Amendment 257B

Part of Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (10th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:00 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) 6:00, 20 April 2023

My Lords, my Amendment 257B is to Clause 101, by which the Government will centralise to the Secretary of State some of the most important planning decisions that will be taken in any locality. The example that I will use is that of the proposed use of former airfield accommodation for housing asylum seekers. I do not want to debate the principle of that today—it is a proposal by the Government. What I am interested in, and concerned about, is the proposal from the Government as to how such a decision will be made. This relates to some of the most important planning applications that will ever occur in a locality. As we have heard over the last few meetings of this Committee, there is a well-thought-through, well-laid-out and well-understood—on the whole—planning process to determine applications either for a new development or a change-of-use development. The proposal here is to try to bypass that, because it would be difficult.

We live in a democracy, and the whole purpose of a democracy is for the voice of the people to be heard and for decisions to be made, having heard the voice of the people—of residents. I feel really strongly about this. In my experience, the worst thing that happens in a locality is when somebody in authority tries to impose a solution. It never works—and the experience of the Government so far shows that this will not work. The proposal for Linton-on-Ouse airfield in North Yorkshire to be used for accommodation for asylum seekers had to be fairly rapidly rescinded because of local objections. There is a way of doing things—and, yes, it takes time, but time is a healer. It gives a way of hearing voices that are, at first, perhaps angry, but can then be made less angry, or perhaps even ameliorated, through discussion and hearing both sides of a proposal.

Currently what happens with any planning application, but particularly big planning applications is that, first, it is notified in a formal way and word gets round in informal ways. A timetable is laid out for how the planning application will be considered, including a period in which objections can be made by local people. Then there is an opportunity at a meeting of the planning committee to hear the proposal and any objections. I think that most planning committees now allow, and encourage, members of the public to speak to the committee so that their voices and concerns can be heard. If planning officers are involved, one of their skills is to try to find a way through a difficult proposal by hearing the voices of those who live in the locality and of the planning proposal applicant. They try to find a way through so that, while nobody will be totally satisfied, there is less dissatisfaction. The decision is made in an open way—it is webcast, these days, well reported and understood—and a list of planning conditions are laid out so that all the issues that local people are concerned about can be addressed.

The issue is that we have 166,000 asylum applicants, and because processing them has been so dreadfully slow—perhaps deliberately so, I do not know—they are talking about moving asylum seekers from hotels to this disused accommodation. Do noble Lords know how many sites they will have to find to get everybody out of a hotel? It will be a minimum of 80. Have we got 80? This is a folly that we have in front of us.

I understand that the Government have a problem here, but asylum seekers, in my view, have a right to be housed in a clean and safe environment while their asylum application is being heard. If the Government cannot do that in a speedy way, then they create for themselves a problem. But in this instance what is not acceptable, in a democracy, is for the solution to be that up to 2,000 individuals will be housed in former accommodation without the consent of the surrounding community, because it will have an impact on them. The impact can be ameliorated, but they need their voice to be heard. That, for me, is the issue. We live in a democracy, people have a right to have their voice heard, and that is the whole purpose of my amendment. I beg to move.