Amendment 257B

Part of Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (10th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 20 April 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 6:15, 20 April 2023

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for introducing her amendment. We agree with everything she has just said. I am also objecting to Clause 101 standing part of the Bill, because we are very concerned about the implications of this clause. We have also put down an amendment to probe whether guidance will be published on Clause 101, but our major concern is with the clause itself.

As we have heard from the noble Baroness, Clause 101 inserts new sections into the Town and Country Planning Act to provide for two new routes to apply for planning permission for the development of Crown land in England. In other words, we are talking about land where there is a Crown or Duchy interest. In the case of either route, the provisions in the clause will allow the appropriate authorities to apply for planning permission direct to the Secretary of State, rather than being subject to the same requirements and application processes as anyone else wishing to undertake development. In such circumstances, the Secretary of State must notify the local planning authority whether they intend to decide the application. If they decide to determine it themselves, they can approve it either conditionally, or unconditionally, or refuse it. They will also have to consult the local planning authority, to which the application would otherwise have been made, but the authority will have no right to veto it.

What does the policy paper that sits alongside the Bill say? It says that it is a means to

“provide a faster and more effective route for urgent and nationally important Crown development”.

That sounds all well and good, but, like the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, we are also concerned about the implications of introducing such an open-ended measure. This is regarding both removing appropriate and necessary limits on the exercise of executive power and denying communities a chance to express their views about development in their area and their ability to indicate either consent or opposition.

We fully appreciate that there will be emergency situations where it is necessary to speed up the planning application process for essential development. Off the top of my head, I can think of the Nightingale hospitals during the Covid pandemic. However, the broad scope of the provisions in the clause, which do not provide for any limit on the type of development that can be approved directly by the Secretary of State, or in what circumstances, means that they could be used for a much wider range of proposals.

This could include a number of circumstances, but I would like to focus on one in particular, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. The Committee will know that the Government have opened centres to provide accommodation for asylum seekers and are looking to open further such centres. I would like to thank Asylum Matters, Medical Justice, the Helen Bamber Foundation and Ripon City of Sanctuary for their helpful briefings. The Government have, as the noble Baroness said, consistently sought to avoid public scrutiny of and consultation about the construction or operation of large-scale institutional facilities for asylum accommodation.

The Home Office has previously successfully opened such facilities on ex-military sites at Coltishall in Norfolk—which is now closed, despite an attempt to reopen it—Napier in Folkestone, which is still open, and Penally in Pembrokeshire, which is now also closed. It has further made attempts, despite local opposition, to construct or operate similar facilities in Barton Stacey, Hampshire, in a facility on the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre site in Bedfordshire and, from April 2022, as was mentioned by the noble Baroness, at an ex-military base in the rural village of Linton-on-Ouse, North Yorkshire. All these projects have been the subject of intense controversy and, in the cases of Napier and Penally, legal challenge over the profound harm to people seeking asylum, as well as the lack of government consultation of local communities and the resulting impacts on community cohesion.

At both Yarl’s Wood and Linton-on-Ouse, pre-action correspondence was issued, and the developments were halted prior to judicial review. At Penally, the Secretary of State for Wales stated that he first had discussions with the Home Secretary about use of the site just nine days before it opened, and the local health board was informed three days prior. At Napier, the local council, local MP and local and district councillors wrote to the Home Office to protest that they had been given

“very little notice of the decision” to open the barracks and that it was

“one they could not support”.

A similar lack of consultation occurred at Barton Stacey and at Yarl’s Wood. In the case of Napier, planning permission for the facility was initially secured under class Q emergency development rights for six months, subsequently extended to 12. The Secretary of State granted herself permission to use Napier Barracks for a further period of five years, without any public consultation, through the unusual procedure of using delegated legislation.

The Government’s approach has been criticised by your Lordships’ Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which raised concerns that the Town and Country Planning (Napier Barracks) Special Development Order 2021 had been laid while Parliament was in recess and that “insufficient information” had been provided by the Government about these developments.

After the fact, the Home Office ran a public “consultation” on the change of use of the site. But this cannot be considered a meaningful consultation, as it took place after permission had been extended. The planning statement that was issued at this time included a commitment to complete a statement of community involvement. This has still not been published, despite the consultation closing at the end of January last year. Perhaps the Minister could give an update on that.

In a judgment handed down on 24 June last year, the High Court ruled that the decision to grant planning permission for a further five years was unlawful. The judge ruled that there was a failure to have proper regard to the public sector equality duty and that the development raised

“very obvious issues … in particular relating to … potential victimisation and harassment … and the fostering of good relations”.

Lack of consultation by the Government has had serious effects on community cohesion in places where large-scale institutional sites have been contemplated. Last April, the Government announced their intention to move towards a system of large-scale permanent asylum accommodation centres in which to place people seeking asylum who would otherwise be destitute, while they await a decision on their claim. The flagship announcement of a facility to accommodate 1,500 people seeking asylum on the ex-RAF base at Linton-on-Ouse, which we have mentioned, was made without any reference at all to the local community, the parish council, the district council, the police and crime commissioner or local police and health services. An initial justification for this was that it was part of a bigger series of announcements.

Current planning laws and, in particular, the right of local residents to be heard on decisions which affect them have proved a barrier to government attempting to institute these large-scale accommodation facilities. Our concern is that the powers provided for in this clause are to facilitate the driving through of centres regardless of their impact on the people placed in them or the local communities in which they are situated. They allow government to totally bypass local councils on asylum accommodation. This is completely the wrong approach. We believe it should be a legal requirement to consult local authorities on asylum accommodation locations.

Appropriate safeguards must be added into the clause to ensure that there are limits to the use of these powers and that minimum requirements are in place to secure some measure of consent from affected local communities. Without a firm commitment that such safeguards will be introduced at a later stage, we believe that Clause 101 must be removed from the Bill.