Amendment 240

Part of Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (10th Day) – in the House of Lords at 12:45 pm on 20 April 2023.

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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.