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

No, I am saying that we have not made that decision yet, but this is as it is in this part of the Bill.

Amendment 212, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, would amend Schedule 7 to the Bill to allow local planning authorities to use their local plan to amend the details of existing outline planning permissions, so that they are in accordance with the adopted local plan. Our planning reforms seek to ensure that plans, produced following consultation with local communities, have a greater influence over individual planning decisions to ensure that development reflects what those local communities want. In particular, our new decision-making framework under Clause 86 will deliver to a more plan-led system, providing greater certainty for these communities.

Enabling local plans to effectively revise existing outline planning permissions, even where development has already started, undermines this certainty. It also runs counter to the long-standing position that the grant of planning permission is a development right that also provides the certainty that developers need to raise finance and implement the permission. I fear that small and medium-sized builders would be especially impacted by such a change and would face significant wasted costs and delays at a time when we need to support them.

Local planning authorities already have powers to revoke or modify existing planning permissions under Section 97 of the Town and Country Planning Act. However, importantly, these powers cannot affect works previously carried out. They also require the local planning authority to pay compensation in respect of that expenditure, loss or damage, and they should therefore be considered a last resort.

Furthermore, as developers often seek, in practice, to amend outline planning permissions, local planning authorities already have the opportunity to take account of new local plan policies when considering Section 73 applications to vary planning conditions. This will also be the case under our new route to make minor variations to planning permissions, as set out in Clause 102.

Amendment 219 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, seeks to require local planning authorities to have regard to environmental outcomes reports in preparing local plans. The Government are clear that environmental outcomes reports will be an integral part of the new local plan-making process. Clauses 139 and 140 include the powers to define which plans will require environmental assessment and how such assessments should be considered. This will include local plans.

Our commitment to the non-regression of environmental protections in Clause 142 makes clear that any process of environmental assessment that replaces strategic environmental assessment would require the local planning authority to produce an environmental outcomes report as part of its plan preparation process. The environmental outcomes report process will ensure that environmental outcomes are taken into account as local plans are developed, and it will ensure that environmental considerations are an integral part of decision-making when preparing and examining plans. Thus although I agree with the intention behind the amendment, the Bill already provides for this, so we cannot accept it.

Amendment 223 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, would allow newly elected councils to amend local plans following an election. New Section 15GA in Schedule 7 to the Bill already provides the ability for a local planning authority to revise its plan at any time once it has come into force, irrespective of whether the authority has recently changed political control. For some authorities, rewriting plans on the basis of election results could lead to updating three times every four years. Our reforms will provide welcome predictability to local plan-making processes, with a requirement for the plans to be prepared within 30 months and for them to be updated every five years. That is the right balance.

I turn to Amendments 224 and 239 tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Taylor of Stevenage. As I mentioned, it is vital that communities are given every opportunity to have their say on draft local plans and supplementary plans. The English planning system already gives communities a key role, so that they can take an active part in shaping their areas and, in doing so, build local pride and belonging. We do not seek to challenge that; in fact, we are strengthening it through the Bill.

I provide reassurance that, if the Secretary of State or a local plan commissioner, were to take over plan preparation by using the intervention powers in new Section 15HA in Schedule 7, the plan would need to undergo public consultation just like any other plan. Like other procedural requirements, this will be set out through secondary legislation, using the powers set out elsewhere in the Bill.

Amendments 237 and 238, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Taylor of Stevenage, respectively, would enable plan-making authorities to require private bodies to assist in relation to the preparation or revision of a relevant plan. The Government support giving local authorities the full range of powers necessary to prepare robust plans. I offer reassurance that this is our intention and that the power, as drafted, will apply to those private sector bodies which authorities are likely to need to involve in plan making.

Subsection (6) of new Section 39A of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 sets parameters for prescribing bodies. It requires them to have

“functions … of a public nature”.

That might include, for example, utilities companies, which are privately owned but serve an important public function and should be proactively involved in plan-making processes. The clause does not exclude relevant private bodies where they are involved in public provision. These amendments could potentially extend that requirement to private individuals, voluntary groups and unrelated businesses, which may be disproportionate and where they do not have public functions that are likely to be relevant to plan making.

With those explanations, I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, to withdraw her amendment and other noble Lords not to move theirs.