Amendment 240

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (10th Day) – in the House of Lords at 12:10 pm on 20 April 2023.

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Lord Berkeley:

Moved by Lord Berkeley

240: After Clause 93, insert the following new Clause—“Cycling, walking and rights of way plans: incorporation in development plans(1) A local planning authority must ensure that the development plan incorporates, so far as relevant to the use or development of land in the local planning authority’s area, the policies and proposals set out in— (a) any local cycling and walking infrastructure plan or plans prepared by a local transport authority;(b) any rights of way improvement plan.(2) In dealing with an application for planning permission or permission in principle the local planning authority shall also have regard to any policies or proposals contained within a local cycling and walking infrastructure plan or plans and any rights of way improvement plan which have not been included as part of the development plan, so far as is material to the application.(3) In this section—(a) “local planning authority” has the same meaning as in section 15LF of PCPA 2004;(b) “local transport authority” has the same meaning as in section 108 of the Transport Act 2000;(c) a “rights of way improvement plan” is a plan published by a local highway authority under section 60 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.”Member's explanatory statementThis new Clause would require development plans to incorporate policies and proposals for cycling and walking infrastructure plans and rights of way improvement plans. Local planning authorities would be required to have regard to any such policies and proposals where they have not been incorporated in a development plan.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to start this day in Committee by moving Amendment 240. I shall also speak to the other amendments in this grouping.

I am very grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who apologises for not being here today. This amendment has the support of the Bicycle Association, Bikeability Trust, British Cycling, Cycling UK, Living Streets, Ramblers and Sustrans. I think you can say that that support basically includes the Better Planning Coalition. Its purpose is to ensure that the various walking and cycling network plans and rights of way drawn up by county councils or combined authorities are incorporated into local planning authorities’ development plans and are reflected in their planning decisions. This would help to safeguard land for new walking and cycling routes or rights of way, including disused railway lines, improve existing routes, and ensure that developments connected with existing or new walking, wheeling or cycling networks with secure development contributions are introduced. This came to a head within the last six months, when National Highways was caught filling in disused railway bridges with concrete to prevent them from being used in the future as footpaths or cycleways, for example. I am grateful that there has been a pause put on that. I hope that it stays a pause, because it was a very stupid decision with no benefit whatever.

This amendment addresses the problems of local planning authorities that sometimes, wittingly or unwittingly, frustrate a higher tier authority’s aspirations for walking, cycling and rights of way by not recording these network aspirations in their development plans. That means that they are not safeguarding the land for these networks or to connect new developments with existing networks for secure developer contributions to implement or upgrade specific routes. There is much discussion going on about all these issues, but it is very important that this covers what is happening now and what might happen in future. The biggest problem is when we have two-tier authorities—county councils or combined authorities, and district councils. In one case, one part of a unitary authority commissioned Sustrans to assesses the feasibility of reopening a disused railway line as a walking and cycling route, while another part of the same authority gave permission for a housing development which blocked the route. There is no point in doing this; it wastes a lot of time and seriously affects the people who want to develop cycling or walking routes.

Local transport authorities have a duty to prepare a statutory local transport plan. They are also responsible for drawing up one or more non-statutory local cycling and walking infrastructure plans. That is all a bit of a mouthful, but really important. Usually it is the same body, but for each one it is required to draw up a statutory rights-of-way improvement plan for its area. We probably all have examples in our own areas of rights of way not being taken very seriously—and we will talk about that later—but all these things need co-ordination.

The Government have argued that our concerns about this lack of co-ordination would best be addressed through the NPPFs, rather than through legislation. My worry is that the current NPPFs, which are still in proposed revisions, mention these local cycling, walking and infrastructure plans only in passing, leaving out the right-of-way plans altogether. This results in developments being granted permission without taking into account the need for walking and cycling or improving these links. I call it active travel—it is a bit shorter. I am sure that the Minister will take this amendment seriously, and I hope that she gives me a nice positive response to it and says that perhaps we can have further discussions and see what happens.

My Amendment 470, on electric vehicle charging, is quite a short amendment. It requires a change to the Electricity Act, for the Government to facilitate or accelerate the rollout of electric vehicle charging points for domestic and commercial customers. We have discussed this in your Lordship’s House quite a few times. A few statistics really worry me, frankly. First, the Government have a target of 300,000 public charging points by 2030, and there is a long way to go before we get there. Interestingly, a Written Answer from the Minister on 29 March to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Warwick, stated that the number of installations were 8,600 public charging, 71,000 electric vehicle home charge schemes, and very few electric charge point sockets and grants, while workplace had 15,000.

Another telling Written Answer, to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, on 21 March, stated that

“the majority (around 75%) of electric car charging happens at home, as it is often cheaper and more convenient for drivers.”

I am sure that the Minister is right, but the problem is: how many people have home charging? I expect many noble Lords here have home charging, if they want it, but there are an awful lot of people in this country who park on the road and, if they want to charge their cars, they will have to get it off a lamppost.

Another Written Answer from the Minister said that there was no national data on how many lamppost chargers were available. If we do not know how many are available, we do not know who wants them, and we do not know where the public ones are, where do you charge your heavy goods vehicle or coach? Who will fund them? Most important of all, what about the regulation of chargers? There is a lot for the Government to do to meet their target of 300,000 charging points by 2030.

Finally, I support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, on the same subject. I am sure that she will tell us a great deal more of it. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, in this debate on transport, it is a pleasure to follow in the slipstream of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and add some footnotes to his speech on Amendment 240.

Before I turn to the amendment, I will say a word about the target of 300,000 EV chargers. Some chargers are fast chargers and some are slow chargers. At some point, we need to define more accurately the division of those 300,000. If they are all slow chargers, that will not do the trick. If they are fast chargers, we may not need quite so many. So a bit of granularity on that target at some point would be welcome.

Researching for this debate, I came across a government document stating that

“continuing growth in road transport and consequential environmental impacts present a major challenge to the objective of sustainable development. Traffic growth on the scale projected could threaten our ability to meet objectives for greenhouse gas emissions … and for the protection of landscapes and habitats”.

I should have recognised it instantly, as it was in a document that I published nearly 30 years ago when I was Planning Minister. It was PPG13, which offered advice to local authorities on integrating land-use planning and transport. Its object was to reduce reliance on the car by promoting alternative means of travel and improving the quality of life.

I note in passing that I referred to the then Government’s policy of increasing the real level of fuel duty by an average of at least 5% a year—a policy now very much in the rear-view mirror—and also my commitment to introducing electronic tolling on motorways. Back in 1993, I was clearly a little bit ahead of the game.

Amendment 240 could almost have been lifted from PPG13. It promoted development within urban areas at locations highly accessible by means other than the car, and it supported policies to improve choice for people to walk, cycle or catch public transport, rather than drive between homes and facilities that they need to visit regularly.

I also came across an article in the Independent from 10 July 1995, when I became Transport Secretary and continued my campaign. In an open letter to me, Christian Wolmar wrote:

“When your appointment as Transport Secretary was announced, the whoops of joy from cycling campaigners could be heard across the nation. The notion of having a Transport Secretary who is not only an active member of Friends of the Earth but also an active cyclist and tandem rider was beyond their wildest dreams”.

So, the Minister will not be surprised that, as middle age taps me on the shoulder, my commitment to environmental means of transport is undimmed.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, set out the case for the amendment, which I believe is even stronger than it was in the 1990s. I will not repeat it. I understand from the Government’s response to a similar amendment in another place that, instead of an amendment to primary legislation, the objectives to the amendment should be incorporated in a revised NPPF, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has just said. My response is that I tried that and it did not work. We need to be more assertive.

Paragraph 1.10 of PPG13 said:

“If land-use policies permit continued dispersal of development and a high reliance on the car, other policies to reduce the environmental impact of transport may be less effective or come at a higher cost”.

That is exactly what has been happening, as the Government’s own publication, Gear Change: A Bold Vision for Cycling and Walking, published in 2020, recognised. Despite the exhortation in that PPG and, I suspect, many other PPGs since, we have not seen the transformation in planning for transport that is required. We continue to build housing with little or no public transport provision, or where it is impractical to get to school, the shops or work without jumping into a car. We must up our game and cease relying on guidance.

The amendment also addresses the problem touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that has arisen in two-tier authorities, where, typically, the county council is the transport authority but the district council is the planning authority: if you do not have the commitment to walking or cycling networks recorded in the district plan, this can then frustrate the county’s ambition to promote cycling and walking networks—clearly an undesirable outcome.

The challenge to my noble friend, who I am delighted to see is replying to this debate, is to convince me that we should continue to rely on guidance, as I suspect my officials advised me to do in 1993, despite the evidence that it has not brought about the transformation that I aspire to. I wish her every success.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, I am pleased to speak to a number of amendments in this group, to which my name is attached. This is, of course, a group of transport-related amendments. Like the noble Lord, Lord Young, I am very pleased to see that we have the Transport Minister here to respond in detail to us, because all the warm words on levelling up are meaningless without decisive action to improve transport infrastructure and services. Poor transport facilities almost exactly mirror the overall picture of the social divide in our country: poorer areas have poor public transport and poor transport infrastructure generally.

There is a reason why London and the south-east are the richest parts of the UK: they have the transport links to service the areas well, and one reinforces the other. I say that while recognising of course at the same time that there is poverty and disadvantage amongst the most privileged.

I start with Amendment 240, to which I have added my name. The noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Young, have spoken in some detail, and with greater information than is necessary for me to repeat here today. But I want to endorse the fact that this has to be about broadening access to the activities of cycling and walking and safeguarding our rights of way: for many decades, we have been accustomed to the gradual erosion of the practicality of safe walking and cycling, and the erosion of our rights of way on footpaths. The car has been king for a very long time. If we are going to truly improve the quality of our lives and the lives of the generations to come, we need a much broader and more informed approach. In my own local area, I notice the cycleways that disappear into nothing at key junctions and so on. It is a skilled business to provide really good cycling and walking facilities.

Turning to Amendment 468, the intention here is to prioritise the requirements for disability access at rail stations. Progress on this has been painfully slow—way too slow. I use this opportunity to praise the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and my noble friend Lady Brinton, who raise these issues time and again in the media and in this House. We live in an ageing society, and we should be much more encouraging to those people who are less mobile but who want to travel by rail or bus. So this amendment goes way beyond the simple issues of wheelchair access, access for those with sight impairment and so on. It is about access for people who are less agile.

However, treatment is far from being on an equal basis for those people in wheelchairs. As a regular rail traveller myself, I watch this week after week. Despite huge efforts by the staff, there is still so much further to go. We have to ensure that people do not have to book way ahead in order to be able to make a simple journey.

I ask a very specific question: why are new facilities still being built which are not fully and easily accessible for people who cannot run up a flight of stairs? There was recently publicity about Network Rail bridges being built which were not fully accessible.

An example I have used before is Pokesdown station in Dorset, which is quite a busy station. It is in the Bournemouth conurbation. When the contract was given to the then new train operating company, which I think must be about five years ago, I asked specifically about plans for a passenger lift at that station because it has an extremely long and steep flight of stairs to both platforms. I was told then that the passenger lift was imminent. I made the point that it was unstaffed for much of the day while trains were coming and going. It remains “imminent”—or possibly not imminent—and, of course, it remains inaccessible for anyone less than fully agile. This is even more frustrating because there is an apparently disused goods lift. There is a shaft and there is potential for a lift already built. There must be dozens of examples like that throughout the country.

Finally, I turn to Amendments 470 and 486, which look at the future of electric vehicles. I am very concerned that the charging infrastructure is already developing with inbuilt inequality. The noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Young, raised very important issues. I will not repeat the details and statistics given to us, but I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Young, that, as well as standard rate and fast chargers, there are also rapid chargers. He has pinpointed a key issue: the level of awareness among all of us about the difference in the provision from one area to another.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 12:30, 20 April 2023

Could the noble Baroness explain whether rapid or fast is the faster of the two?

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

Rapid is faster than far, but that would not be obvious to the average local public sector employee whose job it is to ensure that there is adequate infrastructure for EVs.

My Amendment 486 requires the Government to update us regularly on their strategy to improve the charging network. It particularly refers to the discrepancies across the country. The discussion often relates to the pure numbers of charge points, but just as important are two different factors. The first is the adequacy of the numbers available in public places. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has made that point. Currently, EV ownership is concentrated among more affluent people—those with drives and who can therefore have chargers attached to their homes. We cannot have an EV revolution that is only for the rich. People who live in terraced houses and in flats must also be able to own EVs. As the revolution plays out and a second-hand market develops for electric vehicles, this becomes an ever more pertinent point. The second factor is that the Government have emphasised time and again that they believe that the market will adequately take care of the provision of charge points, but the figures do not bear that out. London and the south-east have a far more generous ratio of electric vehicles to public charge points than any other part of the UK.

My conclusions are that particular problems need to be addressed. The first is the disparity in cost between home charging and public charge points. If you charge at home, you pay 5% VAT; if you charge in a public car park, a public place or from a lamppost, you pay 20% VAT. That reinforces the unfairness. I urge the Government to deal with the issue soon as otherwise it will hamper any of their best intentions on this issue.

The second conclusion is that the Government must work much harder to increase support and funding in areas that have large gaps in their electric vehicle infrastructure. They are often towns in poorer areas and, of course, almost every rural area. Local authorities have a key role in this but often need greater advice because officials do not know the difference between fast and rapid and so on. They need not just money but support and advice to help them, otherwise EVs will remain vehicles for rich areas and poorer areas will remain subject to suffering from poor air quality.

My final point on this is that the Government simply must address the delays in national grid connection. They are hampering the whole thing which is totally inadequate to service the revolution that needs to take place.

In relation to Amendment 48 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, I live in Wales. This week, 20 miles per hour became the default speed limit throughout the country. I live in Cardiff, where it has been the default speed limit for some time, and we have all—more or less—got used to it. The traffic flows more smoothly.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I guess I should rise at this point to follow with pleasure the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, who made a point that I was going to make. I note that in Scotland, they are going for 2025. This is a case where England urgently needs to catch up. I will primarily speak to Amendment 482. It is very simple:

“for “30” substitute “20”.

This is a “20 is plenty” amendment. I am going chiefly to speak to that, but I note that this is a very neat and fit group of amendments.

We express Green support for Amendment 240. We obviously need to get active transport joined up to make preparation to make sure that it happens. Also, we support Amendment 486 from the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Randerson, on disability access in railway stations. Of course, we broadly agree with electric vehicle charging points. However, on the interaction between these two issues, we have to make sure that where vehicle charging points are installed on roads, they do not make the pavements less accessible, particularly for people with disabilities, with strollers and other issues. The space should be taken from the road and cars and not from pedestrians.

Returning to my Amendment 482, this would make the default general speed limit for restricted roads 20 miles per hour. Among the many organisations recommending this is TRL, formerly the Government’s Transport Research Laboratory. Going from the local to the international, there was of course the Stockholm Declaration, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2020, which recommends 20 miles per hour speed limits where people walk, live and play. That is the global standard that the world is heading towards, and we really need to catch up on this. I can see much nodding around your Lordships’ House. I am sure many noble Lords know that pedestrians are seven times more likely to die if they are hit by a vehicle travelling at 30 miles per hour compared with 20 miles per hour. If they are aged 60 or over, they are 10 times more likely to die when hit by a vehicle at 30 rather than 20.

Noble Lords might say this is the levelling-up Bill rather than general provision, but to draw on just one of many reports that reflect on this issue, Fair Society, Healthy Lives: the Marmot Review says that targeting 20 miles per hour zones

“in deprived residential areas would … lead to reductions in health inequalities”.

However, there is, of course a problem. The Marmot report was looking within the current legal framework for travel, but it is extremely expensive to bring in local areas of 20 miles per hour speed limits. There needs to be local signage and individual traffic regulation orders, and then presumably, if there is to be some hope of compliance, there needs to be an education campaign. All of those things cost money, and councils in some of the poorest areas of the country will find it most difficult to find those funds.

If we think about some of the other impacts, as well as road safety, 20 miles per hour speed limits where people live, work and shop reduce air pollution and noise pollution. These are things that particularly tend to be problems in the most deprived areas. The wonderful 20’s Plenty for Us campaign that has been working on this for so long, and increasingly effectively, notes that there is a 30% reduction in fuel use with “20’s plenty”, so it saves people money as well—something of particular interest to the most deprived areas of the country.

This is a very simple measure, by which we could catch up with other nations on these islands and really make an improvement to people’s lives, health and well-being. I have focused on the practical health impacts, but the reason this group of amendments fits together so well is that, if you want to encourage walking and cycling, then ensuring that the vehicles on the road travel more slowly is a great way to open up the entire road network to cyclists and walkers. Of course, it could also build communities: the reduction in noise pollution gives neighbours more of a chance to chat over the garden fence and build those communities that we desperately need.

Photo of The Earl of Lytton The Earl of Lytton Crossbench

My Lords, my name is attached to Amendment 470 in this group, and it is a particular pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on this. I would like to say a few words about the question of footpath access that he addressed initially. It seems to me—and it was amply spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham—that this is part of the essential infrastructure that enables people to have what used to be, and I hope still is, known as multi-modal travel opportunities. In other words, one has at least some sort of menu of options, and one is not just obliged to be in a motor vehicle. This goes to the heart of what we do about making sure that developments are both related to existing settlements, where these facilities are available, and do not become detached from that unless there is some particular reason—and then only when this infrastructure is put in. So I am very much in favour of that.

On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about access for people with mobility difficulties, yes, I know all about that. My local railway station is associated with a very large school complex, and there is not much in the way of housing there, although there is a retirement development, surprisingly—otherwise, you might say it was in the middle of nowhere. Those who want to get to London who are not good at navigating stairs have to get on the coast-bound train—in other words, the train going in the opposite direction—and change at the next station down, where there is at-grade access. They must come off on the coast-bound platform, wheel themselves if there are in a wheelchair, or cross using a walking frame or whatever else, over the level crossing when the train has stopped straddling the level crossing—which is what the train often does because the platform is too short—and then they go round to the other platform. There is of course a bridge, but of course that is another lot of steps. Thankfully, the train schedule is so organised that people do not have to wait two trains hence in order to catch the one back up to London, which is where they first wanted to get to. So I am familiar with this.

On the issue of railways, there has been a great move in my part of West Sussex to try to close off footpaths that cross over railways at what are called unguarded crossing points, because there have been one of two very serious and tragic accidents involving those. Of course, it is a bit difficult, because where do you reroute the path to in order to make it convenient? At one stage, when I was chairman of the Rights of Way Review Committee—a collective of non-governmental and voluntary organisations of one sort or another—I rather blotted my copybook because I tried to get across the message that we must not be fossilised in our views about the rights of way system; we have to make a transition towards something that is fit for purpose today. I ran into issues with people who thought that legacy rights of way must be retained at all costs. I think they were disturbed to find that I was not entirely at one with them on that, in the sense that I felt that, if some that were not that important could be given up, there would be a better chance of getting ones that were needed and accorded with modern practice. When we are talking about users of these things, let us not forget that it is not just cyclists and walkers but people with children in buggies who need to get to and fro—in particular on what I would call the fringes of development areas. It is vital that there is access to open countryside, and if we do not have this network then it does not work.

However, I digress, because the amendment to which I added my name is to do with charging points. I am not an expert on this and I do not have an electric vehicle, but I have tenants who, every now and again, ask about electric vehicles. One of the chief problems is that a fast charger—I do not know if it is “fast” or “rapid”, but it is one of them at any rate—requires a three-phase electricity feed. I do not have that and, indeed, I am at the limit of what can be drawn off a pole transformer that is on the property. When I asked about bringing three-phase in, the chap from UK Power Networks or whatever it was said he did not even want to tell me what it would cost. He said it was absolutely eyewatering and he did not tell me what it would cost, but I imagine it was several tens of thousands of pounds just to bring in a third cable overhead and provide a new network.

The noble Baroness raised a more acute point to do with the overall capacity. There is a lot of demand queuing up for this because, if we are talking about electric vehicles that is one thing, but if we are decarbonising people’s heating in their homes that is another thing altogether. I remember, not so long ago, quizzing the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about what this meant in terms of the additional demand on the grid—it was pretty substantial. We are not anywhere near that, either in the generating capacity or the distribution system on the network.

So we are a tad behind the curve, and the only way that I can see to deal with that is having a much more comprehensive approach. That is due to be, or has been, discussed in the context of the Bill, which looks at decentralised generation of one sort or another, so that we can somehow get more capacity back into the system. This is a great problem because, if you want to charge your car in 40 minutes, for example, that requires a lot of power going into the charging unit. If you just want to do it overnight, via a 13-amp extension lead from your living room, that is another matter altogether. So I appreciate that getting this right and getting more granular, in the terms of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, is vital, or else we will lose sight of this and try to cater to one thing when, in fact, there is a basket of other things. So I am very supportive of this.

The only amendment I have not spoken to is that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, who is right: where there are 20 mph limits, the traffic often does flow more quickly. On the other hand, there are areas with 30 mph limits that should probably be retained, unless you get complete gridlock; one thinks of arterial routes into towns. But that is possibly a debate for another day, and I doubt that the noble Baroness would necessarily agree with my analysis.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Communities and Local Government) 12:45, 20 April 2023

My Lords, I was reflecting that we have barely mentioned levelling up in the last two Committee days. Yet my noble friend has helpfully raised the importance of relating everything we do to the levelling-up missions, which include references to accessible public transport in order to enable accessibility to employment. That was timely.

My name is on Amendment 468, which is about accessible railway stations. I will not repeat what my noble friend said because I cannot add anything, except that I endorse her praise of the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and my noble friend Lady Brinton, and their consistent determination to keep accessible public transport at the forefront of our thinking. If public transport is accessible to the least mobile, it is much better for everyone else, those who are mobile; it makes it better for everyone.

I will briefly speak to Amendment 240, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, because some planning issues are related to it. Everything he said is quite right. The NPPF, which we have mentioned several times, already has a policy on retaining public rights of way, cycle networks, bridleways and so on. Therefore, many local plans will incorporate them, including that of my own council, which

“will support development proposals that can be served by alternative modes of transport such as public transport, cycling and walking”.

The council says:

“The core walking and cycling network as shown on the Policies Map will provide an integrated system of cycle routes, public footpaths and bridleways that provide opportunity for alternative sustainable means of travel throughout the district and provide efficient links to urban centres and sites allocated for development in the Local Plan”.

I thought that all local plans would incorporate such policies, although, from what the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, said, this is clearly not the case. He pointed to the division of responsibilities for highways between the counties and districts, for planning purposes. Therefore, when plan-making, I hope the Government will have a requirement—they may already have one, but if so, it needs to be underlined—to incorporate the highways policies of the responsible council concerned. That would solve at least one of the problems raised.

The fundamental problem with a lot of our planning development policies—I raised this in a different context on the last Committee day—is implementing them. As with my council, we can have grand and worthy policies on retaining the public rights of way network, cycleways, bridleways and all the rest of it, but when that comes up against commercial development interests, I can tell noble Lords now that those interests always win. We have to find a way of balancing that better.

Of course, if a public right of way goes through a commercial developer’s site, it will want to adjust it, but this always has to be in the best interest of the public right of way as well; however, that often does not happen. For example, a development site in my locality abuts the M62, and a historic public right of way went through the middle of it. Of course, the developer did not want to retain it, and the proposal was to divert it so that it ran along the M62. Who would use that? Some of us managed to get it put elsewhere on the site—but that is what we are up against. This is my plea to the Minister, and it is a big challenge for all the wonderful policies we have discussed: how can we ensure that they can be implemented when they are up against commercial interests? That is the key because currently, commercial interests have the upper hand in the end, and in my experience they always win.

Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell me that all new planning applications are required to have an electric vehicle charging point, because that would make sense. My council requires this. This could go into the NPPF, and, if it is not possible—because flats are being considered—there could be a requirement for public provision in the locality of the development.

My noble friend Lady Randerson raised a big challenge about the differential VAT charges. This is outrageous: I had not realised that public charging points have higher VAT attached to them than domestic ones. If we are really going to encourage electric vehicle use, which we must, surely a tax incentive is one of the ways to do so. With those words I look forward to what the Minister says.

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) 1:00, 20 April 2023

My Lords, I support Amendment 240 in the names of my noble friends Lord Berkeley and Lord Hunt, the noble Lord, Lord Young, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. Before I turn to the specific amendments in this group, I will mention the very helpful discussion which took place in Grand Committee on Monday on the Built Environment Select Committee’s report on public transport in towns and cities. The committee’s recommendations were very helpful to our consideration of this Bill. I thank the chair of that committee, the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and his predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, the members of that committee and all those who gave evidence.

The Minister—the noble Baroness, Lady Vere—was part of that discussion so there is no need for me to go through all the points relevant to the Bill, which I am sure she will pass on to her colleagues in the Transport team and the DLUHC team. However, it was the overwhelming view of the committee and all noble Lords who took part on Monday that a formal link should be introduced between local plans and local transport plans. In view of the amendments in this group, it is important to record that strongly held view today.

Can I say how much I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about the importance of transport to the levelling-up agenda? Like the noble Lord, Lord Young, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, I too am very pleased to see the Minister responsible for transport here today to respond to the debate. As the fortunate resident of a town designed with 45 kilometres of cycleway built into it, it is unthinkable to me that planning for cycling and walking, and considering at local plan stage the infrastructure needed to support that, would not be in the Bill and intrinsic to the planning for our communities. If this amendment is accepted—I really hope it will be—then the subsequent NPPF or whatever is going to succeed that will need to take account of the anomalies that occur in these aspects of planning in two-tier authorities. My noble friend Lord Berkeley referred to that earlier.

Generally these can be resolved through good liaison between authorities, but consideration should be given, as responsibility for both transport and rights of way sit with county councils, as we have heard, whereas the local plan is the responsibility of the district council. It will also need to be clear in terms of rights of way improvement plans that the responsibilities for maintenance—should it be necessary—ransom strip land purchase and so on remain the responsibility of those authorities which currently hold them. To be clear, the fact that a planning authority includes them in its local plan does not necessarily incur any additional financial or legal responsibility for these matters than existed previously. Concerns about lack of co-ordination through the National Planning Policy Framework were referred to by my noble friend Lord Berkeley, and including this provision in the Bill might encourage authorities to work together where that is not the case already.

In relation to Amendment 468 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Randerson, I echo comments about the tireless work of the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Grey-Thompson. It is very important to clarify that this should apply to all railway stations, including retrospectively. I know that is a difficult issue and how it works together with other disability legislation, such as the Disability Discrimination Act, should be clearly identified. There are already some provisions in there but I do not think it goes as far as we would want it to and the proof of that is what we see in our local railway stations. We heard many of examples of that during the debate.

It is, of course, crucial that we do all we can to make our rail system accessible, safe and user-friendly for all passengers. Indeed, we will never make the quantum leap in switching from private car travel to public transport that we need to reach zero carbon without such measures. I come back to the Built Environment Select Committee’s inquiry into public transport, which has very clear recommendations on this subject. As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, progress has been painfully slow on this to date and we need a bit of a rocket under it to get it going again. The very helpful introduction of things such as senior railcards is of far less use if you need to navigate several flights of stairs to cross even from one platform to another.

Amendment 470 in the names of my noble friend Lord Berkeley, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, requires the Secretary of State to facilitate the accelerated rollout of EV charging points for domestic and commercial customers. I strongly support this very laudable aim but there are still unresolved issues. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, have both identified, we are already seeing inequalities develop in EV charging provision and we need to watch out for that very carefully, particularly in the context of the Bill.

Then there is the issue of technology and whether it is settled enough yet to encourage the considerable cost of a UK-wide rollout. Many of us in this Chamber will remember the issues around VHS and Betamax. That is the classic example of when, if you jump early to the wrong technology, it can be very expensive indeed. Many noble Lords referred to improvements in very fast charging facilities and the way that picture is developing so rapidly. It is difficult to know when that will settle. The noble Lord, Lord Young, referred to the difference between fast and slow chargers, and we need to make sure that we get the most up-to-date provision wherever it is possible.

Secondly, in terms of domestic provision, the complex issues referred to by noble Lords by this afternoon of on-street charging must be resolved. For those fortunate enough to have a drive or land at the side of their property where charging points can be installed, it is not such an issue, but if you live in a terraced street and in housing where that is not so easy to do, it is. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, rightly made the point that this should not interrupt easy walking access for residents. For properties with no adjacent parking, installation of EV charging points can prove expensive and very disruptive in terms of cable laying and so on. My noble friend Lord Berkeley raised this issue too; we have to be concerned about it. Lastly, I have a slight concern that giving this responsibility in legislation to the Secretary of State will simply result in it and potentially the resultant cost and headaches being transferred to local authorities. That is something we need to think carefully about.

I also agree with noble Lords who have said that National Grid really has to get its act together on this issue. Even in developments I have been engaged with in my own borough, it is very often National Grid that really holds things up on many of the measures that we want in levelling up and regeneration. We need to work on how National Grid can respond more quickly to these developments.

No doubt, all those issues could be considered and resolved and there is clearly an urgent need to accelerate the provision of EV charging. My noble friend Lord Berkeley mentioned 8,000 public charging points. This is woeful. The noble Lord, Lord Young, mentioned that this has been flagged up for over 30 years now. We can all remember talking about this many decades ago, so surely it is time now that we made urgent progress.

I turn now to Amendment 482 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. At the moment, some local authorities do a very good job of making the case to residents in their communities for reducing speed limits, and I pay tribute to campaign organisations such as 20’s Plenty for Us that are producing fantastic support on that. In addition to the points that have been made about it, I also mention that the reduction in pollutants at lower speed is a key issue here as well as the other benefits in noise pollution, safety for other road users and so on.

We believe that this is an area where decisions are far better taken locally so that benefits can be explained fully as the change is implemented. I pay tribute to Hertfordshire County Council, which has worked very closely across the county with local councillors and their communities to develop an evidence base, introduce consultation with members and the communities that they represent and then put appropriate funding allocation in place, first on a pilot basis and then more widely across the county. That is a very good example, and it was lovely to hear another example of how the Welsh Labour Government are leading the way in this respect.

Amendment 486 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, refers to the need for the Government to update Parliament on progress against their EV infrastructure strategy, which was published in March 2022. Irrespective of the comments I made earlier about the complexities of introducing EV charging, at the very least the Government should be delivering against the strategy they have set for themselves. The disparity in provision from place to place is as important as the sheer number of charging points available, so we certainly support the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My Lords, I am very pleased to make my debut on the LURB. I am sorry that it has taken so long, but I may be back again in due course, should there be more transport amendments. Today, it is my job to address this group of amendments, which relate to transport; there are four, and I shall address each in turn.

I start with Amendment 240, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, which relates to cycling and walking and to the role of active travel in local development. I think that all noble Lords agree that the Government recognise the importance of walking and cycling and the role that the planning system plays in enabling development in sustainable locations, supported by active travel infrastructure. It is already the case that national planning policies must be considered by local authorities when preparing a local plan and are a material consideration in all planning decisions. The Bill does not alter this principle and will strengthen the importance of those national policies which relate to decision-making.

The existing National Planning Policy Framework is clear that transport issues, including opportunities to promote walking and cycling, should be considered from the earliest stages of plan-making and when considering development proposals. The NPPF also states that policies in local plans should provide for attractive and well-designed walking and cycling networks with supporting facilities, such as secure cycle parking, drawing on local cycling and walking infrastructure plans. The NPPF also places environmental objectives at the heart of the planning system, making it clear that planning should protect and enhance our natural environment, mitigate and adapt to climate change, and support the transition to a low-carbon future. The Government have recently concluded a consultation on changes to the NPPF to ensure that it contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation as fully as possible.

I always react with some trepidation when my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham shares his thoughts with your Lordships’ House. He has an enormous amount of experience in this area—and, it would seem, in most areas of government. He challenged me to explain why we think the guidance will achieve our aims. I believe that it is more than just guidance; the NPPF and the new national development management policy set out the Government’s planning policies for England and how they should be applied. These are material considerations in planning decisions. The power in securing positive change for communities is substantial and should not be referred to as just “guidance”.

There is another step forward—perhaps slightly towards where my noble friend would like us to be—with Active Travel England. Many noble Lords will know that Active Travel England was set up relatively recently, and its role will expand over time. It will become a statutory consultee on certain major planning applications from June this year. That means that local planning authorities will be required to consult ATE on planning applications, where developments meet one of the following minimum thresholds: where it has 150 residential units; where it is 7,500 square metres of commercial area; or where it is a site with an area of 5 hectares or more. Furthermore, ATE will also take an active role in supporting the preparation of local plans and design codes.

It is also worth reflecting that local plans must be put in place quickly, and so we must avoid imposing a plethora of additional statutory requirements which local authorities must have regard to, especially when clear expectations are already set through national policy. There is one other—

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

I apologise to the Minister, but could she explain to the House where the balance lies between commercial interests and their development, and the policies that she has rightly described as very positive and as needing to be put into place? In my experience, the balance is currently in the hands of the commercial interests.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 1:15, 20 April 2023

I had better write with more details on that subject. As noble Lords will know, I have not been involved in the Bill for very long but, reflecting on some of the contributions to the Built Environment Committee, I sometimes question whether noble Lords have any confidence in local authorities at all. If the noble Baroness is asking what the balance is between commercial interests and other local interests, I ask: do we not want the local authority to be making those decisions for its local communities and therefore granting planning permission on that basis? In terms of how we would provide the overarching vision for that, I am very happy to set that out in more detail in a letter.

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 apologies for also interrupting the Minister. I know that she has not been part of previous discussions on the National Planning Policy Framework with regard to the Bill, or the sequence of events as to when we will see the finalised version of the NPPF, but noble Lords have expressed concern that we are being told that some things are going into one, while other things are going into the other. Because we will not see the finalised version of the National Planning Policy Framework before the end of Committee—unless the Bill goes on even longer than it already has—we have concerns that we will not understand what is going into one and what is going into the other. I repeat that point again, because it is very important to some of the previous points under discussion in earlier days in Committee about how the two fit together.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Indeed, I am aware that those conversations have been happening and, as a Transport Minister, perhaps I had better not add anything further. However, it is worth highlighting that the Government are taking forward other policies for cycling and walking, which I believe will be helpful to local authorities in thinking about how cycling, walking and active travel are taken into account when it comes to local development. The Manual for the Streets guidance is incredibly important and is being updated. We are also planning to refresh the guidance supporting the development of the local transport plan.

It is also worth noting the tens of millions of pounds that the Government have awarded to local transport authorities to upskill the capacity and capabilities of their staff to ensure that things happen. For example, the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, mentioned her council in Kirklees, where things all seem to be tickety-boo. Therefore, I would expect other local authorities to look at that council to try to emulate that because, essentially, we want local decisions to be taken locally—that is at the heart of this matter.

I turn now to the amendment on railway accessibility in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. I appreciate the contributions made by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, providing details of specific areas where we need to make improvement. Improved access to the railway is a key priority for the Government. The Transport Secretary is committed to funding transport infrastructure improvements, including improvements to stations to make them more accessible for disabled passengers. The Department for Transport has already invested £383 million under the Access for All programme between 2019 and 2024, and there is more to come.

The Design Standards for Accessible Railway Stations, published in 2015, set out the standards that must be met when new railway infrastructure or facilities are installed, renewed or replaced. Noble Lords may question the date of 2015 and say that it is a little while ago, but I reassure them that the process is being set out at the moment as to how the standards will be refreshed.

Noble Lords will also be aware that the Government have now completed an audit of all stations across the network. That data will be shared with Great British Railways; it will be made public; and that will be very helpful for ensuring that as many people as possible who are less mobile can travel. I accept, however, that some stations remain less accessible. Can we fix them all at once? I am afraid we cannot, but I would like to reassure the Committee that all stations, regardless of size and location, are eligible for funding under the Access for All programme.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

I am very pleased to hear about the Government’s commitment and that we will soon get details that will help us on this. We all acknowledge that you cannot do it all at once. What we want to see is progress, so I was very disappointed to read about the Network Rail briefing this week, which became public. It said that the amount of money available was not enough to maintain existing standards of reliability on the railways, let alone make progress with improving accessibility. The noble Baroness might like to make a comment on that.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The noble Baroness would probably decline to make a comment on that at this moment, as that would take us far away from the area of accessibility, which is under consideration today. However, the noble Baroness asked whether progress had been made. So far, step-free accessible routes have been delivered at 200 stations, and smaller-scale access improvements have been made at 1,500 stations. We have made progress; there is much more progress to come; and we are absolutely committed to making it.

Amendments 470 and 486 relate to the charging of electric vehicles, I share all noble Lords’ concerns about electric vehicle charge points and how important they are as we decarbonise our transport system. The first of the two amendments seeks to amend the Electricity Act 1989 to add an explicit reference to electric vehicle charge point provision in addition to the need to

“secure that all reasonable demands for electricity are met”.

The Electricity Act 1989 already requires the Secretary of State to give regard to securing that all reasonable demands for electricity are met. This requirement already includes the charging of electric vehicles. We therefore believe that the amendment is unnecessary, and indeed that it might be unhelpful to other equally critical areas of the decarbonisation effort such as, for example, heat pumps. In carrying out this duty under the Electricity Act, the Secretary of State works closely with Ofgem, as the independent energy regulator is responsible for regulating network companies to ensure that sufficient grid capacity is built and operated to meet consumer demand. Of course, we work very closely with Ofgem as price controls are developed, so that our work aligns to meet the needs of customers, including electric vehicle users.

We are investing £3.1 billion for network upgrades to support the uptake of electric vehicles and heat pumps. This is significant upfront funding and, combined with an agile price control system for net zero-related expenditure, it will enable the investment in the network infrastructure needed to facilitate heat and transport electrification.

There were a number of questions around the provision of charge points themselves. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked about new homes. We laid legislation that came into force in June last year requiring most new homes and those undergoing major renovation with associated parking in England to have a charge point or a cable route for charge points installed from the outset. We estimate that this will lead to the installation of up to 145,000 new charge points across England every year.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked about home and business charge points. The Government have supported the installation of about 400,000 of these charge points. Of course, there will be many, many more out there that have been installed without government support—and, to my mind, long may that continue.

I turn now to the second of the two amendments on charge points, which relates to reporting. I do not believe that this amendment is necessary, because I am pleased to confirm that the Government routinely publish monthly and quarterly EV public charging device statistics. These are broken down by device speed category, region and local authority area. The latest report outlined that, as of 1 April, there are more than 40,000 available public charging devices, of which more than 7,600 are rapid or above charging devices—a 33% increase. We also routinely publish the number of devices funded through government grant schemes. As I pointed out, many more will be installed that are not funded by the Government, and we would not necessarily be able to find out where they are. If there is further information that the noble Baroness would like about public charging points that we might reasonably be able to gather, I would be very happy to discuss this with her further. I have noted the other comments on EV charge points and will reflect on them further.

Finally, I turn to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, about a blanket reduction on restricted roads from 30 to 20 miles per hour. I noted some of the comments from the noble Baroness, and I agreed with some of them. None the less, I am not convinced that a blanket application of this lower speed limit is appropriate because, again, it would undermine local decision-makers’ ability to set the most appropriate speed for the roads in their area, based on local knowledge and the views of the local community. Actually, I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, agrees with me. Indeed, she seems to agree with me for England but not for Wales, where it is not something that a local authority can decide.

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 believe there was widespread consultation from the Welsh Government with Welsh local government in terms of doing this. I have that in my notes, but my notes are a bit scribbly and I missed it out. May I just make the point that the Welsh Government, as they always do, have consulted very widely with Welsh local government on this?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

That is fantastic to hear, and I am sure that all local authorities 100% agreed with the Welsh Government in that regard.

The second element to this is that a blanket approach would be—

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

Would the Minister acknowledge that 30 miles per hour was, of course, the blanket applied by Westminster? That is what has been set by Westminster, and it is of considerable cost for councils to apply a reduction. We are discussing the levelling-up Bill, and it is councils in the poorest areas of the country that would see the greatest benefits but may well not have the money to be able to bring in that improvement for their residents.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I was about to come on to the fact that changing the speed limit on a blanket basis would be incredibly costly and complex to introduce. I go back to the first point, which I believe is the stronger of the two arguments, because you can throw money at anything and make it work. Local authorities quite rightly have the power to set speed limits on the roads in their areas. Many local authorities have decided to do 20 miles per hour zones in all or parts of their area, and that is entirely up to them. We endorse that approach in Department for Transport guidance and, particularly, we think that that is something that should be considered where pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles are all in close proximity. However, they are not always in close proximity. There will be roads which the local community and their local elected leaders will decide should stay at 30.

If one were to apply this blanket change to 20 miles per hour, what would happen is that all of the repeater signs for 20 miles per hour that already exist for those areas that are 20 miles an hour would have to be removed, or there would have to be repeater signs for 30 miles an hour put in. This would, of course, be after the local authority had gone through its entire road network to figure out which roads should be at which speed. So I believe that where we are at the moment provides the balance between ensuring that local people are taking responsibility and decisions for matters that affect their local communities, based on their local knowledge. The corollary to that is that if one applies a blanket approach now, it would be very costly, as the noble Baroness has already pointed out herself.

With the assurance that I have given in relation to each of the amendments in this group, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, will feel able to withdraw his Amendment 240 and that the other amendments in this group are not moved when they are reached.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 1:30, 20 April 2023

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this excellent debate. Many of them are probably the usual suspects on these things, but it has been a useful debate, reinforcing many of the views that we have all held for a long time. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, mentioned PPG13; I remember it when I was in the commercial side, which is a very long time. Christian Wolmar is still chair of the Labour transport group and we are both patrons of the All-Party Group for Cycling and Walking. The group held an event in Portcullis House yesterday and Mr Wolmar was there promoting this. It is working very hard, which is good to know.

I will not respond to all the other comments on other amendments; it is not my place to do that. I just point out to the Minister, who mentioned the NPPF and the question in relation to my Amendment 240 on whether we should rely on the new NPPFs, that I said in my opening remarks that the current one mentions local cycling and walking infrastructure plans only very briefly and does not mention right of way improvement plans at all. We will need to look very carefully at what the Minister said in her helpful response and decide whether we bring back something different on Report.

I cannot resist one last comment on the speed limit issues. Once we all have electronic self-driving cars, it can all be changed anywhere at the click of a mouse—if we believe that will ever happen.

On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 240 withdrawn.

Amendment 241 not moved.