Motion L1 (as an amendment to Motion L)

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Commons Amendments and Reasons – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 23 October 2023.

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Baroness Thornhill:

Moved by Baroness Thornhill

At end insert “and do propose Amendments 44C, 44D and 44E as amendments to Amendment 44B—

44C: In subsection (4)(a), leave out “does not materially affect the policy or”

44D: In subsection (4)(b), at end insert “in the interests of public safety or national security”

44E: At end insert— “(5) Except in the case where no consultation or participation has taken place or is to take place in accordance with subsection (4), the Secretary of State may not make or revoke a direction under subsection (1), or modify a national development management policy, unless the Secretary of State has laid the proposal before Parliament, and either—(a) the consideration period has expired without—(i) a Committee of either House of Parliament making a recommendation relating to the proposal during that period, or (ii) either House of Parliament making a resolution that the proposal should be modified or that the making or revoking of the direction should not be proceeded with, or(b) the making or revoking of the direction or the modification of the development management policy has been approved by resolution of each Houses of Parliament before the end of the consideration period. (6) Before making or revoking a direction under subsection (1), or modifying a national development management policy, the Secretary of State must carry out an appraisal of the sustainability of the policy set out in the proposal.(7) In subsection (5)—“the consideration period”, in relation to a policy, means the period of 21 sitting days beginning with the first sitting day after the day on which the statement is laid before Parliament, and “sitting day” means a day on which the House of Commons sits; “the proposal” means (as the case may be)—(a) the policy that the Secretary of State proposes to designate as a national development management policy under subsection (1), (b) the proposal to revoke a direction under subsection (1), or (c) the proposed modification to the national development management policy. 38ZB Review of national development management policies(1) The Secretary of State must review a national development management policy whenever the Secretary of State thinks it appropriate to do so. (2) A review may relate to all or part of a national development management policy. (3) In deciding when to review a national development management policy the Secretary of State must consider whether— (a) since the time when the policy was first published or (if later) last reviewed, there has been a significant change in any circumstances on the basis of which any of the policy was decided, (b) the change was not anticipated at that time, and (c) if the change had been anticipated at that time, any of the policy set out would have been materially different. (4) In deciding when to review part of a national development management policy (“the relevant part”) the Secretary of State must consider whether— (a) since the time when the relevant part was first published or (if later) last reviewed, there has been a significant change in any circumstances on the basis of which any of the policy set out in the relevant part was decided, (b) the change was not anticipated at that time, and (c) if the change had been anticipated at that time, any of the policy set out in the relevant part would have been materially different. (5) After completing a review of all or part of a national development management policy the Secretary of State must do one of the following—(a) amend the policy;(b) withdraw the policy's designation as a national development management policy;(c) leave the policy as it is.(6) The Secretary of State may amend a national development management policy only if the consultation and publicity requirements and the parliamentary requirements set out in subsections (3) and (5) of section 38ZA have been complied with in relation to the proposed amendment, and—(a) the consideration period for the amendment has expired without the House of Commons resolving during that period that the amendment should be modified or should not be proceeded with, or (b) the amendment has been approved by resolution of the House of Commons—(i) after being laid before Parliament under section 38ZA(5), and(ii) before the end of the consideration period.(7) In subsection (6), “the consideration period” means the period mentioned in section 38ZA(7).(8) If the Secretary of State amends a national development management policy, the Secretary of State must—(a) arrange for the amendment, or the policy as amended, to be published, and(b) lay the amendment, or the policy as amended, before Parliament.””

Photo of Baroness Thornhill Baroness Thornhill Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, I have listened to what the noble Earl has said today and what he put in his recent letter to us, and also to what was said by the Minister in the other place last week. The Minister will forgive me if I am not placated by the meagre shift from no consultation at all if we can get away with it to Motion L, which is as little consultation as possible so that we can say we have listened. That is what it feels like, sadly. It is hugely disappointing to see that, while the Government’s amendment in lieu does indeed put public consultation for new NDMPs on a legal footing that cannot be negotiated away, there is still no agreed consultation and scrutiny process enshrined in the legislation. For us, that is the key point.

The scope, level and duration of the consultation that this and successive Governments can use is not defined in the Bill, nor in the accompanying regulation. Most importantly, the Government’s amendment in lieu makes no specific mention of parliamentary scrutiny, which both Houses and the relevant Select Committee had called for. As the noble Earl has said, we understand that individual parliamentarians or committees can indeed participate in consultations, like any other citizen. However, without specific provision, the Bill does not require any parliamentary oversight of approval before NDMPs can come into force.

It is worth reminding ourselves that NDMPs are a new and very radical departure from the current system. I am surprised because, if NDMPs are going to do the heavy lifting in order to streamline and simplify the system, as is often quoted and claimed by Ministers, surely they need to be heavily scrutinised and tested. If they are going to do the job that the Government want them to do and work effectively, I cannot understand why the Government would risk them going forward into law without being test-driven properly through Parliament.

We have all seen the impact of what has been happening recently, with ministerial announcements on the hoof and the very recent arrival of the “refreshed”—I believe that is the word—NPPF. It has thrown the planning system into chaos, with plans withdrawn or paused, and planners not knowing what to do or what to take account of. Similar things will happen again if we do not know what these NDMPs contain. They are currently a blank piece of paper.

In response, my modest amendment is necessary to ensure that the national planning policies for residential and other kinds of development—because, after all, they will take precedence over local policies and will be applied directly by the Secretary of State on called-in applications—are given a similar level of parliamentary attention as infrastructure policies, as surely they should be. My question to the Minister is: why not?

The reality of this offered consultation is undefined in the Bill and is not provided for by the regulations. It is completely at the Secretary of State’s discretion. We on these Benches, the RTPI, the CPRE, and some of the more than 30 professional bodies and groups that form the Better Planning Coalition believe that, given the new and radical nature of NDMPs, that is both unwise and unacceptable. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Ravensdale Lord Ravensdale Crossbench

My Lords, I declare my interests as a director of Peers for the Planet and as a project director working for Atkins. I will speak to Motion M1. I thank the Minister for the time he set aside to explain the government position on this and attempt to reach a resolution.

Planning has dominated much of the national conversation in recent months. We heard in all three party conferences about the need for planning reform and for clarity and consistency in the planning system to help unblock critical infrastructure and homes, and to empower local authorities to play their part in the net-zero transition. Planning is absolutely central as an enabler to net zero, as was set out eloquently by many noble Lords on Report—so I will not repeat those arguments. I know that the Government get this; they are relying in the Bill on a plan-led system and on incorporation of climate considerations in local plans, and, perhaps in the future, on national development management policies.

There are three issues to highlight with this plan-led approach. First, the Committee on Climate Change has found that:

“Most local plans do not acknowledge … the challenge of delivering Net Zero and need significant revision”.

Most local plans are long out of date—some were made in the last millennium—and only around 40% have been adopted in the last decade. We know all about current pressures on local authorities and their ability to devote and manage resources in these areas. Secondly, we are yet to see the national development management policies and any climate provisions they may contain; they are still a blank sheet, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, set out. Thirdly, even if all local authorities had a robust local plan, backed up by NDMPs, there will still be an absence of a statutory duty for decision-makers. No matter how robust a local plan informed by national policy may be, it will still be for the individual decision-maker to weigh up all material considerations, with no duty to attribute any planning weight to climate change in the decision-making process. Therefore, rather than a golden thread running through the planning system, we have a somewhat worn and frayed thread that is severed as soon as we get to the decision-making process.

The way to address this and to achieve the ends the Government want is to introduce a new duty that raises the importance of climate change in the hierarchy of considerations but which would still retain flexibility for decision-makers. My amendment would not duplicate existing policy and statutory requirements but rather expand the existing climate duty, which has existed in relation to planning since 2008 and which has been rolled forward in this Bill to decision-making. The amendment would not remove local discretion, as the Government fear, but rather retain the ability of planning authorities to tailor planning decisions to individual circumstances. It would retain the flexibility of planning balance and judgment, which is now well established, and not mean that other planning matters could not be taken into account.

Rather than causing issues of litigation, as the Minister said, the amendment would provide clarity and set a clear direction of travel for planners and developers, leading to greater progress for new developments towards our climate goals. It is derisked by being based on an established duty, the meaning of which has been tried and tested in the courts. It does not raise any novel legal issues, because the principle of special regard is well understood in planning. Therefore, it really should be uncontroversial. It has broad, publicly stated backing across built environment businesses, local government, built environment professionals, including 22 past presidents of the Royal Town Planning Institute, and environmental NGOs.

To finish, I have a number of questions for the Minister. First, can he clarify and expand on what he said earlier about whether the draft NDMPs will include provisions setting out the way in which they will ensure that plan-making and planning decisions consider and contribute to climate change and environment targets? Secondly, can he provide assurances that changes will be proposed to the NPPF to make it clear that planning decisions should take into account the climate impacts of development proposals? The current NPPF does not include that level of clarity. I give notice that I may test the opinion of the House depending on the responses from the Minister.

Photo of Lord Crisp Lord Crisp Crossbench

My Lords, I will speak to Motion N1 in my name. In doing so, I express my gratitude to the noble Lords, Lord Young of Cookham, Lord Blunkett and Lord Stunell, who put their names to a similar amendment on Report. I also express my gratitude to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, with whom I think I have had three meetings over the last few months to discuss all this. They were extremely courteous but, in the end, we did not manage to reach any agreement.

The original amendment that noble Lords supported on Report was that there would be a duty on the Secretary of State—to put it in shorthand—to ensure that all new homes and neighbourhoods promoted health, safety and well-being, and set out some principles about what this meant. In response to what the House of Commons voted on and the advice I had from the noble Earl, Lord Howe, I have taken out the principles in putting this forward and left instead the duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that the planning and regulation of the built environment should promote health and well-being. It is a very simple, straightforward point in its way, and it leaves the Secretary of State complete discretion as to when they bring this into effect and as to precisely what principles they work for in doing that. However, my point is simply that this is nowhere in planning, and the idea that the built environment should not in some way promote health, safety and well-being seems extraordinary. It is equally extraordinary that in this entire levelling-up Bill there is no reference to the climate crisis, as we have just heard, or indeed to the public health crisis, which I think we are all familiar with. This is an attempt to put health and well-being at the centre of planning.

In response to that, the Government have said three things. First, in the formal minute, they said that this breached the financial privilege of the Commons. That is entirely up to the Commons to decide. I subsequently reduced and removed the principles that I saw as perhaps the area the Commons thought breached that privilege. I understand from the noble Earl that the clerks still consider that it breaches privilege, but that is for the Commons to decide; they can still debate it and, if they choose, put it to one side and record the fact in something called “the journal”, in taking it forward. However, as I will say in a moment, building poor housing is a false economy.

The second point the Minister made was that much of what was in the original amendments was covered by other policy. That is entirely true, and I entirely respect the fact that the noble Earl and the Government want to improve the quality of homes and housing. However, it is important that we have some legislation around that and not just policy; nor does that put health and well-being at the heart of the policy. Most of it is not mandatory, and none ensures that health and well-being are fundamental to creating healthy homes and neighbourhoods.

Finally, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, also just said that this cuts across the whole system of planning; that is very much the point. I have to say that I am rather confused that if these things are already covered in policy this proposal would then cut across the system. However, I have taken the key message that the Government do not want to require the Secretary of State to ensure that new homes and neighbourhoods promote health, safety and well-being. I think this is extraordinary. I am not going to repeat the sort of statements that I and other noble Lords made in earlier debates about the intimate links between poor housing and poor health and good housing and a good foundation for life. I will just note that there are real costs of poor-quality housing. There are costs to the NHS of about £1.4 billion a year, costs to tenants and costs to landlords. There are costs to the whole system and that is why a number of developers, housebuilders and insurers have supported the Town and Country Planning Association’s Healthy Homes campaign on which this amendment is based. Subject to what the noble Earl, Lord Howe, may have to say later, I am very inclined to ask the House to divide and express its opinion on this point.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative 6:00, 23 October 2023

My Lords, I have Motion P1 in this group. I express my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Howe and others who attended the meeting last week, which was extremely helpful. I refer to my interests on the register and, in particular, that I co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Water. As my noble friend referred to in his opening remarks, we are in the midst of yet another storm and widespread flooding, not just in Scotland but parts of Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and other parts of the country as well. My heart goes out to those families experiencing flooding at this time.

My noble friend mentioned that I may be minded to insist, and I hope that we may achieve a closer meeting of minds on this occasion than on the last occasion when we discussed this. In current planning policy, it depends entirely on local authorities, as I understand it, mapping the divisions between zones 3a and 3b, to which my noble friend referred. As I understand it, this currently is not being done as widely as one would hope. If the mapping is not being done, my first question to my noble friend is: how do we know which properties lie in zone 3b and which in zone 3a? Secondly, the information I have received is that Environment Agency advice, to which my noble friend referred, is currently not always being followed. I commend the fact that the Government of the day called on the Environment Agency to be statutory consultees in planning procedures and what a ground-breaking decision that was at the time. But, sadly, between 2016 and 2021, 2,000 homes were given planning permission against Environment Agency advice. If its advice is not being followed, what is the come back for purchasers who live in those houses where the advice has not been followed?

Post Flood Re—which was a very welcome development—houses built on a flood plain after 2009 are not covered by insurance. In those circumstances, it may be that someone purchases a house in good faith, perhaps without a mortgage, and may not realise that they are not eligible for insurance. As a Flood Re official expressed it, it would be better that houses were simply not built on functioning flood plains. I am afraid the question of whether houses built after 2009 are covered by insurance, or at the very least offered affordable insurance where the excess is not prohibitive, is still one of the outstanding issues that lie behind Amendment 80.

However, I am heartened by my noble friend saying that national development planning policies should express how best to achieve the lifetime protection that the Government are so committed to and which I support. This evening, can my noble friend put more flesh on the bones and particularly specify how he and the Government expect to achieve this? I am not entirely convinced that what my noble friend seeks to achieve is set out in the latest iteration of the National Planning Policy Framework, published as recently as September this year.

The reason why this is so important is set out very eloquently by the National Infrastructure Commission in its quinquennial assessment published on 18 October, in which it recommends requiring

“planning authorities to ensure that from 2026 all new development is resilient to flooding from rivers with an annual likelihood of 0.5 per cent for its lifetime and does not increase risk elsewhere”.

That aspiration could be achieved by regulation or, as my noble friend set out earlier this evening, in the National Planning Policy Framework. I urge my noble friend before we leave this Motion entirely to confirm this and give a little more detail as to how we expect this will be achieved through the National Planning Policy Framework.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour

My Lords, I will talk to Motion Q, which deals with developments that affect ancient woodland, and I declare an interest as chair of the Woodland Trust. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall, who supported this amendment at earlier stages of the Bill. Huge thanks go to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, who has persuaded whoever needed persuading to take the body of my amendment into a government amendment. Although my amendment has not gone ahead, to a large extent it will bring into the consultation direction the ability for the Secretary of State to call in and direct local authorities against developments that will impact on ancient woodlands by destroying them or by influencing them from adjacent developments. That is terrific, and I really thank the noble Earl for his support and help in this.

Of course—conservationists and environmentalists always have a “but” after everything they say—this is very good, but the Government have introduced a couple of additions to the amendment we proposed. One is good: clarification of the definition of ancient woodland; the other is not so good, as it says basically that when we come to review and withdraw or amend the 2021 consultation direction, we could sweep the legs out from under this one, which would be rather short-lived since a review of the 2021 direction is under way at the moment. I hope that justice will prevail and that anyone reviewing the direction will be of the same mind as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and will support the ancient woodland provisions because there is currently no protection for ancient woodland whatever.

I should say that my two co-sponsors and I and many others will be watching the department’s intent intently, both in the review of the direction and, more importantly, in the implementation of the provision. It will be in operation by the end of this year and the way in which the Secretary of State and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities deal with it will be a real test of whether they recognise the importance of what is currently being put into statute. That is going to be the proof of the pudding. If we do not see any real efforts by the department to hold local authorities and developers to account against this provision and stop some of the frequent damage to ancient woodland caused by development, we will not have achieved much.

At that point, I must stop descending into churlishness and once again I say a big thank you to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for putting forward the alternative government amendment. But we are watching.

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench

My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment ZD1 and declare my interest as chair of Peers for the Planet.

I retabled my amendment on onshore wind to give the Government the opportunity to provide, as the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, said, clarity and consistency in the planning system in relation to onshore wind; to stop having to eat away at the disastrous effective moratorium on onshore wind by a series of measures and to have one clean, clear way of reverting to the planning system and not putting onshore wind on a special basis—not with any extra consideration—but not putting it out of the normal considerations in relation to planning law that any other infrastructure development would have.

I started fighting the moratorium three years ago in a Private Member’s Bill. As the noble Baroness has just said, it would be churlish not to say that we have made progress from that point. We have seen contracts for difference being made open to onshore wind, then repowering and life extension for existing onshore wind developments, and the recent NPPF changes to which the Minister has referred have been welcome. However, all these have been baby steps. They have not solved the problem. More importantly, the industry as a whole is not convinced that there will be enough to give the onshore wind industry the reinvigoration or the planning framework within which to make the contribution that it needs to make to our renewable energy and net-zero targets—and also to cutting bills to boost energy security. With the costs of developing onshore wind high, the uncertainty that remains in the planning system could curtail investment and lead to supply chain issues and, ultimately, to development going elsewhere.

However, I have to say that the Minister has, as ever, tried to help and has helped. We do have more baby steps and I very much welcome his commitment to monitoring the effects of the changes that have been made—because there is a disagreement as to whether they will be effective and whether they will lead to more onshore wind developments. If we can see the data and if the Government are upfront and transparent about the effects, we can then see whether they are right or whether the fears that some of us have are justified.

So I do welcome that and that the Minister has given us a timeframe this evening for that reporting to come back. He mentioned that the consultation on changes to the NPPF and the implementation of consultation with local communities is soon to be made public. I hope that when the results of that consultation come out, the Government will look very carefully at whether they can offer some guidance to local authorities, because some of the terms about how you assess local support and what is adequate are very difficult on a case-by-case basis. It would be extremely helpful if the Government could look at giving local authorities some guidance in these areas.

So I am trying to strike a balance between saying “Not enough” and “Thank you for what there is” and I will not be pressing this to a Division later.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 6:15, 23 October 2023

My Lords, I rise very briefly, aware of the hour, to offer the Green group’s support for all the alternative amendments in this group and to reflect on how your Lordships’ House is still trying to fix some utterly extraordinary holes in this Bill. If you think of what the holes are that we are filling, they are related to climate but also to public health and the cost of living crisis—the issues that are of great concern to people all round this country, but particularly those in the areas that the levelling-up Bill is most supposed to be addressing.

I must note that at about the same time that we are speaking, in the other place there is a Statement on the impacts of Storm Babet. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, referred to this. We have had tragic deaths. Huge numbers of people have seen their lives torn apart by flooding. There are now 1.9 million people living in homes at significant risk of flooding. That figure will double by 2050. We have a huge problem with public health. We often hear in your Lordships’ House the concern about getting ill people back to work. We must get productivity up. These are issues that the Government are talking about all the time and issues that these amendments are trying to address.

So, once again, we are trying to help and we can only hope that the Government will listen.

Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Crossbench

My Lords, I rise to speak to Motion ZH, the government amendment in lieu of Lords Amendment 329. The intention of the earlier Lords amendment was to make local plans more specific in spelling out the housing needs of each locality and the ways in which those needs are to be met. This would identify how homelessness and temporary accommodation can be eliminated over a reasonable timescale. The amendment, devised by Shelter, detailed what the local plan should cover, including the needs of all those registered on the local housing authority’s allocation scheme. This would mean all local plans highlighting the need for, and the steps to provide, the homes sought by those now in increasing difficulty as opportunities to buy or to rent have become alarmingly scarce.

The government amendment seeks to take this on board in a somewhat condensed version. It requires the local plan to

“take account of an assessment of the amount, and type, of housing that is needed in the local planning authority’s area, including the amount of affordable housing that is needed”.

This takes us into the same territory as my amendment and would sharpen up local plans to provide more precision in identifying and addressing the need for housing for those who are homeless or in temporary accommodation or on the never-ending waiting list for a home that they can afford. What is on the face of the Bill will now need to be buttressed by guidance for local planning authorities, to put a bit more flesh on the bones of this legislative measure. It would be good if the Minister could provide an assurance that this ingredient will be incorporated in forthcoming planning guidance.

The government amendment in lieu also raises the thorny question of defining “affordable housing”, which has been debated in this House on numerous occasions and not resolved. The government amendment adds that “affordable housing” means social housing as it has been defined—very broadly and often misleadingly—since 2008. However, the amendment adds some new, encouraging words that “affordable housing” could mean housing of

“any other description of housing that may be prescribed”.

This is helpful. It opens the door for a new definition of affordable housing which, in the future, this or another Secretary of State may prescribe. It would be good to see whether agreement can be reached in the months ahead on a more satisfactory definition, to update the old one from 2008 in readiness for the first opportunity to substitute a better version.

With these comments, I say that I feel that the Government have made a serious effort to take on board the need to sharpen up the local plan in respect of meeting housing need. I am grateful to the Government, and to the Minister in particular, for this change that they are willing to make to the Bill.

Photo of Lord Cromwell Lord Cromwell Crossbench

My Lords, I have one remark to make in support of Motion M1, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale. The noble Earl, with whom it is always so difficult to disagree, stated that the reason the Government are unhappy with the idea of climate change becoming more central is that it opens up a wide range of challenge. But climate change is going to be the central, existential issue of planning beyond our lifetimes. It is not an add-on; it is not planting a few trees in order to get planning permission. It is absolutely core, and dealing with that will make life very difficult for planning applications. I support this amendment so that climate change becomes central to the decision-making process, not an adjunct.

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I will intervene briefly to speak to three Motions in this group—first, Motion ZH, to which the noble Lord, Lord Best, has just spoken. It is the substitute for an amendment on housing need that he promoted on Report. There is a crucial difference between the original amendment, which required local authorities not just to assess need but to make provision for it. The Government’s amendment deletes that last half—making provision for need. None the less, we have heard some encouraging words about social rent. It is a brave man who seeks to outbid the noble Lord, Lord Best, when it comes to speaking or voting on amendments on housing, so I am happy to follow his lead and not press that. I pay tribute to the work that he has been doing on this.

Secondly, it was disappointing to hear my noble friend Lord Howe say that Motion N1 on healthy homes, from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, still had to be resisted. Ever since the Private Member’s Bill was introduced, we have had numerous debates in Committee and on Report, and each time, in response, the noble Lord has moved further and further towards the Government. There never was a wide disagreement, because the Government always said that they agreed with the thrust of what he was trying to do.

It is worth reading out what may be the only sentence of the original amendment that remains:

“The Secretary of State must promote a comprehensive regulatory framework for planning and the built environment designed to secure the physical, mental and social health and well-being of the people of England by ensuring the creation of healthy homes and neighbourhoods”.

That is apparently too much. It continues:

“The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for a system of standards”.

In other words, how that objective is reached is left entirely to the Secretary of State. Far from cutting across, as my noble friend Lord Howe said, the amendment seeks to bring it all together under a comprehensive framework to promote healthy homes.

The last point I want to make is on Motion R1 of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. It repeats an amendment that I originally proposed in Committee that gives local authorities powers to fix their own planning fees. In the other place, the amendment was resisted on these grounds:

“It will lead to inconsistency of fees between local planning authorities and does not provide any incentive to tackle inefficiencies”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/10/23; col 186.]

Central government should be quite careful before it preaches to local government about inefficiencies. This is the month in which we abandoned most of HS2. Pick up any NAO report and you will find criticism of the MoD on procurement. There has been criticism of the new hospitals programme and of HMRC in its response to taxpayer inquiries. If I were running a planning department in a local authority, I would be slightly miffed if I were told that, if I had the resources I needed, it might lead to inefficiencies.

There are problems in planning departments, but they are because a quarter of planners left the public sector between 2013 and 2020, so of course they cannot turn around planning applications as speedily as they might. The argument about promoting inefficiency does not really hold water. If one were to take that argument, why stop at planning fees? What about taking books out of a public library, swimming or parking? Are these not areas where local authorities might conceivably be inefficient?

Almost the first sentence of the White Paper introducing the Bill said that it would promote a “revolution in local democracy”, but allowing planning departments to set fees, so that they can recoup the costs of planning, is apparently a step too far. Yes, you will have inconsistency of fees, but that will happen if you have local democracy. We already have inconsistency of fees in every other charge a local authority makes, including building control fees. The argument that it will somehow confuse individuals or developers does not hold water. How many individuals make planning applications to a range of different local authorities and then express surprise that the fees are different? Yes, developers will be confronted with different fees, but they want an efficient planning department that processes their applications quickly.

I cannot understand why the Government are digging in their heels on this amendment, which empowers local government and gives them resources. It does not get resources at the moment because, in a unitary authority, the planning department, which does not get enough money from planning fees, has to bid for resources from the council tax in competition against adult social care and other services. It is no wonder that it misses out. At this very late stage on the Bill, I ask my noble friend whether the Government could show a little ankle on this, move a little towards empowering local government and trust it to get this right.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My Lords, I apologise for intervening before the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, has a chance to speak to Motion R1, but I have to disagree with my noble friend on this occasion. Last week, we had a debate on planning fees, in which I participated. The risk in what the noble Baroness proposes is that it would lead to local authorities significantly increasing the fees that would be charged for householder applications.

I remind the House that I chair the Cambridgeshire development forum. As far as larger developers are concerned, the point I made last week is that we should promote planning performance agreements to enable local authorities and developers to come to proper agreements, with potential sanctions and performance obligations on the part of the local planning authority. They would give them access to greater resources in dealing with major developments. I fear that what the Liberal Democrat Front Bench proposes would just lead to increases in fees for householder applications.

I also want to say a word about Motion M1 on climate change. The noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, knows that I thoroughly agree with what he proposes but, at this stage, sending back the same amendments is inherently undesirable if it can be avoided. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will tell us more about how the Government will use the new national development management policies, which will have statutory backing. If the Government set down NDMPs in terms that are clear about the importance of decisions that take account of mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, they will have the effect that my noble friend and other Members of the House look for from this Motion.

The distinctive point of the original Amendment 45 was that it would extend specific consideration of mitigation of and adaptation to climate change to individual planning decisions—there is plenty in the statute about the application of this to plan-making—so that is where the gap lies. That gap can be filled if national development management policies are absolutely clear about how decisions are to be made on the impact of climate change. I hope that my noble friend says something that allows me to feel that we do not need to send the same Amendment 45 back to the other place.

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

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Earl most sincerely for the time he has spent with me and my colleagues in discussions about these issues. They were, of course, of great interest to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, and I repeat my good wishes to her for a speedy recovery.

It is not often that you get a Motion both agreed and disagreed with before it is proposed, but here we go. I will speak to Motion R1, about planning fees, which is in my name. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, for his support. He has made the powerful case in favour of enabling local authorities to determine their planning fees to cover costs: no more, no less.

The reason provided by the noble Earl for turning down the original amendment was financial privilege. The substitute amendment that I have made has gone, I think, all the way to satisfying that criticism. It seeks that, where the Secretary of State is satisfied that the income from planning fees, which are set by national regulations, does not meet the cost of planning service,

“a local planning authority may make provision as to how a fee or charge … is to be calculated”.

It is saying that where a local planning authority is not able to cover its costs, the Secretary of State can intervene to enable it to do so. That puts the onus back on the Secretary of State to fulfil an obligation and a responsibility that planning fees should cover the costs.

At the moment, as we discovered in the debate that we had on the statutory instrument to increase planning fees to which the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred, council tax payers are subsidising planning fees to a considerable extent—more than £250 million of council tax payers’ money. Even after the increases that the Government have introduced, which I am pleased about, of 35% for major applications and 25% for minor applications—the increase is on the 2018 set of figures—local council tax payers will still be subsidising planning applications to the tune of more than £125 million a year.

That principle is wrong. Why should council tax payers help to subsidise applications from, for instance, major housebuilders? Why should they—

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative 6:30, 23 October 2023

I apologise for interrupting the noble Baroness, but surely we discovered from the documentation that came with the statutory instrument last week that after the increase in fees, the great majority of that subsidy would be to householder applications? What the noble Baroness is looking for is for householder application fees in effect to be doubled.

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

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for his comment. What we did discover, and I have the papers with me, was that there would still be a subsidy for major applications—that was in the papers—and that there would be a subsidy for householder applications. But the case I make is this: if householders wish to add an extension to their house or improve it in some other way, then there is a cost to that, of which the planning application fee is a minor part. Why should their next-door neighbour subsidise it? I do not think it is a just or fair way of spending taxpayers’ money. If we told them that this was happening, I think they would be as cross as I am.

We need to recover costs because the principle that I have just outlined, but also because without local planning authorities being fully resourced, they will not turn around the situation that is well recorded by professional bodies, by the Local Government Association and by the Government in the papers that we had for the statutory instrument last week—that there is a significant shortfall in planning officers in local government because of the lack of resources. If we are going to reverse that, local planning authorities need to be properly resourced, so that in a plan-led system we have experienced and well-qualified planners who have the responsibility of ensuring that local and national plans are respected.

The only other point I want to make on this issue is this: many councils across the country are under severe financial pressure—let us put it like that. Some, as we heard from Birmingham, which was the latest council, are on the brink of having insufficient resources to fulfil their statutory obligations. Particularly in those circumstances, it seems quite wrong to expect councils to use council tax payer funding to subsidise planning applications, hence my continuing pursuit of a fair and just planning application fee process.

I suppose my final point on this is to totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, when he asks why on earth in a local democracy cannot local government have the right, responsibility and duty to set its own fees? It does on everything else, so why not on that? I will push this to a vote if the noble Earl fails to agree with me and others’ powerful speeches on this.

On the other amendments, I endorse the “healthy homes” Motion that the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, has pushed again today. He is absolutely right: why do we continue building places that produce problems, when we could solve it from the outset? If the noble Lord wishes to press his Motion, he will get our full support, as will the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, for his Motion on climate change. He is absolutely right; it is an existential threat to our country. We must take it seriously, and here is one area of policy where we can be seen to be doing that.

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 shall be very brief. This has been quite a long debate, and we have a number of votes at the end of it.

First, on the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, regarding NDMPs, we agree with her that the Government’s amendment is not sufficient to answer the concerns that were raised in Committee and on Report. If the noble Baroness wishes to divide the House, she will have our full support.

Secondly, on the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, on planning and climate change, we consider this an extremely important issue, as other noble Lords have mentioned. If he wishes to divide the House, he will have our full support.

On the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, on healthy homes, which he spoke to so eloquently—as did the noble Lord, Lord Young—we also believe that health needs to be at the centre of planning when making decisions about housing. If the noble Lord wishes to press this to a vote, he will have our full support.

We welcome the fact that there have been concessions on ancient woodland and offshore wind, and some concession for the noble Lord, Lord Best, on his amendment. We would have preferred to see mention of social housing, as well as affordable housing, in the Government’s Amendment 329A.

On the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, on floods, it is very important and the Government need to get a grip on whether people can get insurance—ideally through Flood Re—because we cannot have insurance with excess that is so huge that it makes the insurance pointless. We have a debate tomorrow on Storm Babet; I am sure these issues will be raised again then.

Finally, on the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, on planning fees, we believe that this is an important point that we need to continue to discuss. Therefore, if the noble Baroness wishes to test the opinion of the House, she will have our strong support.

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

My Lords, once again I am grateful to noble Lords for their comments and questions.

Motion L1, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, relates to national development management policies and the process by which they are made. We do not agree with the principle that the process for making national development management policies should be based on that for national policy statements. National development management policies will serve a broader purpose than national policy statements, which are used by Ministers to make planning decisions for major infrastructure projects, so it is right that their requirements should be suited to their purpose, not based on the provisions of a different regime.

That said, I cannot agree with the noble Baroness’s characterisation of Motion L. The parliamentary scrutiny proposals in Motion L go even further than the provisions for national policy statements. The NPS provisions refer to the House of Commons where these proposals refer to both Houses. The NPS provisions require the Secretary of State to respond to recommendations of a committee of either House before they can be made, while this Motion would require a vote in favour of the proposals if a committee of either House made recommendations about a draft policy. This Motion would limit the circumstances in which no consultation is necessary to those in the interests of public safety or national security. That would be too narrow for the exceptional circumstances in which we expect this provision to be used. Examples we have given—such as our changes during the pandemic offering protection to theatres that were temporarily vacant—would not have been able to be made with such a narrowly drafted provision. This is because, although the policy change was in response to the pandemic, it was not in the interests of public safety or national security itself. We do not think this part of the amendment is necessary, as NDMPs will be a programme of policies that we anticipate will be captured by the requirement to undertake statutory environmental assessment.

Motion N1 from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, requires the Secretary of State to

“promote a comprehensive regulatory framework for planning and the built environment designed to secure the physical, mental and social health and well-being of the people of England by ensuring the creation of healthy homes and neighbourhoods”.

While the Government, as I have said on many occasions, support the principle raised by the noble Lord, I say again that these matters are already taken into consideration and addressed through existing systems and regimes. That includes through building safety, building regulations, the National Planning Policy Framework, the national design code and the national model design code. The creation of an additional regulatory framework would cut across these regimes. I know he said that was the whole point, but I contend that those regimes are already comprehensive, and the Government therefore cannot support his Motion.

Motion R1 from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, relates to planning fees. The amendment inserts a new clause that delegates to a local planning authority the calculation of fees and charges payable under regulations under that section, including who is to make the calculation in circumstances where the Secretary of State is satisfied that the income from the fees set by regulations does not meet the cost of performing that function. On the noble Baroness’s substantive proposal, I will not repeat in any detail the arguments I put forward earlier. We do not think that enabling local planning authorities to vary fees and charges is the way to answer resourcing issues. She asked, though, why we should not increase fees to cover the full cost of processing the planning application, and my noble friend Lord Lansley sounded a wise warning on that point. As I said at an earlier stage of the Bill, we want to proceed in a measured way that provides additional resourcing for local authorities without disproportionately impacting on businesses and householders, and without deterring potential development. We intend to undertake a wider review of the actual cost of processing different types of applications—as the proposed planning reforms are implemented and the savings from digitalisation are realised, which is an important ingredient in the mix—so that fees relate more directly to the cost of the service.

I turn to my noble friend Lady McIntosh’s concerns on flood risk; she asked for more detail on the way the NPPF will contribute to better and more precise decision-making. The Bill proposes changes to the decision-making test so that, in future, decisions on planning applications must be decided in accordance with the development plan and national development management policies, unless material considerations strongly indicate otherwise. This will give greater weight to those locally produced plans and important national policy protections made as NDMPs.

We should remember that the NPPF is fundamental to delivering the homes that we need in places where people want to live. It sets out a comprehensive approach to ensuring that we get the right homes of the right quality built in the right places. At the same time, it includes policies for leaving our environment in a better condition than when we inherited it, speeding up buildout, and it provides local areas with more flexibility to make effective use of land. The NPPF ensures that all sources of flood risk need to be considered, including areas at risk of surface water flooding due to drainage problems, taking into account future flood risk to ensure that any new development is safe for its lifetime without increasing the risk of flooding elsewhere. The framework is clear that areas at little to no risk of flooding from any source should always be developed in preference to areas at a higher risk of flooding.

Finally, I turn to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale. He appeared to suggest that, without his amendment, decision-makers will have no requirement to attribute planning weight to climate change. It is important to emphasise that that is not the case. The existing NPPF clearly sets out that the Government expect the planning system to help mitigate and adapt to climate change. The framework is also clear that:

“The planning system should support the transition to a low carbon future in a changing climate … shape places in ways that contribute to radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions”, and take

“full account of flood risk and coastal change”.

Decisions are, as a matter of existing law, required to be made in accordance with local plans. The NPPF makes it clear that plans

“should take a proactive approach to mitigating and adapting to climate change”, considering the

“long-term implications for flood risk”— not just the short term—

“coastal change, water supply, biodiversity and landscapes, and the risk of overheating from rising temperatures”, explicitly in line with the objectives and provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008. I hope that background will assist the noble Lord in deciding what he wishes to do with his amendment.

Photo of Baroness Thornhill Baroness Thornhill Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Housing) 6:45, 23 October 2023

I thank the Minister for his response to Motion L1, and particularly for reinforcing the weight and importance of NDMPs, so much so that he said that he felt they needed their own specific processes, not to be misunderstood with national planning statements and infrastructure policy. But at the heart of this problem is the unknown nature of the NDMPs and a very firm belief from these Benches and the Labour Benches, for which I thank them, that these very weighty and important NDMPs are important enough to warrant upfront formal parliamentary oversight. Therefore, I wish to ask your Lordships whether they agree.

Ayes 179, Noes 196.

Division number 4 Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Commons Amendments and Reasons — Motion L1 (as an amendment to Motion L)

Aye: 177 Members of the House of Lords

No: 194 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Motion L1 disagreed.

Motion L agreed.