Amendment 258B

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (10th Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 20 April 2023.

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Lord Lansley:

Moved by Lord Lansley

258B: Clause 102, page 130, line 28, at end insert— “(5A) Where a subsequent planning permission (Permission B) is for localised changes to a wider development approved in the existing permission (Permission A), which would not have the effect of rendering the implementation of the Permission A physically impossible, the implementation of permission B does not preclude future reliance upon Permission A (in relation to existing or future development) outside of the area to which permission B relates.”Member's explanatory statementThis amendment would support the continuation of “drop-in” permissions in large-scale developments, while maintaining the “Pilkington” principle, that they must not render the original permission physically impossible.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My Lords, I remind noble Lords of my registered interest as chair of the Cambridgeshire Development Forum. This group relates to planning permissions. There are a number of different amendments for different purposes and perhaps noble Lords will forgive me if I speak only to my Amendment 258B, which has a particular purpose. It seeks to provide a clear, statutory provision in relation to an area of planning law that has recently become uncertain and which if not clarified would create a number of costly and difficult consequences both for developers and planning authorities.

I will explain the background. The issue relates to large developments which are built out over a significant period; they are developments which have had a full planning permission. Of course, if development proceeds in phases with outline permission, or with a hybrid mix of outline and full permissions for different phases, the scope for varying a large development can be adjusted over time—but I am talking here about developments with full planning permission. In relation to those, it is clear that variations to that full planning permission are limited. Section 96A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 permits variations to a planning permission that are not material. Clause 102 of the Bill seeks to insert into that Act a new subsection (5) stating that planning permission may be granted in relation to an existing permission

“only if the local planning authority is satisfied that its effect will not be substantially different from that of the existing permission”.

That is not quite the same as the existing law; it is a step forward, but a very modest step in that direction. However, the issue is where a developer seeks permission within the boundary of an existing large-scale development for a significant variation to the plan. What happens where two permissions exist together in relation to the same site?

This matter arises in relation to what is known as the Hillside judgment—Hillside Parks Ltd v Snowdonia National Park Authority—to which I will return soon. The Supreme Court judgment was given in November last year, so it is quite recent. In paragraph 28, it said:

“There is … no provision of the legislation which regulates the situation where two or more planning permissions granted for development on the same site are, or are claimed to be … inconsistent. The courts have therefore had to work out the principles to be applied”.

The key case in this respect, up until now, has been Pilkington v Secretary of State for the Environment. I will not dwell on the two bungalows and the smallholding which were the subject of that case. Lord Widgery, in his judgment, stated that the test would consider

“whether it is possible to carry out the development proposed in that second permission, having regard to that which was done or authorised to be done under the permission which has been implemented”.

In a sense, what Pilkington established was the idea that permission could not continue to be valid where it had become physically impossible to implement it by virtue of a subsequent planning permission that has been consented. However, that has tended, over time, to imply that, where it is not physically impossible to fulfil an existing planning permission, it would remain valid, notwithstanding that there is an additional permission in relation to part of the site. So the general expectation has been that, where permissions relate to the same site, the issue is whether the implementation of one renders the other physically incapable of implementation. If it does, the approval of the latter would render the former invalid; if it did not, the former permission would not be invalidated.

I turn now to the Supreme Court judgment of the Hillside case in November last year. An issue for the appellants—Hillside Parks Ltd—was that the Court of Appeal had held that the original planning permission for the whole site could not be interpreted as separable. Paragraph 71 of the judgment of the Supreme Court justices said:

“We agree with the view expressed by the Court of Appeal in this case that where, as here, a planning permission is granted for the development of a site, such as a housing estate, comprising multiple units, it is unlikely to be the correct interpretation of the permission that it is severable”.

Consequently, if a permission were implemented in relation to a part of a larger site, even if the rest of the original permission could be completed, the fact that the whole original permission could not be completed would render the original permission no longer valid.

The problems that arise from this were summarised in submissions to the Supreme Court by counsel for the appellants who submitted that it would cause serious practical inconvenience if a developer who, when carrying out a large development, encountered a local difficulty or wished for other reasons to depart from the approved scheme in one particular area of the site, cannot obtain permission to do so without losing the benefit of the original permission and having to apply for a fresh planning permission for the remaining development on other parts of the site. The Supreme Court justices took the view that that was indeed the legal position: that where a developer had been granted a full planning permission for one entire scheme and wished to depart from it in a material way, it is a consequence of the very limited powers that a local planning authority has to make changes that a full new permission would be required.

I am very grateful to the Home Builders Federation, which supplied a full briefing after I tabled the amendment. It supplemented my knowledge quite a bit. I hope noble Lords have received its briefing, which included several case studies to show how these consequences of the Hillside judgment last November could create cost, delay and disruption to development in large sites. I am not proposing to go through the case studies. I hope noble Lords will understand that at this late hour that would not be terribly helpful. It implies, however, with a series of examples, that the cost of a new, full application with all the attendant documentation, such as environmental impact assessments for a whole site, would be a very costly and time-consuming consequence.

Local planning authorities will not easily resource new large-scale applications for sites which they had regarded as already consented. It could mean that opportunities for desired changes, such as, in one example, to give a small builder access to part of a larger development, would not be offered if they would put the whole scheme at risk. I do not think we can even get into how difficult the community infrastructure levy or, in future, the infrastructure levy, would be to calculate in relation to such further planning permissions relating to the whole existing site. The uncertainty of whether the permission for a large site might be rendered invalid would be a serious risk to the effective delivery of major sites. Only immaterial changes on a large site would be regarded as safe: everything else would put it all at risk.

My objective in Amendment 258A is to give a straightforward statutory provision which would re-establish the position as it had been understood, i.e. that only if a subsequent permission renders the completion of an original permission physically impossible would the earlier permission be invalidated and—perhaps even more important by contrast—if it does not render the original permission physically impossible on the rest of the site, the earlier permission may continue to be relied upon in relation to the rest of that site, i.e. excluding the area to which the subsequent permission has been applied.

I am very grateful for the vocal support I have received for this amendment from the Home Builders Federation. I hope that the Minister may be able to support the intention of this amendment to the extent that she might even look to Parliamentary Counsel’s expertise to see whether my amendment serves the purpose or whether something supplementary might be moved on Report to achieve this—I hope—helpful objective. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 268 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, to which I have added my name. I have to say at the outset that I have no idea whether the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, would agree with my comments, but I hope that he would.

Your Lordships have listened to, and taken part in, many debates over the years on the challenges faced by rural communities. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and my noble friend Lord Foster of Bath have chaired committees looking in depth at these challenges. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, called for a national rural strategy, and I support this. Similarly, my noble friend Lord Foster pressed the case for there to be proper recognition of the challenges rural communities face and for the Government to have a discreet policy which recognises this. There is an industrial strategy, so why not a rural strategy?

The Government’s response was that all the issues faced by rural communities were covered under many other policy areas, so there was no need for a rural strategy. Assurances were given that all government policies would be rural-proofed. This, therefore, was a refusal to have a rural strategy—and there is very little evidence that all government policies are rural-proofed.

The economic viability of rural areas is very fragile. Small business parks tend to be in large towns. Of course, there are excellent examples of business parks in very rural areas—the Eaglewood business park in Ilminster, Somerset, is one such and I am sure there are many others around the country—but it is a struggle. Economic development is vital to providing both facilities and jobs for those living in rural areas.

Young people, having finished their statutory education, may go away to university; or they may stay and, if lucky, learn a trade at the local FE college. They will look around for a job and find that the market is very limited. There may be a manufacturer in the large neighbouring town that is offering apprenticeships, but these will not be numerous. Their options for a job, let alone a progressive career, are limited. It is no wonder that, once they are able, many young people opt to leave their home towns and villages and go to the cities to seek security for their futures.

“Economic development” has somehow become a dirty phrase and not what would take place in rural areas. It is difficult enough to get sufficient housing in rural areas, but business parks and small manufacturing units face a very big struggle. Those opposing housing developments often cite the lack of jobs for the people who would live in the homes created as their reason for objecting to the developments. It has all become too difficult for some, while others are champing at the bit.

During Covid, many people were working at home and found that the different lifestyle suited them; they wanted to work in their local areas instead of having to commute to the larger towns and cities where they had previously worked. However, having looked around, they found that, unless they had a job that actually allowed them to work from home, there was little or no employment that allowed them to go out to work in their local area, despite their considerable skill set.

It really is time for Governments of all persuasions to stop ignoring economic development in rural areas. Having this proposed new clause on permission in principle for rural economic development in the Bill would make a tremendous difference in extending the permission in principle planning route to developments relating to economic development. It would validate the desperate need for rural economic development and, hopefully, lead to more rural jobs.

I know that the Minister understands the issues of rural economic development, as she was the very successful leader of Wiltshire County Council for many years. I hope that she is able, on behalf of the Government, to give a positive response to Amendment 268.

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) 7:30, 20 April 2023

My Lords, there are two amendments in this group in the name of my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage: Amendment 259, which probes subsection (7), which is inserted by Clause 102; and Amendment 260, which probes the involvement of the Mayor of London under the new section. We consider Clause 102 to be relatively straightforward, in that it simply makes provisions concerning minor variations to planning permission, allowing for greater flexibility to make non-substantial changes that would not be possible at present without the submission of multiple applications by various different routes.

On that basis, we broadly welcome this change, because it will give effect to something that is long overdue, simplifying arrangements currently in place that were only ever intended as a short-term holding position. However, we have tabled Amendments 259 and 260 because there are a couple of areas of concern that we would like the Government to look at. First, current arrangements ensure that, if a variation to planning permission is sought, whether before or after completion, the circumstances of the day are considered when determining the Section 73 application. That, of course, includes the policies in place at the time and any other material considerations. However, as drafted, Clause 101(7) suggests to us—and the Minister may be able to clarify this—that the circumstances at the time of the original grant of permission would be the framework for determining applications in future. We are concerned that this would mean, for example, that if a new local plan had been adopted since the original permission, that plan—which might, for example, include more challenging environmental standards—could not be applied in deciding whether or not to grant the Section 73 application. It may well be that the Minister can clarify that for us.

Similarly, many Section 73 applications relate to the number of residential units or to floor space. Again, as drafted, we are concerned that the decision-maker would not be able to, for example, revisit the amount of affordable housing provided by the scheme, potentially creating a significant loophole. We think that local planning authorities should be able to consider up-to-date planning policy and/or guidance when determining such applications, to guard against such adverse consequences as I have just been talking about. We therefore propose that subsection (7) be removed from the clause.

Our second issue of concern relates to the powers that are devolved to the Mayor of London on strategic planning applications. As the Minister well knows, the Mayor has powers to become the decision-maker for strategic planning applications, subject to certain provisions. However, we are concerned that the Bill as drafted provides only for the Secretary of State’s call-in powers; we believe that leaves a vacuum in relation to the mayoral powers. We propose Amendment 260 to follow Clause 102(13) to ensure that the powers of the Mayor of London to call in applications in accordance with the terms of the Town and Country Planning (Mayor of London) Order are still taken into account.

I shall say a very few words on the other amendments that have been discussed. First, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for introducing Amendment 268 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. It is a very interesting amendment, and I am glad that she spoke to it. I absolutely agree with her that we should have a rural strategy. I should draw attention in my interest, in that I have recently been working with the Co-operative Party on its rural policy reviews: it is something that is very close to my heart at the moment. The Government should look closely at how they can give a bit of a leg-up to rural economic development. The Minister will know the particular challenges: there needs to be consideration and support and, as this is a levelling-up Bill, it is an opportunity to take that into account for our rural communities.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, very much for his very thorough introduction. It was very interesting, because I had read the amendment and thought, “Okay, it could be about this; this is what I am thinking”, but his clarification was extremely helpful. I think that he has drawn attention to a really important anomaly in the way the current legislation works. In many ways, that brings us back to something that we have said over and over again—that it would have been better had we had a very specific planning Bill, then we could have got into the nitty-gritty of the current legislation, looked at how it could have been improved and streamlined, and any anomalies such as the noble Lord has drawn our attention to, and any contradictions, could have been properly resolved. So I say to him that we support him in what he is looking to do with his amendment and it would be a very sensible and practical thing for the Government to bring forth such an amendment on Report.

Photo of Lord Stunell Lord Stunell Liberal Democrat

I just want to briefly say that I very strongly support the plea put in by my noble friend in relation to a rural strategy. I am also interested to understand the Minister’s response to the queries that the noble Baroness on the Labour Front Bench has raised about subsection (7); it requires some further explanation. I wait to see what the Government’s amendments look like. With that, I am happy to sit down and let proceedings continue.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Amendment 258B tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley touches on the very specific matter of drop-in applications—not a legal term but one that is used a lot in planning circles. I know he will be well-versed in these matters, and I am grateful to him for exposing me to such technical but none the less important aspects of the planning process at this time of night. I thank my noble friend.

As we have heard, this amendment has been brought forward in response to the judgment handed down last year by the Supreme Court on Hillside Parks Ltd v Snowdonia National Park Authority. My noble friend has given much more detail, but this case considered how far new planning permissions for development that would affect existing planning permissions make these earlier planning permissions unlawful to complete.

I would like to assure my noble friend that my department is already engaging with the development sector to understand the implications of the Hillside judgment for existing and future development practices. As he will know, the matter of drop-in permissions whereby a developer seeks a separate, new permission to overlap part of an existing planning consent has been highlighted as a concern, particularly given their role in supporting the delivery of large-scale developments, which can take several years to build out.

I recognise that the intent of my noble friend’s amendment is to provide legal clarity about the validity of existing planning permissions where a new, overlapping permission is brought forward. However, I must stress that the case law in this area is now quite clear that, unless expressly severable, an existing permission must be interpreted as an integrated whole, and that where a new, overlapping permission comes forward that materially departs from that earlier permission, such that it is impossible to deliver that earlier development, it would be unlawful to carry out further works under that earlier permission. Of course, where the existing permission is clearly severable, or where a new, overlapping permission is not material, it will still be possible for developers to make a drop-in application.

New Section 73B, as introduced by Clause 102, provides for a new, alternative way to make amendments to development proposals and enables minor variations to be made to existing planning permissions. This will allow for changes to be made to existing development proposals, such as to the descriptor plans or conditions, accounting for any amendments already made, providing that the cumulative effect of those amendments does not represent a substantial difference to the original permission. It will be for the local planning authority, in exercising its planning judgment, to decide what constitutes a substantial difference on a case-by-case basis. We anticipate, therefore, that the new Section 73B will provide an alternative route for making changes for many large-scale developments, rather than them having to rely on drop-in applications. We will continue to work closely with the sector to consider whether more guidance about varying permissions would be helpful, and I would be very happy to discuss this further with officials and my noble friend if he would find that useful. With that assurance, I ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.

Amendment 259 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, and moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, is intended to probe the purpose of new subsection (7) in Clause 102. This amendment was also tabled in the other place, with the concern that the provisions as drafted would require applications under new Section 73B to be considered in accordance with the framework in place at the time of the original grant of planning permission. New subsection (7) requires that the local planning authority limits its consideration only to the difference in effect that could arise between the original permission and any subsequent grants to vary or remove conditions under Section 73 or the new route, as a result of granting planning permission under the new route.

For example, where changes are proposed under the new route to the layout of the development granted by an existing permission, only those changes would be considered, looking at their difference in effect from the proposed layout in the original permission as well as any subsequent variations to the layout that have already been granted. This is a complex area of planning changes, so I would be very happy to put this in writing so that noble Lords have it clearly before them.

Section 70(2) applies and requires that the decision must be made in accordance with the local development plan so far as is material to the application and any other material considerations. This means the development plan in place at the time of the decision. Consideration only of the changes in effect between the earlier planning permissions and the proposals put forward under the new route would mean that the principle of development is not revisited. This is in line with the existing procedure under Section 73, where an applicant applies to carrying out existing development without complying with certain planning conditions. I hope this provides reassurance. I will put it in writing and make sure that copies go to all noble Lords in the Committee and to the Library. I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, will therefore not press her amendment.

Amendment 260, also tabled by the noble Baroness, seeks to clarify that new Section 73B applies to the Mayor of London in his capacity as the local planning authority when determining applications of potential strategic importance. This amendment was also discussed in the other place. I can confirm that these provisions apply to the Mayor of London. An application made under new Section 73B is an application for planning permission and is therefore captured by Section 2A(1)(a) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which enables the mayor to direct that they are the local planning authority for applications of potential strategic importance. Making explicit provision for new Section 73B is not necessary. There are other examples of routes to planning permission not referenced in Section 2A which are still captured, such as retrospective applications made under Section 73A. I will put this in the same letter so that it is in writing. With that, I ask that the noble Baroness does not press this amendment.

Amendment 268 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, ably spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, seeks to bring economic development within rural areas into the scope of permission in principle in the Town and Country Planning (Permission in Principle) Order 2017. While I have huge respect for the knowledge of the noble Lord, the noble Baroness and others and know how important economic development is in rural areas, I do not think this is the way to do it. However, I will take it back and consider with officials how we can strengthen economic development in those rural areas.

Photo of Lord Foster of Bath Lord Foster of Bath Liberal Democrat 7:45, 20 April 2023

I apologise for intervening at this late hour. On that point, since the Minister has promised she is going to write to people and has just said very clearly, on the record, that she shares the importance of economic development in rural areas, and given that I asked at Second Reading for evidence that the levelling up Bill had gone through the rural-proofing process, would she be kind enough to include in that letter details of how that process was carried out in relation to this Bill, because frankly, many of us think there is very little evidence of that?

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I will certainly reflect on that question and see what we can do.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for his amendments, and I appreciate his concerns on a matter, which is close to his heart and to the heart of the noble Baroness opposite. While I support the intentions to lend further support to our rural economy, unfortunately I cannot accept this amendment, as it will not have the intended effect, and we believe it is unnecessary.

The permission in principle consent route is an alternative way of obtaining planning permission for certain housing-led development. When a proposed development is under consideration, it separates the matter of principle away from technical details. Our national planning policy framework strongly supports policies and decisions to promote sustainable development in rural areas. In particular, it states that to support a prosperous rural economy, local plans, neighbourhood plans and decisions should enable the development and diversification of agriculture and other land-based rural businesses.

Additionally, as set out in Section 58A of the Town and Country Planning Act, any economic development coming forward through permission in principle would have to be predominantly for housing development. Provision already exists to allow local planning authorities to grant permission in principle for economic development related to residential schemes within rural areas. Section 5A of the Town and Country Planning (Permission in Principle) Order 2017 also enables local planning authorities to grant permission in principle to any non-housing development if it is associated with residential development, and where the scale of the development and the use to which it may be put is specified.

I am aware that permission in principle is often used to test the principle of housing development within rural areas, rather than applicants going through the conventional planning application route, and these are assessed with our National Planning Policy in mind. It is a valuable tool in this respect, and I hope this provides reassurances to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, and accordingly that she will withdraw his amendment on his behalf.

I turn now to Amendment 282, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, and put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, on the speeding up of the planning system. There are around 400,000 planning applications every year. The Government have heard many representations that the planning application process is too slow and inaccessible for some users—notably those without the expertise, such as everyday people. It therefore requires improvement and modernisation. The powers being brought forward in Clause 116 enable the Government to apply a more consistent, streamlined and digitally enabled approach to the way in which the applications are made, making it easier for everyday people to submit a planning application. This will also make planning data more accessible. My department is already working with local authorities to tackle the very issue that this amendment raises, working collaboratively with the local authorities through the Open Digital Planning project, which aims to increase efficiencies in the development management process through creating modern development management software. Local authorities using the software that we are trialling have seen an estimated 35% time saving in the pre-validation process, when an application is first submitted, and post-validation, when the process is to reach a decision.

Before enacting these powers, we will fully engage with the local planning authorities and the sector as a whole; given that one of the core aims of this power is to streamline the process, we will of course consider the impact on speed of decision-making. While I support the intention of this amendment, the Government are unable to support its inclusion and hope that the noble Baroness will not press it.

Lastly, government Amendments 260A and 260B provide for consequential amendments to Clause 102 to make consistent the legislation with respect to an application being made directly to the Secretary of State, in relation to new Section 73B and Section 73 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

I am grateful to my noble friend, particularly for the opportunity to have further discussions with a view to coming back to this issue positively at Report. Drop-in permissions have played a significant part in enabling development to go ahead as people need it to do. The case law may now be clear, but it has become clear in the form in which it has developed only because there is no statutory basis for undertaking drop-in permissions in the way that they have been done for a number of years—and that is what we need to achieve. With her very kind response, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 258B.

Amendment 258B withdrawn.

Amendments 259 and 260 not moved.