Amendment 258B

Part of Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (10th Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 20 April 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 7:45, 20 April 2023

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.