Amendment 198

Part of Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (8th Day) – in the House of Lords at 10:30 pm on 27 March 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 10:30, 27 March 2023

My Lords, once again I thank noble Lords for a very interesting debate on very important aspects of the Bill. I am grateful to the Minister for her detailed response on all the amendments that have been discussed in the debate.

I will address the key themes coming out of the debate, starting with my first amendment in this group on deliberative democracy. I was very grateful for the comments on this from the noble Lord, Lord Young. Like him, I was a bit of a convert to this; I was a bit sceptical about it when I first heard about it. However, the intention of deliberative democracy is to complement and support the work of decision-makers, not to take it over, and it can provide a very useful technique. Now that we have all been through Covid and we all know how to use things such as Teams and Zoom, it can be greatly assisted and facilitated by digital engagement as well. So it is a good technique for developing a wider picture and for engaging our citizens in the important aspects of planning.

On the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, on this subject, from my understanding of how deliberative democracy works, it does not matter what size your authority is, because you would engage a representative group and there are plenty of places where you can go to get help to draw together your representative group. There is nothing in deliberative democracy that excludes the contribution of parish councils; they have their own methods of communicating and engaging with the planning process. While I accept there are a variety of techniques to engage local citizens in the planning process, I think that it will be important for us all to consider how we will refresh and review not just the ability for people to get involved but the methods we use to engage them. We all know that there are flaws at the moment in the way we try to engage people, and anything that can help to improve that would be useful.

The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to having a legislative structure which should underpin what is in the guidance, and we would certainly support that. All the way through our discussions on the Bill, we have seen that there are not always clear links. We are told that one aspect is in guidance and that another aspect will be in the Bill, but the links between the two are not always as clear as they should be. We should be using the process of the Bill in Committee to help to resolve some of those issues where it is not as clear as it should be. I think that a clear distinction between policies which are strategic and not strategic will be quite important for those people tasked with delivering the plans going forward, so I hope that some thought might be given to that.

We had some comments on the need for certainty and clarity on the local plan in response to my noble friend Lady Hayman’s amendment on the possibility of amending after local elections. There were some fair points made there, and we will go back and look again at aspects of the Bill that enable local authorities to review parts of their plan. Although we do not want to overturn the plan every time there is an election, it will be important that people can look at things. As the picture changes in a local area, it may be necessary to undertake reviews for that reason, not just because there has been an election. I think we need to have another look at that as the Bill goes forward.

It really rang a bell with me when the noble Lord, Lord Young, talked about the need to boost the supply of homes. We have further groups of amendments that cover that topic. He referred to not weakening or removing levers for housing. Those of us who have been trying to deliver more housing over the last few years feel as though sometimes we have had our hands tied behind our backs on housing delivery and that that has gone on for too long.

We must be ambitious and work on delivering the housing we need, but the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is quite right to say that growth must incorporatethe issues that we have discussed many times in your Lordships’ House on the environment, sustainable employment and sustainable housing growth. However, that makes planning more important, not less. Communities should be planned, not just the delivery of housing. After the Second World War, at a time when more than 100,000 homes a year were being built, there was still time set aside for master-planning and building for communities, not just delivering housing in dormitories. I suggest that deliberative democracy might play a part in that process.

The other aspect that was discussed extensively in this short debate was environmental outcome reports. I hear the Minister’s words of reassurance around how they might be incorporated in the planning process, but I think we would want to go through some of the other discussions around climate change to make sure we understand how that works. The Minister described the plans as an alphabet soup, which is probably a good description. We heard her talking about neighbourhood priority statements. This aspect of the Bill is another layer of planning that sits in this new hierarchy. It is difficult to understand from what is in the Bill exactly where it sits, so we look forward to the round table that will help clarify some of these issues. As for neighbourhood priority statements, it saysthat any of the authorities involved can make these neighbourhood priority statements, but it is not clear exactly how that works.

This has been a good debate on these very important planning issues. As I said, I am very grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions, and I am sure that some of the issues we raised will come up again in future debates. That said, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 198 withdrawn.

Schedule 7: Plan making

Amendments 198A to 200A not moved.

House resumed.