Amendment 191

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Report (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:10 pm on 4 September 2023.

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Lord Ravensdale:

Moved by Lord Ravensdale

191: After Clause 88, insert the following new Clause—“Duties in relation to mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change in relation to planning(1) The Secretary of State must have special regard to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change in preparing—(a) national policy, planning policy or advice relating to the development or use of land,(b) a national development management policy pursuant to section 38ZA of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.(2) When making a planning decision relating to development arising from an application for planning permission, the making of a development order granting planning permission or an approval pursuant to a development order granting planning permission, a relevant planning authority (as defined in section 85 (interpretation of chapter 1)) must have special regard to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.(3) For the purposes of interpretation of this section, Part 3 of this Act, and Schedules 7 and 12 to this Act—“the mitigation of climate change” includes the achievement of—(a) the target for 2050 set out in section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008,(b) applicable carbon budgets made pursuant to section 4 of the Climate Change Act 2008, and(c) sections 1 to 3 of the Environment Act 2021 (environmental targets) where applicable to the mitigation of climate change;“adaptation to climate change” includes—(a) the mitigation of the risks identified in the latest climate change risk assessment conducted under section 56 of the Climate Change Act 2008, and(b) the achievement of the objectives of the latest flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy made pursuant to section 7 of the Flood and Coastal Water Management Act 2010.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause places a duty on the Secretary of State and relevant planning authorities respectively to have special regard to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change with respect to national policy, local plan-making and planning decisions.

Photo of Lord Ravensdale Lord Ravensdale Crossbench

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 191 and declare my interests as a director of Peers for the Planet and a project director working for Atkins. I thank my supporters, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Lansley. I also thank the Minister for the time he has devoted to this issue in a number of meetings since Committee, and I particularly thank him for our constructive discussion this afternoon.

We fundamentally reworked our amendment for Report, based on feedback from and engagement with government throughout the Committee stage. This amendment aims to resolve two issues: planning weight for climate in the system and what we are calling the “golden thread”—ensuring that climate runs throughout the complete planning system. The amendment aims to ensure that climate and the environment run as a golden thread through town and country planning, rather than the inconsistent picture at present.

The existing Section 19(1A) duty, which was restated in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, states that the development of land should

“contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change”.

This currently applies to local plans and to a number of other plans and strategies within the Bill, but, importantly, it does not apply to individual planning decisions or the new national development management policies. It also does not refer specifically to our climate change and environmental targets. We feel that there is a fundamental inconsistency here, and our amendment aims to resolve it.

Further, our amendment gives planning weight to climate change in decision-making. It is not sufficient for climate considerations to be in only the National Planning Policy FrameworkNPPF—as this is just guidance, and multiple reports from experts have highlighted how the current system is not working. It means that climate is included along with many other material considerations to be weighed up by the decision-maker, and it is for them to decide the importance to be given to climate change in a particular decision. Our amendment provides for a statutory duty that would make it clear that climate change should be a material consideration, with planning weight in the decision-making process—that is the crucial point.

This is not a novel concept in planning. Statutory duties giving planning weight already exist in relation to listed buildings. Our amendment was modelled on Section 66 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, which gives considerable importance and weight—“special regard”—to the preservation of listed buildings in the planning system. It then sets out in guidance, in the NPPF, how this duty is to be interpreted when making planning decisions. This tried and tested model could be used to include a similar climate change planning duty in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill.

As the Government are currently reviewing the NPPF and have not yet published the revised version of that guidance, this is the ideal time to insert such a duty, provide that guidance in the NPPF, and ensure that our planning system and new development do more to contribute positively to the achievement of our climate and nature targets. Importantly, we would have a statutory duty but it would be for the Government to decide on the specifics of how this would be implemented within the guidance set out in the NPPF. It would elevate climate as a consideration in the decision-making process, but it would maintain that important flexibility for decision-makers.

There are many examples of why this is needed and the benefits it would bring. UK clean power has been world-leading, but the planning regime currently in place means that just two onshore wind turbines were built in England in 2022, major offshore wind projects are stuck waiting for planning approval and thousands of new homes continue to be built on flood plains. Local plans to create the sustainable and economically vibrant places we all want to live in are being held back by planning barriers and inconsistent decision-making. The Committee on Climate Change—the CCC—the Skidmore review, the CBI, and businesses in the construction and building sector all agree that reform is needed. I was grateful to see 21 past presidents of the Royal Town Planning Institute supporting the amendment before us today—they are the people responsible for implementing this.

We are pushing not only for the key sustainability and economic benefits here; this is also key to empowering local authorities to do their bit in working towards net zero. Many of them have such ambitions: they want to do their bit but they are being held back by the current planning regime. I will listen carefully to the Minister’s response but, as things stand, I intend to test the opinion of the House on this amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative 6:15, 4 September 2023

My Lords, I fully support what the noble Lord said about the need for climate change to be in the Bill. I will speak to my Amendment 246A in this group. It is on the topical issue of wildfires, which have been exacerbated by climate change. As all your Lordships will know, wildfires have caused an enormous amount of death and disruption, with huge social, economic and environmental impact, across the world this year. You only have to see the regular news about what is happening in Greece and Canada to know what a problem it is. This year, we in the UK have been fortunate that we have not had fires on quite that scale—although we have had fires.

This debate slightly follows on from Committee, since when I have been in correspondence with the Home Office. We have a Minister for Fire there, but, in his reply—I think it was to me; it was addressed wrongly but it landed at my address, so I guess it was—he immediately referred me to Defra. So we have at least two departments in government involved, and although there is a Minister he is not in the department of most interest: Defra. That is why I have tabled Amendment 246A. Subsection (1) of its proposed new clause would require the Secretary of State, together with the Home Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to produce

“a national wildfire strategy and action plan” within six months of the passing of the Bill. It is ludicrous that, in a country that has suffered, and continues to suffer, the wildfires that we have, we do not have an overall action plan.

Action plans are all very well and good, but they have to be implemented at local level. Therefore, in proposed new subsection (3) I suggest that each local planning authority produces a wildfire risk assessment plan in conjunction with the fire and rescue services. This is a local matter in the end, and it is vital that the local authority and local people are involved, as we have heard in two recent amendments. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, waxed lyrical about it. My noble friends Lord Deben and Lord Lansley also mentioned how important it was to have up-to-date plans that were approved by local people.

In proposed new subsection (4), I list some of the things that need to be included in the proposed strategy and action plan. One of the issues is

“a map identifying the areas of current risk produced in accordance with the Met Office Fire Severity Index”.

At this stage, I ask my noble friend on the Front Bench—I think my noble friend Lord Howe is going to answer this—whether he considers this to be a valid index.

The current index, known as the MOFSI, helps us to plan for and react to fires but, unlike a fire danger rating system, MOFSI gives an indication of fire severity based only on the meteorological data and does not fully account for the varied fuel types that we see across the UK. Although MOFSI can indicate whether conditions are worsening or improving, its primary role is to determine whether open-access land should be closed to prevent the spread of fire. However, MOFSI does not always work effectively. For example, during the dry summer of 2018, in some regions the indices did not rise sufficiently to trigger land closures in areas that went on to experience severe wildfires. That proves to me that we need a different system of assessment and a fire danger rating system. Does my noble friend agree with me on that?

I do not want to pursue the arguments I used in Committee. I want to look at this issue briefly from another point of view—the insurance point of view. I do not know whether the Government have given any thought to insurance. We have had huge insurance problems with floods. There is a lesson to be learned from that, which is that we must act in advance when it comes to fires.

As I said, we have not had a repeat of the fires of last year, but on 18 and 19 July last year there were 84 wildfires affecting 28 of the 46 response areas, and it overwhelmed the fire and rescue services to such an extent that there was very little spare capacity for other emergencies. If that was not a warning to us that we need to improve the situation, I do not know what other action the Government need to be presented with.

That brings us to the question of insurance. The insurance industry is beginning to look at this in a serious way. As we continue to build, the urban/rural fringe is going to be hugely important. This will be the critical area of damage to the most property. There will be, and has been, damage to properties in rural areas, but the urban area is now most at risk. The expert report on wildfire in the UK for the third climate change risk assessment advised that wildfire and sources of ignition from outside of buildings should be considered in future planning actions and in building regulations and mitigation measures put into action. That is a relevant issue. Marsh McLennan, one of the experts on this, has quantified the benefit of fire buffer zones for the rural/urban interface. In the report it produced, it stated that wildfire

“risks can be greatly mitigated and reduced to a level that is both livable and insurable”.

It would be sad if the Government put us in a predicament in which people could not get insurance.

I have stressed the urban/rural fringe for one particular reason. Part of Defra’s agricultural policy is rewilding land, which leads to more abandonment, trees closer to rural areas and a much higher fuel load. It is the fuel load that is absolutely critical. We are blessed in this country with a wide diversity of geological stratas of soil, reflecting the countryside. Because of our maritime climate, we have very high fuel loads at certain times of the year and in certain places. The concern is that these are not assessed at the moment.

If we want to consider whether the fuel load matters, we can take a brief look back at the Saddleworth Moor fire, which was on peat and on very long, unmanaged and unkempt heather. When it burned, it produced something like 36,720 tonnes of carbon. In real figures, that equates to the annual emissions of 86,000 passenger cars—and that was one fire alone. The key in all this is the fuel load and how it is best managed. To do that, it is important that the local planning authorities have the appropriate plans underneath an overriding national fire strategy for England and Wales. I hope that the Government will support this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I offer Green support for all the amendments in this group, but in the interests of time I will restrict myself to commenting on just two of them. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. Due to my Australian origins, I feel I am constitutionally obliged to make a contribution on wildfires, which for most of my youth I would have called bush-fires. In the British context, from 2009 to 2021 there were 362,000 wildfires, with nearly 80,000 hectares burned. The estimate is that, if we were to go to 2 degrees of global warming—something that we cannot afford—the number of very high fire risk days would double. That is because there is less rain in summer and it gets hotter and drier. As the noble Earl just said, if you have a wet winter and a spring that has a great flush of growth, that presents one set of risks—and, of course, peatlands, in which it is extremely difficult to extinguish fires, are another area of serious risk.

When people assess the risk in the UK, we think about those rural areas—those uplands and peatlands—but there is very serious risk, particularly in the south of England. I point noble Lords to the desperate and horrendous events in Hawaii. Noble Lords may have seen the photo of the now famous red-roofed house, which was one house that was not burned in the midst of blocks and blocks of houses. The two key things with that house were that it had a tin roof, rather than the asphalt roofs that most of the houses had, and they had cut back the vegetation. That is a demonstration of how preparation is so crucial in planning and guiding the thinking of people in the UK, who are really not very used to thinking about fires, to prepare for the risks ahead.

I point to a not terribly recent example but one that demonstrates the dangers, as Hawaii did, to urban areas—the peri-urban fringe but extending quite a way into urban areas. The Swinley Forest fire in Berkshire in 2011 burnt 300 hectares and 300 firefighters had to work to stop it getting into Bracknell, population 110,000. So, this is a modest but really important amendment that really is for the age of shocks, the age of the climate emergency we now live in.

The other amendment I wish to speak to is that in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, to which I have attached my name—I know she has not introduced it yet but I think I am in the right order—calling on the Government to publish a green prosperity plan. I was thinking about how I might present this to the Government as an idea that might be attractive to them. I would say that the climate emergency is something the world needs to co-operate on in tackling and dealing with. None the less, we have a global geopolitical situation where the US, through the Inflation Reduction Act, is lined up against the EU, through the Green Deal Industrial Plan for the Net Zero Age: perhaps I will just call it the European green deal for short. Both those major international economies are putting huge resources into tackling this, setting up the technological framework we need as one part of dealing with the climate emergency. Your Lordships’ House hardly needs me to refer to how often the Government like to talk from the Benches opposite about being world leading. Well, it is very clear that the US has led in investing in a green economy and a green industrial strategy, and the EU has reacted.

I shall just quote some figures on this. They are open to interpretation, but one set I saw calculated that the EU is planning to spend over 10 years the equivalent of $440 billion in public spending. In the US, the Inflation Reduction Act accounts for $336 billion. This is a modest amendment, a “draw up a plan, look to see what we could do” amendment. I am going to put this in the framework of time. The EU and the US have already acted. We know that in a year’s time, more or less, one way or another we will have a new Government. I am not even, since I am being emollient, going to make any suggestion about what that new Government might be, but what your Lordships’ House could do, what the Government could do by backing this amendment, is set out a plan directing the Civil Service to look in a strategic way, given the current situation we are in globally, at what the UK could be doing. That could set up the new Government, whatever they look like, to be ready to act. Surely, we need to act, given that we are clearly world trailing on green industrial strategy and we desperately need to catch up.

Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Conservative 6:30, 4 September 2023

My Lords, I refer to my past as chairman of the Climate Change Committee merely to say, in very short terms, why I think it is important to take seriously the way in which the planning Acts affect decisions made by the whole nation when it comes to dealing with climate change, both adaptation and mitigation. There is no doubt that we will have to make all our decisions through that lens, because that is the only way we are going to be able to fight the existential threat we now face. No one who has looked at the effects of climate change this year, all over the world, can possibly misunderstand the reality of the threat. If we are going to deal with that, it is not just about policy or programmes but action and delivery.

This Government have been extremely good on their policy and programmes. We cannot complain about a Government who have set the best targets in the world, who led the world in Glasgow, who first set a net-zero target for 2050. We really have to accept that this Government have done all those things, but the criticism is delivery. Doing those things is essential. Setting those targets is crucial. Leading the world in all those ways has been a privilege for all of us, but we now have to deliver. In this amendment there is a real chance to do one of the pieces of delivery which is vital.

I say to my noble friend, with whom I have worked for many years, including in the Department for Environment, when we began the journey to where we have got today, imagine putting the word “not” into Amendment 191:

“The Secretary of State must” not

“have special regard to the mitigation of, and adaptation to”.

Imagine doing the same in sub-paragraph (2):

“When making a planning decision”,

he must not “have special regard”. We would find that utterly unacceptable, because we know perfectly well that this is central to the future of this country and of the world, and we therefore have to have that. No doubt we will be told that the Government have got that. Well, once again—which is why I intervened earlier, in wicked preparation for this one—it is not good enough just to have the intention. We know which road

“is paved with good intentions”,

and that is not a road we ought to travel, although it is the road down which we are all travelling at this moment. Therefore, I say to my noble friend that I very much hope that he will understand why it is crucial for us to make it clear that the planning system must be used throughout its length and breadth to ensure that we make the decisions upon which the future of our children—and, indeed, ourselves, even those as old as I am—really depends.

I finish by saying this. People attack some of the techniques and ways of behaviour of the extremist organisations, and I join them in that. It is not what I believe in. But what I object to is that people do not ask themselves why they are doing it. It is because there is a whole generation that does not believe that the democratic system can deliver what needs to be delivered on climate change, and we in this House and in the other place have got to overcome that. That is why this amendment is so important as part of reassuring and reasserting that the democratic system can deliver and that you do not have to take to the streets, you do not have to behave in the way that all of us deplore; you have instead to accept this kind of amendment. I hope the Government will see why it is crucial.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My Lords, I intervene for a moment in support of Amendment 191, to which I have added my name, and to say a couple of things, partly by way of reiteration of what the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, said in what I thought was a very capable exposition of the reasoning and purpose behind the amendment.

First, of course we already have in legislation, and have had for some time, a duty in plan making to contribute to the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, but I am afraid it is not doing enough. That much is evident, and what the noble Lord said, which is absolutely right, is that some local planning authorities who want to do the most to change their approach to plan making and spatial development in order to mitigate and adapt to climate change are finding that the structure of planning law makes that more difficult.

In resisting the amendment, my noble friends may say that it would lead to litigation. Well, first, it all leads to litigation. Secondly, the problem at the moment is that, for a local planning authority, going down the path of doing the really necessary things to mitigate climate change involves transgressing other objectives under planning law. For example, we can have a big debate about the green belt, but sometimes—as Cambridge’s examination before its local plan process demonstrated—if you really want to make a difference, the structure of development must focus on urban extensions and along public transport corridors—and if you try to do that around London, you hit the green belt. So you have to balance these things.

If we are serious about adaptation to or mitigation of climate change, we must raise it in the hierarchy of considerations—which is exactly what the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, sets out to do. It is not an objection to the amendment that we create a hierarchy that could give rise to challenges; it is its purpose and objective and that is why we should do it.

I will reiterate a second point he made so that noble Lords understand the value of the amendment. It takes a principle presently applied to plan-making and applies it both to the Secretary of State’s policy-making functions, including national development management policies, and to determinations of planning permissions. It puts it right in the midst of the whole structure, from the Secretary of State making policies to local authorities making plans and looking at planning applications and determining them. That is the only way competently to address the range and scale of issues that climate change presents to us. It takes it from policy through to individual decisions, and that is why I think it deserves our support.

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench

My Lords, I declare my interests as chair of Peers for the Planet and I have a close family member who works in this area. The last two contributions have added to the clear exposition of Amendment 191 put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, so I can say very little.

I will just say this. I seem to have spent the last three years in this Chamber trying to persuade the Government that in every area in which we legislate—pensions, financial services, skills or whatever we are looking at—if we believe that this is a crucial issue, as the Government say and the public support, and we want to keep to the legislative targets we have enacted in statute on environmental issues and climate, we have to will the means as well as the ends and we have to do it in a coherent way.

I know very little about the planning system. What I have learned, through a little bit of personal experience of trying to do something green and through listening to briefings on this issue, is that there is not coherence, consistency or a clear direction from government that goes throughout the whole system, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said. The reason why so many outside organisations, such as the construction industry, town planners and people who work in local authorities and want to do this, are supportive of this is that they want a clear framework so that everyone is on the same page on the need for action. Of all the areas I talked about where we have made legislative progress, planning is central—so I very much support Amendment 191.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Deben, who said that our planet faces an existential crisis. We must ensure that we take every opportunity to deliver policies and practices that will enable us to tackle the climate change emergency. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, was right to say that the beauty of Amendment 191 is that it deals with national policy—it could and should be in the national development management policies, but we do not know whether it will be yet—and, equally, is important for local plan-making and local planning decisions. So the amendment deserves and will get our wholehearted support.

If the Government are minded to accept the amendment, as I hope they are, they will be pushing at an open door as regards local authorities, many of which have passed climate change emergency motions. My own council is currently beginning a review of its local plan; one reason it is important to do so is that it has passed a climate change emergency motion. The policy of the council is now to deal with the climate change emergency in every way it can, including through planning policies. The review of the council’s planning processes in my authority should lead to a wide-ranging change to address climate change mitigation and adaptation as regards planning policies and processes. My council will not be alone; many councils have similar climate change emergency declarations. The local is ahead of the central in support for climate change policy.

This amendment is utterly important. If we are determined and want to be seen to be determined to address the climate change emergency in every possible way, this is such a way. If adopted, it will mean that houses will have to be built already adapted to climate change, instead of post hoc, which is much more expensive. There are many ways in which that could happen.

Amendment 246A in this group, which deals with wildfires, is very important. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, made his points very well. He is absolutely right to bring it forward at this stage.

It would be great if the Minister could just stand up and say, “This is a really good amendment; we will accept it and put it in as part of our planning policies”. However, if the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, wants to push it to a vote, we will give it our support.

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) 6:45, 4 September 2023

My Lords, this has been a really important group for us to debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, for introducing it with his important Amendment 191, which I was very pleased to support. I have two amendments in this group: Amendment 275, under which a Minister must publish a green prosperity plan—I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for her support on this—and Amendment 283, which defines adaption to and mitigation of climate change. There is a specific reason why I have put that amendment down, which I will come to.

My Amendment 275 says that:

“Within one year of this Act being passed, a Minister … must publish a Green Prosperity Plan”,

specifically to

“decarbonise the economy … create jobs, and … boost energy”.

This amendment and the others in the group are about how we consider climate change and the environmental and energy crises that we have been facing as a country. We need to look seriously at how we are going to dramatically reduce our emissions by 2030. We also believe that climate justice should be a priority. It is important that we can all agree on what action has to be taken to accelerate the benefits of nature restoration and recovery alongside this.

We believe that there should be a national mission to upgrade the energy efficiency of every home that needs it. This will help to lower people’s bills and reduce emissions. We must make sure that, if we are to change the way we heat our homes and how we manage our gas, electricity and oil, we have a different system that supports the reduction of emissions and looks at ways to meet our net-zero targets. We see this as an opportunity to create many thousands of new jobs and help the country to rebuild the economy. It gives us the opportunity to invest in manufacturing and factories—for example, to build batteries for electric vehicles—to develop a thriving hydrogen industry and to increase the manufacture of wind turbines here in the UK. We see this as a huge opportunity, and we also believe the UK should have the ambition to be a world-leading clean energy superpower.

My second amendment, Amendment 283, seeks to insert a new “Interpretation” clause, concerning the interpretation in the Bill of adapting to climate change and adaption to climate change. The reason for this is that, in the Bill, the words “adaptation” and “adaption” are both used. It is very important that there is no confusion about what is meant by adaption and what is meant by adaptation—they are two different terms but they seem to have been used fluidly within the Bill. Amendment 283 tries to clarify that. It may well be that the Government do not want to accept my amendment, but they might want to look at the wording in the Bill and see whether clarification could be brought through in another way.

Adaptation is incredibly important as we go forward. We know we have a strong framework for emissions reduction and planning for climate risks, as set up by the Climate Change Act 2008. However, we still need better resourcing and funding of adaptation, as it is going to be a critical part of supporting the country as we try to tackle the impacts we are seeing—very regularly now—of climate change. We think it is unacceptable not to do that, so we would like to see a clearer understanding of what is required for what we call “adaptation”—though it may well be called “adaption”. This needs to come together in the Bill in a clear and understandable way that will bring about the investment we need in this area.

This brings me to what the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has brought forward in his amendment on wildfires; clearly that is an area where adaptation is going to be terribly important, as it will be with flooding—and we will debate that later in the Bill. One thing we know is that wildfires have brought an increasing threat to a wide range of interests across the country. We need a co-ordinated approach, and the noble Earl, in introducing his amendment, was very clear about why this was needed. We know that we have to mitigate the impacts of wildfires on people, property, habitats, livestock, natural capital, wildlife and so on, as the noble Earl explained. We also know from the recent terrible wildfires we have seen—such as that on Saddleworth Moor, as the noble Earl mentioned—that it is going to take decades for those areas to recover. We have to get systems in place to tell us how we manage that, how we avoid it and what we do when it happens. This is a levelling-up Bill, and the impacts of climate change often have an unequal effect on different citizens in this country. As part of the levelling-up agenda, we need to address this.

Finally, that brings me to the incredibly important amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, to which I was very pleased to add my name. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, talked passionately and eloquently about the importance of how we deliver this and how vital it is that we are able to do this. The noble Lord’s amendment would be an important step on the way to achieving this. If the noble Lord wishes to push it to a vote and test the opinion of the House, he will have our strong support.

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

My Lords, in this group of amendments we return to the crucially important issues surrounding climate change and the green agenda, about which we have heard strong views, and rightly so. Climate change presents clear risks to our environment and our way of life, which is why I am not embarrassed to claim that the Government have led the world in their ambition to reach net zero, and why we are committed to fostering the changes needed to reach that goal. That is the delivery that my noble friend Lord Deben spoke of.

However, what is crucial is that we do this in a way that is effective without being unnecessarily disruptive. That is where, I am afraid, I must take issue with Amendment 191 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Ravensdale and Lord Teverson, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and my noble friend Lord Lansley. For the same reason, I need to resist Amendment 283 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock. I do so with regret.

The intention of these proposed new clauses—to set more specific legal obligations which bear upon national policy, plan-makers and those making planning decisions—is not at all the focus of my criticism. We all want to achieve the golden thread that the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, referred to. The problem is their likely effect, which would be to trigger a slew of litigation in these areas. That in turn could serve to hinder the action that we need to get plans in place to safeguard the environment that we all wish to protect. For example, Amendment 283 would mean that the Bill’s existing obligations on plans to address climate change mitigation and adaptation would have to be interpreted in the context of very high-level national objectives. That would not be a straightforward thing to do, because high-level objectives do not, in most cases, provide clear direction at the level of an individual district.

It is for this reason that we have committed instead to go further through national planning policy. We think that that is a better and more practical route to take, because national planning policy is tailored specifically to the principles of making plans and decisions at the local level, and it will have much greater force in this area, subject to the passage of this Bill. That is the join-up in the planning system that my noble friend Lord Lansley referred to and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, rightly wants. That increased force will arise in three ways: first, through the statutory weight that national development management policies will have in decision-making; secondly, through the greater weight that locally produced plans will also have, bearing in mind that those plans must reflect national policy; and, thirdly, underpinning all of this, through our clear commitment to revise national policy so that it contributes as fully as possible to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Through this route, I believe that we can achieve the stronger emphasis on climate change which these amendments seek to bring about, without creating undue risks to the very plans and decisions on which future action depends.

Turning to Amendment 246A, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Caithness for raising the issue of wildfires. He made some very good points stemming from his deep experience in these matters, but I hope to persuade him that his amendment is not needed because of the actions the Government have already committed to. Specifically, the Home Office, which is the lead department for wildfires, supported by Defra, has already committed to the scoping of a wildfire strategy and action plan by mid-2024 as part of the Government’s national adaptation programme. This will include engagement with other government departments and will determine not only the benefits of such a strategy being developed but what is included and the timelines for delivery.

My noble friend referred to the fire rating system. As I am sure he knows, the current system is the Met Office’s fire severity index. However, Defra, Natural England and the Environment Agency have committed to commissioning wildfire research, including an England wildfire risk map and defining effective wildfire risk reduction measures. There is also an ongoing research project called “Toward a UK Fire Danger Rating System”. However, I remind my noble friend that this research is still ongoing and that it will not deliver a fully functioning danger rating system, at least not in the short term. I will write to him if I can obtain more information on these matters, but we should also remember that planning already takes into account climate change.

The National Planning Policy Framework makes it clear that plans should take a proactive approach to mitigating and adapting to climate change, taking into account the long-term implications. What does that mean? It means that new development should be planned for in ways that avoid increased vulnerability to the range of impacts arising from climate change. Policies should support appropriate measures to ensure the future resilience of communities and infrastructure to climate change impacts, and, as I have set out, we have committed instead to go further through national planning policy. I hope that reassures my noble friend that we are already on his case.

Amendment 275 is another instance where we can agree the ends but not the suggested means of getting there. Decarbonisation, jobs in green industries and boosting supplies of green energy are important objectives to which this Government are strongly committed. With this in mind, we have published a net zero strategy and the British Energy Security Strategy and established the Green Jobs Delivery Group in 2022—these are just a start. Indeed, while acknowledging the work done so far, the Climate Change Committee and the independent review of net zero made recommendations on publishing an action plan or road map for net-zero skills, driving forward delivery of the recommendations of the Green Jobs Delivery Group.

We completely agree on the need to go further, so we are committing to publishing a joint government-industry net zero and nature workforce action plan in the first half of 2024, representing the culmination of several sectoral assessments in the coming 12 months. We are beginning with a set of head start actions from the pilot power and networks working group now, followed by a suite of comprehensive actions for this sector by the end of summer 2023, which can be used as a template for the other sectoral assessments. So it is difficult, at least for me, to see what a legislative commitment to a further strategy would add to that; we need to get on with delivery. Formulating yet another strategy could distract from the job we now need to focus on: delivering the actions needed to address climate change.

Reverting to my initial remarks on Amendment 191, I live in hope that what I have said provides the reassurance necessary for the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, to withdraw that amendment, and for the other amendments in this group not to be moved when they are reached.

Photo of Lord Ravensdale Lord Ravensdale Crossbench 7:00, 4 September 2023

My Lords, I listened very carefully to what the Minister said, but I believe that it has highlighted some of the gaps that remain in the approach the Government are taking. For example, he put a lot of emphasis on local plans and how they will help to drive this down through the planning system, but many local authorities do not have those plans or have very out-of-date plans—there has been a lot of research done on that. That flow down to individual planning decisions is not there. That illustrates the nature of the problem and why there needs to be a joining-up of all these approaches, and a statutory duty.

The noble Earl also mentioned litigation. We are basing this around a tried and tested approach; with heritage buildings, we are maintaining flexibility. All we are doing is saying that climate considerations must be of increased priority compared with other factors—that is what we are trying to get across—while maintaining the flexibility in the planning system. As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, it is absolutely vital that our planning system supports climate mitigation and adaptation. This really is an enabler that sits at the heart of the whole system.

I recognise the work that the Government are doing; there is much more to be done here. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in support. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 182, Noes 172.

Division number 3 Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Report (5th Day) — Amendment 191

Aye: 180 Members of the House of Lords

No: 170 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Amendment 191 agreed.