Moved by Lord German
That this House regrets that the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2020 (SI 2020/755), the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 3) Order 2020 (SI 2020/756), the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/757), the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/859), and the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) (No. 3) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/895) laid before the House on
Relevant document: 25th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument)
My Lords, I have two interconnected reasons for tabling this debate today: first, to examine the significance of the measures in these regulations, and, secondly, to scrutinise the parliamentary procedures used to introduce them. I look forward to the debate and particularly to the two maiden speeches that we will hear today.
The pieces of legislation that we are debating today were introduced using the weakest form of parliamentary scrutiny available—the negative procedure—and yet these measures, now laws, have a significant impact on planning policy in England. If they are indeed significant, and I maintain that they are, they have avoided the proper scrutiny that Parliament is supposed to provide to ensure they provide the best outcomes possible. The role of Parliament is to assess, amend and correct the laws of our land, and to ensure that the impact of any changes is fully understood. The negative procedure that brought these measures into law means that unless a Member prays against them within 40 days of their being laid, they will automatically enter into law. However, it is primarily a procedure meant for routine and non-controversial matters—the least form of scrutiny for the least controversial matters.
The policy issues in these orders have the effect of reducing the level of scrutiny that local people and their local councils have on a range of planning applications. This in turn raises concerns about the ability of local authorities to deal adequately with the needs of their local communities. The policy changes include making it easier to demolish vacant buildings to create new homes, with reduced scrutiny of the quality of new housing, and changing the use of certain properties—for example, changing the use of a building from an office to a restaurant, including a fast food restaurant—without the need for full planning permission.
These new laws also permit the building of additional storeys on houses and flats, with very limited ability for the local council to intervene. Of particular concern is that these additional storey regulations came in two batches, the second of which is before us today. Amazingly, the regulations on the charges to be applied for making these additional storey planning applications came to the House by the affirmative procedure, thereby guaranteeing a debate in the House, whereas the policy changes themselves on additional storeys on properties were brought in by the negative procedure. Therefore, the only way of getting a debate on these and the other planning changes, and the only way of having it discussed by the House, was to put down a take-note or regret Motion, of the kind we are using today.
I recognise that the ability of the Government to use these parliamentary procedures stems from the primary legislation on planning currently in place. However, it is also clear to me that that primary legislation did not envisage such large-scale changes to be dealt with in this way. Moreover, the Government are proposing new primary legislation in this area and have issued their White Paper, Planning for the Future. Given the Government’s intentions in the White Paper, it would have been the appropriate mechanism for introducing the widespread changes provided by these regulations. The Government state that the reason for their new planning Bill is:
“Thanks to our planning system, we have nowhere near enough homes in the right places.”
If that is the Government’s objective in these regulations then why not debate them properly in the course of this upcoming new primary legislation?
I draw the attention of the House to two facts worthy of consideration. First, planning permissions are already given for enough homes to meet the Government’s target of 300,000 a year. Secondly, there are about 1 million unbuilt homes for which planning permission has already been granted.
The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, of which I am a member, expressed big concerns about the restriction that these regulations place on the expression of local concerns that could be considered by councils. Additionally, the committee felt that the ability of local councils to shape the character of their high streets would be curtailed, in particular their ability to control the number of fast food restaurants in their areas.
The committee’s report to your Lordships’ House says that these new orders and regulations
“make substantial and wide-ranging changes to planning legislation” and warrant much deeper scrutiny and analysis. If these changes had been made under primary legislation, such detailed scrutiny would have occurred. Better law depends on the detailed scrutiny and broader consultation which Parliament provides. Planning decisions are a delicate balance between different pressures on the use of our land. These measures move the needle away from local decision-makers and could damage the framework of our local communities. I agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, on the committee’s report:
“The more that secondary legislation is used for significant matters of policy, the more the balance of power is tipped towards the executive and away from parliament. For parliament to serve our citizens properly, it needs to have effective means of debating, scrutinising and deciding upon proposals such as these.”
The Motion today provides an opportunity to debate these matters. It would have been far better for this House, and us all, if the Government had engaged properly with Parliament to enable us to carry out our role effectively. I look forward to the upcoming maiden speeches by two new Members of the House, and to the Government explaining why they have taken this route and acknowledging the significance of these changes.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to speak in your Lordships’ House for the first time and to follow the very passionate speech by the noble Lord, Lord German. I am immensely grateful for the warm welcome I have received from all sides of this House. The support from Black Rod, the Clerk of the Parliaments, attendants and other staff has also been greatly appreciated. I am especially grateful to my noble friends Lord Hendy and Lord Haskel for introducing me to this great House, and to my noble friends Lady Crawley and Lord Kennedy of Southwark for mentoring me.
A special year in my life was 1966. It was then that I arrived in England with my family to join my father, who had already come here a few years earlier. Regrettably, my full-time education ended in 1968, when I left school with no qualifications of any kind. After that, I worked full-time and studied part-time to acquire GCE O-levels and A-levels, professional accounting qualifications, an MSc in accounting and finance, a PhD in accounting and a BA in social sciences. Along the way, I worked as an accountant for some of the largest corporations in this country. I subsequently held professorships in accounting, or accounting and finance, at the University of East London, the University of Essex and the University of Sheffield. I published research in scholarly journals on matters such as accounting, auditing, corporate governance, insolvency, globalisation, tax avoidance, bribery and corruption, and my research received recognition from the British Academy and the US Academy.
Over the years, I have given evidence to many parliamentary committees in the UK and the European Union, and advised them as well. Most recently, I advised the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee on its investigations into the collapse of BHS and Carillion. My research has often focused on what I call the dark side of capitalism. For example, the UK has the highest number of qualified accountants per capita in the world, but this huge social investment has not really given us good corporate governance, reliable financial reports or even honest audits.
The problems are systemic, going far beyond the affairs of just BHS and Carillion. This country has had a banking crisis in every decade since the 1970s. The finance industry has been a serial mis-seller of products and has admitted to rigging exchange rates and interest rates. These events draw attention to very deep-seated cultural and regulatory fault lines, which really need to be looked at.
The UK is also the home of a rampant tax avoidance industry, which enables companies to avoid taxes by shifting profits to low or no-tax jurisdictions through intragroup transactions. My response to that was to join up with some colleagues; in 2003, I became a co-founder of the Tax Justice Network, with the sole aim of sensitising people to how taxes are avoided and what the social consequences are.
I am a person from a working-class background, somewhat overawed at being here, and I wondered what on earth my objectives should be. I think there are really only two: to increase people’s prosperity and people’s happiness—there can be no other objective. However, in a country where 14 million people live below the poverty line, it seems that both happiness and prosperity are in short supply.
Some 250 years ago, Adam Smith said:
“No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”
Smith suggested—and it is highly relevant today—that policymakers need to focus not only on what can be done but, above all, on what should be done. And, of course, there are numerous obstacles in trying to do what should be done. Here, I take some comfort in the immortal lines from Winifred Holtby’s great novel South Riding:
“We’ve got to have courage, to take our future into our hands. If the law is oppressive, we must change the law. If tradition is obstructive, we must break tradition. If the system is unjust, we must reform the system.”
These sentiments were also expressed by the noble Lord, Lord German, in his speech, with a recognition that decent, well-planned and affordable housing is key to people’s prosperity and happiness.
My Lords, I am honoured to follow the excellent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sikka. He has had an acknowledged academic career, during which he has relentlessly shone a clear spotlight on the self-interested behaviour of various corporations that are acting against the public interest. He has shown how they have often been unchecked by the accountants and the banks—truly, as he said, the dark side of capitalism. His lifetime of working for justice in the taxation and accountancy fields will be of great value to your Lordships’ House, and I look forward to working with him.
I also welcome the opportunity that the noble Lord, Lord German, has grasped in bringing forward his concerns. These statutory instruments reveal how the Government have become excessively fixated on housing delivery in their approach to the planning system, almost to the exclusion of all other issues. According to a government response to a parliamentary Question, these instruments are aimed at reducing planning bureaucracy and speeding up housing development. Now everyone in this House recognises the need to build more houses of good quality in the right place, and which are, above all, affordable; but we also know that laying the blame for lack of housing delivery at the feet of the planning system is a wrong premise. There are already over 1 million houses that have been granted planning approval which have not yet been built and will not be built for many years, as developers build out sites sparingly to avoid reducing housing prices locally—the exact opposite of what the Government are trying to achieve.
These statutory instruments are also harbingers of the sort of stripping down of the planning system that the Government’s overall planning reforms, which are currently out for consultation, will bring. Those proposals will considerably reduce the say of local people over what gets built and where in their local area. The planning system used to be one of the few forms of genuine democracy in this country, balancing competing local development needs and making decisions locally. But local authority planning departments have been hollowed out, denuded of specialists and hounded by an unholy alliance of government and housebuilders to give in to any housing development that will help them meet the government-imposed housebuilding targets.
These targets are now highly questionable. Covid has radically changed the view of many people as to where they will want to live and work remotely. The targets are based on estimates of population growth, which included 5 million net additional migrants to this country—and that is now highly unlikely to happen on this scale. Surely the Government need to reassess the housing targets urgently, if only to address the two issues of Covid and immigration.
We already build the smallest houses in Europe. The Government’s own review has revealed that housing built under permitted-development rights is of a worse than average quality. Can the Minister tell us what he plans to do about this, and what safeguards will be put in place to prevent this widened permitted-development regime building even more substandard housing? Can he also tell us how these statutory instruments accord with the Government’s stated desire in the planning system consultation for beauty, high quality and sustainability, when permitted developments are exempt from the local services infrastructure payments that are so often vital for enabling place-making and the development of sustainable, fair local communities?
My Lords, it is a tremendous honour to be able to contribute to this important debate, and to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, on his excellent maiden speech.
I will start by thanking all those—both Members and staff of this House—who have been so kind with their time and generous in welcoming me to this place. In particular, I thank my two introducers, my noble friend Lord Arbuthnot, who 15 years ago took me under his wing when he was chair of the Defence Select Committee and I a new member, and my noble friend Lord Randall. I must say that ours was a slightly less cordial first meeting when I was a very junior Member of Parliament and he a very senior Whip. After what, frankly, could only be described as a good dinner with fellow new MPs, I found myself coerced into being a rebel Teller on the Crossrail Bill, which was something of a surprise to the Whips. We all know that Whips do not like surprises but, to my noble friend’s credit, his only concern was not that I was rebelling but that I knew what I was doing and did not make a fool of myself in the Chamber of the House of Commons—and we have been firm friends ever since. It was fun, but government Whips can rest easy; I might wait a couple of weeks before trying the same thing here.
I confess that I was rather hoping to be able to give my maiden speech on
However, I offer noble Lords some reassurance that I come to this place with some useful skills. I am a qualified bomb disposal officer. I started my career in Hong Kong with the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers. I continue to serve after 32 years in the Army Reserve and I am very proud to be chairing the Reserve Forces 2030 review. I continue my links with the Brigade of Gurkhas as the deputy colonel commandant. It was perhaps my operational service in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan that led me into politics. War is a terrible thing and it has left a lasting impression on me. I found myself agreeing with Winston Churchill that
“Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war.”
That inspired me to stand for Parliament.
There seems to be a tradition, in the Commons at least, of Ministers being appointed to a department for which they have little or no relevant experience. Perhaps I and my noble friend the Minister are exceptions to this rule; I was deeply honoured to be a Minister at the Ministry of Defence for five years, ending my time there as Minister for the Armed Forces. I challenge anyone not to be uplifted by spending time with our service men and women. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to all those who have made such a contribution to our nation.
My wife, Caroline Dinenage, is Minister for Digital and Culture and a veteran now of some six departments. She always says to me that I am so lucky only to have served in one, and I always tell her that she is and always will be a far better Minister than I ever was.
I am equally proud to have represented Milton Keynes for nearly 15 years, a wonderful city of wonderful people, all with a positive can-do attitude. In Milton Keynes it is rare, if ever, for a political party to have a majority, and this means a level of party-political co-operation rarely seen elsewhere. That is just the sort of approach and attitude that I intend to bring during my time in this place. Situated at the centre of the Oxford-Cambridge arc, Milton Keynes is an area of high growth that is in desperate need of new housing if it is to continue to attract skilled workers and to be the economic powerhouse it is.
The measures before us today are a positive move by the Government, giving homeowners the freedom to extend their own homes as their families grow and for us to regenerate the brownfield areas of our towns and cities. There is just one area where I seek reassurance from the Minister: that the conversion of family homes into houses in multiple occupation will still require planning permission. As my noble friend knows, an excess of HMOs in any community brings with it a whole host of challenges worthy of an entirely separate debate in this Chamber.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, on his excellent maiden speech. I am sure we look forward to many such contributions in future.
I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton on his fine maiden speech. We entered the House of Commons together 15 years ago. He served for far longer than I did as a Minister and, as he reminded us, was and is a serving officer in the Army. His bomb disposal experience is a talent that may well be deployed in the Whips’ Office; I am sure they will be in touch with him shortly. At the tender age of 50, he is one of the younger Members of your Lordships’ House. His achievements are indeed so great that I am reminded of Gore Vidal’s much-quoted statement that
“Whenever a friend succeeds” in politics,
“a little something in me dies.”
I must say to my noble friend that that was not the case in relation to his excellent speech.
On the legislation, I want to make two simple points. First, irrespective of the process issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord German, I believe it is a good thing in principle that government policy is focused on encouraging and facilitating development on brownfield sites, so that it is as easy and rapid as possible; otherwise, we face very difficult choices regarding the development of greenfield sites. One can imagine that the Covid epidemic will result in considerable changes in the use of buildings. That particular permitted development has led to the creation of tens of thousands of homes.
Process apart, the use of these orders has given rise to two concerns, the first of which is design quality. I urge the Minister and the Government to have regard to good design in how these permitted development orders are applied, because it is the absence of good design that has driven down public support for development generally.
Secondly, and in conclusion, so far as process is concerned, the noble Lord, Lord German, is right about the importance of parliamentary discussion and scrutiny of major changes to development. That is particularly true of a related matter: the new formula to be applied to development on greenfield sites, which has been described by my successor as Member of Parliament for Arundel and South Downs, Andrew Griffith, as a “mutant algorithm”. I do not believe that the current formula can stand. It is so much better if we can ensure that development starts on brownfield sites. That is why the formula in its current iteration is wrongly calibrated, and why, in principle, the permitted development orders that encourage development on brownfield sites are right.
I am delighted to be sharing the Chamber today with our two new Members, who are clearly going to bring to it the considerable expertise for which we are known and renowned—but, I expect, from very different perspectives.
My noble friend Lord German was right to table his Motion as it seems there is much disquiet about these and previous SIs, as well as the proposals in the Government’s current White Paper. Our concern is that taken together these constitute, in the words of a government Minister, the most significant changes to the planning system in 20 years and, in the words of another, a complete overhaul of the planning system. Thus, we feel there has not been sufficient consultation, or opportunities to really know and understand the cumulative impact of the Government’s legislative changes.
I too question the premise on which the current policy direction appears to be based: that the underdelivery of homes is largely the fault of the planning system. It has been mentioned many times in this Chamber that 90% of permissions are actually granted and that close to a million permissions have still not been built out. I wonder if there is something in the Government’s new proposal to take care of that, but I do not believe there is. The Letwin report also made it clear that the financial model on which the construction industry is based is far more significant in affecting the actual delivery of homes. I hope that we can have another debate on this issue, as in my experience it is a very complex one and government agencies also play their part in planning delays.
Permitted development rights were rightly introduced to reduce bureaucracy in specific and clearly understood circumstances, but these SIs drive a coach and horses through the normal system of judging and determining a proposed development. Together, the changes represent a significant shift in control away from local authorities and the communities they represent towards a significantly less regulated environment. I believe that nationally prescribed development rights disempower communities and local councils. Is it too cynical of me to suggest that that is the intention?
It is also clear that the Government’s current White Paper foreshadows the possibility of further changes to the entire planning system over the coming months, and it may well be that further permitted development reforms follow. This is perhaps why there is considerable disquiet and concern in many quarters. Alan Jones, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, said of the Government that the arrogance and lack of understanding was “breathtaking.”
It is not just RIBA that thinks the extensions to permitted development are a bad idea. They are opposed by the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, the Chartered Institute of Building, the Chartered Institute of Housing, the Town and Country Planning Association, and more. Uniting all of these organisations, which are far from always being in happy harmony, is a remarkable achievement and a sign of the real problems of this approach that need to be looked into. Apart from those who seek to make serious money from these changes, it is hard to see who supports them.
The reputable planning consultancy, Lichfields, has stated that the changes are very significant, but are only the tip of the iceberg for potential planning changes on the immediate horizon. Hence the collective concern that the Government have failed to allow adequate time and scrutiny for these SIs and we have had no concrete reassurances as to how they will be evaluated in their totality. That is a concern which appears to be justified when you consider that the Government’s independently commissioned work on permitted development rights was damning. The report of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s notes that permitted development rights for office-to-residential change of use has led to much criticism for diminishing quality, delivering lower levels of affordable housing and reducing developer contributions. Those are three key issues. The Commission concludes that PDRs
“have inadvertently permissioned future slums … allowing sub-standard homes to be built with little to no natural light and smaller than budget hotel rooms.”
Can the Minister offer any serious reassurance that these concerns have been addressed?
The Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee produced a report in 2019 on the future of the high street which said:
“The Government should suspend any further extension of PDRs, pending an evaluation of their impact on the high street.”
Yet in these SIs we see significant changes to class uses that we have heard little about but which I have no doubt will have some concerns.
Do the Government intend to do a cumulative impact assessment of these and other recent SIs in tandem with the current proposals in the pipeline? If not, why not, and if yes, whoopie, but when?
My Lords, I pay tribute to the two maiden speeches we have heard today. What excellent contributions they were and what very welcome additions to the House they are. In the noble Lords, Lord Sikka and Lord Lancaster, we now have an expert on accountancy and an expert on bomb disposal. Both of them will be useful attributes in a House that is already well stocked with a variety of expertise.
While sharing the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord German, about the manner in which these regulations have been brought into play, concerns that many of us have voiced today, I have to say that unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, I welcome these amendments. The planning system has long been in need of simplification and these amount to a largely positive step towards that simplification. It has long seemed to me that the generally flat roofs of supermarkets are crying out to have residential accommodation built on top. The GPDO No. 2 amendment order makes that easier.
We also need to see rapid changes to our high streets, which these regulations will enable. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, talked about bringing changes to our high streets to a standstill, but everywhere I look there are shops that have closed down because of Covid and they will not open again. Bringing life back into those areas by being as flexible as possible about the uses to which premises can be put seems a sensible step.
However, the Government still seem to struggle with standing back and allowing builders to get on with it. I have some specific questions for the Minister. First, can he tell me why, if a new storey is put on top of an existing block of flats, there is a stipulation that the internal room height may not exceed 3 metres? I love the idea of building penthouses on top of blocks of flats and making them light and airy with ceilings as high as the Victorians used to enjoy. That may not make economic sense, but why do the Government have to put a stipulation on what the internal room height may be?
Why do the Government have to limit the building right to buildings constructed before
In connection with that, can the Minister say whether he will find a means of favouring prefabricated housing, which will make these developments happen much faster?
I too thank the noble Lord, Lord German, for providing this opportunity to debate these measures and I note his very important point about procedure, particularly when dealing with such a controversial subject. I also join with other noble Lords in congratulating the two new Peers who made their maiden speeches today.
My starting point, like that of others, is that it is vital to get more housing and that we use brownfield sites. But—and there are many buts, relating to quality, the impact on health, and the impact of blighting some areas. I want to make five points and to suggest a way forward.
First, the current permitted development regime has had many damaging impacts in parts of the country—not everywhere, but in many places. I think of areas like Hounslow and Harlow where very poor housing has resulted from permitted development, with houses in factories, in industrial units, and houses that are simply not suitable for their purpose. That is not just about individual suffering because it can also blight an area and an economy. On Monday, a Bradford architect pointed out to me the effect of cheap and shoddy development on an area, particularly somewhere like Bradford, which is desperately seeking to revitalise the centre of town. Building slums in the centre of Bradford is not going to help. Building slums in poor areas magnifies existing problems. I believe that these regulations do nothing to improve the situation; looking at them in detail shows that they add complexity to an already complex situation.
Looking ahead, we all understand, I am sure, the link between housing and health, and how poor housing can damage mental and physical health in all kinds of ways, from cold and damp to air and noise pollution, overcrowding, fire safety and much more. The evidence is compelling and Covid has reinforced this point for all of us. What if we thought about this differently and thought about developing housing that was deliberately built to enhance health and well-being, and promote human flourishing? Should that not be our aim, rather than just producing cheap and rather shoddy developments?
On a positive note, I am delighted that the Government have accepted the principle that there must be standards of access to daylight, and space standards. I stress “standards”; not things to be considered during development, but clear, compulsory standards. This is a very important precedent to have set. I suggest that we need standards in other areas, too, from noise insulation to air pollution and access to green spaces and amenities. There is a way forward. The Town and Country Planning Association has produced a draft Bill on healthy housing, which does precisely what I suggest. It places the focus on developing housing for health and well-being, liveability and resilience in the face of future pandemics, and sets out 10 areas for principles and standards that all developments must follow. I hope that it will be introduced in Parliament in due course, but I would welcome the opportunity to discuss it with the Minister in the meantime.
This proposed Bill has an additional advantage. Current planning and building regulations are horribly complex, contradictory and confusing. The Bill offers a new focus on a single set of essential principles and standards that has the potential to clarify the situation and unify the way forward. So I hope that the Minister will consider this point. Does he agree that it is important that the Government build on the precedent that they have already set on access to daylight and space standards—the precedent of introducing “standards”, not “things to consider”—in additional areas that will ensure that all developments are of high quality and suitable design? Can he give the House a date when the space standards referred to in the other place will be brought into effect?
My Lords, I have an unstable connection so I may not be with you for very long. However, I welcome the noble Lords, Lord Sikka and Lord Lancaster, whose maiden speeches were excellent. Their characters shone through, and I look forward to meeting them both. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord German, on moving this Motion. He has reflected a lot of universal concerns, one of which he called the “balance of power”.
The Government’s White Paper proposes a total overhaul of the English planning system, which will require primary legislation, but they have now brought in these piecemeal regulations which themselves make huge changes to the planning system. They really should have brought them as part of primary legislation that could be fully considered, rather than rushing them through as secondary legislation.
In the planning White Paper, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government said:
“We will build environmentally friendly homes that will not need to be expensively retrofitted in the future, homes with green spaces and new parks at close hand, where tree lined streets are the norm and where neighbours are not strangers.”
Yet nothing in these regulations delivers on those green ambitions. The Government have missed a huge opportunity to require people to bring their homes up to modern high standards of energy efficiency and thermal comfort when adding new storeys to their home. Obviously, the best and most cost-effective time to do that is when other major works are being done—so it is absurd that the Government are not tying these two things together. They really must put green, carbon-neutral, planet-positive development at the heart of their plans—and at the moment they really are not.
I recognise that there is a green benefit to increasing housing density by adding new storeys to existing houses. It is better to use the footprint of an existing home to protect the green belt and nature, but—and it is a very big but—adding two storeys to many homes, particularly in a rural setting, will have a huge impact on the neighbours. Residents will be incredibly shocked and distraught if they suddenly find that they have a loss of amenity—of a view, of privacy or of sunlight. This will not go down well with people. Have the Government really thought it through? Are they prepared to let residents suffer as a result of this policy?
My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of a planning committee, among other things, in a local authority. I very much support the comments made by my noble friend Lord German on the way in which this has been rushed out under the cover of Covid-19. There has been no consultation on the details, as opposed to the principles. Some of them, such as the use class changes, would have benefited from some pilot studies on real issues in real places, to see how it is going to happen. There will be a lot of unintended consequences of this.
Having said that, I want to raise two or three specific points. The first, following on from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, is about the number of neighbour disputes that the proposed new use classes AA and AC will result in. Those of us who have spent too much of our lives on planning committees and within planning know perfectly well how nasty things can get and how disputes can develop on existing planning applications for ordinary extensions—two-storey extensions and so on. The idea is that people will have a fast track to extensions upwards by one or two storeys, but just imagine a couple of semi-detached houses where one is going to be doubled in height. This will result in a lot of aggro, as the noble Baroness suggested. Also, the fact that a rapid, fast-tracked process will be able to push this through beyond the normal planning permission will result in a great deal of disquiet. Quite frankly, I wish the Conservatives the best in explaining this to people who feel like this.
The Explanatory Memorandum says that, given the impact on neighbours during the construction of the additional storeys and any engineering works to strengthen the building,
“the developer must prepare a report setting out the proposed hours of operation and how they intend to minimise any adverse impacts of noise, dust, vibration and traffic movements during the building works on occupiers of the building and neighbouring premises”.
It does not say what the strength and value of such a report will be. Will that report have to be approved by the local planning authority? If it is breached—if the hours of operation are breached, for example, and people start working at midnight—will the local planning authority be able to step in and stop the work? It is not at all clear if that will be the case. So that is my specific question on that.
My second general point is on design. The report Planning Reform: Supporting the High Street and Increasing the Delivery of New Homes says that the Government will consult on the detail of a proposed right which would allow vacant commercial buildings and residential blocks to be demolished and replaced with well-designed new residential units. Previously, the Conservatives had promised us a new generation of “beautiful” buildings. The new National Planning Policy Framework follows up on this, suggesting that where development would be consistent with the prevailing height and form of neighbouring properties and the overall street scene, can maintain safe access, et cetera, it will be okay.
My second question to the Minister is: how much power will local authorities really have to rely on the NPPF to demand that these new extensions and the new buildings, where buildings have been demolished, are of good design and, indeed, beautiful? Will that be an overriding issue, or will the fact that full planning permission is not required mean that it will actually be something of a chimera?
My third point is about town centres. I am checking how much time I have—not very much. I will just say one sentence, then. The implications of all this for the ability of local authorities and councils, not just as planning authorities but as authorities looking after and managing the future of their town centres, will be reduced considerably. There are huge concerns about this.
I, too, welcome my noble friend Lord Sikka and the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, to this House and congratulate them both on their outstanding public service. I look forward to opportunities to share future debates and platforms with them.
Which local areas and regional governments would not rejoice in billions of pounds of housing investment and regeneration in their locality, unless, as is the purview of these statutory instruments, this lacked accountability and scrutiny from local councils and communities? I thank and agree with the noble Lord, Lord German, and other noble Lords. Many of us have repeatedly challenged, on countless occasions over these past few months, the necessity of integrating essential services, such as planning and housing matters, within the Covid emergency legislation remit—which is seriously questionable—while silencing and discarding voices without due process of scrutiny and oversight at the local level, oblivious to the needs of local communities, whose lives will be affected by these decisions.
The Royal Institute of British Architects, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Local Government Association, Friends of the Earth and the Royal Town Planning Institute have stated their deep misgivings about and objections to these emergency regulations, which conflict with the well-being of people, the environment and communities. Any new housing and planning strategies would be very welcome if these would immediately be the basis of mitigating chronic shortages of family housing, overcrowding and the lack of adequate independent housing for our elders and those living with disabilities. Any permitted development must absorb local demands from housing and community regeneration plans.
Nine in 10 applications are approved by local authorities while more than a million homes have yet to have a brick laid. Will the Minister mandate these developers to commence these as part of the regulations and impose a timeframe for immediate implementation and, if they do not, impose a fine or demand that they return the land at cost price so that social landlords, including local authorities, can utilise them for residents’ needs?
The Government stand accused of creating and approving a developers’ charter, but these criticisms have been dismissed as nonsense. I trust that the Minister will accept that there would not have been any scope for such criticism and questions had the Government not decided to bypass and disapply Section 106, which has provided, in some places and communities, significant benefits and gains. That would be even more the case had this Government stated unequivocally that permitted developments will form an integral part of local authorities’ planning process and work with social housing organisations hand in glove to resolve the decades-old quality-housing shortage, which, as the Minister is aware, has hugely impacted and hindered health protection during this emergency period.
Instead, the Government are asking this House to be complicit in persisting with further structures of social division and inequality and more concrete jungles. Why are we constantly ignoring lessons from our past? The developments of Bishopsgate and Canary Wharf are empty ghost towns today; neither delivered on promises of jobs for local people and community regeneration. There was significant outcry at the time, and the demands of grassroots campaigners for social justice and inclusive development for public scrutiny for a fairer settlement fell on deaf ears and boosted the bank balance of the big developers and the big boys’ support network. Residents living in their shadow put up with years of environmental and health pollution without an iota of benefit for their families. Of course, I should admit that hospitality sectors use low-pay and zero-hours contracted staff, who are definitely locally sourced.
What is evident in these regulations is that the new pledges for building back beautiful homes are certainly not communities’ aspiration for improved life chances and better housing for their families but draconian imposition by a Government determined to push through measures that continue to exclude fundamental rights of communities and residents’ voices in housing and other developments. I thank noble Lords, and I apologise for any errors.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord German on his introduction to this debate. As always, he lays the case out extremely clearly. I also welcome and congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Sikka and Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton, on their excellent maiden speeches. I feel certain that they will both make valuable contributions to our future debates.
We have had a canter around this issue previously and not reached a satisfactory conclusion. I declare my entry in the register of interests. Local councils know their communities, spending time and energy consulting them on both housing and services. Extending permitted development rights drives a coach and horses through this process; the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, has illustrated this. I understand the Government’s wish to regenerate town centres but am having difficulty seeing just how these measures will achieve that. Over 13,500 affordable homes have been lost in four years through permitted development rights by homes converted from offices, leading to worse living conditions, lacking basic infrastructure requirements.
Order 755, for the upward extension to blocks of flats and buildings without planning permission, is fraught. There will be up to two additional storeys on terraced houses, limited to 3.5 meters above the next-door house in the terrace. I can just imagine what a terrace of 10 houses will look like with three houses extended upwards but not adjacent to each other, the carefully crafted original design thrown completely out of the window. The Explanatory Memorandum to this SI says:
“additional storeys must be of similar appearance” and construction. Who will check this if there is no planning approval? My noble friend Lord Greaves referred to this.
Paragraph 7.12 of the Explanatory Memorandum states:
“the local planning authority … will consider certain matters relating to the … construction”, design, elevation et cetera and notify adjoining properties. Surely, this is what a planning application would cover? There are also issues of parking. If more dwellings are added upwards on the same site, where will the parking required be provided? Poor housing as a result of PDR has been raised by other Peers, including the noble Lord, Lord Crisp.
The demolition of an existing dwelling and construction of new one in its place could be welcomed, especially if the existing dwelling had fallen into disrepair. In this context, the word “old” keeps coming up in the Explanatory Memorandum. There are exceptions that apply to conservation areas. Can the Minister clarify whether this would also apply to grade 2 listed buildings not in conservation areas that had fallen into disrepair? Would it be sufficient if they had been empty for six months prior to demolition and redevelopment? I welcome the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton, on HMOs and look forward to the Minister’s response.
I also note under order 755 that building on agricultural land requires the express permission of the landlord and tenant. Can the Minister say what will happen if the landlord gives permission but the tenant, who has been working the land, does not?
The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/757) revoke the use classes order. They could include cinemas, dance halls and food takeaways. In future, a change of use will not be needed. With cinemas currently shut, I can see some trouble ahead on this front. Local authorities and their elected councillors take care in the licensing of hot food takeaways, especially in residential areas. They are much better situated in a small row of retail shops serving the residential area than in the middle of a street of dwellings. Considerable neighbour annoyance can be caused by late-night takeaways.
The PDR to support high streets involves a range of changes of use without an application process, for instance from financial services to a betting or pay-day loan shop. Do we really want this to go unregulated at this time, when suicides caused by gambling are at an all-time high? Drinking establishments can change to residential use. Can the Minister give clarity on what class drinking establishments will now fall into? Local pubs were already under severe threat before the Covid lockdown. Some are shut and may not reopen. Their communities will certainly miss them in rural areas.
There are also changes to the community infrastructure levy, which will allegedly avoid confusion. They will also affect local authority budgets.
Lastly, the Town and Country Panning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) (No. 3) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/895) alter the words “280 metres square” to “280 square metres”, a minor but significant interpretation. What can we expect when regulations are introduced at such short notice? Four weeks later, we are having to amend them.
Much has been said previously about local authorities delaying the planning process. This is not true. As my noble friend Lady Thornhill said, more than 90% of applications are approved in a timely manner. The problem is that more than 1 million applications granted are waiting to be built. A handful of developers hold all the land and are sitting on it until it suits them to build out. What is needed is a legal timeframe for completing a development from the date the planning application approval was granted.
The zoning measures in the planning White Paper diverge from carefully crafted local plans. They undermine elected councillors who know their areas. It would have been far better to wait until the end of the consultation period on the planning White Paper before laying these permitted development rights instruments. The White Paper responses and these measures could have been properly analysed together. I fully support my noble friend Lord German.
My Lords, I first draw the attention of the House to my relevant registered interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, chair of the Heart of Medway Housing Association and a non-executive director of MHS Homes Ltd.
I offer my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Sikka on his maiden speech. He brings a wealth of experience from accountancy and academia and is an advocate of tax justice. I am very much of the opinion that we and all organisations should pay our fair share of tax. Considerable light has been shone on organisations that seem not to pay their fair share, which of course is picked up by all the rest of us. I look forward to hearing more from my noble friend.
I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton, on his maiden speech. He has served as a councillor, a Member of the other place representing Milton Keynes—I know it fairly well—a Whip and a Minister at the Ministry of Defence. He also brings a wealth of experience, as we have heard, which will be invaluable to this House. If he ever wants to rebel, he will find a warm welcome on these Benches. I very much agreed with the point he made about cross-party working. In my time in this House over the past 10 years, the best things we have agreed have been when Members from all sides have come together and understood, agreed and sorted problems out. I look forward to getting to know both noble Lords and wish them well in their time in this House.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord German, for bringing forward his Motion to Regret. From this debate we can see that issues and concerns have been raised because of the action the Government are taking which are widely felt in this House and outside. Having served as a councillor on two local authorities, I am disappointed by the Government’s approach. Good planning, good community development and consultation empower communities and enable them to have ownership of the development of the built environment around them. There is a role for permitted development, but these statutory instruments, using the negative procedure, go too far, as the noble Lord, Lord German, made clear in his Motion to Regret.
If the Government are going to do this, issues of this magnitude should have been enacted through a much wider debate and, ideally, primary legislation. The proposals disempower communities and local authorities and deprive local councils and locally elected councillors of the ability to consider the facts and make decisions based on evidence, local knowledge and an understanding of their local community.
I was very grateful to the LGA for its briefing. I was shocked to read that 13,500 affordable homes have been lost in the past four years through permitted development rights allowing offices to be converted into homes without the need for a full planning application. It was also interesting to read the Government’s commissioned research from the Minister’s department, which highlighted that conversions through permitted development can fail to meet adequate design standards, avoid contributing to areas and create worse living environments. Surely the Government and the Minister do not want to make the situation worse and create the slums of tomorrow. With that in mind, can he set out for the House how these fears will not be realised?
Of what benefit is it to our communities that permitted development rights have lost affordable homes being built? These proposals have only made the situation worse. Communities are denied the ability to ensure that high standards are met and that supporting infrastructure is in place. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised similar concerns in its report published last month. Will the Minister address the committee’s concerns about how local authorities will shape the character of their high streets under these new rules, particularly regarding the ability to control the spread of fast-food restaurants in their area?
My noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, highlighted that we have planning permission for 1 million homes, but they have not been built. That is not a failure of planning; it is a failure to get the homes built. Housing developers, as we have heard, will build homes in line with their business model. I understand that, it is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but we need the Government to address the policy issues around getting homes built and not focus on planning.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Herbert of South Downs, that building on brownfield sites is preferable to building on greenfield sites. I also agree with his comments on the need for good design and good quality. My concern here is that these proposed regulations risk doing the exact opposite of what he and I want to see. I also agree with the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, about further extensions of permitted development rights. I would be interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, set out how we will ensure that these fears will not happen.
I also agree very much with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, who drew the attention of the House to the link between housing and health. Damp, poorly built, poorly ventilated and poorly insulated properties will only make matters worse for people and families—often poor people—further reducing their life chances and those of their children.
We have seen all those flats built in the 1960s and 1970s being torn down as a failure of government public policy or huge sums being spent to retrofit them because of inadequate building design. The test of this policy will be whether that tragedy is repeated. The victims who pay the price are the families who have to live in those homes.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, rightly raised concerns that smaller developments in residential areas that would have needed planning permission will now go through permitted development. This will prove controversial in many communities and will not be popular where out-of-character developments start springing up in stable communities.
These are matters that the House will return to many times. Whatever the good intentions behind these proposals, they will not deliver high-quality, well-designed homes or the high streets that sustain local communities or provide the infrastructure to support communities and help them thrive. Proper government policy and intention need to be here to get this right. Sadly, the Government have got it wrong in this case.
My Lords, I draw attention to my relevant commercial and residential property interests as set out in the register. We have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate and I thank the noble Lord, Lord German, for tabling the motion, and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for its report drawing the statutory instruments to the House’s attention. I also thank noble Lords on all sides of the House for their contributions.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Thornhill and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, raised the Planning for the Future White Paper. We published it in August to set out our proposals for planning reform, and it recognises that the current planning system is complex and slow. I assure my noble friend Lord Herbert that there is absolutely no desire to build on England’s green and pleasant land: the focus must be on brownfield site development.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord German, Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Greaves, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Thornhill, raised important process issues. The statutory instruments being considered today are made under Section 59 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. That primary legislation enables the Secretary of State, through secondary legislation, to make a development order. Therefore, these statutory instruments were laid before Parliament under the negative resolution procedure, as is normal for all new permitted development rights.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, pointed out the positive impacts and benefits. Indeed, these measures form a package to support our economic response to coronavirus. They support the delivery of much-needed new homes through a simpler planning system and help businesses to continue to operate safely and respond quickly to changes in how communities use their high streets. The noble Lords, Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Crisp, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and my noble friend Lord Herbert all raised the issue of quality design and space. To ensure that the new homes delivered under permitted development rights are quality homes, we have made it a requirement that natural light be provided in all habitable rooms of new homes delivered under such rights. We announced in the other place on
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, raised the issue that development can have a negative impact on neighbours and that this may occur during the construction of additional homes by building upwards. To ensure that this is considered before works commence, the developer has to prepare a report setting out the proposed hours of operation and how it intends to minimise any adverse impact of noise, dust, vibration and traffic movements during the building works on occupiers of the building and neighbouring premises. The local authority will consider whether the details set out in the construction management plan are appropriate. Where it is agreed that the developer is in breach of the plan, the local authority can take enforcement action.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, in his excellent maiden speech, raised the issue of affordable housing. Permitted development rights do not require affordable housing provision, which is predominantly delivered as part of the local planning authority’s housing programme. Local planning authorities are required to build for their housing needs, including for affordable housing provision. Permitted development rights, including the new rights for upwards extensions and demolition and rebuild, create new homes that support our ambition to increase housing delivery. They provide additional homes for sale or rent which may otherwise not have been developed. They are, to coin a phrase, “a Brucie bonus”. The new permitted development rights for upward extensions could be used by registered providers or local authorities on their blocks of flats or houses to create new affordable homes or additional living space for their tenants.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Lancaster on an outstanding maiden speech. He made pointed reference to his dad, “the Master Blaster Pastor”, and I am delighted that he joins us in the House. I can confirm to him that the new permitted development rights do not allow the creation of houses in multiple occupation: the rights only allow single-dwelling houses, C3 use class, to build additional storeys, to extend a home or create new homes. An application for planning permission would be required if an owner wished to change such an extended home or a new flat into either a small house in multiple occupation or a large one for more than six people not living as a family. I hope that reassures my noble friend.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Uddin and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, raised the issue of a contribution by developers. Where new dwellings or additional floorspace are created through the rights, and a local authority has a charging schedule in place, a community infrastructure levy may be payable. We have consulted in the planning White Paper on the principle of introducing an infrastructure levy on permitted development schemes going forward. To answer the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, we continue to keep all rights under review in the cumulative impact assessment.
The noble Lord, Lord German, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, mentioned the reduced impact of community engagement as a result of these permitted development rights. The permitted development rights for building upwards and demolition and rebuild are subject to prior approval by the local planning authority. This allows the consideration of key planning matters. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that among other matters, it can consider the external appearance of the building and the impact of the development on the amenity of the existing building and neighbouring premises, which includes overlooking, privacy and loss of light. The local authority is required put up a site notice and serve notice on all neighbours and occupiers. As with an application for planning permission, it must allow 21 days for comment on the proposals. Objections can be made on the matters for prior approval set out in the right, and the local authority is required to take into account any representations made to it as a result of any consultation when making its decision.
In answer to a specific point raised by my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft, the cap on height is to ensure that the maximum number of floors are created and to prevent the creation of one larger penthouse where two storeys of new homes could be created. This is all about the delivery of important, much-needed new housing. We must build, build, build, for the sake of our children and our children’s children. Delivering new homes and supporting our high streets and town centres is a key priority for this Government. These regulations are an important tool to help drive up housing delivery by simplifying and speeding up the planning system. They will also help town centre uses adapt to changing market demands, while providing protections for important uses.
I thank the Minister, but first, I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Sikka and Lord Lancaster, on their excellent maiden speeches today. They have both demonstrated the contribution they will be able to make to this House—the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, on financial and tax matters and the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, on defence matters. I must say I am really looking forward to the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, to fireworks and rebellion; put those together and I think that might be something I would encourage him to take part in in your Lordships’ House. While I may have contrary views to both noble Lords, they have shown they will be able to add a great deal to the richness of our debates and considerations.
I am also grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate today. What has been amply demonstrated by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and others is that these regulations have great significance to the way we conduct planning activity. My noble friend Lord Greaves, the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell, Lady Jones and Lady Uddin, and other noble Lords have shown how the needs of local communities, as well as broader needs, are not reflected in the measures.
Brownfield sites and design quality have been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Herbert, and he was critical of the tiered system of legislation to come. I look forward to his contributions in that debate when we have it—because there will be debate. A significant part of the reason for this debate today is that we have not been offered that opportunity before.
The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and others raised significant concerns about the extension in the use of permitted development rights and also that these procedures do not lead to well-designed additional affordable homes, a point raised and reinforced by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and my noble friend Lady Thornhill, who also joined in the criticism but emphasised the financial model that drives new homes and called for review and evaluation. My noble friend Greaves pointed out the lack of consultation on these measures—another process issue, which is one of the reasons I brought this Motion in the first place.
As noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, 90% of planning permissions for housing being approved and a million homes that have been given planning permission and not yet built demonstrates to me that it is not the planning system that is at fault but the system of delivering homes. I hope the Minister will reflect further on this as we consider the primary legislation of the planning Bill, which is soon to come.
I was hopeful that the constitutional element of this debate would be answered by the Minister, for whom I have a great deal of respect, given his previous service to local government. The head legislation, the primary legislation, which gives authority over these regulations is 30 years old, and clearly, as planning and community needs have altered, updating is important. The fundamental question remains: why were these regulations not rolled into the primary legislation the Government are proposing?
I note there has not been wild enthusiasm from contributors to the debate for the detail of these proposals, but scrutiny, evaluation and debate would have informed and improved these plans. Although I am grateful for the response from the Minister, he has not answered that fundamental issue. However, as we will have many opportunities to debate these matters further, I do not intend to press my Motion.