Amendment 312B

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (12th day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 3 May 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Lord Kennedy of Southwark:

Moved by Lord Kennedy of Southwark

312B: After Clause 123, insert the following new Clause—“Chief Planning OfficersThe Secretary of State must publish guidance for local authorities on the appointment of Chief Planning Officers.”Member's explanatory statementThis is to probe the role of Chief Planning Officers.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Shadow Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, it is good to be back doing local government matters again and I promise not to raise leasehold issues. I start with some declarations. I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association, chair of the Heart of Medway Housing Association and non-executive director of MHS Homes Ltd. I noticed that the Government Chief Whip came in and it reminded me of the dreaded Housing and Planning Act that we debated for many weeks and months some time ago. I thought of my dear friend Lord Beecham, who is retired from the House.

These amendments are in the names of my noble friends Lady Taylor of Stevenage and Lady Hayman of Ullock. Amendment 312B probes on the issue of chief planning officers. The public and other agencies need confidence that qualified professionals are working to the highest standards and can be relied upon to act in the public interest. However, there is currently no prerequisite for public sector planning officials to have any formal qualifications. Scotland legislated in 2019 to make sure that there is a chief planner in every local authority, and chief place makers were recommended by the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s final report. The Royal Town Planning Institute has suggested that this would improve matters because of qualified planners’ specialist expertise in creating places, skills to navigate political challenges and experience of encouraging building partnerships across the private and public sectors. I will be interested in the Minister’s response to that.

Amendment 504C, in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock, probes whether there are sufficient skills, resources and capabilities to deliver Parts 3 to 5. We have previously discussed the urgent need for local authorities to have sufficient skills, resources and capabilities to deliver the many new demands on them that the Bill presents. In addition, the Federation of Master Builders has expressed concerns about the growing skills shortage pressure affecting the viability of development, alongside the usual hurdles of land and planning. It has urged action to limit the impact of the materials and skills shortages that affect the building sector so that small builders’ viability is not threatened. Smaller companies train around 71% of construction apprentices, so it is vital that they are supported in training the next generation of tradespersons. According to the House of Commons Library briefing, the industry with the second highest percentage of business experiencing worker shortages in November 2022 was construction with 20.7%, with 48,000 vacancies. Businesses are reporting having difficulty recruiting employees with the relevant skills. In August last year, the Federation of Small Businesses found that 80% of small firms faced difficulties recruiting applicants with suitable skills in the previous 12 months. The Recruitment and Employment Confederation estimates that, if labour shortages are not addressed, the UK economy will be £39 billion worse off each year from 2024. When he responds, will the Minister explain how the Government are going to address this in order to deliver on the ambitions in the Bill?

Finally Amendment 504E, again in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock, seeks to establish an office for risk and resilience. The conclusion of a comprehensive independent assessment led by the Climate Change Committee to improve the nation’s resilience is that government is

“failing to keep pace with the impacts of a warming planet and increasing climate risks facing the UK”.

The UK is experiencing widespread changes in climate. Average land temperatures have risen by around 1.2 degrees from pre-industrial levels, and sea levels have risen by 16 cm since 1900. Episodes of extreme heat are becoming more frequent. Since the Climate Change Committee’s last assessment five years ago, more than 500,000 new homes have been built that are not resilient to future high temperatures.

The insurance industry has long been calling for greater alignment between Defra and DLUHC on planning and development policy. This could be achieved through a joint Minister, a co-ordination unit or, as the Climate Change Committee called for, a new office for risk and resilience. Just last month, the National Infrastructure Commission and the Climate Change Committee wrote jointly to the Government urging Ministers to take steps to improve the resilience of key infrastructure services to the effects of climate change. Building on recent reports by both organisations, the advisory body set out five steps to accelerate national adaptation planning to protect key networks. They are: setting clear and measurable goals for resilience and action plans to deliver them; ensuring these standards are developed in time to inform forthcoming regulatory price control periods, which set investment levels for operators; giving explicit duties for resilience to all infrastructure regulators; Cabinet-level oversight of interdependencies and whole-system resilience; and embedding resilience and infrastructure planning as we move to an economy more reliant on electricity.

When he responds to the debate, will the Minister set out whether the Government recognise the urgency of setting up an office for risk and resilience or some other mechanism to address climate change that is regularly discussed in this House? I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Foster of Bath Lord Foster of Bath Liberal Democrat 8:00, 3 May 2023

My Lords, I am happy to support the amendments that have just been moved.

I remind the Committee that in earlier debates we spent quite a lot of time on the importance of creating an environment that is clean and healthy for people to live in—the noble Lord, Lord Best, in particular encouraged us to do that—while earlier today we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, about the vital need to protect woodland and biodiversity more widely. The Minister responded that none of this required her amendments because, he pointed out, the planning system was there and the planners could be “proactive” in using tree preservation orders and measures regarding biodiversity powers.

That is all well and good, but with one problem: the vast majority of councils responsible for taking these proactive measures are short of planners. There is a huge shortage. Where we have an amendment that relies on there being sufficient skills, resources and capabilities to deliver all these things, we already know from the research that has been done that there is a significant shortage. Noble Lords do not have to listen to me to know that; the chief planner in the Minister’s own department has said categorically that there are not enough planners in local government in England. Joanna Averley went on to say, at the end of last year, that the department did not have the funds to provide resources for there to be more planners. My question for the Minister is: what is going to be done to increase the number of planners to carry out all the work that he keeps referring to and which will come about as a result of the Bill before us?

I want to place on record a huge tribute to the RTPI for the work it is doing to try to improve skills. It has its degree-level apprenticeship scheme, as I am sure the Minister is aware, and a number of other measures, but we are in a situation where it is now said that planners are like gold dust.

The situation is compounded by a further problem. Another amendment talks about what the role of chief planning officers should be. Again, that would be well and good if there were any chief planning officers to have a role. The truth is that we now have a situation where one-quarter of councils in England do not have a head of planning reporting directly to a chief executive. There is a real shortage, which has the knock-on implication that there tends not to be a career structure to encourage people to enter at the bottom end. The shortage of planners is exacerbated by the shortage of chief planning officers.

I want to use this amendment as an opportunity gently to ask the Minister what the Government’s plans are to resolve the resource shortage, which we do not need a review of because we already know it is there. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My Lords, at this late hour I do not want to speak at any great length. I declare an interest as chair of the Cambridgeshire Development Forum. In that context, we are acutely aware of the shortage of planners in local authority planning departments, despite the efforts made, not least by Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council in bringing together their two planning services to try to ensure efficiency in both planning and the use of resources.

There is a shortage, so we looked at working with the RTPI’s young planners group and with Anglia Ruskin University, so that some of those degree apprenticeship placements would be in Cambridge, in addition to those in Chelmsford. That might bring more of those young planners into the Cambridge area, where we hope they will stay, working in businesses and local authorities locally.

One thing we have looked at, which is possible but not easy to do, is the development community entering into, effectively, area-wide planning performance agreements with a local planning authority. Such planning performance agreements are entered into generally in relation to individual developments and can be the subject of additional charges for things such as pre-application advice. Of course, that is purely on a cost-recovery basis. Once you begin to attribute charging and costs to individual developments, even though from the planning authority’s point of view it does not influence the outcome of any of the decision-making, there is a risk that that is what people perceive to be the case.

To try to avoid the risk of any attribution of resources to results in terms of the integrity and transparency of the planning decision-making, we and the development community want to look at the ability to assist in resourcing planning for major developments in the area, and to do so in a way independent of the individual applications and the individual developer. I hope that, when Ministers think about how we might increase resources, they will recognise this as one possible arrangement.

Photo of Baroness Twycross Baroness Twycross Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, I declare an interest as London’s Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience and chair of the London Resilience Forum. I just want to say, briefly, that I completely agree with my noble friend Lord Kennedy, particularly on Amendment 504E. I got quite excited when he showed it to me. If an amendment can be described as exciting, this one would match that criterion.

An office for risk and resilience would provide a focus and play an invaluable part in ensuring that this country is better prepared to deal with the many risks we face, not least in relation to climate change. If we need to do anything through this legislation, it is to ensure that the buildings and infrastructure being built now are still fit for purpose in a decade, two decades or 50 years’ time. At the moment, we cannot guarantee that this is the case. We should note that resilience is particularly relevant to the concept of levelling up, as inevitably those individuals or institutions with better resources are inherently more resilient. I urge the Minister and the Government to consider this amendment seriously.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, this group of amendments concerns chief planning officers, local authority resources and capacity, and risk and resilience. I welcome the discussion that has taken place on these important issues.

Amendment 312B, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, would require the Secretary of State to publish guidance for local authorities on the appointment of chief planning officers. I assure noble Lords that the Government recognise the importance of effective leadership in local planning authorities—someone who can raise the profile of planning in local government, drive a strong vision for what places aspire to and ensure that this is integrated across council functions.

However, to do this effectively we need a flexible approach that recognises the circumstances of individual authorities. In that context, issuing guidance for all local planning authorities on the appointment of chief planning officers would be undesirable. Instead, we would encourage local authorities to fill these leadership roles in a way that best suits their approach to tackling their areas’ challenges and priorities.

Our approach is in keeping with the existing legislative framework. Excluding a select number of statutory posts, Section 112 of the Local Government Act 1972 allows an authority to

“appoint such officers as they think necessary for the proper discharge by the authority” of its functions and for carrying out commitments on behalf of other authorities. That is surely right; it should be a matter for their discretion. Having said that, I shall refer in a moment to the wider programme of support that we are developing to ensure that local planning authorities have the skills and capacity that they need to create better places and provide a good service to applicants.

This takes me to Amendment 504C in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, which would require an estimate to be published within 50 days of the Bill securing Royal Assent on whether the planning sector has sufficient skills, resources and capabilities to deliver Parts 3 to 5 of the Bill; these are on planning, the infrastructure levy and community land auction pilots. I completely understand why the importance of skills, resources and capacity within a local planning authority has been raised in this way.

The capability and capacity programme we are taking forward will seek to provide the direct support needed now to deliver upskilling opportunities for existing planners and, crucially, to further develop the future pipeline into the profession. The first component of this work programme is the recent announcement of £1 million of funding to Public Practice, a social enterprise supporting local authorities by helping them recruit and develop skilled planners and specialised professionals. We are also supporting local authorities through the development of new digital tools that will help make planning processes more efficient. We have debated those in previous groups of amendments.

In addition, we have consulted on an increase to planning fees that will provide additional resources to support the delivery and improvement of planning services. Through this work, we wish to support planning departments to attract, retain and develop planners into and within the profession to help build a more sustainable planning system. As I have laid out, our work to support local planning authorities is already under way. In light of this, we do not feel that a legislative obligation such as this is necessary.

Finally, Amendment 504E, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, would require an office for risk and resilience to be established to fulfil responsibilities involved in delivering Parts 3 to 5 of the Bill. I make it clear that the Government recognise the importance of effective planning for risk and resilience—something we addressed in our response to the House of Lords Risk Assessment and Risk Planning Committee’s 2021 report, Preparing for Extreme Risks: Building a Resilient Society. As our response indicated, there is scope for

“strengthening accountability and cross-Government assurance for risk planning” but this needs to be looked at holistically.

While I appreciate the intention behind the amendment, it is important that this work does not look at planning decisions in isolation from other factors affecting risk and resilience. At a local level, risks such as climate change are assessed through the process of producing development plans, as well as being kept under review at a broader strategic scale by bodies such as the Environment Agency. We do not feel the need for an additional body to do this work. Our response to the Risk Assessment and Risk Planning Committee committed us to considering national oversight of risk and resilience more fully. We did so as we developed the UK Government Resilience Framework, and we are taking measures to strengthen accountability and oversight as a result.

We have already established a resilience directorate in the Cabinet Office to lead this, as well as a dedicated sub-committee of the National Security Council to provide ministerial oversight of resilience. We are currently reviewing the lead government department model and later this year we will be delivering the first annual statement to Parliament on risk and resilience. At a local level, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is leading a programme to strengthen local resilience forums, including greater accountability to and links with central government.

To conclude, I hope I have said enough to enable the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, to withdraw Amendment 312B in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and for the other amendments in this group not to be moved as they are reached.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Shadow Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Deputy Chairman of Committees 8:15, 3 May 2023

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who spoke. The noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, made an important point about insufficient numbers of planners in local authorities. A few years ago, I was a member of Lewisham Council, and we had that problem day in, day out—you saw that with residents. But a shortage of planning officers was not a problem when I was a member of Southwark Council in the 1980s, so something has happened, and the Government have to address that.

The noble Earl made a point about having increased the planning of things, and that is true, but more needs to be done because there is a huge problem here. We are sitting here again, debating another Bill containing bits about planning. I have lost count of how many planning Bills we have had in the 13 years I have been a Member of this House. One after another comes along, and we seem to debate similar issues and problems, but we are not dealing with the problem.

The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, made us aware of similar problems in the Cambridgeshire area. His point about getting resource from the developers, but it not being connected to a development, should be looked at: you could bring extra resource into departments that way, enabling more planners to be recruited. So the Government should look at that, as one way to enable more resource to be brought in.

I am so pleased that my noble friend Lady Twycross made an intervention—she is the deputy mayor for fire and resilience in London, and she is hugely experienced in this area. It was good to hear her contribution. Although it was good to hear that the Government are doing certain things on resilience, there are bigger issues: local resilience forums and how they operate and work with government need to be looked at. People such as my noble friend, who has worked on that in London for many years with the Mayor of London and government, certainly should be listened to on those issues. With that, I withdraw Amendment 312B.

Amendment 312B withdrawn.

Amendments 312C to 312K not moved.

Clause 124: Infrastructure Levy: England