Neighbourhood Planning Bill - Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:36 pm on 28th February 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative 4:36 pm, 28th February 2017

My Lords, I have brought this amendment back in exactly the same form it had in Committee because I thought the comments the Minister made then really deserved to be re-examined. This is an important issue that ordinary people care about very much. Everyone is very unhappy to find suddenly that something has been given retrospective permission without them having any idea that it was even up for reconsideration.

As the Minister said on that day in Committee:

“How we deal with unauthorised development is an important issue that concerns many people”.

I think that is right. He also said:

“It is important to note that retrospective planning applications must be determined in exactly the same way as any other application, that is, in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise”.—[Official Report, 6/2/17; col. GC 346.]

He then referred to what the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said about this, which was also interesting. The Minister mentioned that if somebody has deliberately concealed the fact that they are doing development, as in the famous haystack case, they can be required to demolish the property.

What I found most disappointing in what the Minister said was that the local authority concerned does have an obligation to consult people—I put the part about consultation in my amendment because local authorities are not doing so. Certainly, in the cases where I have been affected by retrospective planning permission, the first thing I have known about it is when I received a note saying, “We have granted planning permission” for whatever disastrous thing it was near me. I have met so many other people who have been in the same situation. If there is an obligation to consult the same people whom you would have consulted before, why is it not being done for retrospective permission? It all smells a little bit. Is this because someone is trying to slip something through retrospectively and feels that they will get away without any consultation or having to attach any conditions? It bears looking at again.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, who mentioned the serving of enforcement notices. The Minister certainly picked up the point about enforcement proceedings, but I am not suggesting going any further on those issues.

I must reiterate that my interest is declared in the register; I should perhaps have said that at the beginning.

The Minister went on to say, regarding enforcement, that,

“there is already a double charge”.—[Official Report, 6/2/17; col. GC 347.]

I had not appreciated that there was already a double charge, but apparently that is the case only if you have an enforcement notice. There is no extra charge if you have simply not applied and come back to get your permission, and the local authority has not notified those people who should be consulted. Is that because there is corruption, or is it laziness on their part? It is very important to have some way of ensuring that—it really would be good. The Minister said that it would not be helpful to delay effective enforcement action. All of these things are true, but why are they not adhering to the letter of the law as it is? Why are ordinary people suffering? They are finding that, instead of being able to insist that some reasonable condition that would suit everyone in the locality be included in the planning consent, and the planning authority would consider whether it was a justifiable condition to attach, they are simply not being consulted and are getting word after it is all over and done with.

I suggested a penalty fee in that proposal because planning officers to whom I have spoken have said to me that, at the moment, there is no disincentive whatever to going retrospectively for permission. You can be brave and just have a go and you have nothing to lose because you have no disadvantage: if you find out that you have not got permission, you go for it then and it does not cost anything more; you might have saved yourself a lot of time, trouble and bother, and you have just gone ahead with what you wanted. On the idea of a penalty fee, the Minister said:

“It is a matter which I know previous Governments have considered and to some extent grappled with, but in the interests of fairness have decided not to take forward”.—[Official Report, 6/2/17; col. GC 347.]

In speaking to other amendments in Committee, the Minister said that he would be looking very seriously at various things for secondary regulation, as to what should or should not be regulated and what should or should not be considered. However, I believe that this is the sort of instance that should be looked into. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has said to me that this is more complicated than I imagine. I am sure, from his wisdom and knowledge, which is very great on these subjects, that I would accept that that probably is a fact, but it does not mean that it cannot be investigated and looked into. If, as I understood from the answers in Committee, there is going to be all this consideration of future regulations, then this merits being looked at much more closely. Rather than going on and on, because we have an awful lot to get through today, I beg to move.