. I am enthusiastic about getting this into the local area.

A number of noble Lords touched on local development frameworks. I think I am right in saying that only some 48 per cent of local authorities have a framework at the moment, but there will be much encouragement for them to develop one and bring it forward. The encouragement will be based partly on the fact that local authorities will not want to have decisions made round them but will want to be fully in charge of the decisions made. We will encourage them to finish the frameworks and get them into a position where they can be used and then to ensure that the contents fall within the national policy framework when it comes forward.

Local government has been slow in dealing with the frameworks and in some ways resistant to completing them. We are adamant that the frameworks should be completed as quickly as possible. We want to get all the issues right-many of them have been raised today-and end up with a framework that we are proud of and that people are relatively happy with. We do not want there to be a sense that something unwelcome has been done or that some factors are missing.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, made a plea about transition from one document to another. That matter is under close consideration and is well understood. It has been made very clear that there should not be a hiatus. We will take careful note of that.

Sustainable development was also discussed last night. As everyone knows, it is dealt with in depth in the framework, in local planning and development. We want to keep sustainable development in the plans, though not the individual plans, as it is currently buried in local development frameworks and neighbourhood planning. The discussion that we need to have now, and I gave a commitment last night that we would, is about where sustainability should be defined. The problem, as we heard today, is that at least three and possibly five limbs of the Brundtland definition are relevant to planning, and last night an extra one was outlined in terms of a cultural and spiritual one. You cannot operate a legal framework like that. We are looking hard to see whether there is a way of putting a statement into legislation that does not end up-as the noble Lord, Lord Hart, said-as a lawyer's paradise. I can that see that he may very well be encouraged to go back, his eyes gleaming at the possibility of £20 notes falling from the sky. We will look to see whether there is a way of putting it in the Bill without getting into legal hazards, or whether it is better, as I suspect, to put it in the national framework definition. We will commit to dealing with that. The principles of the framework are there and we have discussed them. We recognise that we need to have genuine debate about the detail and we welcome the consultation currently taking place.

I want to touch on a couple of other areas. The presumption in favour of sustainable development applies not only to the economic aspect and the growth of business, though that is what has been focused on. We know that there is also a great demand for housing and that we do not want it sprawling all over new greenfield sites. We therefore already have in the framework a strong commitment to the maintenance of the green belt, to ensure that we do not get the sort of sprawl that people are talking about. The presumption in favour of development is not only for business, it is also for housing. Within the local development plans and local development frameworks there will be a clear indication of where local authorities believe they should develop, the areas they need, the housing they need and their expectation for business growth. That will then be translated down into the neighbourhood forums.

We all recognise that there is some slowness in the planning process. Some 80 per cent of planning applications are largely approved, but that takes time. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, some planning applications need time to be discussed and cannot be rushed through. We still think that if you have a local development plan that is in accordance with the national policy and there are no objections to what has been put forward, then you can probably speed up the process so that planning permissions can be given at an earlier stage. That is basically the presumption in favour of development. It is taking down the barriers but against the background of recognised strong policies.

I also said last night that I have never yet known a planning application that aroused even a smidgen of controversy that did not end up with lots of objections and people insisting on having their views taken into account. That would remain the situation. It could go ahead only if there were no objections and there was nothing in the plans that suggested it should not take place. I think that that is straightforward and I hope that it is clear.

The green belt will remain of great importance. There is discussion in the framework about clear commitments to it. The point about brownfield sites has been raised by many noble Lords today, and there is a clear view from the Government that the brownfield previously developed sites should be put to the fore and developed first. The noble Lord, Lord Rogers, pointed out, from the experience of places such as Manchester, that you can get a lot of good development in an area that has been previously developed or just left for some reason. We totally agree with that; it obviously makes sense, because it does not take up new land and does not extend the sprawl. That is not clear in the national framework at the moment but there is a consultation coming and somewhere along the line it will be, because it is very important.

My noble friend Lord Goschen was a little more critical of the plan than some others, but he was talking about housing. Local authorities will have to have an indication of the housing they need, where it should go and what the requirements are, because we will have to develop housing elsewhere, particularly for local areas and local communities. The essence is that we should have sufficient housing, particularly in the country, for people who want to live there and want to stay there; that is something that we very much take into account. There will be areas in the country where you can build small developments and where the community right to build will have an effect, in that people will be able to put forward projects for small developments and thus help to keep local communities alive. None of us wants to see the death of villages or of communities that live in the country. We need farming and we need to keep people in the countryside to do that, but we also need thriving communities that protect the countryside for us, not just farmers but young people, otherwise it will die.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, were critical about the language of the NPPF. That has been heard and we will see, as the plan is produced, whether we can improve on it.

I have not touched on the concerns of my noble friend Lord Reay about the provision of windmills and energy. While there might be some smidgen of sympathy here, the department and anyone else who is interested in windmills may not be quite so enthusiastic.

That brings me to an end. I am grateful for all noble Lords' comments. I apologise if I have not touched on all the issues, and they will have note taken of them. I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who was a very substantial planning Minister during his time, and I very well remember him giving up his brief and saying, I think, "Oh, this is rubbish". I hope that my brief has not been quite that, and I look forward to the debates in the House on Monday, and I hope very much that we will be able to continue the discussion on 27 October.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour 1:54 pm, 13th October 2011

My Lords, I am most grateful to everybody who has participated in this debate. The message is one of a revising Chamber; the expertise that you would not have in the other place has been on display here today among everyone, and in particular in the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, with his massive experience around the world as well as in this country, in chairing the Urban Task Force. I am incredibly grateful.

There are two conclusions: one, that the countryside is not under threat and, two, that virtually everybody without exception has taken up the issue of brownfield. It is not mentioned in the document. The abolition of brownfield-first is referred to in the impact assessment; that is where the danger is. But by definition, adopting the brownfield first, without being too rigid, is a lifeboat for the Government and for the policy, because it actually assists in developing cities and in the arguments with those who claim that the countryside is being concreted over. It is not going to be.

Motion withdrawn.