Neighbourhood Planning Bill - Third Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 15 March 2017.

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Photo of Lord Taylor of Goss Moor Lord Taylor of Goss Moor Liberal Democrat 5:15, 15 March 2017

My Lords, this amendment is tabled in my name and that of the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Lucas, who have given great support on this issue during the passage of the Bill, as have noble Lords on all sides of the House. On Report, there was a very welcome commitment from the Minister to return to this issue.

I should draw attention to my interests. I advise many projects, including new settlement projects. I am a visiting professor of planning at Plymouth University, and over the years I have worked with government bringing forward policy changes.

This amendment is aimed at empowering local government communities to bring forward settlements of the highest quality, ensuring that the value that comes from development taking place is captured to create great places and deliver wonderful facilities for those places and is not captured in excessive profits for landowners or developers, and ensuring that the Government’s objectives in bringing forward the garden villages, garden towns and garden cities programme are met in terms of the delivery of what comes forward, with opportunities for small builders, self-builders and contract builders to grow and deliver in new ways better quality, more affordable homes and all the facilities in these places to create sustainable and vibrant 21st century communities.

Why have I tabled this amendment? At the start of the passage of the Bill, I made the point that in the Neighbourhood Planning Bill the Government accepted proposals that I and other noble Lords brought to the House to simplify the process of using the New Towns Act. The New Towns Act is essentially from a period when central government was much more involved in local delivery and when that was accepted. We are now in an era of localism, yet the New Towns Act gives all the power to the Secretary of State who has no capacity to hand over the role of the corporations that will be set up to deliver these new settlements to the local councils that would bring them forward. In the modern world, it is not right that in seeking to deliver a new settlement through a new town corporation to ensure that it is delivered at quality and pace to meet local needs a local council would surrender all the powers to the Secretary of State.

I do not think that the Secretary of State would want to have power over every penny of expenditure, the power of planning, because these bodies would get planning powers, and the power of controlling the assets and, potentially, of future disposals of those assets. It is far more likely that local authorities and communities will be comfortable with this process if they have not simply identified the site and taken the decision that it should be brought forward. When it comes here and the necessary process is gone through in Parliament to approve it, they should be confident that those powers will be exercised locally and that in the long run the assets will be controlled locally for the benefit of the people who live there and the wider community.

When we first debated this, the Minister understandably said that the Government needed to think about this and work it through, but the White Paper made it clear that the Government agree with this process. I have been delighted that the Government have taken forward this policy, which I was very much involved in developing. On the back of the White Paper, we came back. I have to thank the Minister for his positive response on Report and for allowing me to talk to officials in working through something that might now work positively for the Government and that could be incorporated into this Bill.

I shall briefly speak to some of the detail. The principle of the amendment is to give the Secretary of State the power to appoint one or more local authorities in the designated area of the new town to oversee the delivery of the new town and the new development corporation. This is a localising measure. It hands really strong power to communities to ensure that new towns are delivered at quality.

The functions that would be transferred to local authorities for this purpose would be set out in secondary regulations subject to the affirmative procedure, so fully respecting parliamentary process. Since new towns may straddle the boundary of more than one authority, more than one authority could be appointed. This will make it much simpler in those circumstances to bring forward and deliver proposals. The Secretary of State would be able to set out how those powers would be transferred to those local authorities, for joint exercise or divided between them. Changes to the New Towns Act may be needed to allow this to work on subjects such as asset control. The purpose of the power to modify the Act would be to make the principle of local accountability work.

Therefore, this fits with the agenda that Members across the House have outlined, to bring many more homes forward to meet local needs and to capture the value of land in order to create supplements. In that way, we would not look to the taxpayer to fund the school, build the surgery, provide for shops or build a real community. The value of the land would be put into the process of making this work.

At the moment, where projects are approved, the risk is that they are sold on through the chain of speculators, developers and housebuilders. Then, by the time that they are delivered, on grounds of viability because of the price that has been paid for the land or because of the model of the housebuilder, none of the promises made at the start to the local community is delivered. The use of the development corporation as proposed would guarantee that what had been promised to people at the start would be delivered to people at the end.

This approach would open the opportunity to use compulsory purchase powers under the New Towns Act. These could be used where necessary, but normally purchase would be done by treaty in consultation with landowners. The point would be to reach a price that allows the delivery of the quality of place that has been promised. That promised quality would then be locked in through the development corporation process, rather than being at risk of never being delivered. I am afraid that I can take noble Lords to many places where much was promised and far too little of those promises was delivered. There are places where it has been done well, but only where there has been a landowner genuinely committed to it.

That partnership would, therefore, be available. Generally, I imagine that it would be done through joint venture and partnership and agreement but none the less locking in that quality. Where that did not happen, powers would be there to achieve the quality of place that is needed.

Above all, this is about three things. One is keeping it honest and delivering what is promised. That is essential if there is to be any credibility around the delivery, not just of housing but of communities and neighbourhoods, that this approach of garden villages and towns promises.

Secondly, it is critical if we are to move from a supply of new homes inadequate to meet people’s needs that results in ever-accelerating prices beyond what is affordable. If we are to create the 250,000 to 300,000 homes each year that we need, rather than 150,000, those extra homes need to be delivered to a higher quality in places that they do not ruin. Rather than encircling existing historic towns and villages with endless bland housing estates, we need to deliver something better in places where people can accept them and where the public will support the programme. If we try to raise the numbers but deliver inadequate quality, as too often happens currently, there will simply be a public revolt and we will not get the houses delivered.

Finally, it is also critical that we understand that the big housebuilder model does not allow big housebuilders greatly to increase the numbers being delivered. They will not do so even if they wish to because of the way in which they are financed and the way in which publicly assisted companies are priced. The only way to deliver the increased numbers—and also the increased quality—is to build up new entrants, whether housing associations, growing SMEs, self-builders or overseas developers of the highest quality. They all need places to build without the current tortuous process of land options and land banking.

These are the mechanisms to deliver it. But it will happen only if we have a very clear understanding that this means delivering great places to go with the plots to build them on, not just handing this over to the people who build houses and expecting them somehow to create great places. We know they deliver housing estates, but they do not deliver the quality of places demanded by people, which is what will give public acceptability to the programme.

This amendment will be the critical factor in creating local empowerment to deliver what will be a genuine game-changer. I am very grateful for the support there has been on all sides of the House for this and to the Government for the positive way in which they have responded to the case. I beg to move.