Amendment 240

Part of Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (10th Day) – in the House of Lords at 1:00 pm on 20 April 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 1:00, 20 April 2023

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—