Amendment 242

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Report (7th Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 3:42 pm on 13 September 2023.

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Lord Lexden:

Moved by Lord Lexden

242: After Clause 128, insert the following new Clause—“British standards: publicationWhere legislation made under the Planning Acts, or a local authority planning policy, refers to a British standard, the Secretary of State or local authority must take such steps as are necessary to make the relevant standard publicly available online free of charge.”

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, for the second time today, I shall speak on behalf of my noble friend Lord Northbrook, who cannot be in his place.

Amendment 242 seeks to make access to planning-related British standards available to everyone free online. Should every citizen not have a right to see relevant British standards free of charge? The cost of gaining access to them at the moment is not exactly modest. A few days ago, an inquiry was made about buying BS5228, which relates to noise and disturbance from construction sites, from the BSI website. The charge for part 1 was £298 and for part 2 was £356—a grand total of £654, which is no mean sum.

What is needed, I suggest on behalf of my noble friend, is an instruction to the British Standards Institution, which publishes the standards online or grants online access to them via public libraries. In Committee the Minister insisted that, as his colleague in another place wrote,

“The BSI are an independent organisation and we therefore cannot compel them to publish some, or indeed any, of their standards without charge”.

May I press my noble friend a little on this? Surely there must be numerous independent organisations referred to in statute whose publications are made available without charge on the internet. For example, air source heat pumps are legally required to comply with MCS planning standards or equivalent standards. The relevant microgeneration installation standard MCS 020 is the property of the MCS charitable foundation and is published on the internet for anyone to read without charge. Why cannot BSI do the same? The principle is clear; British citizens should not have to pay to find out about legal obligations with which they have to comply.

My noble friend objected in Committee, saying that the amendment would destroy the funding integrity of the British Standards Institution. However, since Committee, it has emerged that Libraries NI, the largest single library authority in our country, has introduced free online access to a full database of more than 100,000 British, European and international standards. This amendment is infinitely more modest. It seeks free online access only to British standards related to planning, which must represent a small minority of the total made available in Northern Ireland. So, the question arises: if what this amendment seeks has already been accepted in Northern Ireland, why not in the rest of our country? I am all in favour of every opportunity to bring Great Britain into line with the many good things that have been found in Northern Ireland. The Government claim to be keen to promote digital accessibility. Here is an opportunity for them to do so. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee 3:45, 13 September 2023

My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak after my noble friend Lord Lexden. In this case, I am going to speak about a slightly different subject, although he made his own case very well. I will speak principally to Amendment 282N, in my name, but associated with it are Amendments 302A, 315ZA and 317, as consequential and related amendments. They have been referred to as my ULEZ amendments, but I am not really going to speak about the merits or demerits of ULEZ. Instead, I will talk about the knotty issue of relations between the elected Mayor of London and the elected borough councils and how they work together to make the capital a success. There has always been the potential for this to go wrong.

I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I remind them of my experience. I was the deputy leader of a London borough when Ken Livingstone was mayor. I chaired for two years during that period London Councils’ transport and environment committee, a statutory committee representing all London boroughs and the Corporation of the City of London, irrespective of party, in their relations with the mayor and Transport for London. Then, a little like a poacher turning gamekeeper—or the other way around—I was a member of the board of Transport for London for eight years and deputy chairman of Transport for London for about half that time.

I have therefore seen those relations operating in practice over a lengthy period. It is fair to say that, under the independent and then Labour mayor Ken Livingstone, they were quite often rather scratchy. They improved considerably when Boris Johnson became mayor. I would like to think—if noble Lords would allow me to be a little boastful—that that was because of the number of people working with him who had experience of local government, such as myself, my noble friend Lady O’Neill of Bexley, who is sitting here, my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh, who is not in his place, and others. There was a much more collaborative relationship.

Under the current incumbent, that collaborative relationship has continued in many respects. This is to be welcomed. For example, the boroughs and the mayor have worked together closely on active travel programmes and various other matters. However, it is clear that, in the case of the extension of the London ultra low emission zone, they have collapsed. What we have are two levels of government, each convinced of their democratic authority, locking horns and threatening a sort of paralysis in transport policy. This could also extend to other areas.

What exists in other parts of the country? In London, the Greater London Authority Act 1999 gives powers in relation to road user charging to the mayor to act without being trammelled in any way by the views of the boroughs, beyond the consultation he is required to conduct with them. When we look to other parts of the country, we see that different legislation applies— Part III of the Transport Act 2000, for those who are interested. In the combined authority areas, these powers are held jointly by the combined authority and the relevant constituent authorities, acting as local traffic authorities. Decisions on road user charging in these areas typically require the majority or unanimous consent of members before any scheme can be established.

In the case of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the constitution is explicit in stating that questions relating to road user charging require all 11 members of the combined authority to be unanimously in favour for any vote to be carried. In the West Midlands Combined Authority, changes to transport matters require either a simple majority or a unanimous vote, depending on the question to be decided and on the members entitled to vote. In neither of these cases could road user charging be introduced without the collaboration and assent of the constituent authorities. It is rather different from London.

I instance these points to say that in this country we can embrace a different pattern of the distribution of power. The essence of my amendment is simply to try to extend, in a small way, some of the co-responsibility that exists in Manchester and Birmingham to the arrangements in London. It seeks to rebalance this by bringing the decision-making in London more into line with what exists in the rest of the country.

The amendment would give London borough councils a new power to opt out from—but not veto—certain road user charging schemes in future. First, it would be operative only where the principal purpose of a road user charging scheme applying in the council’s area is the improvement of air quality. Secondly, it would be available only to London borough councils which already meet air quality standards and objectives under the Environment Act 1995—I say in parenthesis that, currently, no London borough meets those standards—or have an approved plan to do so that is an alternative to the plan advanced by the mayor to be achieved through road user charging.

There is no free ticket here for London boroughs away from their responsibilities for air quality. Where the council can show to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State that it has a plan which is likely to achieve and maintain improvements, the Secretary of State would be under a new duty to approve its alternative plan, thus making it eligible to opt out of certain TFL charging schemes.

The combined effect of these various conditions will be that there will be no impairment of the air-quality obligations falling on London boroughs, but there will be the opportunity to show that they can meet them in a way that is more acceptable to their local people, as they judge them on the basis of their democratic mandate. I think that would be a modest and sensible rebalancing of power. It is focused, it is proportionate, and it is good common sense.

I see that my noble friend the Minister has indicated her support for the amendment, and the associated other amendments, and I very much hope that they will find favour across your Lordships’ House.

Photo of Baroness O'Neill of Bexley Baroness O'Neill of Bexley Conservative

My Lords, I support my noble friend’s Amendment 282N. In opening, I remind the House that I am the leader of the London Borough of Bexley and am therefore involved in both London Councils and the Local Government Association—although I have not quite made the dizzying heights of being a VP of the Local Government Association, like many Members of this Chamber.

It is important to point out at the outset that I firmly believe in improving air quality, having seen the benefits of improved air quality myself. My parents used to live in Lewisham, and my father suffered from chest problems for years, but that all changed when he moved to Bexley—and not just because it has a good council. As council leader, I am proud to report that, in Bexley, we have good air quality, below the legal limits, and we are always looking at ways to improve that air quality. But we fundamentally believe that the expansion of ULEZ to outer-London, and the way it has been done, is undemocratic.

If this amendment had been in place before, the mayor would not have been able to ignore local views, to fail to engage constructively with the boroughs or to have brought it forward in such a quick way that has had a disastrous impact on many of our residents. He also would not have contradicted the statement he made two years ago that he was not going to expand ULEZ. This amendment highlights a way to protect democracy for those in London going forward.

Local councils understand their locations and their residents—I know many Members here have connections. Bexley, like most other outer-London boroughs, is very different from central or inner-London. That is why my borough, like others, has campaigned against the Mayor of London’s insistence on extending ULEZ to the borders of London. We are very conscious of the need to continually look to improve air quality locally, and we take measures to do so, but our lack of transport connectivity—we are one of the few London boroughs without the Tube—makes us heavily reliant on the car. Many of our small businesses and trades men and women depend on vans. Many invested in the diesel vehicles they were told a decade ago were greener and cleaner but now face the ULEZ charge.

One of those measures is lobbying to improve public transport. You would hope that, when the opportunity arises, the mayor and TfL would seek to help, but in neither of the recent proposals for the Superloop or the DLR extension to Thamesmead did they even identify the need to improve the transport infrastructure in our part of the borough.

We have some of the poorest wards in London, and the residents in those wards are more likely to be those with non-compliant cars. Those cars are vitally important to allow residents to fulfil their employment, as well as look after their families. Cars, some on finance arrangements, have become worthless overnight. I have heard of many people taking out loans to replace them, the scrappage scheme not being relevant, or indeed having to revert to leasing rather than owning a car to allow them to get about.

In common with other outer-London boroughs, we also have a high number of older residents, and their cars give them independence to visit their family and friends, get their weekly shopping and attend medical appointments, among other things. How often do we all hear about people buying their last car? In the last few months, the communications I have received have included some revolving around people having to draw down their life savings to replace a car they had no intention of replacing.

The mayor’s expansion of ULEZ through outer London will impose fines on those who can least afford it. The stress of the imposition of this extension has not been good for the mental well-being of those who have been done unto. This is heartbreaking and devastating to so many people. Families have been split, unable to see each other; people are having to change jobs, including those unable to provide key front-line services because of the costs imposed by the mayor.

People are facing hardship and distress. When they voice their concerns, Mayor Khan, and his small band of allies, seek to insult and smear them, accusing them of being climate change deniers, Covid vaccine conspiracy theorists or the far right.

That brings me to the number of people being implicated—or the accuracy of the data that the mayor and TfL have been using. They said that nine out of 10 cars in the extended zone would be compliant. However, when challenged by organisations such as the AA and RAC, which obtained information from the DVLA under FoI, that number became known to be about 700,000 cars, and how the qualification of the nine out of 10 cars was collated became something of a farce. Likewise, I am sure noble Lords have all read the stories about Imperial College or a professor writing an article for the Lancet being asked to change their narrative as it did not support the extension.

Of course, there will be people who will not be able to change their vehicle. I am afraid that the mayor lives in a very different world from the one I live in if he thinks that £2,000 will buy a compliant car. That will include the key workers and tradesmen we are all dependent on. Is he not aware that in many instances, the cost of his fines will be passed on to others, thereby pushing up the prices of vital services or, indeed, will mean people choosing not to work in London? Likewise, we hear of the implications for voluntary organisations and charities, which are so important to our residents.

We are firm believers in democracy in Bexley. We put a manifesto before our electorate at every election, transposing it into our plans to ensure that we deliver the promises made, and we seek to represent our residents. Last May our manifesto included a commitment to oppose the ULEZ extension, and when we were re-elected, we started work to do what we said. That opposition from our residents and businesses was then repeated in the mayor’s own consultation—but, unlike us, he chose to ignore that message.

That is why this amendment is so important. Local councils understand the needs of their residents; we live the same lives as them, rather than being chauffeured around like the mayor—and, unlike the mayor, we believe in democracy. I support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Shinkwin Lord Shinkwin Conservative 4:00, 13 September 2023

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for tabling Amendment 282N and the consequential amendments, and His Majesty’s Government for supporting them. Unlike my noble friend, I do want to talk about ULEZ, although I totally understand and appreciate the points that he made about the importance of local democracy.

Noble Lords will know how important the blue badge scheme is to many disabled people and their families—and indeed their personal assistants, where applicable. I declare an interest as someone who relies on my blue badge for parking in a whole range of places, including town centres.

What noble Lords may not know is how relevant—indeed, how crucial—these amendments are to protecting blue badge holders from disability discrimination. In fact, I only became aware of this thanks to the indefatigable efforts of the formidable disability rights campaigner, Kush Kanodia.

As I understand it, incredibly, blue badge holders who are not in receipt of certain benefits are not exempt from ULEZ charges—unlike in Glasgow, for example. So this is effectively a discriminatory penalty for disability—or, in the case of non-disabled family members or personal assistants who may use a blue badge to assist with transport, a fine for providing support to a disabled person. This is surely not right. Amendment 282N and the consequential amendments would allow this manifest wrong to be put right through this opting-out provision. I wholeheartedly support it.

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

My Lords, here we are on day seven of Report, and up pops yet another amendment on a completely new topic. It is so out of scope that, to debate it, the Long Title of the Bill has also to be amended.

The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, has chosen to discuss, via the theme of ULEZ, the London devolution deal. How much better if he had done so during the very long section of debate on the Bill devoted to devolution. The amendments that he has proposed have only a tenuous link with the prime purpose of this Bill: levelling up. If he wanted to truly level up in the areas of the country identified in the Government’s own White Paper, the amendments would focus on transport issues elsewhere in the country.

Those of us who live in the north, especially in west Yorkshire, can only dream of the quality of public transport available in London. For instance, the government commitment, repeated many times, simply to electrify the trans-Pennine route, has been dropped. The new trans-Pennine route, nationalised because of its previous failure, has the highest number of train cancellations of all train companies. Added to this appalling level of service comes the decision that the 13 new trainsets for the route are to be taken out of service for want of trained drivers. In addition to this very large dent in already creaking connectivity in the north is the increasingly poor service provided by bus companies, which results in growing numbers having to rely on private transport, thus increasing the already poor air quality in many northern urban areas.

How much more beneficial to promoting levelling up—the purpose of this Bill—if the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, had used his talent to direct government attention to levelling up connectivity, which is absolutely essential if areas defined in the levelling up White Paper are to enjoy growing investment and prosperity.

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)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for introducing this group and the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, as well as for drawing our attention to the importance of standards. Clearly, most of the debate has been around the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. As we are on Report, I shall be brief and make just two points in response to the noble Lord’s amendments.

First, I point out that Sadiq Khan has explicitly ruled out the introduction of pay-per-mile charging while he is Mayor of London. Secondly, on Amendment 282N, which seems to be the core amendment within the four amendments introduced, our concern is that this includes a loophole for councils to opt out of such schemes. Introducing that loophole undermines the national objective of improving air quality. We think that it risks increasing public confusion and is not in the interests of preventive health and improving air quality.

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

My Lords, Amendment 242 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, introduced by my noble friend Lord Lexden, would require the Government to make all standards that relate to all planning Acts or local authority planning policy, online and free of charge.

As I think I said in Committee, our national standards body, the British Standards Institution or BSI, publishes around 3,000 standards annually. These standards are a product of over 1,000 expert committees. BSI is independent of government and governed by the rights and duties included in its royal charter. This includes the obligation to set up, sell and distribute standards of quality for goods, services and management systems. About 20% of the standards produced are to support the regulatory framework. This will include a minority of standards made to support planning legislation and local authority planning policy. To ensure the integrity of the system and to support the effective running of the standards-making process, the funding model relies on BSI charging customers for access to its standards. As a non-profit distributing body, BSI reinvests this income from sales in the standards development programme.

My noble friend Lord Lexden asked what the difference is between a regulation and a standard. A regulation provides minimum legal requirements, is written by government and is laid before Parliament. A standard is expert-led and derives its legitimacy through consensus and public consultation. A standard, however, can help demonstrate compliance with legislation. My noble friend also brought up the issue of access in Northern Ireland’s libraries. Interestingly enough, access to British standards is available free in public and university libraries across this country as well, including the British Library, Herefordshire County libraries and the National Library of Scotland. I hope that this provides sufficient reason for my noble friend Lord Lexden, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, to withdraw the amendment.

I thank my noble friend Lord Moylan for tabling Amendments 282N, 302A, 315ZA and 317, to which I have added my name. He speaks with his characteristic eloquence about the challenges of introducing road user charging schemes in the capital. My noble friend’s experience in these matters is worth repeating. He is a former deputy leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, a former deputy chairman of Transport for London and a former chairman of London Councils’ city-wide transport and environment committee. My noble friend therefore speaks with unrivalled experience and authority on matters of London’s governance.

My noble friend is entirely correct in his analysis of the differences between the mayoral model followed in London and the combined authority model followed elsewhere in England. He is right to draw attention to the resulting friction that can arise between London borough councils and the mayoralty in London. Regrettably, we have seen a clear display of this during the recent debates on the expansion of the ultra-low emission zones.

As the Government, through this Bill, look to widen and deepen the devolved powers of leaders outside the capital, it is right that we also take stock of how London’s devolution settlement is working in practice. To this end, the Government have committed, through their new English devolution accountability framework, published earlier this year, to review

“how current scrutiny and accountability arrangements in London are operating in practice”, including

“how the Greater London Authority works and liaises with the London boroughs”.

In addition, the Levelling Up Advisory Council has been asked to examine the strengths and challenges of the capital’s devolution settlement, and a report on that is expected next year. In the meantime, my noble friend’s new clause on road user charging schemes in London provides a targeted, proportionate and wholly sensible correction to the current uneven distribution of power and decision-making between borough councils and the Greater London Authority when introducing ULEZ-style road user charging schemes across the capital. The amendment is entirely in keeping with the wider aims of the Bill to “empower local leaders” and to “enhance local democracy”. As such, I can confirm that, should my noble friend Lord Moylan wish to test the opinion of your Lordships’ House on this matter, he would have the Government’s support.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 4:15, 13 September 2023

My Lords, how lucky my noble friend Lord Moylan was—he was garlanded with praise from the Front Bench.

On Amendment 242, I was extremely glad to hear from my noble friend that a number of libraries in Great Britain had the good sense to bring themselves into line with libraries in Northern Ireland, so that their users can have free online access to British standards. Where Northern Ireland has gone so successfully and pre-eminently, others now follow. That is extremely good news, so I shall not press the amendment.

We have already debated the amendment that follows. It is a modest amendment asking for local consultation purely in residential areas when a noisy business such as an all-night McDonald’s is to be placed among them. It seems entirely reasonable that local residents should be properly informed, so I ask my noble friend the Minister and her officials to reflect further on Amendment 243, which I shall not press. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 242.

Amendment 242 withdrawn.

Amendments 243 to 245 not moved.