Amendment 198

Part of Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (8th Day) – in the House of Lords at 10:15 pm on 27 March 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 10:15, 27 March 2023

My Lords, this group of amendments addresses local plans: the critical planning documents that local planning authorities prepare with their communities to plan for sustainable growth.

Amendment 198, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, would require deliberative democracy forums to be involved in the early stages of plan-making. Yes, I have seen this work, and very successfully, but there are other ways of doing it as well so I do not think we would want to be too prescriptive. However, I thank the noble Baroness for this amendment because it provides me with the opportunity to talk about community engagement.

The English planning system already gives communities a key role so that they can take an active part in shaping their areas and, in so doing, build local pride and belonging. We are not changing this; in fact, we are strengthening it through the Bill. Communities must be consulted on local plans and on individual planning applications. However, we know that current levels of engagement can sometimes fall below our ambitions. That is why, through the Bill, we will be increasing opportunities for communities to get involved in planning for their area to ensure that development is brought forward in a way that works best for local people.

As I mentioned earlier, the Bill reforms the process for producing a local plan so that it is simpler, faster and easier for communities to engage with. A number of measures in the Bill will create wholly new opportunities for people to engage with planning in their communities. Neighbourhood priorities statements will make it easier and quicker for local communities to set out the priorities for their area. Similarly, mandatory design codes will ensure that communities will be directly involved in making rules on how they want the new developments in their area to look and feel.

Measures to digitise the planning system will also transform the way that information about plans, planning applications and the evidence underpinning them is made available. We have funded 45 pilots, including in councils that have some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country, to demonstrate how digital approaches to engagement can make the planning system more accountable, democratic and inclusive. We have also committed to producing new guidance on community, which will show the different ways in which communities and industry can get involved and highlight best practice, including the opportunity that digital technology offers.

I hope that I have made clear the work that we are already doing to drive forward progress in improving community engagement. With regard to the three pilots from DCMS, I will undertake to ask that department where they are and what they intend to do with them, including discussing them with the LGA. I will come back to the noble Lord when I have an answer.

On Amendments 209 and 211 in the names of my noble friends Lord Lansley and Lord Young of Cookham—I keep thinking that we are getting to the 2000s of these because we have been going so long—the Government want the planning system to be truly plan-led, to give communities more certainty that the right homes will be built in the right places. To achieve that, plans will be given more weight in decision-making. They will be faster to produce and easier to navigate and understand. We expect that future local plans should continue to provide a positive vision for the future of each area, and policies to deliver that vision. However, as was remarked in the other place, currently communities and applicants can face an alphabet soup of planning documents and terms, leaving all but the most seasoned planning professionals confused; so the Bill introduces a simple requirement for authorities to prepare a single local plan for their area, and provides clear requirements on what future local plans must, and may, include. Authorities may wish to include strategic priorities and policies in future local plans. There is nothing in the Bill to stop them.

There was quite a discussion provided by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham on homes, and also the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, on things such as build-out. I have looked forward, and these issues will be discussed in much more detail in future debates, so if those noble Lords do not mind if I do not answer them today, I might answer them on Thursday. Perhaps we could wait for the relevant groups of amendments on those two things.

On the specific subject of local plan polices to deliver sustainable economic growth, I make it clear that we are retaining the current legal requirement at Section 39 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 for authorities to prepare plans with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development.

I turn to Amendment 212, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. This amendment would amend Schedule 7 to the Bill to allow a local planning authority—