Amendment 56

Business and Planning Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 20th July 2020.

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Baroness Pinnock:

Moved by Baroness Pinnock

56: Clause 16, page 24, line 23, at end insert—“( ) The application must also include—(a) an assessment of the impact of the modifications on the local community, and any mitigation plans that would be put in place to minimise disturbance; and(b) an assessment of the impact of the modifications on the environment and local conservation interests, and any mitigation plans that would be put in place to minimise disturbance.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would require an application to include details of the impact on the local community and environment, and how these disturbances could be mitigated.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, just to make it quite clear, we on these Benches support the moves the Government are seeking to make in the Bill to provide additional flexibilities to the construction industry. We support the proposed extension in the time given for planning applications and listed building applications with the provisos included.

However, with regard to the proposal to enable construction firms to extend their hours of work, even 24-hour working, we have a number of concerns. Amendment 56, which is tabled in my name and that of my noble friends Lord Campbell of Pittenweem and Lord Shipley, concerns establishing a fair balance between the needs of construction on the one hand and those of local residents, the wider community and the environment on the other. One of the key conditions in every planning application is restricted hours of working. It is also often the factor that worries local people. Residents often ask me in my role as a councillor about construction traffic that frequently arrives well before the regulated start time for working. They ask about noise nuisance from heavy machinery early in the morning and late at night and ask why they should have to tolerate disturbance for the sake of profit-making companies. The answer is, of course, that there is a balance to be reached between the two needs, and that is the purpose of our amendment.

It is likely that there will be pressure on planners making decisions to comply with requests from construction in order to help the local economy. Our amendment would require planners to ask the applicant for mitigation measures. They would simply ask the construction businesses to stop and consider others. The best will. Those who have little regard for the needs of others will not. The amendment would put the best and the worst construction companies on a level playing field. There is a need to respect our environment and nature’s cycle of life, to limit noise and dust pollution and to consider others. That is why we are continuing to press these issues and hope that the Minister can provide some safeguards for residents and the environment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 61 in my name. Indeed, in this group, there are nine amendments, Amendments 61, 62, 64, 68 to 70, 72, 76 and 77, which, in relation to Clauses 17, 18 and 19, all have the effect of moving the extension of planning permissions and listed building consent from three months to four months. I will not, at this late hour, repeat what I said at Second Reading and in rather more detail in Committee. All I want to say is that I very much appreciate that my noble friend the Minister took very seriously what I said in Committee.

We have had some extremely productive conversations on a practical level about what the construction industry’s difficulties might be with the delays in the pipeline. In pursuance of those conversations, I tabled these amendments in the hope that the Minister will tell the House that he is able to accept them. Were he to do so in response to the debate, when the time comes, I will formally move those amendments in my name.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, I propose to speak only to Amendment 56, tabled by my noble friend Lady Pinnock and to which I have added my name. It is approximately seven hours since this stage of proceedings began. Throughout, I have been reminded endlessly of two lines of a poem by Robert Frost:

“But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep.”

However, noble Lords should not be apprehensive, because I hope only to make some comments in addition to those of my noble friend, to underline what I believe is the very strong case for this amendment.

At Second Reading and again in Committee, I raised the question of the impact on amenity of extending construction hours. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, will forgive me if I say that I have been a little disappointed in the responses, both from him and his noble friend the Minister who has dealt with other parts of the Bill. It is worth reminding ourselves that an extension could go on until 1 April 2021, could be seven days a week and could extend to a whole day. It does not take much to realise that there is considerable potential for impact on the amenity of households, churches, hotels, hospitals and care homes.

It is helpful to ask why planning authorities imposed conditions for working hours. As my noble friend has already indicated, the purpose is to provide a balance, and part of that balance is the protection of amenity. In every instance, an authority will have been required to reach a judgment about how that balance should be constructed. It seems to me that it follows logically that any increase in hours will tilt that balance against amenity and in favour of the applicant.

The difficulty with what we are considering is that we do not know to what extent that may occur on any one of the occasions in which an extension is sought. That is why I believe it is a matter of necessity to require applicants to produce an impact study to the planning authority, together with plans for mitigation. I believe it can reasonably be argued that that is in the interests of both the planning authority and the applicant. First of all, the planning authority is working against a very tight timetable, and, so far as the applicant is concerned, it is obviously in their interest that as much information as possible can be provided to the planning authority. I believe therefore that an impact study is a necessity.

Indeed, I go further than that: the decision of the planning authority is an administrative one, and any administrative decision of this kind could be subject to judicial review. It would be much easier to resist any such application for judicial review if it could be demonstrated that the applicant had produced the impact assessment to which I have referred and that the planning authority had taken it into its considerations.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

The noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy of Cradley and Lady Neville-Rolfe, have withdrawn from the list. I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer.

Photo of Baroness Kramer Baroness Kramer Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Treasury and Economy) 9:45 pm, 20th July 2020

My Lords, I will speak very briefly to government Amendment 54 to say thank you. The Government have made the amendment that was required by the mayoral development corporations and Transport for London to be able to hold virtual decision-making meetings and meetings which the public can attend. They have done what was needed, and I and many others are grateful.

It would be helpful if the Government could confirm that the relevant clause will come into effect on Royal Assent and no later than Royal Assent. This is also a request to the Government to amend the relevant flexibility regulations—SI 2020/392—as soon as possible after Royal Assent, and then bring those regulations into effect as soon as is practical, perhaps in less than the normal 21-day period, because that will ensure that the most use can be made of the new method of working that has been approved by this amendment. Again, my thanks.

Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative

This legislation, which we are almost at the end of, is caused by the Covid crisis. It is, in many ways, a panic Bill, since we are trying to write things we may or may not succeed in.

I make two points. First, please let us not throw away environmental gains which mean a lot to communities, and particularly to residents. Many of them have fought for years to get decent standards for starting and ending developments and ending working days. Secondly, please keep it temporary: make sure that the provisions that we are told will lapse will do so in due course. I support what my noble friend Lord Lansley is doing, but I hope the criticisms aimed at local authorities for their slowness, often wrongly, are also taken on board by developers, who are sitting on massive land banks and need to get on with things. They did not need this legislation; they had been able to build hundreds of thousands of houses, but have not managed it, so let us keep a sense of perspective, and not throw the proverbial baby out with the legislative bathwater.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, has withdrawn from the list, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Shipley.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendment 56. I spoke in Committee on the need to avoid any unintended consequences of extending construction hours. There will be cases where an extension is entirely justified, and we should support that. But it is reasonable to expect that an impact assessment from the applicant with a description of how any adverse impact can be mitigated is provided. Secondly, an assessment of any impact on the environment and how that can be mitigated should be produced. Thirdly, there could be an explanation of any mitigation that would be put in place to minimise disturbance, particularly where a construction site is close to houses and other local buildings. To be clear, these need not be complex requirements and they should in practice speed up the process if that process is followed effectively. That would help the planning authority.

As the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, said, we do not want to undo the good that has been achieved by the planning system. Where there have been agreed planning permissions and where restrictions have been put in place, those restrictions and conditions will have been justified and should not be undone.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, when I first spoke this evening, I should have mentioned that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association, so I mention it now for the record. I will be very brief. If the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, are successful, I will be the first to congratulate him.

In respect of meetings of mayoral development corporations, I am pleased that the Government listened to the points that I and other noble Lords made, and I thank them. I have only one question: can the Minister confirm that, when we agree the government amendments tonight, they will come into effect on Royal Assent and the required regulations will be laid quickly so that we do not have to wait for weeks and weeks before they can take effect? With that, I am happy to give way to the Minister.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I rise to speak to government Amendments 84, 88 and 89—tabled by my noble friend Lord Howe—which are grouped with Amendments 85 and 86, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, Amendment 56, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lords, Lord Campbell and Lord Shipley, and Amendments 61, 62, 64, 68, 69, 70, 72, 76 and 77, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley.

I turn to Amendments 84, 88 and 89, government amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Howe, and Amendments 85 and 86, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. The purpose of these amendments is to secure that mayoral development corporations, Transport for London, urban development corporations and parish meetings are subject to the power in Section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, which enables the making of regulations to allow these bodies to meet remotely until 7 May 2021.

They correct the omission of these bodies from the Coronavirus Act, which was an accidental oversight due to the pace at which the Act was drafted. It is wholly consistent with the current policy of the Government that bodies such as local authorities—in the broadest sense—should be able to meet remotely, carrying on their business while protecting the health and safety of members, officers and the public. The Government have received representation on this matter from, among others, the Mayor of London—particularly on behalf of the London Legacy Development Corporation—Transport for London and the National Association of Local Councils with regard to the inclusion of parish meetings.

I will answer both the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, by saying that the Government’s intention is to make the amended regulations with urgency following Royal Assent. In fact, Amendment 89 specifically allows early commencement of Amendment 84 and, in addition, we will move at pace to ensure that the regulations are in place in a matter of days, as opposed to the typical 21 days. This is a similar pace to the laying of regulations following the passing of the Coronavirus Act.

I note Amendment 85 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, which would have put the change to Section 78 of the Coronavirus Act in the Bill in respect of mayoral development corporations, and Amendment 86, which seeks to include a specific reference to the highway authority for the Greater London Authority in the local authority remote meetings regulations. We support the spirit of these amendments but, in the light of the government amendments, we hope that noble Lords will not move those amendments. I hope that will also be the case for the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lords, Lord Campbell and Lord Shipley, for Amendment 56. We agree that local planning authorities should have sufficient information about the impact of extended construction hours on the community and environment to enable them to make a timely decision. We believe that the most appropriate way of ensuring that this happens is through guidance. There is likely to be a range of possible responses from the construction industry to this measure and variation in what will be requested—from an additional hour or so on some sites, so that workers can have staggered start and finish times, to longer evening extensions on others. Therefore, we need a flexible and proportionate approach that can be tailored to the circumstances.

However, we listened to noble Lords’ views during Committee and we hear their concerns. We recognise the need for balance and to ensure that safeguards are in place to protect amenity, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lords, Lord Campbell and Lord Shipley, have asked for. We have strengthened the draft guidance so that it also lists an assessment of impacts of noise on sensitive uses nearby as something that local planning authorities may wish to encourage an applicant to provide to aid swift decision-making. This is in addition to providing a justification for extended hours and mitigations to aid swift decision-making, which were already covered in the guidance.

We have also taken the advice of the Institute of Acoustics, the Association of Noise Consultants and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, and gone further still to make other changes to strengthen the guidance, including that applicants provide information on the primary construction activities expected to take place during the extended hours, including the plant and equipment expected to be used. Taking into account these changes, I beg noble Lords not to press their amendment. I also assure my noble friend Lord Balfe that the legislation is temporary and we will not see any diminution to the environmental gains that have been achieved by the planning system.

I turn to the nine amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley, which relate to Clauses 17, 18 and 19, and the extension of planning permissions and listed building consents. These amendments would extend the time limit for relevant planning permissions and listed building consents to 1 May 2021, instead of 1 April as currently drafted. I note that he has tabled these amendments as a compromise given my concerns about accepting his amendments in Committee, which would have introduced an extension to 1 June 2021.

I agree with my noble friend that any extension of unimplemented planning permissions or listed building consents needs to be of sufficient length to aid the development industry, given the impact that Covid-19 has had on development. We certainly think that it will take time for many developers to commence new residential and commercial development. I thank him in particular for his insightful points during the debates on these measures, particularly on the potential impacts of the winter months on the productivity of the development industry.

I am pleased to say that the Government will accept my noble friend’s nine amendments. They will provide a modest extension into the more accommodating spring months. I also recognise that this additional time would be welcomed by developers and local planning authorities, given that the development industry is experiencing a slow and cautious return to full operating capacity. We accept that this is appropriate in the circumstances.

The amendments would, in effect, give any eligible planning permissions and listed building consents nine months, or three-quarters of a year, from now to take steps to implement the permission. We will, as previously mentioned, keep the use of powers to extend certain dates in the legislation under review if the impact of the coronavirus continues.

These are modest amendments, but I agree that they will give additional certainty to developers in these exceptional times. I trust that they will be well received by your Lordships’ House, as well as by the industry. On this basis, I am happy to accept my noble friend’s amendments.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

I thank all noble Lords who contributed on this group of amendments. I am pleased that the Government’s administrative oversight in connection to the mayoral development agency in London has been put right. I very much thank the Minister for his reply and the information that government guidance will be strengthened regarding applications to extend construction hours to protect communities and the environment. With those assurances, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 56 withdrawn.

Amendment 57 not moved.