Amendment 258B

Part of Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (10th Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:30 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) 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.