Amendment 196A

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (8th Day) – in the House of Lords at 8:35 pm on 27 March 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage:

Moved by Baroness Taylor of Stevenage

196A: Clause 88, page 95, line 24, leave out “are” and insert “the Mayor considers to be”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment is intended to remove ambiguity about whose opinion is relevant in relation to whether or not a matter is of strategic importance to more than one London borough.

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)

My Lords, my Amendments 196A, 197 and 197A relate to implications from clauses in the Bill that impact specifically on London. The devolution proposals are, perhaps understandably, focused on areas outside London, with an emphasis on mayoral authorities, and do not always recognise the unique governance arrangements within London. London councils continue to make the case for further devolution to London and that boroughs should have a central role in this alongside the mayor.

Amendment 196A would clarify the ambiguity in the current wording of the Bill regarding the spatial development strategy for the development and use of land in Greater London. Policies that the mayor considers to be of strategic importance are included in that statement.

Amendment 197 would ensure that there are no unintended consequences of precluding policies that may apply to other urban areas or are not specific to Greater London uniquely.

Amendment 197A refers again to an issue that we discussed extensively last week. We were very clean to clarify it, but I am not sure we did to any great extent. It would remove the words that specifically preclude any clause from the NDMP being put into the spatial development strategy. In the case of London, as elsewhere, the Bill is saying that the strategy must neither be inconsistent with nor repeat anything in the NDMP. Surely all development plans will necessarily set out how they are using the NDMP and adapting it for their local context. In some cases, this may mean repeating what is in the NDMP.

My next amendment in this group, Amendment 199, would remove the restriction in Schedule 7 that a combined authority may not prepare a joint spatial development strategy. Combined authorities set up under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 may have established working arrangements that could well be used to work constructively towards developing joint spatial development strategies. I am interested to hear the Minister’s view about why they should be explicitly excluded from doing so in this clause.

I am interested to hear the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, in relation to her Amendments 198A and 198B, but to confer powers to develop spatial development strategies on county councils would be yet another major change to the current planning system. Combined authorities will already have authorities within them that have planning powers. County councils, as the system stands, have powers only over mineral and waste plans. Is it the noble Baroness’s intention that we should also have this major restructuring of the planning system in two-tier areas?

Amendment 200 from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, would include a permissive clause to enable the joint spatial strategy to include strategic employment sites. This goes over and above the more general provision in Schedule 7 for new Section 15AA(2)(c), which is a general power to promote or improve economic well-being in the area. This seems a very sensible inclusion for the Bill.

Similarly, my noble friend Lady Hayman’s Amendment 200A is a permissive amendment to Schedule 7 to allow the inclusion of specific sites for health and social care purposes—including, importantly, palliative care services—in joint spatial strategies.

The amendments by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, point to the need for those preparing joint spatial strategies to identify sites for vital infrastructure needed to support development at an early stage in strategic planning. This helps communities that are engaged in considering developments to be reassured that the infrastructure has been considered in detail and gives certainty, in the case of employment sites, to investors, and, in the case of health and social care sites, to both public and private providers, that their needs are being fully considered.

Amendments 202 to 204, my next three in this group, refer to the sub-paragraphs in Schedule 7 on consultation and engagement with all those who may have an interest in the plan. Amendment 202 is designed as a catch-all to ensure that all community groups are considered. The current provision refers to voluntary bodies; groups representing racial, ethnic or national groups or religious groups; and business organisations. Every area is different and has its own network of community organisations, so this would make sure that every relevant group is included.

Amendment 203 is very important. It removes the inexplicable sub-paragraph in the Bill that states:

“No person is to have a right to be heard at an examination in public.”

The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 contains specific provisions relating to when representations may be disregarded, but it seems a singularly swingeing provision for the Bill to suggest that no one has a right to be heard. I suspect that the intention is that the emphasis is on “right” rather than “no one”, but, at a time when we are trying to encourage more engagement of the public in planning and democracy generally, the wording here is particularly off-putting.

One of the huge issues that councils face is that the public often do not engage with the planning process at all until an application that immediately affects them is submitted. We should be encouraging more public engagement at a time when, for example, sites and land uses are being designated, so that the public feel that they have been able to contribute their local knowledge and views. I have another amendment in a later group on this. Will the Minister reflect on this wording?

People should absolutely have a right to be heard at an examination in public. For that reason, we have included Amendment 204, which adds an additional subsection to proposed new Clause 15AC, after proposed new subsection (7). At the moment, it states that only

“participating authorities, and … any person invited to do so by the person conducting the examination in public” may attend. We believe that this should be amended so that people who have made representations to the inquiry in public and wish to attend should be able to. We appreciate that consideration may have to be given so that the examiner can decide not to hear representations, for example where they are not legitimate planning matters or are vexatious. In those cases, the individual should be informed of the reasons why they are not invited to appear.

Amendment 205, from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, sets out a new provision in the Bill to ensure that all relevant authorities in a travel to work area of a joint spatial development strategy are engaged in the preparation of the strategy. It has been a feature of planning in recent years that, increasingly, travel to work areas are a key consideration of the planning process. Indeed, as far back as 2014, in a letter addressed to the Planning Inspectorate, the then Minister for Housing and Planning, Brandon Lewis, urged that local plans take account of travel to work areas for their strategic housing market assessments. As borders between authorities become more fluid due to their economic profile, housing markets, transport and infrastructure; because the factors associated with climate change mitigation cannot operate within tight boundaries; and because of the strategic nature of joint spatial strategy preparation, it makes sense to us to incorporate this provision, which we would support.

In a similar vein, for the reasons that I have just explained, my Amendment 206 writes into the Bill a duty to co-operate where there is no joint spatial development strategy in place. In effect, most areas are already undertaking such joint planning exercises, and it would be unusual for a planning inspector or public inquiry not to look at this in some depth. It seems sensible to ensure that this is now enshrined in the Bill to give it the necessary foundation in law, and certainty to local authorities. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative 8:45, 27 March 2023

My Lords, I will speak in particular to Amendments 200 and 205 which are tabled in my name. I will also talk about one or two other amendments in this group, which were very helpfully introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, who set out not only the purposes of her amendments but gave a very straightforward description of all the other amendments. I am most grateful for that.

As noble Lords will have heard, Amendment 200 would enable a joint spatial development strategy to

“specify or describe employment sites the provision of which the participating authorities consider to be of strategic importance to the joint strategy area”.

The reason for this is that at this point in Schedule 7 there is reference to infrastructure that is relevant to the joint strategy area as a whole, not just to one participating authority. There is then a reference to affordable housing. I am not quite sure where that came from, since it is not obviously the case that affordable housing necessarily has implications of strategic importance beyond the participating authority in which the affordable housing is to be provided, but leave that on one side.

If one is to identify and specify in this part of Schedule 7, which is about making a spatial development strategy and looking at what is of strategic importance, it seems fairly obvious that employment sites—which, by their nature, will be the large employment sites—absolutely give rise to a need for them to be identified in a joint spatial development strategy. That links directly to the question of infrastructure and, in due course, to housing need. The infrastructure point is where the SDS really comes from. The SDS is about enabling that strategic planning to be achieved.

On a later group I will reiterate a broad point, which I will return to on a number of occasions in our debates, which is that, if we do nothing else, I hope we can identify and move towards opportunities for the planning processes to be co-ordinated, not just land use planning but transport planning, utilities planning, power supply and water supply. These all need to be properly integrated to have the best overall effect.

How is this to be achieved? I should remind noble Lords again that I chair the Cambridgeshire Development Forum; that is a registered interest of mine. Back at the beginning of the year, we had a very good presentation by Graham Pointer from WSP, who worked on the integrated planning processes in New South Wales. The essence of it was very straightforward: integrated planning of land use, transport, power, water and the environment and ensuring that these plans were then able to be funded together. We are not going to get into the funding mechanisms, but we can certainly ensure that there are integrated plans, ideally on integrated timetables.

One would imagine that this is very straightforward and it should be possible to make it happen. It almost never happens in the places I go to. There are constantly different tiers of administration in local areas that are conducting different aspects of planning at different times and with different parameters. We really need to try to integrate planning. If my noble friends on the Front Bench can push that forward, using spatial development strategies, that would be really useful. At the Westminster Social Policy Forum, I chaired a discussion on the OxCam corridor the Friday before last. It was one of the strongest messages to come out. Here is a key economic area. On travel to work areas, as a consequence of, for example, the east-west rail development, those areas may well be extended, so that the travel to work area for Cambridge extends potentially to new sites and settlements in Bedfordshire, and the travel to work area for Oxford and Harwell might well extend increasingly to settlements in and around Milton Keynes.

Increasingly, we have different authorities in different counties whose planning processes need to be co-ordinated and integrated together. Spatial development strategies are a way of doing that. I am old enough to remember when we had the Standing Conference of East Anglian Local Authorities and we used to do planning processes through regional mechanisms. We do not have regional planning now but that does not mean that we need to abandon the concept of strategic planning. Strategy does not require us to have integrated and large-scale authorities; it just means that the authorities need to come together.

Amendment 200 is specifically about employment sites, because of their relative strategic importance to an area or combined areas. Amendment 205 is about bringing additional authorities with a role to play into the process. I am grateful to the County Councils Network for its assistance in shaping an amendment for this purpose. I added the reference to travel to work areas, so I am particularly pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, commended that it should extend specifically to those authorities within a travel to work area, even if they are not one of the participating authorities. That is why we want to focus particularly on district councils, which may not join in the SDS but need to be consulted in the process. Also, counties and county combined authorities should be included in the consultation.

This engagement and consultation is in relation to their functions but it does not make them participants in the spatial development strategy itself. It does not give them a veto over the spatial development strategy but is confined to their bringing to the party the things that they can do. Given that for counties it includes something as integral as transport planning, this is fundamental to a spatial development strategy being able to work effectively. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for signing that amendment. I confess that I cannot see that we can put counties into the spatial development strategies as such, because of the difficulties of their not having planning powers—this is a combination of those that do have the planning powers—but it is absolutely right that they should be involved.

Apart from my own amendments, I want to say a word about Amendment 199. When I read it, I asked myself why the combined authorities are not part of this. The only reason I can think of is that they already have a non-statutory spatial strategy power. Frankly, I think that should come to the party. If noble Lords have a moment, I suggest they look at pages 288 and 299 of the Bill, and the new subsections at 15AI to be inserted. This is about what happens when a combined authority is created, and where these areas are already engaged in a joint spatial development strategy. It is awful. Basically, it collapses and it is cancelled; it is all withdrawn. That is the last thing you want. Where participating authorities are working together on a spatial development strategy, the creation of a combined authority should supplement that and enable them to accomplish it more effectively, not cause it all to be withdrawn or cancelled. The language is terrible, but the intention seems to me to be wrong too. I would much rather combined authorities joined in.

In the Cambridge area, we have the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority. The need for planning in that key economic hub extends out from Cambridge to Royston in Hertfordshire, to Haverhill in Suffolk, to Thetford in Norfolk, and to Bedford and Cranfield. It is obviously a candidate that is not only economically important but requires the joint working of local authorities and integrated planning across a wider region. It seems to me that spatial development strategies are a good thing, designed to enable that to happen, but we need the legislation to be more permissive. I would particularly focus on Amendment 205. I hope my noble friend will indicate that Ministers are sympathetic to the ability of counties, and other county combined authorities, to get involved in this way.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow 11 minutes of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, explaining the amendments. I have tabled amendments in this group and supported others because of the potential importance of strategic planning in tackling the climate emergency. We need to embed it in everything that councils do, alongside solving the acute housing crisis in this country.

Mine are probing amendments to find out how the Government see the role of county councils within the production of a joint spatial development strategy. County councils sit one tier above planning authorities, but many have strategic functions—for example, transport, health, social care or education. It seems slightly odd that they do not have a planning role as well.

Schedule 7 as currently drafted would need participating planning authorities to consult the county council once a draft strategy has been produced. It seems to me that this perhaps misses the opportunity to involve county councils actively in the development of the strategy, which I think they could very much contribute to. Taken to its highest level, the county council could even initiate the process and convene the planning authorities to work together. It seems to me that that is likely to happen anyway.

I would like to know the Minister’s thinking on how the Government see the role of county councils in strategic planning and whether they might explore the opportunity of more fully involving counties in spatial development plans.

For most Bills, the more I get involved the more fascinating they become. This Bill is an example of that not working at all. I am finding it incredibly difficult, and I sympathise with the Minister dealing with it. It is very difficult to find a coherent thread through this whole Bill. I applaud her and the Labour Front Bench for toughing it out.

Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Conservative

I wonder if my noble friend would accept that it sounds a bit odd to those of us who live in the countryside that counties should be left out. I know why it was; I can see the civil servant saying to her, “Well, you know, counties don’t have planning powers, except for minerals, so it really doesn’t count here. It’s the district councils that have it”. I know what they have said; they would have said it to me all those years ago—that is what they would do. I say to my noble friend that I will not easily be dissuaded from the fact that the county council is crucially important if you go in for spatial planning. I do not see how you do it otherwise.

Take the planning authority for Ipswich. Several of the housing developments and industrial sites that anybody else would have thought were in Ipswich are not; they are outside it, in another district council. The county council has to provide many of the services that service the whole group. If the county council is excluded from this, it is not just a bit odd but it will not work—the county council is crucial.

The second reason why I ask my noble friend to look again is a simple matter. We had the welcome announcement of a new relationship between national and local government. I am distressed by the way that national government often treats local government as if it is a sort of incubus, and I am afraid that civil servants often have a view of local government officers which is other than entirely polite. They say, “Better not, Minister—you never know what they might they do. Therefore, don’t give them any powers without us being able to pull them back.” I am afraid that is the view of many of the civil servants who serviced Ministers and continue to do so, so I want to break into that.

I am pleased to hear of the deal which has been done with Manchester and that with the West Midlands. It seems to be the beginning for a participational democracy, which is so much more effective. But I say to my noble friend that the fact that no country areas are involved in this at the moment is a great mistake, because country people are increasingly of the opinion that we have a metropolitan Government making metropolitan decisions and that we who are in the country do not have a say at all. The counties are very useful for making sure that there is a balance between the town and the country.

This is particularly important for the third reason. We know that what happens now is that more and more people are working at least part of the week from home. That is very true in the countryside and modern technology has made it possible. In general, it is a good thing and I get fed up with superior people who say that everybody ought to be in their offices, otherwise they will not do any work. I declare an interest in that I run a business which, I am happy to say, is successful. We get better productivity and much happier people because they do in fact work from home for two or even three days a week. The reason is that they are part of their local community: they can, in a way, look after their families; they are happier people; they work longer and produce better. I am proud of that but if they live in the country, they want their interests to be carried through in spatial planning. They need that and we have to think of it in a way which we have not had to before.

My last reason is this. If you do not have the counties, spatial planning becomes much less big. It is tiny in many of these areas and now that we have associations between district councils, because they have discovered they are not big enough to do things, you need somebody to come in who brings them all together. The counties have a particular role in doing that.

This is not a real point, because I should not make it, but I just remind my noble friend that the counties have large numbers of people who might just be willing to vote for her party. They do not much like being left out, and they are beginning to think that is what often happens, so there may be some self-interest in rewriting this part of the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Communities and Local Government) 9:00, 27 March 2023

My Lords, how do I follow that? I will not, as it is dangerous territory.

This is a very interesting and important debate because it is about creating part of the hierarchy of a plan-led process. At the moment, we have quite a mixed pattern across England. Obviously, London has the ability to make a spatial strategy policy and plan; so do just some of the metro combined authorities, as they are known. In 2018, there was a statutory instrument which enabled three combined authorities to create spatial strategic plans: they were Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region and the West of England. The others do not. Why not?

Here is an opportunity to create a more coherent approach to spatial development strategies across the country. I am speaking as someone living in a metro area, in West Yorkshire. It does not have the ability to make a spatial development plan but is getting round it by creating lots of plans which it hopes will be adopted by the constituent authorities so that it, in essence, has one. That is not satisfactory because what is needed is an overarching approach that all the constituent authorities can agree on. At the minute, it is a series of plans for different elements—for example, flooding, transport or economic development.

It is not just the county areas which are being omitted from a coherent approach. I hope that, given this debate, the Minister will be able to give us some hope that there will be a bit more coherence attached to this for all the metro mayors and—as has quite rightly been argued—for the counties. It is a nonsense otherwise. I do not know how you can plan, certainly for economic development and transport infrastructure, unless you have an overall approach which a spatial development strategy would enable.

I was very taken with what the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said about thinking about which elements we would want included in a spatial development strategy. He quite rightly included economic development in Amendment 200. I do not know how you could have a spatial development strategy without thinking about economic development and setting aside sites for business development. That must be included.

Having said that, you need to include transport infrastructure. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, climate change must be a part of that as well. Alongside that, if you have housing sites and a broad approach to spatial development and business development, you need to think about public service facilities. At the moment, even in a big metro area such as where I am, these are often so piecemeal, and it is so frustrating. Why can we not have people think about what you need for schools, hospitals, and local general practices, for instance? What about thinking about provision for nature, which was the subject of the first group of amendments this afternoon on local nature recovery plans? That ought to be integrated into an approach to spatial development, as well as leisure facilities. All that needs to be there.

I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, who talked about using travel to work areas as the boundary. That makes it extraordinarily difficult if those are not coterminous with the local authority boundaries which are being used. I will give noble Lords an example from my own experience. Travel to work areas in West Yorkshire include York, Barnsley in South Yorkshire and even Doncaster. People from Manchester come and work in West Yorkshire and Leeds and vice versa.

One of the challenges for the Minister is to try to come up with an answer to what boundaries are used because Schedule 7 talks, quite rightly, about the constituent authorities and members of a combined authority, a combined county authority or even—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Deben—just a county council. You need to know what boundaries you are using.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

I am sorry to interrupt, but I think it is actually a bit simpler than that. The participating authorities that choose to be in the spatial development strategy choose to be in it and bring their territory with them. Everybody else, from my point of view in Amendment 205, are other authorities that are consulted. They are not making the strategy, they are consulted about it, so their geography does not matter so much.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Communities and Local Government)

My experience is that that was not quite how it worked. In West Yorkshire, Harrogate—which is just north of Leeds—was included, even though it is in North Yorkshire, because it is part of what they call the “golden triangle”. I think it is a challenge, and I hope the Government will just decide which boundaries they use—I presume it will be local authority boundaries, because that makes sense—and the others are just part of a negotiation.

Those are the key points I wanted to make. It is an interesting group to think about how it all works. I notice in the schedule it says that spatial strategies have to be mindful of, and consistent with, the national development management plans. I would like to hear from the Minister how spatial strategies will operate across a wider region, because if you are talking about transport—the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, picked up on this—you need to think in a wider area than just a small combined authority area.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My Lords, this group of amendments concerns strategic planning and spatial development strategies. As these are to date a very rare form of plan, it might be useful to set out some background. The Government recognise that it is often desirable to plan over areas, as we have just heard, wider than a single planning authority in order to properly address the strategic and cross-boundary issues that have been brought up in this debate so far. However, it is important to stress that a spatial development strategy cannot allocate sites; instead, it can set broad indications of how much and what type of development should go where.

Once a spatial development strategy is adopted, local plans within its area must be in general conformity with it; that is, they must generally follow that strategy and its policies. Most of us will not actually have dealt with a spatial development strategy, because only one exists at the moment, and that is in London, which the mayor refers to as the London Plan. Other combined authorities are able to request the equivalent spatial development strategy powers as part of their devolution agreement. Three areas have done so already—Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, and the West of England, as noble Lords have heard—but for various reasons, none has produced a strategy as yet. Moreover, the Government have agreed to give a spatial development strategy power to the West Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority.

Through the Bill, we are extending the powers to produce a spatial development strategy, on a voluntary basis, to other local planning authorities, as we are aware that in other parts of the country—such as Hertfordshire, Essex, Leicestershire and around Nottingham—some of them have already sought to progress strategic plans over recent years. The Government would like to support and enable these efforts at more strategic planning.

Having set out that background, I will turn to the amendments, beginning with Amendment 196A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. This would state that it is for the Mayor of London alone to consider what constitutes a matter that is of strategic importance to Greater London. During the preparation of the London Plan, the mayor’s opinion on what does or does not constitute a strategic matter will of course be essential. However, other people and organisations, including the boroughs, will have a legitimate view on this issue. Through the independent examination that takes place in public on the London Plan, those examining it will also give an opinion on whether a matter contained in the draft plan is of strategic importance.

The clause to which the noble Baroness’s Amendment 197 relates reaffirms the vital role of the London Plan in setting strategic policy for the capital. The text that is proposed to be removed underlines that such policies should relate to the particular characteristics or circumstances of London. Nothing here would prevent the Mayor of London considering matters during the preparation of the London Plan that affect London but relate to areas outside Greater London, if necessary. However, it must be right that the policies themselves relate to the area for which the mayor has jurisdiction.

The noble Baroness’s Amendment 197A concerns the London Plan’s ability to repeat the content of national development management policies. Noble Lords will recall that we discussed these matters extensively earlier in Committee, and I therefore do not intend to reiterate our thinking on this matter, in order to save some time, if the noble Baroness does not mind.

Amendments 198A and 198B, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, seek to enable county councils to be participating authorities in a joint spatial development strategy. I strongly agree with her that county councils should play an important role in plan-making—I expect them to have significant influence over the development of joint spatial development strategies, and I envisage them being closely involved in their day-to-day production. To make sure that this happens, we are giving them the formal status of statutory consultees, so that they can bring their expertise on a range of issues, particularly transport, as we heard, to the development of a joint spatial development strategy.

I thank my noble friend Lord Deben for supporting this. I reassure him that, through the Bill, the rural county areas will now have the opportunity to have powers similar to those of Manchester and the West Midlands, as they can go forward to a county combined authority—CCA.

Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Conservative 9:15, 27 March 2023

My noble friend has just said how much she wants the counties to be involved, but why can they not just be part of it? I do not understand this—it seems that there is no reason for it, except that it is in the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I disagree. The district councils, about which we have been hearing, are the planning authorities in those areas, and the county council is not. So it is important that we make sure that this is district-led but that the county has the important role of statutory consultee. But that will be different in different counties, depending on whether they are unitary authorities; in which case, they will of course be the planning authority and therefore can lead on this spatial strategy.

Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Conservative

The county authority is the mineral planning authority, so how can we talk about spatial planning if we exclude the things for which the county authority is a planning authority. Making the distinction between being consulted—having a consultant role—and being part of the decision-making seems to me to be a false distinction. As the planning authority for minerals and similar things, it has to be part of such a spatial plan. I just do not understand the distinction.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I do not think that there is a distinction. They can be, and will be, part of it. I am sure that they will be part of whether that particular geographic area or group of councils will decide to go to a spatial strategy in the first place—that is how local government works. But I will give it some more thought; I am sure that we will come back to the issue on Report.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

Before my noble friend moves on from this point about counties, can she confirm whether, when she says that they are a statutory consultee, she is referring to new Section 15A), to be inserted by Schedule 7, where they are consulted after the preparation of a draft, which is then deposited with various people? That is substantively different from securing the advice and participation of counties, related districts and others in the preparation of that draft spatial development strategy.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I will take the point back and consider it further, because some important issues have been brought up. I will make sure that, having given it some thought, we will discuss it further before Report.

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)

Before we move on from this topic, I will add another observation: the county members are the ones that have the places on the combined authority. The districts do not have voting rights on those combined authorities. So I do not understand how it will work if the counties will not be included and cannot make decisions over planning when they are the constituent members with the powers to put the plan through. I think that this needs a little more thinking through.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I quite agree, and that is why I will take the point back and think further on it. As a county person myself, I have a lot of sympathy.

To make sure that our plan for a joint spatial development strategy happens, we are giving county councils the formal status of statutory consultee, as I said, so they can bring forward their expertise, particularly on matters relating to transport, highways, flood risk management, education, and minerals and waste, as noble Lords have said. Planning inspectors examining a joint spatial development strategy will want to see evidence that the work on these key issues has been done, and to make sure that any views expressed by the county council have been properly taken into consideration.

Amendment 199, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, would leave out new Section 15A(2)(b), which is inserted by Schedule 7. This would enable local planning authorities within a combined authority to be eligible to produce a joint spatial development strategy. In an area with elected mayors, we believe that it is vital that the mayor is formally involved in the production of a spatial development strategy to provide clear and accountable leadership for it. That is why the authorities within a combined authority should not be eligible to produce a joint spatial development strategy. In such cases, the mayor, with the support of the member authorities, can approach the Government to ask for the spatial development strategy powers to be conferred on them as part of their devolution deal. Obviously, we do not want to see competing spatial development strategies in any area.

Amendment 202 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, would extend the list of groups that local planning authorities must consult to include community groups. Although I understand the reasons for this, the list of bodies in new Section 15AB(3) that participating authorities should consider sending a draft joint spatial development strategy to is already comprehensive and can reasonably be assumed to include most community organisations. It is not, however, an exhaustive list, and authorities are free to send drafts to whichever organisations they feel necessary.

The noble Baroness’s Amendments 203 and 204 would give people a right to be heard at an examination in public in relation to a joint spatial development plan. The current procedure for the examination of a spatial development strategy is now well established and, although it is true that, unlike for local plans, there is no formal right to appear in person, we are confident that the current arrangements are fair, proportionate and effective. Experience shows that planning inspectors ensure that a broad range of relevant interests and views are heard at examinations for spatial development strategies.

The final amendment in this group in the name of the noble Baroness is Amendment 206. This would introduce a new clause mandating a duty to co-operate where no joint spatial development strategy exists. Unfortunately, the duty to co-operate is widely agreed to have been an ineffective mechanism for achieving co-operation. It has been criticised as an inflexible and burdensome bureaucratic exercise, causing significant delays to the production of local plans. We intend to replace the duty with a more flexible policy requirement within the revised National Planning Policy Framework, providing local planning authorities with greater flexibility.

Clause 93 introduces a new requirement to assist with plan making to ensure that the key stakeholders whose involvement is vital to production of plans, including the delivery and planning of infrastructure, are required to be involved. This places a requirement on specific bodies with public functions—an example would be Historic England—to assist in the plan-making process if requested by a plan-making authority. Taken together, these measures mean that there is no need to revert to the duty to co-operate in any circumstances.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

How does the Minister see the role of town and parish councils within all this? Clearly, they will have an interest, yet they are not mentioned anywhere.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I foresee that their views would go up through the stages, and any good district council would ask for their views. Also, of course, they would probably be involved in any neighbourhood planning that is happening as well, so those plans would also move on up into it.

Amendment 200A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, addresses the provision of sites for health and social care within a joint spatial development strategy. There is already broad provision for considering these needs in a joint spatial development strategy, through new Sections 15AA(1) and (2) which the Bill will insert into the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. These provisions are written deliberately broadly to enable planning authorities to consider the full range of land use and infrastructure requirements that are important to an area. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness will accept that the current wording in the Bill continues to enable the consideration of issues relating to the provision of health and care services in an area.

Amendment 200, in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley, is intended to ensure that any joint spatial development strategy includes provision for employment sites which are of strategic importance for the economic development of an area. I can reassure my noble friend that new Section 15AA(1) already provides that a joint SDS may include policy relating to

“the development and use of land in the joint strategy area”.

This is a flexible provision that allows the planning authorities to include whatever policies they feel are necessary, with some caveats relating to those policies being of strategic importance and relating to the characteristics or circumstances of the area. For this reason, I do not think that we need a more specific provision at this point.

Finally, I turn to Amendment 205 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley. The aim of this amendment is to ensure that proper cross-boundary engagement is undertaken when preparing a joint spatial development strategy. This is laudable and something that I see as essential to making good planning. The Government have committed to including an alignment policy within the National Planning Policy Framework. The aim of such a policy is to ensure that the policies and proposals of plans are aligned, or if not aligned that there is a very good justification for different approaches. This policy approach is being taken because of the failings of the current duty to co-operate contained in Section 33A of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004—I spoke about this in relation to Amendment 206—which this Bill revokes. I assure my noble friend that, in line with the Government’s commitments, the detail of the alignment policy will be consulted upon as part of a wider package of changes to the NPPF to support this Bill. I hope my noble friend will not press his amendment.

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) 9:30, 27 March 2023

I am grateful to noble Lords for a good debate on these topics relating to spatial planning. They are very important issues, and this is a key part of the Bill.

There are some key themes that have emerged as part of this discussion. The first is the integration of plans and timetables and how important that is going to be as we move forward with these proposals.

Secondly, we have had long discussions around the services that county councils deliver and their engagement in the process of the strategic development strategies. As well as transport, highways, minerals, waste and so on, we had an earlier discussion in the Committee about healthy homes. Our county councils look after a huge range of services that relate to social care provision and so on, and that is another reason why it is essential they get involved in strategic planning at this level. I should have referred to my interests in the register as a county councillor and a district councillor; I wear both hats in this respect.

The third overall point was around the inclusion of combined authorities. I know it is late but I want to relate the experience in Hertfordshire. Without having any of the processes of the Bill in place, the 10 Hertfordshire authorities and the county council have got together, separating Hertfordshire into two clusters, to work on employment, housing sites, climate change, transport—including a new mass rapid transit facility that we have been planning for—community wealth-building, town centre regeneration, digital infrastructure and a number of other things. In Hertfordshire, we are helped by having coterminous boundaries with both the local enterprise partnership and policing. We do not have coterminous borders with health, but I do not think anybody does—that is a little more complicated. We do not necessarily need legislation to do this. However, I am anxious that, as a part of the Bill, we do not stop people doing things which are ambitious and have vision for their areas.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I think that is an important point. That is what I was saying: the Bill will not stop that; it will give the opportunity to do something. Many authorities do great things informally, but sometimes, if there is a formal agreement to it, other doors are opened. That is part of what we are trying to do.

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)

I am grateful to the Minister for that reassurance.

We had some discussions around borders—I will say more about that in a moment—but Herts has boundaries with London in the south of the county and with very rural areas in Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire in the north of the county.

The other key point we mentioned was the urban-rural split, on which the noble Lord, Lord Deben, spoke very powerfully, and the value of counties understanding how this helps move the development agenda forward for rural areas as well as urban ones. I echo the point that people feel that this is largely related to urban areas. It is important for us to make sure that people in rural areas feel that their interests are taken into account in both levelling up and regeneration.

The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, spoke about opportunities for the planning processes to be co-ordinated. I have referred to the points on healthy homes that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, made earlier in the debate. We need to give some more thought to that before Report and to how we can make sure that we take the opportunities the Bill might offer to better co-ordinate planning processes. The point about timetables is very well made. We have lots of different plans that run on lots of different timetables in local government and in other parts of the public sector, and it would be helpful if we could think about how we might bring some of that together.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, spoke about the very important potential of the Bill to enable us to tackle climate change and the housing emergency in a more co-ordinated way. I do not want to miss those opportunities, which is why these points about planning are so important. She mentioned the ability of county councils to convene councils to work together. That has certainly been my experience, and I hope we can find a way to develop that.

I have mentioned the points that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, made about making sure that we focus on rural as well as urban areas.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, spoke about the travel to work areas. The point is not that we do not want to make plans for boundaries, but you have to think beyond the boundaries and take them into account, particularly with employment sites—otherwise, for example, you will not be planning properly for your transport arrangements. We have to think about what we are doing in a wider sense than the boundaries of local authorities as they would appear on the Boundary Commission register.

To summarise briefly, we have to be careful. We could miss opportunities for combined authorities and for the ambition we all have for levelling up to reach right across the huge areas of our country that are covered by two-tier local government—or three tiers in some cases, as we know. I know the Minister wants to reassure us that rural areas will be included, but the picture in this planning realm can still be a bit confused, particularly with the way that there are different plans for different places, which do not seem to be particularly well co-ordinated. I hope we can give that some more thought.

I am very grateful to the Minister for her detailed answer to all our amendments. That said, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 196A.

Amendment 196A withdrawn.

Amendments 197 and 197A not moved.

Clause 88 agreed.

Clauses 89 and 90 agreed.