Moved by Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
52: Clause 16, page 23, line 34, at end insert—“(2A) This section does not apply where the condition or approved document restrictions were made due to potential impacts identified in the—(a) the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 (S.I. 2017/571) assessment; or(b) regulation 63(1) of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (S.I. 2017/1012) assessment,on nature conservation interests.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would ensure that no applications are allowed for changes to conditions if those conditions are in place to limit, reduce or remove certain environmental impacts.
My Lords, I hope to persuade the Minister to present a government amendment in relation to Amendments 52 and 79. I support the thrust of the Bill and the impact it will have, allowing the hospitality and construction industries to recover from a particularly difficult time.
These two amendments relate to working hours in the construction industry and whether, if the temporary measures in Clause 16 are still in place in the autumn or for next year’s breeding season, the Government will pay more than lip service to the environmental protections of which we are so proud. I share the Government’s support for environmental protections such as the habitats and other directives. These are now part of retained UK law, which we have supported through our membership of the European Union.
I am delighted to have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for these amendments. Amendment 52 seeks to have regard to the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 and what catastrophic environmental impacts there might be reaching a common-sense agreement under those regulations.
Amendment 79 asks that regulations passed under Clause 22(3) be considered by affirmative procedure. Can the Minister confirm that these regulations have undergone or will undergo a proper consultation?
With these few remarks, I hope that I can enlist the support of the Minister and others for these two very important amendments. I am not seeking to delay construction with Amendment 52, but to ensure that we have regard to the habitats directives, which are now part of retained UK law, and that regulations passed under Clause 22 will undergo a proper consultation through affirmative procedure. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 53 in my name seeks a complete ban on any construction activities carried out between 10 pm and 7 am in any location where residents live within 300 metres of those activities applied for.
“The draft guidance highlights in particular that careful consideration will need to be given whether to refuse applications made in relation to developments that are in close proximity to residential areas when the request is likely to have a significant impact on health, taking into account other legal duties of local authorities to protect persons in the locality from the effects of noise.”
While I accept that and believe in local decision-making, I also believe that a national backstop should be imposed by this legislation. If it is right to introduce a national law permitting applicants to apply for up to 24/7 construction working, as this Bill does, equally, it is right to impose a national limit on the times during which that construction may take place.
The Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot say, “We are passing a national law on construction working hours, but we cannot interfere with local decision-making when it comes to setting limits on those hours.” In most cases, I accept that this will all work okay, but we all know of the usual ploy whereby developers submit an application for 20 homes, which is granted, and then they slap in a revised application for 40 homes, which local authorities are afraid to reject in case they lose an expensive judicial review case. Developers and experts manipulate local planning authorities again and again. That is why a national backstop is required.
I strongly support Amendment 56 in the name of my noble friend Lord Randall, to which I wanted to add my name but left it a day too late. It is vital that environmental and wildlife concerns are taken into account. Local authorities must not grant any changes to planning applications until they have gone back and examined the environmental concerns expressed in the original application and any special conditions that the local authority then attaches. I am not suggesting that a new assessment must be carried out, or a whole new EIA, but that the original conditions of protecting the environment be maintained unless there is strong evidence that the proposed new construction conditions applied for create no adverse environmental or wildlife effects. This is not just a matter of disruptive work at night. Was there not a recent case of a company having to remove nets from trees and delay construction because it would have been disruptive to birds nesting at that time of year?
I have done inadequate justice to the speech my noble friend Lord Randall will make on his amendment. I look forward to him setting it out in his usual concise, but highly authoritative and expert, manner. I am proud to give him my support.
My Lords, my name is attached to Amendments 52, 54 and 79. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, has made an excellent case for Amendment 52. I also fully support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. These amendments are all broadly similar. It is important that no applications are permitted for changes to existing conditions if they are there to reduce, remove or limit environmental impacts. Existing conditions are in place as a consequence of detailed planning consideration at an earlier date. Such restrictions, agreed or imposed then, should not be affected by this legislation and I seek the Minister’s confirmation that my fears that they could be are completely unfounded. Amendments 52 and 56 would solve the problem and I hope that the Minister feels able to accept them.
Amendment 54, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Pinnock, is about fees charged by local authorities. It proposes a fee for extended construction hours, up to a maximum of £195, which is a reasonable figure to write into the Bill. The principle is that councils should be able to recover their costs. It does not need to be about profit, but it must ensure that the direct costs of processing, assessing and agreeing an application are achieved. Neither does it need to be about full cost recovery, if that includes councils’ general overheads. The principle of recovery of direct costs for an application is a reasonable conclusion to reach.
Amendment 79, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, would ensure that any further regulations made by the Secretary of State would require scrutiny through the affirmative procedure. That is the right approach and I fully support it.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his announcement of the concession that the Government will bring forward an amendment to address the issues which I raised on Amendment 73. We had a very productive meeting with the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe. We made some points, the Government listened and I am very grateful.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, particularly when he is in grateful mode. I will speak only to Amendment 80, which is a probing amendment and links to the other amendments in this group only to the extent that the Bill contains temporary measures suitable for the medical and economic emergency imposed upon us by Covid-19.
As I said at Second Reading, I want to understand the sunsetting provisions in the Bill on which, in principle, I congratulate the Minister. Will all the provisions in the Bill lapse, and when? If not, why not? Why is there a disturbing provision in Clause 25 to,
“make transitional, transitory or saving provision in connection with the expiry of any provision of this Act”?
This seems extremely open-ended for an emergency Bill. How do we ensure that the various measures in the Bill are not extended when they have been subject to a relatively low degree of scrutiny?
My Lords, I too welcome the eloquence of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, in speaking to her amendments. Like my noble friend Lord Kennedy, I welcome the concession that the Minister gave. I will speak briefly to Amendment 61, which intends to ensure that developers do not delay implementing planning consents.
Clause 17 is another example of lack of ambition in the Bill. It proposes extending the time limits for planning permissions where development has not yet started. There is a horrendous shortage of homes for people, the worst since World War II. Yet there are over 400,000 houses waiting to be built in England and Wales where planning consent has been given but not yet implemented. Developers are dragging their feet to manipulate local property markets. They build up land banks—stocks of sites on which planning consent has been given—but go slow when it comes to completing development, expecting land values and property prices to rise in the meantime.
The Government could have explored applying council tax to sites where planning consent has been given but development has not gone ahead. They could even have considered rendering planning consent liable to forfeit if development is not complete within a reasonable time, perhaps five years as this amendment provides. Instead, the Bill sidesteps the scandal of developers with planning consent leaving construction sites idle for years. This amendment seeks to address that and get the millions of affordable houses we desperately need built after this Government’s terrible record of promising great numbers and delivering pathetically low ones. I therefore hope that the Minister will respond positively.
My Lords, I give my full support to Amendment 53, in the name of my noble friend Lord Blencathra. I will disappoint him when I speak to my Amendment 56, which he has kindly supported, because I do not indulge in long speeches of expertise.
These two amendments seek to give clarity to local authorities about what can be allowed. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will reassure me, as he has already done at Question Time and elsewhere, that the Government will not be relaxing any planning rules regarding environmental protections. What worries me is that, in practice, a lot of developers—and, to some extent, councils—are not sure exactly what this means. For example, I am sure that the newspaper headlines will say, in relation to my noble friend’s amendment, that building work can be done at any time. There may well be local conditions, but many people will be confused. It is exactly the same, except that residents can actually complain and get things sorted out. However, the natural world and the environment have no such voice. I know of many examples, both locally and elsewhere, where developers will ride roughshod over some of the conditions in the hope that nobody understands them.
What I want from these two amendments is what my noble friend described as a national backstop. I want clarity in the Bill, so that people know exactly where they stand.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 55 and 57, originally put down by my noble friend Lady Pinnock and to which I have added my name. The reason I do so is that, at Second Reading, I raised the question of the possible impact on amenity of those who might be affected by the extension of working hours. In response, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, met my argument by saying that it was always a question of balance. Self-evidently, of course, that is correct, but the question is whether the balance is tilted in these proposals against individuals and organisations that might be affected by an extension of hours. It is important to remember that conditions in relation to hours are put down in order to preserve amenity, and if a planning authority has reached a certain judgment in relation to that, such that an extension as proposed is granted, then self-evidently amenity will have been affected. We tend to think of these matters as being about individuals, but of course hostels, schools, care homes and churches might all be liable to be affected.
It is worth reminding ourselves—there has already been a passing reference to it—that the duration of works can extend to a whole day. As I understand it, any extension granted would have effect until
Amendment 57 seeks to extend the period of 14 days by agreement and therefore allows for proper consideration and, if necessary, co-operation between the planning authority and the applicant. It is clearly the case that if these matters could be resolved by co-operation, then that is much more likely to be an acceptable solution for the applicant, the authority and the citizens or institutions that might be affected.
My Lords, it was always my intention to speak only to Amendment 73, to which I have added my name. I thank the Minister for coming forward with what we all hope will be a resolution to what was, I am sure, an oversight in the drafting of the Coronavirus Act. We must make sure that those amendments will permit the development corporations and, I hope, Transport for London, to hold their meetings remotely, including remote access for members of the public. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, who wrote to me on this subject, suggesting further discussion and acknowledging the problem. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, who, realising that she would be unable to speak on this occasion, sent me a quick email—knowing that I was going to address the topic—just to say how important it was to her to find a resolution. She was CEO of London First, championing bringing the Olympics to London and helping to find business support. She was particularly keen that it would leave a lasting legacy for that area of London and that the London Legacy Development Corporation would be able to do its job to the full.
Amendment 73 had a weakness in that, although it addressed the problems in the development corporations, it was not clear that it would also cover Transport for London. As a former board member of Transport for London, I was particularly anxious that that should be included. Again, I thank the Minister and look forward to seeing the actual language. I hope that this matter is rapidly coming to a conclusion.
My Lords, I want to mention one particular amendment—Amendment 61, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain—and then make some general comments. The planning pipeline problem has been with us for as long as I have been in politics. When I saw this amendment, I reflected that as long ago as 1975, I was invited by the then Environment Secretary, Mr Tony Crosland, to join a working party he had set up to deal with the planning pipeline. Unless we pass something like Amendment 61, we are never going to get on top of it because getting planning consent is not regarded by many developers as anything to do with getting the buildings up; it is to do with getting yourself a nice comfortable pipeline so that you can choose from a number of planning consents as to the way you can make the most money or the way in which you can manage to get your planning consent redesigned so that, as my noble friend Lord Blencathra said, 20 houses becomes 40 houses. I do not expect that the Minister will accept Amendment 61, but I hope that he will accept that it is vital to get to grips with the planning pipeline. That will involve a method of revoking consents, which is absolutely essential in getting these houses built that this country needs so badly.
I said that I would also make a general point. Nearly all the amendments in this group are about maintaining standards. It is very important that we do not get carried away with Bills like this to a point where we are getting rid of the standards that we have looked for and developed over so many years. Most of the standards, whether they be on animal protection, noise or the timing of developments, have been hard won and hard fought for. I hope that, in our general philosophical approach to this matter, we do not let standards be weakened out of panic. Of course we want to get the economy going again, but we do not want to do that by sacrificing all the gains we made in the past. Overall, without speaking specifically about any other amendments, I hope that the general thrust, which is the protection of rights already won, will be at the heart of the Government’s response to this set of amendments.
My Lords, having listened to the speeches of other noble Lords, I am beginning to wish that I had signed more amendments in this group. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, for example, on land banking, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall, both made excellent points, and I wish I had been involved in that.
I want to speak about construction permits, because the conditions that are placed on them at the moment are subject to a lengthy and intensive consultation and decision-making process. The conditions try to strike a balance between the competing interests of developing land and protecting the community and the wildlife around the development. I am deeply concerned that Clause 16 will throw much of that balance out of the window in favour of long construction days with little regard for the impact on the community—their rest, their sleep and their mental welfare—and on wildlife. Construction hours can already be long and noisy, routinely running from 8 am to 6 pm, especially at a time when large numbers of people are staying at home and, in the summer months, may have windows open or be outside. Therefore, extending construction hours will create an unacceptable noise burden for too many people.
I am also concerned about the impact that extended construction hours will have on the construction workers, many of whom are self-employed. What will the Government do to ensure that extended hours do not create unsafe working conditions or lead to other detriment for those workers? There might be limited situations in which extending construction hours is warranted, but generally Clause 16 is far too broad and will cause far too much disruption for local residents near noisy building sites.
I remind noble Lords of my interests as set out in the register as a councillor and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. We on these Benches understand and support the Government’s purpose in bringing forward the changes to hours of construction in the Bill. It will enable a phased start at the beginning and end of the day for construction workers to ensure social distancing and provide an opportunity for developments to catch up on the last three months. But rather than be prescriptive about hours of working—although I have sympathy with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra—Amendment 55 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem would ensure that the extension of hours took into account the impact that these had on residents, the wider community and the environment.
Planning conditions set out as part of planning consent invariably include limits on hours of working. As a rule, these are 7 am to 6 or 7 pm. They are there to minimise any impact on neighbours. Extension of these hours must therefore include mitigations for those affected. That could be, for example, to restrict hours when deliveries can be made, as construction traffic is often one of the main local concerns. Extension into the evening or a much earlier start will mean lighting up the site, with the inevitable impact that brings with it. Amendment 55 would balance out these issues, and that is the purpose of the further Amendment 57, again in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Campbell. Considerations about hours of working inevitably include not just planning officers but highways and environmental officers, hence we propose that, by agreement, developers and the council can extend the time for consultation beyond the 14 days. Some construction companies understand that working with local communities rather than bulldozing their way through to get what they want, regardless, has many benefits.
Amendment 54 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Shipley would ensure that the planning authority was recompensed for the work done to extend hours. The minimum fee is £195 for planning applications and seems appropriate in this case. The Government must ensure recompense for work done. Planning consultants working for the developer will undoubtedly be paid handsomely for making the application to extend hours. It is only right that those making the decision be recompensed as well, and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively to that proposal.
The cross-party Amendment 73 is clearly about an administrative oversight and I am pleased that the Minister has given notice that the Government will seek to put the matter right. The three-month review proposed in Amendment 58 by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, is one that the Government should consider carefully. A change of construction hours appears straightforward on paper but has many ramifications in reality, and time set aside to reflect is always a good idea. With those comments, I trust that the Minister will accept that our amendments are constructive in purpose and are in the interests of achieving a fair balance between construction, communities and the environment, and that the Government will be prepared to accept them.
My Lords, Amendment 58 in my name would explore how the changes to construction hours might impact on those employed in the industry. The changes are welcomed by Unite the Union, which represents construction workers in the UK, but I understand that there are concerns that any extension of hours does not simply lead to workers working extended hours. A better situation would result in staggered shifts, allowing more construction workers to be employed on the site while maintaining social distance. I am sure that it is not the Government’s intention that longer operating hours will adversely impact those on site, but I would be grateful for assurances on how that will be guaranteed.
On the broader planning amendments, as the former leader of Newport City Council and leader of the Welsh Local Government Association, I speak from personal experience on these issues. I am all too familiar with the need to be cautious of the adverse effects on the environment, wildlife and of course of the need to take into account the views of local residents. My noble friend Lord Hain spoke eloquently about the scandal of land banking when over 400,000 homes are waiting to be built across the UK. Indeed, it was and still is a constant source of tension in local authority planning departments as developers await a rise in land and home values and just sit on their given permissions. My noble friend’s idea of a forfeit of planning consent is an excellent one. It would gain much support in local government. Most importantly, it would allow for homes to be built again to try and assuage the great need that we have for homes across the UK.
I hope that the Minister will offer assurances that he will engage with local authorities to stress the importance of these factors. Furthermore, I am glad to support the comments of my noble friend Lord Kennedy in welcoming the changes announced by the Government to Amendment 73 ensuring that the mayoral development corporations, TfL and the London Legacy Development Corporation can hold virtual meetings, as they are also planning authorities.
My Lords, these amendments relate to construction site hours and virtual committees. We welcome the intention behind Amendment 73 on virtual committees, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Kramer and Lady Valentine. It would amend Section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020. The Act was drafted at pace and the omission of the bodies listed was an accidental oversight, so I am pleased to tell the Committee that, as announced earlier, we are bringing forward an amendment on Report to deal with the matter. With regard to the length of construction hours— a point raised repeatedly by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem—this is all about the balance between getting Britain building safely again and amenity.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and my noble friends Lady McIntosh, Lord Blencathra and Lord Randall for amendments to Clause 16. My noble friend Lord Blencathra’s Amendment 53 deals with works in proximity to residential dwellings. I assure him that the planning authority will still have discretion to refuse applications that it considers would have an unacceptable impact. The draft guidance published alongside the Bill highlights that careful consideration will need to be given to whether to refuse applications made in relation to developments that are in close proximity to residential areas where the request is likely to have a significant impact on health. The guidance also flags up the need for the local planning authority to take into account its other legal duties to protect people in the locality from the effects of noise.
I will take Amendments 54, 55 and 57 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, in order. First, in response to Amendment 54, I say that there should be no fee in the current circumstances. This is a temporary measure that deals with a specific issue and is accompanied by clear guidance. We do not believe that the average planning department is likely to receive a great number of applications through this route such that it would create a significant new burden.
On Amendment 55, the draft guidance encourages developers to work closely with their local community and the local planning authority to undertake any noisy works that may affect residents during normal working hours and to implement mitigation measures. The local authority has the option to enforce against any breach of such approved plans and can enforce against other unacceptable impacts through the statutory nuisance framework.
I turn next to the final amendment raised by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, about extending the decision period of 14 days if agreed by both parties. We are conscious that this is a short period, but it reflects a careful balance which allows time for fair consideration and required engagement by the local planning authority while ensuring that the developer gains a fast-track decision for this temporary measure, particularly so that they can make use of the additional daylight hours in the summer months. Local authorities also retain their discretion to refuse where there would be an unacceptable impact.
Turning to Amendment 58, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, for raising this important issue. I can assure her that sustaining employment in the construction industry, and enabling the safe return of workers, are the key aims of this Bill measure. However, this clause does not directly impact or alter other health and safety obligations that apply to employers, all of which still apply. Further, we do not expect a change in hours of operation of a construction site to impact on working conditions.
Let me reassure the noble Baroness that the Government are already working closely with the Construction Leadership Council’s coronavirus task force and are monitoring the situation in real time. We consider that the proposal in the amendment to require an assessment to be laid before Parliament is unnecessary. I hope that, with the assurances that I have given, the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.
On Amendment 52, tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, I reassure noble Lords that the accompanying guidance for the construction hours measure highlights to authorities that in deciding whether to refuse an application they need to consider the original reasons for any existing limits on construction working hours. This includes whether limitations were relied on as either mitigation measures or as the basis of assessment for either an environmental impact assessment, including screening, or a habitats regulation assessment. As the Bill requires authorities to have regard to this guidance in exercising their decision, I do not consider the amendment to be necessary.
Similarly, while I acknowledge the purpose of Amendment 56, tabled by my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, I believe it to be unnecessary given that authorities must have regard to the draft guidance. The guidance makes it clear that careful consideration is needed of whether to refuse an application where, for example, the development is subject to an environmental impact assessment, there are habitats issues or there could be an impact on a site of special scientific interest, and authorities are of course able to refuse applications.
To be clear, this Bill sets out a number of measures to address the immediate impact of Covid-19, and we have it made it clear throughout the Bill provisions and related guidance that any easements should not have a detrimental impact on environmental protections. We remain committed through the Environment Bill, currently in the other House, to ensuring that environmental matters are at the heart of the planning system, including through the introduction of biodiversity gain, while also ensuring that development protects and enhances the habitats we all love.
I will now respond to Amendment 61, proposed by the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Monks. I trust that the noble Lords intend this as a probing amendment, and I assure them that the Government are clear that, where planning permission is granted for a new development, the development must be built out as quickly as possible. However, I recognise concerns about the build-out of some planning permissions being too slow. We have therefore committed to explore ways to ensure that planning permissions are built out in a timely manner. We will publish a policy paper by the end of July setting out our plan for comprehensive planning reforms where this issue will be considered. For the reasons that I have set out, I am not able to accept the amendments to Clause 16 and I hope that noble Lords will withdraw or not move them.
Turning to Amendment 79, I hope that I have been able to assure my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, that any regulations made under Clauses 16, 17, 18 and 19 would already be subject to either the draft-affirmative or the made-affirmative procedure. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendment and hope that my noble friend will decide not to move it when it is reached.
Let me respond finally to probing Amendment 80, tabled by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe to understand the sun-setting provisions. This amendment would create a “cliff edge” to the Bill’s provisions which the Government believe would be unhelpful and would undermine its purpose. Ending the provisions at the end of the calendar year would create uncertainty, which would curtail the benefits promised in the Bill. Furthermore, a hard end date would mean that we could not implement the two permanent measures in the Bill; namely, we would first not be able to reform the Planning Inspectorate appeals system, as recommended by the Rosewell review and already implemented in Wales. Secondly, we would not be able to future-proof rules for temporary exemptions from heavy vehicle testing. For these reasons, I am not able to accept the amendment and hope that my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe will decide not to move it when it is reached.
As I outlined yesterday, we will accept the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s recommendations in relation to the powers to extend measures in this Bill to ensure that the effects of coronavirus are part of that consideration.
My noble friend Lord Blencathra argued for a backstop or clear restrictions to be included in the Bill. We do not feel that this would allow the flexibility that might be desirable to support a pragmatic solution; for instance, where a developer has quiet, internal-only works to complete that would not cause undue disturbance.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, referred to conditions being amended to reduce environmental protection. To be clear, this is a temporary measure and safeguards are in place to ensure that local authorities can consider the environmental impact of reinstating lapsed planning permissions and extending construction hours.
I thank my noble friend for his eloquent summing up and all those who have spoken on this group of amendments. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for his support for my amendment. Given what my noble friend the Minister said in response to Amendment 52 regarding the accompanying guidance—that regard is had to the environmental impact assessment and the habitats regulations assessment—and given that, in response to Amendment 79, he said that regulations would be subject to either the draft-affirmative or the made-affirmative procedure, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 52.
Amendment 52 withdrawn.
Amendments 53 to 57 not moved.
Clause 16 agreed.
Amendment 58 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 59. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate and anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
Clause 17: Extension of duration of certain planning permissions