Amendment 198

Part of Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (8th Day) – in the House of Lords at 10:00 pm on 27 March 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Communities and Local Government) 10:00, 27 March 2023

It is with trepidation that I follow the last two speakers, the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Fox. I will say just one small thing about the green belt. The green belt, as part of local plan making, is reviewed and, as appropriate, areas are taken out of the green belt for housebuilding and development. That is what happens. It happens at the right time and place when there is proper public consultation.

I start with Amendment 198 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. I have lots of sympathy with the idea of deliberative democracy. It is always worth exploring new ways of engaging with local people, involving them in developing ideas and understanding about what is going on, and helping to inform decisions before decision-makers finalise plans. I am concerned that the plan the noble Baroness lays out in Amendment 198 will probably work okay in a district council, but in an area such as the one where I am a councillor, for 450,000 residents, it becomes more challenging.

One of the elements the noble Baroness omitted in her amendment is the idea of using town and parish councils more fully to engage in local plan making at district council level. First, they are accountable. I think the noble Lord, Lord Young, said he had thought about it and thought perhaps that was not so important, but I am not sure. If there is a decisive view from an unaccountable group, and it is controversial, that could make it difficult for the participants in the deliberative democracy and for the decision-makers. Having said that, the idea of getting more engagement with local people is a very positive one. I know that when my council made its up-to-date local plan, I think there were three—it could have been four—rounds of public consultation. Every household had a document to look at: a summarised version through which they could access the full version.

On Amendment 223, I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, that I am not going through the pain of making a local plan and agreeing it, only for a new council to rip it up and start all over again. Those decisions are politically hard decisions to make. Whichever council is in control at the time has to make those decisions and live by them. So I am afraid I do not support that amendment.

I agree with Amendment 211, from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that plans must recognise strategic policies and promote economic growth.

That brings me to Amendment 209, where the noble Lord, Lord Young, talks about housing numbers. One million homes currently have planning consent, and 1 million homes are not being built by developers. They are not being built because it is not, at this moment, profitable for them to do so. Sometimes, a little cabal works in a neighbourhood—I have experience of this—where planning consent is given to two or three fairly large sites, and they make an agreement about phasing, so not too many houses go on the market at the same time. There is more to this than just dictating numbers.

I would like to ensure—and I think I have seen this somewhere; maybe the Minister will remind me—that developers build out within a short period of time after getting consent. I know they have to put a stake in the ground or something after three years, but I think actually building it out is important. With one of the planning consents that has just been given in my ward, they are planning to build out in 10 years. It is not surprising that development is not occurring as fast as we would like. These 300 homes are going to take 10 years to build because it is very profitable to do it that way. There are questions of that nature that we need to address as well.

The only other point I would make about housing numbers is that we all ought to be concerned that there are too many people in this country who do not have access to a home that they can afford, or sometimes a home at all. We ought to think more about not just the numbers but the types of homes that we want to build. In last Wednesday’s debate, the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Young, had an amendment talking about homes for older people. I totally supported the amendment that we debated then but, equally, we need to consider having many more homes for social rent. Unless we do that and are able to determine what house types are wanted, all this country will get is more and more four-bed exec homes that are unaffordable to many local people—and certainly to those who need social rented accommodation.

Of course, I agree with the general thrust of what the noble Lord, Lord Young, said. With those comments, I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response.