Amendment 248

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (10th Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 20 April 2023.

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Lord Young of Cookham:

Moved by Lord Young of Cookham

248: Clause 99, page 108, line 34, at end insert—“(3) If there is conflict between street voting on development and the development plan, a determination must be made in favour of the development plan.”Member’s explanatory statementThe outcome of a street vote may conflict with the development plan. The amendment provides guidance on how to resolve this conflict.

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

My Lords, we come now to the clause in the Bill dealing with street votes, which has generated a substantial number of amendments, of which mine is the lead amendment. It seeks to ensure that a street vote cannot conflict with a local plan. This clause was not in the Bill when it was introduced in another place: it was introduced on the second day of Report. The Government have said that Clause 99

“is intended to encourage residents to consider the potential for additional development on their streets, and support a gentle increase in densities, in particular, in areas where additional new homes are needed”.

I expect the Minister will describe the provisions of the clause in more detail, so I will not spell them out.

We have heard the expression “gentle densification” several times from the Secretary of State; it is something he clearly approves of. I will need some clarification before I lend it my approval, for this reason. Michael Gove was in another place, as I was, when the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, then John Prescott, the Secretary of State, came up with a similar policy of promoting suburban development and the development of back gardens. Those with long memories will remember that all hell broke loose. On 7 March 2007, the Daily Mail thundered:

“Thirty thousand gardens every year ‘torn up’ due to Prescott's policies”.

My party was whipped to vote on a Friday for a Private Member’s Bill to block the policy. Greg Clark, the then shadow Minister, wanted gardens to be reclassified as greenfield sites, and he took up the cause because local authorities were powerless to stop gardens being built on. When my party won the 2010 general election, Greg Clark, then the Minister, ordered changes to planning rules that meant gardens will no longer be seen as brownfield land, ripe for development. Crucially, it meant that stronger powers were available to local authorities to block “gentle densification”.

I just mention that to put this proposal in a broad historic and political perspective and to suggest some caution before we endorse it. Normally, and indeed given the controversial background to this proposal, innovation such as this, in the planning world, would be preceded if not by a Green Paper then at least by some form of consultation to gauge its practicality and effectiveness. This would involve the LGA, the Royal Town Planning Institute and, of course, the public. Nothing of the sort ever took place. This policy emerged from a think tank and was fast-tracked into primary legislation, overtaking on the way some well thought-out and badly needed policies on housing reform, in sharp contrast to the normal process of policy formation. I believe that the Government are adopting a high-risk strategy and, rather than going straight into primary legislation, they should test the proposal in the usual way and then consider how best to proceed. There is nothing particularly urgent about this, and we need to get it right.

One of the problems I have with the clause is that it sits very uneasily with the objective of planning policy in the rest of the Bill, which is to promote certainty in the planning process through the adoption of local development plans. The development plan is supposed to act as the master plan for development at the local level and should therefore take primacy. Any variation from the plan would then have to go through a process before development at variance with the plan can proceed. Uncertainty is a theme that has run through all our debates. Ad hoc street votes undermine that principle, leaving residents who participated in good faith in the plan-making stage and are satisfied with the outcome with no recourse if policies at variance with the plan are then adopted following a street vote. As the LGA has pointed out, you can make provision for gentle densification using processes that already exist. That is one reason why Clause 99 does not have the support of the LGA.

Let me turn to the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Of the 19 pages that the DPRR Committee devoted to this marathon Bill of 223 clauses and eight schedules, no fewer than six are devoted to this one clause. To summarise its verdict, this is what it said about its objections:

“A common thread runs through them all: in each case, we consider that the power relates to matters that are too significant in policy terms to be left to be determined by regulations”.

It wants whole sections of the clause removed. To date, I do not think the Government have responded to that report, which came out on 1 February.

I was grateful to my noble friend the Minister for allowing officials to brief me in February about this clause, and I pay tribute to the lengths she has gone to try to satisfy my curiosity about the Bill. But it would be fair, following that briefing, to say that the policy is still in gestation. I believe that, if the clause survives, the intention is not to roll out the policy nationwide immediately but to have some pathfinders to test-drive the policy. Can my noble friend confirm this?

I have a real problem with how this is going to work out in practice. Take a suburban road, which we will call “the Avenue”. On either side are detached houses with back gardens with access to the garden by the side of the house. Parallel to the Avenue on either side are two other roads. Their back gardens back on to the back gardens of the houses on the Avenue. Under this clause, residents in the Avenue can decide, in a majority street vote, to allow those who want to do so to build a bungalow or indeed a two-storey house in their back gardens. This will clearly have an impact on the residents in the parallel roads, who will find their privacy affected, as there will be a new home overlooking their garden. But crucially, they have no vote. Also, those residents on the Avenue who voted no will find that their garden too has an intrusive development next door. I would not want to be the Member of Parliament for the Avenue. There is a potential recipe here for major neighbourhood friction, and I just wonder if this policy has been fully thought through. It would put into the shade the disputes we read of about leylandii.

I mentioned the LGA’s opposition. It said:

“We do not support the proposals for street votes as it could add another layer of complexity to the planning system, stifling the production and implementation of local plans and the delivery of affordable housing.”

I do not believe that the policy will help to solve the acute shortage of affordable accommodation. I suspect that we may get a lot of attics making already expensive houses even more expensive.

To be constructive, I should say that I have no objection to street votes feeding into the development plan process. Appropriate account could then be taken of the outcome in formulating the local plan, not least in formulating required likely future infrastructure such as schools, GP surgeries, transport infrastructure and the rest. However, if development happens at random and outside the local plan process, as proposed in this clause, that could lead to significant infrastructure shortfalls in local areas, with associated negative impacts on communities and potentially increasing community resistance to new development.

Criticisms were made of this clause at Second Reading but, given the scope of the Bill and the length of time allowed to Ministers for winding up, my noble friend was understandably unable to address them then. I know he will want to do so today. I think I have said enough to indicate that, in the words of Sir Humphrey, this is a brave initiative. I beg to move.

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) 5:00, 20 April 2023

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Young. I will speak to our Amendments 249, 250, 251, 252, 253, 254, 255, 256 and 257 in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman. A number of those amendments echo the concerns of the noble Lord. It is important to place on record that the clause to which amendments in this group refer was not in the Bill when it was debated in the other place, so it has not had the kind of scrutiny you would expect for a proposal of this kind. Therefore, it is right that your Lordships’ House gives this clause and the amendments submitted very careful consideration.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Young, that the progress of this proposal straight into primary legislation is unusual to say the least—I would call it inexplicable. I have much sympathy with his comments that, were the street votes part of a consideration that the planning and development committees took into account, that might be a different issue. However, from the proposal in the Bill it seems that they are intended to sit outside that.

In recent decades, changes to the planning system have meant that local people and, on occasion, local councillors have felt that they have little say or control over what happens in their area due to a combination of permitted development, changes to use classes—meaning, for example, that there is little to stop your high street being dominated by betting shops and vape stores—the prevalence of conversions to houses of multiple occupation, which puts particular pressure on infrastructure and parking and can change the character of neighbourhoods, and the hollowing out of so many coastal and rural areas as family homes become holiday and Airbnb lets. We have heard powerful advocacy for the role of neighbourhood forums and town and parish councils in previous debates on the Bill. There is undoubtedly something of a community engagement vacuum in the delivery of new homes which the advocates of street votes believe they can help fill.

As a member of the Co-operative Party, a sister party to the Labour Party, and a former chair of the Co-operative Councils’ Innovation Network, I have spent more than 10 years promoting and supporting greater engagement of residents and communities in the decisions taken on their behalf, so we absolutely support the principle sitting behind the street votes proposition. I am very grateful to Samuel Hughes from Create Streets, who took a great deal of time to brief me and my noble friend Lady Hayman and kindly provided us with a background briefing on street votes.

The problem with the clause as drafted is that it is very thin on detail, not least any detailed definition of “gentle densification”, which we have heard so much about during the Bill. I am sure that the Minister will tell us that it will be in the regulations or the National Planning Policy Framework, but in this case it is particularly important to understand how the system of street votes will work. Even their most passionate advocates feel that there is room for more clarity in the Bill.

Our amendments in this group attempt to understand how this detail and some of the potential complications will be resolved. As an example, although greenbelt, areas of outstanding national beauty and historic buildings are expressly excluded, there is no mention of conservation areas.

In his article, which is generally very positive about street votes, the designer Alastair Parvin points out that, when you start thinking about the detail of how they might work, it is not hard to see how it could all go very wrong. Those of us who have been involved in planning will feel the same trepidation that what seems, on the face of it, like a move towards community engagement, development and an ultimate expression of street democracy, may also need to be particularly well thought through in advance to avoid the obvious potential pitfalls.

The system of local authority planning may seem bureaucratic, complex and too slow, but you could argue that it is developed that way to ensure, for example, that experts in planning, law and finance are involved, that there is transparency in the process, that decisions are properly debated and recorded, and that there are proper voting procedures, appeals processes and declarations of interest. As Alastair Parvin notes, to even think about the idea of every street in the UK emulating this way of working, appointing an urban designer, holding consultations, drawing up a valid design code, having it checked against local policies, revising it, holding committees, leafleting, then organising a referendum, is utterly exhausting and could be expensive in time and money. It could also add a significant potential burden on to local planning departments that are already feeling overstretched. He also points out that community politics can be, at best, dominated by those with the loudest voices and, at worst, pretty toxic, with the potential for style wars or tribalism to develop, or those who are fixated about parking to take over—in my experience, there are plenty of them. I loved his line,

“we’re talking about doing design-by-committee with Alan Partridge on the committee”.

How do we ensure that those participating are not being coerced or receiving financial inducements, particularly the elderly and the vulnerable? Street votes will also have to take into account that, while many places in the UK may have well-defined streets, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, pointed out, some do not. There have a variety of layouts, types and styles, with perhaps less well-defined groupings or boundaries. Some of you may be familiar with Radburn layouts that are common in first-generation new towns, where houses that appear to be on one street are actually in three different streets.

It is important that we note the comments of the Local Government Association, which were quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Young. It says that it wants to work with government to enhance opportunities for engagement and reach a wider audience within the process of developing local plans, and that is the key to the answer here. Amendment 248, in the names of noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, is welcome and very straightforward, and we would certainly support that amendment to bring clarity to the precedence of the local plan, should the outcome of a street vote conflict with that.

My noble friend Baroness Hayman’s first amendment ensures that residents who have a recent connection with the area are included in street votes. We are very grateful to Generation Rent for its proposals in this respect. It makes the valid point that street votes must work for renters as well as owner-occupiers. Part of the answer, which is included in the Bill, is to enfranchise residents, not owners, so that tenants have as much democratic say as owner-occupiers, and absentee landlords are not further empowered over tenants’ homes. However, we agree with Generation Rent that this is not enough in itself so, before any homeowner or landlord can redevelop with permissions issuing from a street vote, any tenant resident in the building over the past two years must have consented. The alternative could be that landlords could refund 12-months’ rent or give their tenants 12 months’ notice. The Bill is very light on issues affecting tenants in this way, which is why we hope that our amendment will redress that balance.

Amendment 250, in the name of my noble friend Baroness Hayman, relates to the important issue of voting thresholds. We believe that it is important that it is a very high proportion; we would suggest two-thirds of total residents should support the proposals, not just a majority of those who turn out to vote. This ensures that developers cannot try to game the process and proposals can pass only if they have the overwhelming support of local people.

Create Streets, working with London forums and the Community Planning Alliance, also suggests two further safeguards—first, requiring that a resident in at least half of eligible households vote in favour, and second, that at least half of those registered to vote at the addresses on the street for at least three years must vote in favour. We would like to see this detail in the Bill but, if not, perhaps it could be considered for any subsequent statutory instrument.

Amendment 251, again in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman, probes the possibility of residents agreeing a code of construction practice for a development. This would ensure that communities can choose patterns of development that are minimally disruptive to them and best suited to their needs and priorities. We understand the Government may be considering including this provision in secondary legislation, but it too could easily be provided in the Bill. Doing so would provide assurance that it could not be overlooked subsequently and that a full range of tools and safeguards for the community would be provided.

Our Amendment 254 refers to biodiversity targets. We believe that the kind of development enabled by street votes could be a huge improvement in relation to biodiversity occurring on brownfield sites, relieving the pressure on the countryside and relying on public transport rather than new road infrastructure. To ensure that street votes deliver on this potential, all development through street votes should be required to meet the national 10% biodiversity net-gain target. For technical legal reasons, this requires some adaptation of existing regulations to ensure they apply correctly to development permitted through street votes. There is a clause for this in the Bill, allowing the Secretary of State to make provisions modifying or excluding the application of Schedule 7A, on biodiversity gain in England. However, as drafted, it would allow the Government not only to modify biodiversity net-gain regulations so that they apply to street vote development, but to exempt street vote development from those regulations. This could be precluded by an amendment saying that the Secretary of State should have power to modify the regulations but only in ways that do not make them less strict than they were had the development been permitted through the normal planning system.

Amendment 255 is to probe what engagement has been done with the Association of Electoral Administrators in relation to street votes. This association, as we all know, can provide expert advice on how the types of electoral process that may be necessary for street votes could be conducted. They will also be able to liaise with teams across the country in councils that may need to be involved. These teams are generally small and highly skilled groups of council officers, and it would be important, as with many other consultations with the professionals involved with this process, to assess any potential impact on them of the street votes proposal.

I have mentioned the potential for conflicts of interest to arise in relation to street votes, as it does with all planning matters; in local authorities, these issues are taken especially seriously in relation to planning. Our Amendment 256, in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman, probes how this will be dealt with in relation to street votes. For example, would declarations be necessary if one of the residents of the street was likely to be a developer engaged in building out the proposed development? What land ownership declarations would need to be made so that all residents understood where there might be a disproportionate benefit to one particular resident or group of residents? We would also understand the sentiment behind Amendment 253A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, who made such an eloquent case for neighbourhood forums on Tuesday. We agree that setting neighbourhood forums up to go head-to-head with street votes may have the exact opposite effect than joining communities together for a harmonious approach to planning, which is surely what the Bill intends to do.

Photo of Lord Stunell Lord Stunell Liberal Democrat 5:15, 20 April 2023

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, in this debate. My contribution is quite modest compared to their overarching and sweeping criticism of Clause 99 but, just by way of flanking fire, perhaps I can say that it covers eight pages of the Bill, which is more than the whole of Part 1, which sets up the mission statements. That seems to me to be a wholly disproportionate application of drafting time, when we consider the level of detail not present in Part 1 and the level of detail here. That is perhaps the only point at which I would wish to challenge the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, in her request for yet more detail. I honestly do not think this Bill needs any more detail on street votes.

Nevertheless, I have tabled Amendment 253A, which aims to ensure that where approved neighbourhood plans are in place, they cannot be overturned by a street vote. It is, to that extent, rather in the same vein as Amendment 248, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Young. He set out that there should be a clear hierarchy between street votes and development plans so that local development plans trump street votes. My amendment takes a different approach to neighbourhood plans. It simply adds to the list of places where street votes cannot be held—which exists in the Bill—those areas that have valid neighbourhood plans in force. In other words, within areas where there is an approved neighbourhood plan, street votes are not to be an available mechanism.

Like the two previous speakers, I do not really get what value there might be in street votes as a concept. I see some places where they may create or might enable some worthwhile flexibility at a micro level below the reach of borough-wide development plans. However, I admit that I am struggling to imagine what a good example of that might exactly be. It has been suggested, by the Minister, apart from anybody else, that it provides the opportunity for low-level densification of homes in a street. I think the noble Lord, Lord Young, commented to some extent on that, but I will just pick up a point made by the noble Baroness about biodiversity.

One of the things that recent planning changes have brought into view is that gardens should not be paved because of the need to maintain natural drainage. The more the footprint of buildings is increased, the bigger the run-off and the bigger the risk of local flooding at the least. Therefore, that connection will sometimes be a consideration which needs to be taken into account.

It is easy to imagine some less benign examples of street votes, such as perhaps a west London street agreeing that sub-basements with cinemas and car parks would be perfectly fine there. If that was done on the basis of a referendum, the result of which—just to pick two figures out of the air—was 52% to 48%, there would not just be some discontented people living in neighbouring streets but perhaps substantial levels of discontentment in that street.

That brings me to ask a question about who gets to vote. Presumably they are people registered on the electoral roll. That is just as well, because in that west London street the big houses probably also have five or six servants—chauffeurs, cooks and chefs—and, of course, the let-out as far as the voting goes is that they are probably not UK subjects. The noble Baroness made a good point on behalf of renters: in a community, particularly an inner urban area where a transient population is normal, who votes, when they vote and what the qualification is to vote is important.

One of the many pluses of a neighbourhood plan, particularly the process leading up to its adoption, is that all those nook-and-cranny micro details can be considered and a consensus built as part of that plan. That is itself subject to a public endorsement and a referendum. It seems to me fundamentally wrong to have a situation in which such an endorsed, publicly recognised and approved plan, with a level of local public participation that far exceeds the adoption of a local development plan by a planning authority, could be overruled or subverted by random revocation of bits of it in the street votes.

My argument is straightforward. Essentially, where a valid neighbourhood plan is in force, all the work on microsites and flexibilities will have taken place already in drawing up that plan. Whatever the merits of the principle of street votes, they would be an unnecessary duplication of effort and expense within a neighbourhood plan area. My amendment avoids that overlap and the inevitable confusion it would cause in the local community if its democratically prepared neighbourhood plan was set aside, even if only in one part. I hope to hear that the Minister agrees with that and will accept my amendment.

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

My Lords, I think we can say that there has been a less than enthusiastic response to the proposals in Clause 99, and I endorse everything said by the three previous speakers. Rather than laying out any other reasons in great detail, which other noble Lords have done, my questions for the Minister are these. First, what is the problem to which this is the solution? Secondly, what is a street? I know there is a clause defining a street, but I should really like to know whether Manchester Road in Huddersfield, which stretches for seven miles, counts as a street, or Halifax Road, which goes from Halifax to Dewsbury. Is 10 miles a street? I need to understand what a street is.

That leads to my third question. We have discussed at length in the past few days the purpose of planning and what is required of our planning system to enable development, but also to enable communities that work and to protect our environment. Currently, any planning application for more than one house needs a construction management plan but there is no reference to that in Clause 99. In any development of the sort that I think is being considered—back gardens or whatever—there is also the question of linking to the existing utilities, particularly water and wastewater removal in some areas. We need to know how sustainable that will be or whether there will have to be sustainable urban drainage to achieve it. Where I am now, nearly all the developments must have attenuation tanks built into them to do what they say: hold back the water to reduce the risk of flooding. All that would need to be thought about, as well as the issues that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, raised about biodiversity.

The Government, in their wisdom, changed permitted development rights of change of use from offices to residential areas. Because that could be done without proper process, one of the big issues that ensued concerned parking—or the lack of it—because there was no provision and no consideration had to be given to it, so none was applied for and there was a big problem.

This could be the same because it is not going through normal considerations and a well thought-through planning process that considers what must be thought about. Since I came here from faraway Yorkshire, I have wondered whether a lot of our proposals in legislation are based on experience in London. I do not think that street votes are going to go down right well in parts of Yorkshire, to be honest. People will turn to their local councillors and ask us to solve it, which many times we have. Is this another London thing? I have the view that it is. Let us have a Bill for London, stick all these things in it and leave the rest of the country alone.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 5:30, 20 April 2023

My Lords, a range of questions have been asked on this group of amendments. It might be helpful if I begin with the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and set out why the Government are bringing forward this measure in the Bill.

Local people can, quite understandably, be resistant to new development in their area if they have little say over what gets built and it does not reflect their preferences. However, many of us know that residents are often more supportive when they can play a direct role in shaping that development, including what it looks like. The Government are looking to deliver more good quality homes in the right places. To help achieve that, we want to encourage some intensification of development in existing residential areas, particularly areas of low density in towns and cities where this has the support of residents.

Clause 99 introduces street vote development orders, which will provide residents with a new opportunity to take a proactive role in the planning process and bring forward the development that they want to see on their streets. This new route to planning permission will support wider local efforts in bringing forward developments of new or more spacious homes in places where they are needed most. Amendments 248, 251, 253A, 254 and 257 all deal with how street votes will fit with the wider planning system and related requirements, and I propose to address them as a group.

In moving Amendment 248, my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham emphasised the desirability of achieving maximum certainty in the planning system. The first thing for me to say is that we want to create a predictable system where residents have a high degree of certainty on what development is likely to be permissible before they prepare a street vote development order proposal and that we want to make the system accessible and easy to use. To achieve that, we propose to do things a bit differently with this new tool. We want to depart from existing practice, which relies heavily on the interpretation of local policies to determine whether a development is appropriate, and move to an approach where proposals are assessed against more precise requirements which will be prescribed in regulations. These prescribed regulations will include what type of development and what type of uses are allowed, as well as detailed design requirements such as floor limits, ceiling heights and the extent to which a plot can be used.

We want to test this through consultation ahead of drafting the secondary legislation. These requirements will provide residents with that certainty and ease of use and be designed to ensure that street votes development is high quality and that any local impacts are managed. While I understand the intentions behind my noble friend’s amendment, it would, if agreed, prevent us applying this new approach and therefore I am unable to support it. I emphasise that this is an issue that we intend to consult on as part of a wider consultation on the detail of the measure to ensure that a wide spectrum of views is considered and that the policy delivers for communities.

I turn next to Amendment 251 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, which was spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor. Where there is a street vote development order, we of course wish to see the resultant impacts of construction on residents and the local environment minimised. The powers we are seeking would allow the Secretary of State to prescribe in regulations the documents that must accompany a street vote proposal. They could potentially include a code of construction practice. We intend to consult on what these requirements should be as part of the wider consultation on the detail of the measure. Setting out the documentary requirements in the Bill would prevent us considering this, alongside other detailed matters, through consultation.

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)

Does the Minister accept that as part of that consultation we should speak to the Local Government Association or other representatives of local government? The drawing up of such codes and so on would almost certainly involve professionals in the planning departments of local authorities. They are at breaking point already—they are greatly stretched—and these street votes can presumably pop up at any time. They will not necessarily be part of a planned workload for local authorities. One of our concerns is that if some of these codes and other things that might be needed to support street votes are not very clear in secondary legislation or the SI that brings it in, it will put an incredible burden on those hard-pressed local authority planning departments. That is probably why the LGA has spoken out so strongly against this proposal, or one of the reasons. If we are going to do some extensive consultation on this before we see secondary legislation on it—which begs the question of why it could not have come in secondary legislation in the first place—that issue needs to be considered.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

We want to engage in extensive consultation. I have every confidence that the Government will want to garner opinion from sources that have expertise of the kind that the noble Baroness mentions, and I see no reason why the LGA will not be included in that. If I can provide her with greater certainty, I will certainly do so by letter. I will be talking more about the broader consultation process in a minute or two.

The effect of Amendment 253A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, would be to exclude development in any area with a designated neighbourhood forum from the scope of street vote development orders. This would mean that, as he explained, street vote development orders could not be used in areas where, I suggest, they would be of most benefit, for example, where local people want more homes, or where greenfield land is under particular pressure from housing development. I reassure the noble Lord that neighbourhood planning will continue to play an important role in the planning system. Indeed, other measures in the Bill reinforce this. Where street vote development orders operate, communities will continue to be able to participate in neighbourhood planning. Indeed, our intended consultation will give neighbourhood planning forums and other interested parties an opportunity to shape the policy and ensure that it delivers for communities.

Photo of Lord Stunell Lord Stunell Liberal Democrat

I thank the noble Earl for giving way. He has perhaps got the cart in front of the horse there. My amendment refers to neighbourhood plans which are in force. It seeks to make sure the decisions the public take on all the issues that he has just outlined as being highly desirable—those which have completed and formed a neighbourhood plan—are not then subject to a further random challenge from a particular street vote. It is not a question of the preparation of a neighbourhood plan; my amendment would not apply in that situation.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

I take the noble Lord’s point. This highlights again how important it will be to ensure that the results of the consultation reflect issues such as those the noble Lord has raised. It may be that the general feeling is to go along the road the noble Lord has suggested. I do not want to pre-empt the consultation result in that sense, but let me reflect further on what he has said. Again, I will be happy to write to him if I have further wisdom to impart at this stage.

I can understand the reasons for tabling Amendment 254, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, spoke. I do not, however, agree that it is necessary. As a general point, biodiversity net gain will be an important point of the planning system going forward. It will ensure biodiversity must be enhanced when new development occurs and habitats will be impacted. Having said that, my colleagues at Defra have recently published the Government’s response to their consultation on the implementation of biodiversity net gain—BNG. This response makes clear that certain types of development will be exempt from BNG requirements.

The powers in the Bill require regulations to specify the development which can be consented to through a street vote development order. We are likely to use those powers to specify a range of development, from more minor developments such as roof extensions to more extensive development. In line with the wider policy approach, it is therefore likely to be appropriate to exempt some forms of street vote development from BNG requirements. That is why we are seeking the power in the Bill to both modify and exclude BNG provisions under Schedule 7A.

The noble Baroness asked in particular about conservation areas, and I will touch on that. I recognise the important role that conservation areas play in protecting local heritage. Proposals for street vote development orders will be independently examined against a set of prescribed requirements. The importance of local heritage will be taken into account in the design of these requirements. In addition, street vote development orders cannot be used to consent to the development of listed buildings and scheduled monuments.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked about infrastructure and perhaps I could reply to her in this particular context. We recognise that improvements to local infrastructure may be needed to support street vote development. Where street vote development takes place, local authorities will be able to secure value from the new development by charging a specific community infrastructure levy rate targeted at street vote development. This will ensure that value generated by the street vote development can be captured and used to secure infrastructure and affordable housing that will support the local area.

I turn briefly to the issue of whether it is appropriate to seek a delegated power in this case. As Defra’s recently published implementation plans make clear, much of the detailed implementation for biodiversity net gain will be set out in secondary legislation. It is therefore also appropriate to set out the biodiversity net gain arrangements for street vote development orders in secondary legislation to ensure that the systems work in harmony.

I can understand the reasons for tabling Amendment 257 in the name of the noble Baroness; however, I do not agree it is required. Clause 100(3) of the Bill allows for local authorities to expedite the procedure for setting community infrastructure levy rates for street vote development where local authorities do not have immediate plans to update or introduce CIL rates within their authority.

Unlike other developments, we do not intend for street vote developments to be subject to Section 106 planning agreements to deliver on-site affordable housing. However, we recognise that in some cases it may be appropriate for street vote developments to contribute towards affordable housing. That is why this clause allows authorities to spend street votes CIL receipts on affordable housing, where they consider it appropriate to do so. It is not possible at this stage to make any prediction about the amount of affordable housing that would be provided by street vote development orders, for the simple reason that we need baseline data and we do not know how many street vote developments will come forward.

Turning to the issue of annual reporting, I note that local authorities are already required to report annually on CIL expenditure in their infrastructure funding statements. We will be considering as we develop the policy the role that monitoring of CIL expenditure can play, as a part of the wider monitoring strategy for street votes.

Amendments 249, 250, 252 and 253 all relate to who is eligible to participate in the street vote process and I will address these as a group. Street vote development orders are intended to give those who currently live in the relevant area the opportunity to come together and prepare a development proposal for their street. If the proposal passes independent examination, a wider group of local people will get the opportunity to vote on whether planning permission should be granted. While I absolutely acknowledge and understand what the noble Baroness was seeking to achieve with Amendment 249 and her interest in who will be eligible to submit proposals and vote, the effect of her amendment would allow for people who no longer live in the area to participate in the process, which would be contrary to the intention of the policy.

Once again, these are matters for the consultation. We intend to consult on the relevant date for meeting the conditions for eligibility to be in a proposer group and the eligibility for who can vote in a referendum before exercising the relevant powers to ensure we get the balance right.

My answer is similar regarding Amendment 250, which covers a concern voiced by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. The powers we are seeking allow the Secretary of State to prescribe in regulations the minimum number or proportion of qualifying individuals that are needed to form a group which is eligible to submit a proposal with a view to it being independently examined and ultimately put to referendum. We want to ensure proposals have sufficient local support before they progress, and we similarly intend to consult on this as part of a wider consultation on the detail of the measure.

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) 5:45, 20 April 2023

The noble Earl has mentioned, a couple of times now, independent examination of street voting. Does that mean the idea is that we will have a whole new round of public inquiry processes for every street vote that is introduced?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

No, it most certainly does not. Our intention is to appoint the Planning Inspectorate to examine proposals and make the street vote development orders on behalf of the Secretary of State.

Photo of Lord Stunell Lord Stunell Liberal Democrat

I wonder if I could help the noble Earl. For neighbourhood plans, there is an independent examiner who is not actually drawn from the inspectorate but obviously has to be a qualified professional person of independent standing according to an agreed register. I would have thought that, bearing in mind that is a task that is bringing forward a significant number of neighbourhood plans each year and the Government intend to bring forward more, there would be a substantial multiplier effect if street votes go ahead. So the pool of independent examiners may have to be deepened and widened somewhat beyond the Planning Inspectorate if he intends to proceed.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

That is a helpful suggestion, which I am happy to feed in.

On Amendments 252 and 253, in the name of the noble Baroness, the Government recognise that leaseholders will often have an interest in proposals for street vote development. Leaseholders will be able to be part of a group that can bring forward a proposal for a street vote development order if they are registered to vote in a local council election at an address in the street area on a prescribed date. If a proposal passes examination, a referendum will be held on it. Subject to the outcome of consultation, the Government envisage making a provision so that individuals, including leaseholders, who are registered to vote in the local council election at an address in the street area, as well as commercial rate payers there, will be eligible to vote. Again, we intend to consult on this proposal and on our proposals for referendum approval thresholds as part of a wider consultation on the detail of the measure.

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

I apologise. The noble Earl said that commercial developments in an area would have a vote, but how would they be on the electoral roll? Clause 99 says they would be.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

It is not that businesses would be on the electoral roll. If I misspoke, what I meant to say was that residents who are registered to vote in a local council election at an address in the street area on a prescribed date will be eligible to vote as part of this arrangement, as well as commercial rate payers in the area.

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

So could Tesco, for instance, have a vote, if there was a little Tesco Express on the street?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

The intention is that, if there is a commercial business paying commercial business rates, it should be allowed a voice in this process.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

No doubt this will be the subject of further debate—

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

Yes, and consultation.

Before I speak to the government amendments, I will turn to Amendments 255 and 256, also in the name of the noble Baroness, which deal broadly with issues of propriety. I recognise the valuable expertise that organisations like the Association of Electoral Administrators can bring, but I do not agree with the noble Baroness that it is necessary to place a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to engage with them. As part of our work to develop the detail of the street votes policy for regulations, we will seek a wide range of views, as I mentioned earlier, from organisations such as the Association of Electoral Administrators and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives to help us to get the secondary legislation right and to ensure that the policy operates effectively. However, it is right that the Secretary of State will be required to consult the Electoral Commission, given its important statutory role to ensure free and fair elections and polls.

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 hear what the noble Earl is saying. In that respect, our amendment was more to seek the views of the Association of Electoral Administrators about the level of pressure that might be put on those groups—I made this point on planning teams earlier—if they were involved in a number of different referenda in their areas at the same time, for example. These can come out of the blue—we would not know when—so there are issues around how they are resourced to deal with that kind of uncertainty in their workloads.

Two big questions have come out what the noble Earl has said. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, said, it seems that we are going to have a whole new inspectorate. We had a light-hearted suggestion that it might be called “Ofstreet”, but that is for later determination. Who is going to pay for that inspectorate? Secondly, there is the issue of referendums. Referendums can be quite expensive—we have done them on parking issues in my borough. It costs quite a lot of money because you have to be very careful about how they are done to make sure they are fair. Who pays for those?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, if I may say so, that is a very helpful intervention from the noble Baroness. She raises a number of key points, some of which will no doubt be covered in the consultation, but if I can expand on that I will be happy to write to her.

On Amendment 256, I would like to make it clear that the Government take the potential for conflicts of interest seriously. I am however confident that local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate, both of which we envisage having an important role in the street vote process, have appropriate safeguards in place to minimise conflicts of interest. It is a matter for local authorities to determine their own conflict of interest policies. I have every confidence that all local authorities treat conflicts of interest seriously and have robust procedures in place for both their members and officers. It would not be proportionate to legislate that local authorities publish guidance on managing conflicts of interest specifically on street votes, although no local authority would be prohibited from doing so if they so wished.

Our intention is to appoint the Planning Inspectorate to examine proposals and make street vote development orders on behalf of the Secretary of State. As the independent examiner, the Planning Inspectorate has its own conflicts of interest policy to support the proper and efficient allocation of work. In addition, chartered town planners, who may support residents in preparing proposals, are bound by the Royal Town Planning Institute’s code of professional conduct. This includes provisions to declare and avoid conflicts of interest.

I turn briefly to the government amendments in this group. The Government are committed to ensuring that street vote development is subject to the same principles in relation to environmental impact assessment as development enabled by other routes to planning permission. This is consistent with the Government’s commitment on non-regression of environmental protections. Without amending the Bill, it would be unclear for qualifying groups and relevant bodies how the EIA requirements would apply to street vote development. Amendments 257A, 504H, 504I, 504J and 509A allow for the Secretary of State to make regulations modifying the existing process under the EIA regulations so they operate effectively for street vote development orders. Where development that is consented under a street vote development order is EIA development, it will continue to be prohibited unless an assessment has been carried out and the environmental impacts are considered when making the order. Amendments 248A, 256A and 258A make technical and consequential provision to the Town and Country Planning Act, the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 and the Elections Act 2022. These minor changes to these Acts—

Photo of Lord Stunell Lord Stunell Liberal Democrat

I thank the noble Earl for giving way—I realise he has a mammoth task this afternoon. Amendment 258A introduces a new schedule to the Bill. It appears to be five pages long, which raises the total text to some 15 pages. I wonder whether he could say a little bit more about that schedule and what it is attempting to achieve. I am looking at paragraph 1(7), which is obviously difficult to interpret because it inserts bits into other legislation. Maybe he would like to write to me about this. Really quite important stuff is being parachuted into the Bill, on top of all the uncertainty we have been discussing. I wonder whether he would like to sketch in how the new schedule, which I suppose is going to renumbered as Schedule 8, fits into the general structure of this clause.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 6:00, 20 April 2023

I appreciate the noble Lord’s question and his interest in that amendment; I understand why he felt he should have asked the question. My advice is that, despite its size, this additional schedule represents a minor and technical change, which is necessary to ensure the effective operation of the street votes process and to ensure that it is integrated into the wider planning system. However, I am happy to write to him with further and better particulars.

I hope that the Committee will feel more comfortable with the provisions as I have explained them, and that the government amendments will be accepted when they are reached.

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

Near the beginning of my speech, I asked the Minister if he would be able to define a street. Could he do so now?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

I am so sorry I omitted to reply to the noble Baroness; I will write to her. It is a question I ask officials myself. It is an issue which will be decided in the consultation because, as she rightly said, there will be instances where a street, as such, does not exist. For example, you might have a small community of houses where the owners or residents may wish to apply under this procedure. In short, this is an issue to be determined under the consultation.

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

My Lords, the hour is late, and we are less than half way through the targeted groups for the day, so I will be as brief as I can in winding up this fairly lengthy debate. I note that all those who spoke to their amendments had at some point held elective office, either as councillors or in other place—and, in some cases, both. That may explain the lukewarm—I think that is the best adjective I can use—reception for this proposal. The conclusion I draw from this is that the role of a think tank is to think and to come up with radical policies; the role of government is not to fast-track those into primary legislation but to subject them to critical scrutiny and consultation, and then progress to the next stage. The more I listened to the debate, and the more I heard my noble friend the Minister use the word “consultation”, the more I have come to the conclusion that, while I said in my opening speech that this was a policy in the process of gestation, it is in fact the size of a pinhead, as far as I can see, when it comes to movement towards delivery.

I will now pick up some of the points raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, struck a note of caution about the policy and agreed with me that it was okay to have street votes as a process of feeding into the formulation of a district plan, but she wanted more clarity and asked for assurances about conservation areas for which an assurance was not given. She asked relevant questions about the role of tenants, voting thresholds and declaration of interests. As I understand it, a short-term tenant will have a vote, but the owner, who is not in the property at the moment, will not. There are a lot of issues behind entitlement to vote, which I will come to a moment.

I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, was a Minister in the DCLG in 2010, when the Prescott policy of not-so-gentle densification was overturned—his head is stationary, so I do not know whether he was or not; now it has moved vertically, indicating that he was indeed in the department then. He made the point—I will come to it in a moment—about the priority of the neighbourhood plan. One of the worrying things that my noble friend the Minister said in his reply was that, where a neighbourhood has gone through the whole process of consultation, and has developed and had approved a neighbourhood plan, and then within that neighbourhood a street comes up with a proposal which is in conflict with it, the street vote has priority because my noble friend was unable to accept the amendment.

The same applies to my amendment. When one has gone through the whole process of formulating a district plan, residents throughout the district feel confident in the outcome. They then find that it can be overturned by a street vote. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, again highlighted the potential for neighbourhood conflict, which is one of the things that really worries me about this. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister, whose patience and tolerance have been extended to the extreme over the past hour and a half. I note that he did not reply to the points that I made about the DPRR report, which made some scathing criticisms and suggested that whole sections of this Bill should be removed. Nor did he indicate when the Government might reply to that report.

My noble friend said that the street vote could go ahead with the support of residents, but we do not know what is meant by “support” or “residents”. As I read it, there will have to be an assessor; it will have to go through a process. My understanding is that an inspector—probably from the Planning Inspectorate—would be appointed to assess it. We did not get an answer to the question of who pays for the PINS inspector who is going to assess the proposal. The ratepayers will have a vote, but it is not quite clear who will exercise that vote on behalf of the business. If there is one very small business and one huge business, do they both have one vote? Who exercises it?

The conclusion that I draw from this is that the best thing for the Government to do is to drop this clause. Frankly, the Bill is far too long; this is not urgent; there is no great demand for it. That was quite clear from what my noble friend said whenever he was asked a question: “This is subject to consultation”. We should have had the consultation before we had the legislation. Although I will withdraw my amendment, I suspect that if I did not, I would win the vote quite comfortably on the basis of the exchanges that we have had so far. In the meantime, however, I thank all noble Lords, and particularly my noble friend. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 248 withdrawn.