– in the House of Lords at 8:32 pm on 22nd March 2023.
My Lords, is Amendment 184 withdrawn?
My Lords, I nearly lost that chance, having sat here for several days waiting for this. I agree with everything my noble friend Lord Young said on the amendments he and I have jointly tabled in this group, except for one word: he referred to his “chequered” career, but I would say “distinguished”. We will replace “chequered” with “distinguished”, but otherwise I agree with everything he said. That helps, because it means that I do not have to repeat the arguments he made.
I want to speak to Amendments 184A and 187A very briefly. I will also explain Amendment 185, which my noble friend did not dwell on, and say a word or two about Amendment 183—the lead amendment in this group, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage—which he did refer to. As my noble friend said, the issue we are turning to now is the plan-led system. How local plans are to be made and what the relationship is to be between the local plan and the national development management policies are very important questions.
To paraphrase one of the key questions that arises out of this, which I think we need to understand now in order to address these issues in the Bill at a later stage, would the Government be kind enough to explain to what extent the provisions presently in the National Planning Policy Framework are going to be national development management policies in the future? They will then acquire a different status—although, I have to say, it is quite difficult in many cases for a local planning authority to proceed on the basis of operating with the guidance in the NPPF, because inspectors will look to the NPPF as a basis for the judgments they make on whether a plan is sound, and indeed whether determinations in themselves are sound on appeal. We may be looking at distinctions or differences between the NPPF and NDMP without there being that much of a difference between them. In practice, the legal differences are clear, and the extent to which the NPPF is going to be turned into NDMP and given that status is important, and we need to know that.
As my noble friend Lord Young said, the revised draft of the NPPF, which the Government have consulted on and have yet to tell us the final outcome of, states:
“Policies in local plans and spatial development strategies should be reviewed to assess whether they need updating at least once every five years”.
My noble friend referred to the loophole or the issue here, which is that local planning authorities decide for themselves whether that review turns into an updated local plan. I give him and the House one very specific example, which is close to me. I should remind the House, as I have mentioned previously, of my registered interest as chair of the Cambridgeshire Development Forum. East Cambridgeshire adopted a local plan on
I will not dwell on some of the issues, but I have various complaints about this. First, there is the idea that the housing number is unrelated to other issues in the plan—that the housing supply in the decade ahead is unrelated to issues of environmental concern or whatever. That seems to have been ignored by them. However, I make the point that the inspector, who conducted an examination in public in the latter part of last year, said that it was not in his remit at all to look at whether the plan should be updated or not, whether anything other than housing should be updated or not, and indeed whether the final date of the plan should be beyond 2031. Of course, what the local authority is planning to do in this case is to update its housing figures, but when it has done so, it will extend for only about six years rather than the 15 years that the NPPF would imply. Notwithstanding that, they got away with it. So I very much agree with my noble friend and hope that the Minister will think hard about how we might make sure that we have local plans.
However, our Amendments 184A and 187A go precisely to the issue of requiring local plans to be up to date. If they are not up to date, in our view it cannot be right that the same principles apply in terms of the compliance or otherwise of determinations made on planning applications if the local plan to which they relate is out of date. There must be a distinction. Our amendments simply add “up-to-date” in front of “development plan.” They do not say, “What’s the relationship between a planning application and a determination on that planning application in relation to a local plan that is no longer up to date?” We need to resolve that. I suggest to my noble friend on the Front Bench that Ministers should think about whether there is as yet something they can do to distinguish between the proper relationship between development plans and in this particular instance determinations of planning applications, which should be made according to an up to date local plan, and local plans that had been adopted but are now out of date. They need to address the question of whether they are proper material considerations but not necessarily determinative. That seems to be the right way to go.
Amendment 185, which is in my name, that of my noble friend, and in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, relates to the question of a determination on a planning application and that it should be made in accordance with the local plan. The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 says in Section 38(6):
“If regard is to be had to the development plan for the purpose of any determination to be made under the planning Acts the determination must be made in accordance with the plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise”.
It has said that since 2004, so there is considerable case law relating to this, and those working in the planning system have experience of working with that. They know that it means that, in making a determination on a planning application, local planning authorities have to weigh material considerations. However, courts pretty much do not second-guess the weight that planning officers and planning committees give to various considerations in considering an application. We have had nearly 20 years of that.
The Government have rewritten this bit and inserted the word “strongly”—
“unless material considerations strongly indicate otherwise”.
That says to me that two things are going to happen. First, it is the Government’s intention to limit and restrict the circumstances in which decisions are made other than in accord with a local plan or with national development management policies. That means—which goes to the point that we have been debating in this group—that it reduces the role of the planning committee and the local planning authority, because they do not balance the weight any more. Most of the material considerations, almost by definition, will not be enough to indicate that they should do other than what would be demanded by the local plan and the NDMP.
The second thing that will inevitably result from this is that there will be a large amount of litigation, because the question of what “strongly” means in this context will be hard to determine. There will not be case law or precedent—a large number of decisions will not previously have been made. Where does “strongly” change the balance? How is that weight to be shifted? It is very unwise for the Government to be proceeding down this path. It would create a better balance across the Bill generally and we would be better off in many cases just to leave things as they are if they cannot demonstrate that there is a mischief to which this is the answer.
I will stop there, but I just want to refer to one other thing. I thought that Amendment 216, which is not in my name but in that of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, rather pointed to an issue. Schedule 7 on page 294, which is about plan making, would take out a rather curious few words where the Government say that local plans must not
“be inconsistent with or (in substance) repeat any national development management policy”.
I just have a question: what is the point of national development management policies if it is not essentially to write for local planning authorities large amounts of their local plan? If the local planning authority then puts that language into its local plan, does that mean it is repeating it or incorporating it? What does “repeat” mean in this context? I thought the whole point was that local plans would “repeat” national development management policies, yet we are being told in the legislation that that is not what they are to do. That is a genuine question to which I really do not know the answer, but I hope we can find out a bit more from my noble friend later.
My Lords, my name is on Amendment 191A, tabled by my noble friend Lady Thornhill, as is that of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. It stipulates the process for the Secretary of State to designate and review a national development management policy, including minimum public consultation requirements and a process of parliamentary scrutiny based on processes set out in the Planning Act 2008, as amended, for national policy statements. It is an amendment to Clause 87.
Clause 87, which is a matter of only 20 or so lines, defines the meaning of “national development management policy” as
“a policy (however expressed) of the Secretary of State in relation to the development or use of land in England, or any part of England, which the Secretary of State by direction designates as a national development management policy.”
It then says that the Secretary of State can revoke a direction and modify a national development management policy. It goes on to say:
“Before making or revoking a direction … or modifying a national development management policy, the Secretary of State must ensure that such consultation with, and participation by, the public or any bodies or persons (if any) as the Secretary of State thinks appropriate takes place.”
In planning terms, this is the most gross act of centralisation that I can recall from the various Bills we have had relating to planning policy.
I repeat something I now try to say regularly to Ministers: you cannot run England out of London. England is a country of 56 million people. I regard Clause 87 as an extraordinary abuse of power by the Executive over Parliament and local government. I am very concerned about this, because it means a reduction in the scope of the right to be heard in local plans and a centralisation of power over policy that is now determined locally but no longer will be in the same way.
I could make an exceedingly long speech on this matter, but I suspect your Lordships would like to move on a bit. When we get to Report, we have to get clear exactly where this House is headed on this matter, because the centralisation of power in the hands of the Secretary of State—it could be any Secretary of State of any political party in government—seems to me distinctly unhelpful, and I think the Bill will need significant amendment on Report.
My Lords, I am speaking to Amendment 221; I thank the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for adding their names. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, gave a brilliant exposition of many of the things I was prepared to say, and this amendment is really a prelude to later Amendments 207 and 336. For those two reasons, I will be very brief and save some powder for later debates.
I speak as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Care for Older People, and this is about older people’s housing and the local plan. The amendment enables the Secretary of State to require local authorities to bring forward an assessment of the local need for housing for older people as part of the documentation in preparing their all-important local plan. Sadly, such an assessment is currently a rarity in local plans, despite the ever-increasing number of older people, for whom opportunities to downsize, to rightsize, can meet so many health, care and social needs.
Tailor-made housing for older people preserves independence, prevents or postpones the need for residential care, helps people to maintain fitness, combats loneliness and isolation, keeps people out of hospital, saves the NHS and care budgets, frees up family homes for the next generation and more. But we have a national shortfall in homes being built specifically for the older generation. Production is running at fewer than 8,000 homes per year, but demand is estimated at 30,000 to 35,000 homes a year.
The trouble is that the volume housebuilders are not interested. Given the choice, they will stick to building for the less discerning, more profitable market of young buyers and will avoid having to organise the ongoing management arrangements necessary for developments for later living. Since these housebuilders dominate the industry, nothing will change unless there is some pressure on these developers to do better. This amendment would start the process of getting on top of this key issue and is very much part of levelling up in extending healthy life expectancy and reducing health inequalities. It represents a key step in getting greater momentum behind a national effort to see local plans incorporate requirements for older people’s housing of different sorts.
I hope to build on this case in subsequent amendments but, in the meantime, I give notice that I will pursue the question asked by my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, about the task force on housing for older people. It would be great to hear what progress has been made in that direction. The task force was announced on
My Lords, I support Amendment 221 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, to which, as he indicated, my right reverend friend the Bishop of Chelmsford added her name. She apologises for being unable to be in her place today; in my own brief remarks, I will make a number of points that she would have contributed had she been here. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, who, like the noble Lord, Lord Best, has a long and honourable history of leading the thinking on housing matters in this land.
I declare my interest in housing for older people: as set out in the register, I am a board member of the Wythenshawe Community Housing Group. In fact, it is more than an interest; it is a passion. In my time as chair of the association, we have opened a flagship development of 135 apartments for older people with mixed rental, shared ownership and outright purchase. Developments such as this enable local people to live in dignity in old age. They provide social space as well as private dwellings. In many cases, they allow residents to remain close to their family networks and former neighbours—the support networks that they need in later life. We can do well for older people but that should not have to rely on episcopal passion or potluck. It needs to be part of how we plan housing provision at a strategic level.
Research by BNP Paribas Real Estate published late last year found that there is a shortfall of more than 487,000 senior living housing units. As our population ages and the housing crisis continues, this housing shortage is set to grow. The 2021 census confirmed that there are more people than ever in older age groups. Some 18.6% of the total population, more than 11 million of us, were aged 65 years or older—an increase from 16.4% at the previous census a decade earlier. There is expected to be a 31% increase in those aged over 65 over the next 15 years. I reached that milestone myself a few months ago; I have a real interest in remaining part of these statistics for many years to come.
Furthermore, as has been indicated, housing is not just for fully able people. Some 91% of homes in England fail basic accessibility standards. Not only do we need more housing but we need to work to improve the suitability of our existing and new housing stock. In doing so, it is important to note that, as the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, reminded us before the dinner break, older people are not a homogenous group so needs will vary.
The recent Mayhew review suggested that 50,000 homes are designed for older people annually. Providing suitable housing for seniors not only addresses their housing and care needs but reduces demand for NHS services, as people stay healthier for longer, and frees up housing and surplus bedrooms for younger families. Amendment 221 would facilitate an important part of the solution to these issues, enabling the Government to consider older people’s housing needs in drawing up plans. These should include more integrated retirement communities, such as the one that I referred to in Wythenshawe. They foster social connection, especially for people living alone in the latter years of their lives. This would help to counter the epidemic of homelessness, since over 6 million people will be living in single person households by 2040, half of them over the age of 80.
There is a real opportunity in this Bill for His Majesty’s Government to work more comprehensively to address the housing needs of our ageing population. I urge them to take it.
My Lords, I have not heard Amendments 191A and 191B extensively discussed; it is possible that I zoned out earlier. I have two points. First, proposed new subsection (5) in Amendment 191A says that a national development management policy must contain
“explanations of the reasons for the policy, and … in particular… an explanation of how it takes account of Government policy relating to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.”
That is a very welcome requirement, if the Government pick up on it, but it is huge. Having that in there will have a vast impact on policy and what will be done, because so many aspects of our life impact on our response to climate change—the design of our transport systems, how we handle our energy, the kind of houses that we are building, how we make the facilities outside the house that people need accessible to them. This would be a really encouraging development if the Government were to go down that road. I had hoped to hear from the Benches opposite some advocacy of their amendments in this direction. I hope that they mean this seriously.
My second point concerns the aspect of these amendments and others that says what the role of Parliament is in looking at the development of national development management policy. We have another Bill with us, the REUL Bill, in which this is a very cogent consideration. I very much hope that this House holds firm and says that Parliament does have a role here and that we will not let this Bill away without insisting on it.
My Lords, I want to ask a question based on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. He said that the crucial point of the Bill and these clauses is the role and primacy of the two documents—the development plan and the national development management plan—and where they stand in that relationship. Clause 86 makes it clear that the NDMPs take precedence over the development plans if there is a conflict. But where does a third document stand, which the noble Lord also mentioned, the NPPFs, which were introduced via the Localism Act 2011? The document replaced a two-foot-high pile of codes, practice notes and so on about planning. In the instant that it was introduced it was controversial because it reduced the amount of planning paperwork that people needed to have knowledge of and refer to, and it made access to the planning process much easier for lay people and for councils. It seems to have proved its worth and to be a useful document. Echoing the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, my question is: is this document now effectively a dead letter? If it is not, where does it stand in relation to the two documents which are given a mention in Clause 86 and in subsequent policy?
My Lords, this is probably one of the key groups of amendments on planning in the Bill, as it sets out the strategic framework under which local plans will be created and planning applications will be determined. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, started us on the right track by saying that we believe in a plan-led system; the question is, “Who leads the plans?” Which one is going to be most important —the national management development plan or the local plan? The local plan currently has primacy in planning legislation.
At the moment, the National Planning Policy Framework is under consultation for an update. That provides guidance, but it is a material consideration in any local plan. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who said that the Bill spoke about the folly, or waste of space and time, of having to repeat national planning policies in the local plan, so in the Bill the Government say, “Let’s create our own national policies in the NMDP, to which local planning authorities and councils will have to agree.”
The big difference of course is that, in their development, local plans can incorporate—I think that was the word used by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley—issues from across the range of those raised in the NPPF. There are 17 key decisions in the NPPF, including the green belt, the supply of homes, making a stronger economy, the vitality of town centres, and heritage. Those will have a different weight in local plans depending on the locality. If you live in the Yorkshire Dales area, policy on the green belt and national parks will, I guess, have a far greater weight than it would in other parts of the country. If you live in York, I guess that heritage is very important. That is the flexibility that the current system provides for strategic planning. The Bill is proposing a definitive move away from a flexible system where local councils can reflect the needs of their area to one in which there is an absolute insistence that the policies within the NMDP must be followed.
The next question is “What is in it?”. There is a trend in the Bill of having a headline, such as that on the missions, and then a blank space. We have the same here: there is going to be a national management development plan, but then we have a big blank space. That is totally unacceptable. I think it was my noble friend Lord Shipley who quoted the Bill as saying that
“A ‘national development management policy’ is a policy (however expressed) of the Secretary of State … which the Secretary of State by direction designates as a national development management policy”— and that is it. It could be anything you like. However, when a local plan is created, every one of those national planning policies within the framework is part of the debate, in which local people can take part, about the policy, plan and strategic plan for the council area.
This is a huge move away from localism—I thought that was what we were doing here, by the way. The levelling-up Bill was all about helping different parts of England to have a bit more control over, and involvement in, policies that affect them. Well, this is a very significant move in the other direction. The NDMP positively prohibits a local plan that is not in line with those national policies. This centralising move is unacceptable.
My noble friend Lord Shipley said that Clause 87 is an extraordinary abuse of power by the Executive, and I agree. If we live in a country where local democracy means anything, local planning must mean something. Currently, under these proposals in this Bill, that will be removed. After many years as a local councillor, I can tell you that the one issue that really stimulates big discussion and debate in a locality is planning applications. People get involved in neighbourhood planning applications, which cover a small area— I have just dealt with a very large one on which 2,000 people wrote individual letters of objection. Where people live matters to them. Pride of place is one of the missions in the White Paper, but how can you have pride of place when you take from the council the very tools that will create it? It is not just about whether a place looks beautiful; it is about whether people are engaged and involved in creating pride in the place where they live. As far as we on these Benches are concerned, the proposal to centralise to this degree is simply not acceptable.
I will say a few words about the revision of local plans, which has been raised by a number of noble Lords. It is important. It is not clear from the Bill whether there will be any change to the requirement to set out a plan that has five years’ worth of housing supply in it. It seems to me that revisions ought to take place more frequently. If it is every five years, as the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, says, it seems to me that you would only just get over the last one and start again. But there is merit in constantly having a look, because the parameters of a local plan change. If there were a significant economic development in an area and a higher demand for housing, a plan ought to be able to respond to that. If it were not revised more than, say, every 10 years, that would not be possible.
I agree with having more frequent revisions, but I have to say that one of the rules in local plans is that you have to have a five-year housing supply—in other words, enough houses in your plan to last five years—which is determined by a sort of government calculation. If you do not, developers can develop where they want to, so the incentive is there to revise.
To end, apart from the issues about the strategy, this is about public involvement in planning. I feel very strongly about this because there is a tendency to do to people; what we should do is work with people and listen to what they have to say. Planning is a really good tool to do that, because people can see how it will change where they live, for good or ill as they see it.
Another issue in the Bill, apart from Clause 87, is Clause 85 and Schedule 7. I thank Landmark Chambers for providing this information; I am not sure I would have been able to read through all the schedules as it has done. Schedule 7 states that a spatial development strategy must involve an examination in public, which is what happens now, unless the Secretary of State directs otherwise. It might not even go to the public to be looked at. New Section 15AC(6) states:
“No person is to have a right to be heard at an examination in public.”
So you have a local plan, it goes to a nominated planning inspector to be heard in public and no person is to have a right to be heard at an examination in public. Now then: what is the quickest way to aggravate people? It is that: taking away their chance to have their say. With those fairly stringent remarks, I leave it to others to further comment.
My Lords, this has been a really fascinating debate on a key part of the Bill. It has been good to hear voices with such great expertise and wisdom around the Chamber this evening. I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part. They have rightly emphasised the importance of a development system that is properly plan led. I greatly appreciate that.
If the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester has declared his passion for housing for older people, I should probably declare that mine is localism, devolution and community engagement. So I want to be optimistic about this Bill, but in these crucial aspects of planning I genuinely feel that it is going in the wrong direction.
I should probably give a brief confession that I am very bruised by experiences I have had relating to the planning system. Our Stevenage local plan, after some two and a half years of public engagement and consultation, a public inquiry which was extended to three weeks, which is quite unusual for a district local plan, and the approval of the inspector, was then called in by our local Member of Parliament and held by the Secretary of State for 451 days while we waited for a determination to be made about whether it could go ahead. It was eventually released under certain conditions, which I will not try noble Lords’ patience by going into. So the thought of this kind of centralising tendency in planning in the way proposed in the Bill makes me exceptionally nervous. I hope that explains a little bit why.
It was, as ever, a pleasure to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Young. I respect his great knowledge and expertise in these areas. It is very concerning that only 39% of local authorities have a local plan. One reason for that is that, if you do not have a local plan in place, developers can pitch up and do virtually whatever they want in your area because you cannot resist it. That is not the whole case because you can use an extant plan, but it is much more difficult to resist unwanted development. I completely support his points on stream- lining and simplifying the process.
The noble Lord, Lord Young, also spoke about incentivising local authorities to get on with their plan-making and having some kind of enforcement in place for those which do not. I think that is important. He pointed out the loophole around local authorities being able to update their plan without reverting to consultation processes. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, raised this as well. It is an important loophole that we could take the opportunity of this Bill to close.
The noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Young, raised issues about the extraordinary delay in the appointment of the task force in relation to older people’s housing. I hope that the Minister can give us some answers on that; if not here, then perhaps we can have a written response about the reasons for that delay. There are big issues around housing stock developed for people who need to move into supported or sheltered housing or specially adapted housing.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to the relationship between local plans and the NDMP and to what the extent the policies in the NPPF will be moved over into the NDMP remit. I am concerned about that as well. It is not clear enough in the Bill how that relationship is going to work. There are flaws in the system of the NPPF in any case, and the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to an inspector saying that this is outside their remit. If it is not in the inspectors’ remit, I do not know whose remit it is in. That reflects my comments that there may need to be consideration of the operation and resourcing of the Planning Inspectorate anyway as a result of this Bill. We should not leave that out of our considerations.
On Amendment 185, which would remove “strongly” from new subsection (5B), the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to the Government’s intention to restrict decisions other than those in accordance with the plan and said that that diminishes the role of the planning committee and increases the possibility of litigation. I absolutely agree. It is a great concern. Can the Minister shed any light on why “strongly” has been introduced in that clause? Again, if it is not possible to do that now, we will happily take an answer in writing.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, echoed our concerns about the centralising elements of the Bill, particularly in relation to Clause 87, which defines the NDMP. I support those comments. It is our major concern. Probably one of the major concerns about the Bill overall is this centralising proposal.
I support Amendment 221, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Best, on older people’s housing, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. I would probably want to consider that that reflected a slightly wider group of housing. We have developed specific housing for people with learning disabilities. The people who go into that special type of housing support each other and are able to be supported better in that housing, and people with physical disabilities might also benefit from that type of housing. It might be worth thinking about widening that a bit as well when we get to later amendments. I am very grateful for the comments on that. As was said in that part of the debate, developers will always focus on the profitable side of housing, so we need to think about how we incentivise that type of building. There is a great role for social housing here, and I am sure we will have wider discussions about social housing as the Bill progresses.
I just want to comment on the points the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, made. I spoke extensively on the inclusion of environmental provisions in the second group of amendments and I did not want to try the patience of the Committee by repeating myself. That is why I perhaps did not cover that in enough detail in this group, but of course we believe it is a great omission for the Bill not to have it firmly embedded in statute. We must look at the very key issues around climate change and the environment on the face of the Bill.
I hope I have given a good summary of what noble Lords have said. It has been a very interesting debate and we retain our concerns about the centralising tendency of this planning section of the Bill. I hope the Minister has heard the strength of feeling in the Committee on these matters and I look forward to hearing her comments.
My Lords, this might take a little bit of time. It was quite an in-depth and complicated group of amendments. I want to try and give it as much time as I can. I will go through Hansard, but if I miss anything out, I ask noble Lords to come back to me and I will make sure they get a Written Answer as soon as possible.
I want to start where the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, started: why are we having a national development management policy in legislation? Why are we having this change? The case is fivefold. First, it will do what a number of noble Lords have said that it will not do—it will do completely the opposite. It will help local authorities produce swifter, slimmer plans by removing the need to set out generic issues of national importance. It will make those plans more locally relevant and easier for communities and other users to digest and to get involved in developing, through consultation and communications with local communities.
It will be easier for applicants to align their proposals with national and local policy requirements and, where they wish, to go beyond them. We expect that this will be particularly valuable for SMEs. It will provide greater assurances that important policy safeguards which apply nationally or to significant parts of England, such as protections for areas at risk of flooding, policy on climate change and policy to protect the green belt, will be upheld in statutory weight and applied quickly across the country, including when any changes are made. It will mean that this framework of common national policies can guide decisions, even if the local plan is significantly out of date and cannot be relied on. For example, where there is no up-to-date local plan, it will ensure that the national protections for things safeguarded solely through the planning policy—local wildlife sites, for example—have clear statutory status equivalent to an up-to-date plan. I hope that gives some context for what I am going to go through in relation to the amendments.
Amendment 183 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, seeks to require local authorities to review and update their development plan at least every five years. I reassure noble Lords that we recognise that if local plans are to be effective, they must be kept up to date. Currently, plans must be reviewed to assess whether they need updating at least once every five years and should then be updated as and when necessary. The Government made it clear in the policy paper published alongside the Bill introduction in May 2022 that we intend to require through regulation that authorities commence an update of their local plan every five years. They do not consider it; they do it. Although I fully understand the spirit of the amendment, these procedural matters have traditionally been addressed via regulations and it is our intention to maintain this approach. Consequently, we cannot support this amendment.
The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, mentioned the right to be heard, or not heard, in an inquiry. No right of appearance at an examination applies only to the strategic-level spatial development strategies. This is already a well-established practice and the only spatial development strategy that exists at the moment is the London plan. That one is very specific.
I turn to my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham’s Amendments 184A and 187B, which aim to ensure that decisions on planning applications are taken in line with an up-to-date plan, which is defined as one less than five years old. As previously mentioned, we know that, for local plans to be effective, they must be kept up to date. Currently, plans must be reviewed to assess whether they need updating every five years, and they should then be updated as necessary. As I said, we will replace the current review requirement, which is a source of confusion and argument, with a new, clearer requirement in regulation for authorities to commence an update of their local plan every five years. However, it is important that we do not create in law a cliff edge that forces important aspects of plans to be out of date for decision-making purposes just because they are more than five years old. This would, for example, very considerably weaken green-belt protections.
I make it clear to noble Lords that we are retaining the current provision that gives precedence to the most up-to-date development plan policy, should conflicts occur. For example, where the local plan is out of date but a more recently approved neighbourhood plan is in place, the latter would take precedence, which I think is good. I fully understand the intention behind these amendments—they would certainly focus authorities’ minds on plan-making—but I believe that our legislation and policy provisions for keeping plans up to date strike a better balance. As a result, we do not feel we can support these amendments.
My noble friend Lord Young of Cookham also asked what happens if a local authority does not produce a local plan. The Bill retains and updates local plan intervention powers, which have been an important safety net to enable the Secretary of State to take action in certain circumstances in order to ensure that communities can benefit from a plan-led approach to growth.
My noble friends Lord Lansley and Lord Young of Cookham asked about local plans and whether government reforms would close what was referred to as a “loophole”. We intend to introduce this requirement for local authorities to commence the update of their local plans at least every five years, which will close that loophole in the future.
The question from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, on the important issue of the five-year housing supply, probably relates to this group. To incentivise plan production further and ensure that newly produced plans are not undermined, we have made clear our intention to remove the requirements for local authorities to maintain a rolling five-year supply of deliverable land for housing where their plan is up to date—that is, adopted within the past five years. So, carrot and stick.
I move now to noble friend Lord Lansley’s Amendment 185, which tests the Government’s rationale for inserting “strongly” into the new decision-making test for planning applications. This is an important reform that seeks to provide greater certainty in decision-making, so I welcome the opportunity to explain our logic behind the change. Clause 86 reforms decision-making to strengthen the role of the development plan in practice. This includes strategic plans such as the London plan, as well as local plans and neighbourhood plans. Planning application decisions would be able to depart from the development plan and any national development management policies only where
“material considerations strongly indicate otherwise”.
It would no longer be enough for those other considerations merely to “indicate” otherwise.
Simply put, this will support the plan-led system by making it harder for planning decisions not to accord with the development plan and the national development management policies. The bar for developers will be higher if they wish to argue at appeal that their proposals should still gain planning permission even though they do not accord with the development plan and the relevant national development management policies. As a result, the changes are likely to reduce the number of planning appeals that local authorities face and the number of unanticipated developments that communities face on their doorsteps.
I appreciate that there may be concerns that the change could give a greater weight to plan policies which are no longer up to date, but, in these cases, the introduction of the national development management policies provides an important safeguard, as they will ensure that important policy principles, such as the green belt or heritage protection, are recognised and given statutory weight. We do not believe that resiling from this reform would be appropriate, and therefore the amendment is not an amendment that we can support.
The noble Lords, Lord Stunell and Lord Lansley, asked where NPPFs stand in relation to NDMPs. The NPPF will be retained to guide plan-making, but those parts which relate to decision-making will form the basis of the new suite of NDMPs, which will be given statutory weight by the Bill. They will be coming in as we are consulting. As the consultation comes to the fore, it will guide the NDMPs for the future. I hope that that makes sense.
I am sorry; I do not want to try the Minister’s patience, but we are not understanding how the various things sit together—the NPPF and the NDMPs. It is not quite clear to me how that will work, and it will make life very difficult for planning inspectors. We have talked before about a meeting to explain some of this in more detail, and that would be extremely helpful to those of us who are considering the Bill closely. If we could get a better understanding of that, it would be very helpful.
I am really happy to do that, because it is complex; there are a lot of acronyms and what have you. I do not think that this is the time of night to be discussing detail, so I am happy to put together a meeting as soon as possible, and we will go through it in detail.
I turn now to Amendment 189, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, which would allow Parliament to make national development management policies itself. Like national planning policy made at present through the National Planning Policy Framework, national development management policies will serve a broad purpose and will sit alongside policies in locally produced plans as a starting point in considering the suitability of development proposals. They will carry forward the role that successive Governments have played since the 1940s in setting high-level national policy that influences plans and decisions. This is a key function of government, which would be undermined by the creation of a dual-power system, as this amendment seeks to do. An effective planning system cannot be achieved if Ministers and Parliament could create contradictory policies by both having the vires to do so. Such a role for Parliament in planning has not been previously proposed, and I am afraid that it is not one that we can support.
Amendment 190, also in the name of the noble Baroness, would impose a legislative restriction on setting fixed standards through national development management policies, while retaining an ability for those policies to set floors which could be exceeded. Unlike building regulations, national planning policies are not used to set specific standards in most cases. Nevertheless, I understand the concern behind the amendment: that national development could, potentially, be used to constrain what locally produced plans are able to do.
The question about how national development management policies are to be used is one that we have consulted on recently. Through that, we were clear that our intention is that they will address planning considerations that apply regularly in decision-making across the country, such as general policies for conserving heritage assets and preventing inappropriate development, including on belts and in areas of high flood risk—the types of policy already contained in the National Planning Policy Framework. Our consultation also said that we were minded to retain the scope for optional technical standards to be set locally through plans so that local planning authorities can go above minimum building standards. The responses to the consultation are being assessed at present, as noble Lords know.
More broadly, it is important that we do not impose restrictions on the national development management policies, which could prevent sensible use of them. It may be appropriate to set absolute standards in one or two instances for reasons of consistency or to prevent harm—for example, in relation to pollution limits. This is best addressed through policy on a case-by-case basis rather than blanket restrictions in legislation. For these reasons, we do not think it necessary or appropriate to impose specific requirements or limitations of the sort that this amendment would entail, so I hope the noble Baroness will understand that we are not able to support it.
I move to Amendment 191, which seeks to probe the direction and modification powers of the Secretary of State to revoke and modify national development management policies. The power to revoke and modify the policies is bound by the same requirements as those to make them, including those on consultation. We recognise that, once the first suite of those policies is published, there must also be a clear legal framework for modifying and revoking them. Like the National Planning Policy Framework, national development management policies will need to evolve over time, reflecting new government priorities and changing economic, social and environmental challenges, as well as trends in planning practice. That is why the Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to revoke and modify these policies; without this power, they would become too rigid and potentially ineffective.
However, I would like to reassure noble Lords that the power to revoke and modify the policies will not be used lightly. It is not a mechanism to remove long-standing national planning policies, such as protecting the green belt or tackling flood risk. We want to see consultation, engagement and debate across the sector about potential changes to the policies, in the same way as happens now with the National Planning Policy Framework. Given that any revocation and modification must follow the same procedural requirements as the creation of the new national development management policies, we feel that this amendment is unnecessary and, therefore, not one we can support.
I turn to Amendments 191A and 191B in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornhill, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Taylor of Stevenage, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, which seek to change the requirements for making national development management policies so that they more clearly mirror those for national policy statements. National policy statements are used to set out the policy for nationally significant infrastructure projects—planning decisions that are made by Ministers. National development management policies will serve a broader purpose than this and will sit alongside policies in locally produced plans when local decision-makers consider the suitability of development proposals. As previously mentioned, they will carry forward the role that successive Governments have played since the 1940s in setting high-level national policy that influences plans and decisions.
Clause 87 already imposes an obligation on the Secretary of State to ensure that consultation and participation take place as appropriate, and our recent consultation on the future of the NPPF and the NDMP confirms that public consultation will be carried out before they are designated.
The requirements in this Bill set out that the Secretary of State must explicitly consider public consultation when determining what consultation is appropriate. This is similar to the approach for national policy statements, which also require consultation as the Secretary of State thinks appropriate, although they do not include explicit consideration of “public” consultation as in the existing clause.
I acknowledge that the existing clause uses the phrase “if any” in relation to consultation. It includes this as there may be rare occasions where it would be appropriate not to consult on a draft national development management policy, such as if urgent changes are needed in the national interest. For example, during the pandemic, the Secretary of State was able to issue an urgent Written Ministerial Statement in July 2020 to temporarily change national planning policy so that theatres, concert halls and live music performance venues could be given a degree of protection where they were temporarily vacant due to Covid-19 business disruption.
The changes that we discussed earlier to the decision-making test in Clause 86, which strengthen the weight given to the development plan over material considerations, mean that such a policy would have had significantly less weight in planning decisions today, unless it was made a national development management policy.
I hope I have reassured noble Lords that we have developed a proportionate framework for creating national development management policies, and explained why we have taken a different approach from that for national policy statements, meaning that we do not feel able to accept this amendment.
Amendment 196, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would require the Secretary of State to publish a strategy for public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny of national development management policies within 120 days of the Bill’s passage. As I have set out, the Bill makes appropriate provision for consultation, which is reinforced by the clear commitment in our recent consultation that we will consult on these policies. Against this backdrop, we believe that a legal obligation to publish a strategy for consultation is unnecessary, and so this is an amendment that we feel unable to support.
I turn next to Amendment 194, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, which would require the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to publish annual reports reflecting the cost of producing and maintaining national development management policies and any support given to local planning authorities. I reassure the noble Baroness that national development management policies will not create a new financial burden for local planning authorities or central government. The cost of producing national development management policies as a function of the Secretary of State will fall to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. We expect that the cost of preparing and maintaining national development management policies—in Civil Service resource and specialist expertise—will be similar to that for producing and maintaining the National Planning Policy Framework. We will also ensure that the Planning Advisory Service, which my department funds, provides local planning authorities with training and support to help manage the practical transition to using national development management policies when they are making decisions.
Against these upfront costs, local planning authorities will financially benefit from national development management policies, as they will not need to develop or justify these policies themselves when their plans are examined by the Planning Inspectorate. As our impact assessment makes clear, national development management policies will provide greater certainty to developers and communities, potentially providing significant savings for businesses. Our impact assessment estimates that the benefits of increasing certainty in the planning system due to the measures in the Bill will be just over £2.8 billion over a 10-year appraisal period. For the reasons that I have set out, while I thank the noble Baroness for her amendment, it is not one that I am able to support.
Amendment 216, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, and Amendment 220, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would remove the requirement for local plans to be consistent with national development management policies and prevent such a requirement in regulations. These amendments would fundamentally diminish the ability of our reforms to make local plans easier to prepare and to create more certainty for applicants, communities and local planning authorities. Through the Bill we are strengthening the role of the development plan in decision-making by changing Section 38 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 so that planning applications must be decided in accordance with the development plan and the national development management policies unless material considerations strongly indicate otherwise.
National development management policies will provide greater certainty for planning decisions and strengthen the legal position of important national policies, removing the need for them to be repeated in local plans. This will improve outcomes for communities, helping to restore trust in the planning system. Removing the need for local plans to be consistent with national development management policies would hinder effective operation of the amended decision-making test. If decisions are to be made in accordance with both the development plan and national development management policies but plans do not need to be consistent with these policies then this would increase the likelihood of conflicts between them emerging and generate uncertainty for everyone involved. It would also increase the risk of unnecessary duplication between plan policies and national policies, with the accompanying risks of making plans bigger, harder to digest and slower to produce.
Therefore, while I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Taylor and Lady Hayman, for their amendments, I hope I have explained why we believe the current requirement for local development plans to be consistent with national development management policies is needed to achieve some of our key aims for planning reform. That is why we do not support these amendments.
I hope my noble friend will forgive me for interrupting. I understand the point she is making about Amendment 216, and why she is resisting removing the idea that local plans must not be inconsistent with national development management policies, but it also says, “or (in substance) repeat”.
I am trying to understand. Let us take the chapter in the NPPF on green belt. The first part is about plan-making for the green belt, and the second part is about proposals coming forward within green belt land and the criteria that should be applied as to whether or not an application would be accepted. On that latter part, is my noble friend saying that the local plan cannot repeat that—that it must therefore refer to it but not repeat it? Is that the point she is making?
The whole idea of moving national policies away from local policies is that we do not have to repeat them. I will reflect on what my noble friend says about how it is referred if an area has a particular issue with something such as the green belt and come back to him, because I think he has a point.
Amendment 221, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, seeks to require older people’s housing needs assessments to be included in the evidence for local plans and would require local authorities to consider the needs for older people’s housing when preparing such plans. While I entirely understand the sentiment behind this amendment, the proposed approach is not needed. National policy already sets strong expectations, and we recently consulted on strengthening this further. The existing National Planning Policy Framework makes clear that the size, type and tenure of housing needed for different groups in the community, including older people, should be assessed and reflected in planning policies. In 2019, we also published guidance to help local authorities implement the policies that can deliver on this expectation.
I also make it clear to noble Lords that, to further improve the diversity of housing options available to older people and to boost the supply of specialist elderly accommodation, we have proposed to strengthen the existing policy by adding a specific expectation that, when ensuring the needs of older people are met, particular regard is given to retirement housing, housing with care and care homes. We know these are important types of housing that can help support our ageing population.
Furthermore, there is already a provision in the Bill that sets out that the Secretary of State must issue guidance for local planning authorities on how their local plan and any supplementary plans, taken as a whole, should address housing needs that result from old age or disability. These are strong legislative and policy safeguards which should ensure that the needs of older people are taken fully into account. For that reason, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Best, will understand why we do not support this amendment.
I note that there is a question from my noble friend Lord Young and the noble Lord, Lord Best, on the task force. I will go back to the department and ask for an update. I can assure noble Lords that I will give them one in the next couple of days—certainly before Recess or Report.
I hope I have said enough to enable the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, to withdraw her Amendment 183 and for the other amendments in this group not to be moved when reached.