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Clause 89

Localism Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 15th February 2011.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 203, in schedule 8, page 287, line 3, leave out from ‘documents)’ to end of line 4 and insert—

Amendment 204, in schedule 8, page 287, line 10, at end insert—

Amendment 205, in schedule 8, page 287, line 12, leave out ‘omit paragraph (a)’ and insert

Amendment 153, in clause 90, page 61, line 4, leave out ‘or’ and insert—

Amendment 195, in clause 90, page 61, line 5, leave out lines 5 and 6 and insert—

Amendment 196, in clause 90, page 61, line 8, leave out ‘or (b)’ and insert ‘, (b) or (c)’.

Amendment 154, in clause 90, page 61, line 7, after ‘(a)’, insert ‘or (ab)’.

Amendment 197, in clause 90, page 61, line 13, at end insert ‘and

Amendment 155, in clause 90, page 61, line 15, at end insert—

Amendment 156, in clause 90, page 61, line 17, leave out paragraph (c) and insert—

Amendment 198, in clause 90, page 61, leave out lines 17 to 20 and insert—

Amendment 157, in clause 90, page 61, line 20, at end insert—

Amendment 199, in clause 90, page 61, leave out lines 21 to 30.

Amendment 200, in clause 90, page 61, line 31, leave out ‘have regard to’ and insert ‘act in accordance with’.

Amendment 201, in clause 90, page 61, line 36, at end insert—

Amendment 202, in clause 93, page 63, line 39, leave out from ‘report)’ to end of line 41 and insert ‘—

New clause 3—Purpose of planning—

New clause 4—Sustainable development—

New clause 5—Mitigation and adaption to climate change—

New clause 7—National planning policy framework—

New clause 9—Joint planning documents—

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

The town and country planning system is, along with the national health service, one of the enduring monuments of the post-war settlement secured by Clement Attlee’s Labour Government. Such post-war legislation represented an acknowledgement of the need for Government intervention in certain areas, in the public interest. It was a classic example of good government acting to empower each and every individual, asserting crucially the public interest in the development and use of land. However, as with the national health service, the system faces an uncertain future as a result of major reforms proposed by the Government, particularly those set out in the Bill.

It is with some bewilderment that my colleagues and I have watched the unfolding chaos that has come about as a consequence of the Government proposals. I have no doubt that many on the Government Benches share our sense of foreboding. Certainly, almost every organisation that we have spoken to about the proposed changes is of the same opinion; the Government have  thrown the planning system into utter chaos. We should not be surprised because, as we understand it, that is what Ministers intend. In their vocabulary, according to the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), chaos is a good thing. He has made it clear that chaos is desirable in pursuit of the Government’s public policy objectives.

If chaos is the objective, Ministers should be congratulated on their delivery. The proposed changes to the planning system under the Bill and the actions taken by the Secretary of State to scrap the regional spatial strategies will deliver chaos by the bucket load. We accept that the planning system that the Government inherited was, like any planning system, capable of improvement. We agree that increased input by local people and local communities for the future of their areas and their built environment is absolutely vital to the success of any planning system.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 12:15 pm, 15th February 2011

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way because this is an area of great passion for me. In the consultations that I have undertaken in the past two years, I found that the one thing that united everyone was the fact that the planning system was broken.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

It is certainly a system capable of improvement. However, I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s assertion that it is broken. Later I will discuss the strong views that I have heard that favour the Opposition’s position. Our planning system needs not the chaos that will be unleashed by the Government, but sensible reform in the public interest.

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis Conservative, Great Yarmouth

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that despite his comments on planning, one thing that was universally accepted—certainly by local authorities, people and a large proportion of the businesses that we have seen and that made representations, including the British Council of Shopping Centres—was that the end of the regional spatial strategy was a good thing? It was one of the core centralist things under the planning system, and ending it was a really big step forward.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

The regional spatial strategies will go, but along with the Government’s proposals will come chaos, which I will expand on later. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt want to respond. The Bill as it stands will not deliver.

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis Conservative, Great Yarmouth

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he and the Labour party support the abolition of the regional spatial strategies?

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

No, we do not. The regional spatial strategies will go, and with them a number of key objectives that will not be met by what the Government are proposing. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman listens to all the concerns, including those that have been widely expressed, and then he can intervene again later on.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

Does the hon. Gentleman not acknowledge that with the regional spatial strategies will also go a huge layer of bureaucracy,  which took up a huge amount of time for local government officials and members? They could have better spent that time in their local communities.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

It might help the debate if I could actually make the argument to which hon. Members can respond. The Bill, as it stands, will simply not deliver on many of the Government’s publicly stated objectives, which will harm the public interest in several areas. The Government claim—I summarise—that the planning reforms will contribute to economic growth, lead to increased levels of house building and empower local people. I am surprised that they have not claimed that they will wash whitest. It is clear, however, from the evidence given to the Committee, to which the Committee should listen, that without significant amendments, the Bill will lead to stasis in the planning system, stifle economic growth and house building, threaten advances on climate change and the protection of the environment, empower the few, not the many, institutionalise inequality in the planning system and downgrade democracy, particularly the role of democratically elected local councils.

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Conservative, Milton Keynes South

To pick up the hon. Gentleman’s last point about diminishing democratic control, I refer him to the situation in Milton Keynes, which had been told by the previous Government how far it should expand. In Milton Keynes, now that we have reached the initial planned size of the new city, we want to make that decision ourselves. Why is that not democratic?

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

We will come to the heart of the undermining of the role of elected representatives when we reach the rather extraordinary proposals on neighbourhood forums. Milton Keynes is an admirable city, and I wish it well for the future. It will no doubt want to meet growing demand for local economic and housing development, and the hon. Gentleman will no doubt share my view that the last thing we need is nimbyism that impedes either of those objectives.

The Opposition believe that tabling amendments to strengthen the duty to co-operate, which is currently nothing more than a duty to talk, is essential to put sustainable development at the heart of planning, to strengthen the duty to consider climate change, which does not apply to the provisions of the Bill on neighbourhood planning, and to provide a statutory basis for the national planning policy framework. All those measures are essential for the proposals even to begin to amount to a planning system that is fit for purpose. Making such changes is all the more essential as a result of the Secretary of State’s actions to date, because it is clear that we do not have a planning system that is fit for purpose.

The abolition of the regional spatial strategies and, crucially, how it has been handled has thrown the planning system into complete confusion. It has created a vacuum at the heart of the planning system that will not be filled until the Bill receives Royal Assent, which could be as late 2012. The way the current planning system has been torn up for the proposed new system has proved nothing short of a disaster for house building. The proposed replacement will not offer the necessary framework to resolve greater-than-local issues.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

Does the hon. Gentleman not concede that the old, top-down regional planning system was highly undemocratic? As a local authority leader, I remember it being a disaster in terms of the number of houses built, which was the lowest since the 1920s.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

As I shall argue later on, the current system is capable of improvement, but what is being proposed will not even begin to address the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about substantially increased house building.

We can all agree that not everything can be, or indeed should be, decided at national level. Local decisions and local participation are all vital if we are to ensure the best outcomes for planning and service provision, but it is essential that we recognise that not everything can be decided and managed most efficiently at local level; in particular, housing, waste management and sustainability. They are all, necessarily, cross-boundary issues; they are larger than local. To ensure efficiency and quality, those types of services must be organised at a level that encompasses more than simply the local.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

How many layers of government do we need? We already have the influence of the European Union on those issues, and we have a national Government. Is it not sufficient that local communities decide their destiny on those issues without the intervention of yet another layer of government at regional level?

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

With respect, I find that intervention somewhat surprising, because what is being proposed is a duty to co-operate, which relates, at least in theory, to more than just one local authority area. As I will argue in some detail, as it stands the duty to co-operate is a vapid concept incapable of delivering sub-regional strategic planning on a range of key issues. If those key issues are not addressed properly, there will be serious consequences not just for the planning system, but for the Government’s own stated public policy objectives.

The Government’s decision to scrap regional spatial strategies and replace them with nothing more than a duty to talk poses huge risks to all the issues that require larger-than-local co-operation. The removal of the regional spatial strategies was sudden and no transitional mechanisms were put in place to help local authorities adapt to, or even understand, the new system. The negative impacts of the sudden removal of what was a regional spatial strategy planning framework have already been felt across different sectors, including housing, which I will discuss later.

For all their weaknesses, the RSSs provided crucial, much-needed guidance to local authorities on issues that cross local authority boundaries; in particular, housing, infrastructure, energy supply and waste management. I stress again that they are all larger-than-local issues that are hugely important to everyone, locally and on a sub-regional basis, and that, crucially, they require co-ordination at a level above that of the council to guarantee effective and efficient provision. The RSSs—again, for all their weaknesses—provided that much-needed co-ordination, yet the Government have scrapped them without putting in place any meaningful transition mechanisms, and as it stands the duty to co-operate will not work either.

It is important that hon. Members on the Government Benches listen to the evidence given to the Committee. David Orr, of the National Housing Federation, said:

“Removing regional spatial strategies, without putting anything in their place, was a short-term mistake”.––[Official Report, Localism Public Bill Committee, 25 January 2011; c. 65, Q109.]

Peter Redfern, the chief executive of Taylor Wimpey, said that the hasty abolition of RSSs, without anything in their place, sent councils and developers “the wrong signal”:

“After the attempt to change RSS policy overnight, people shut up shop, not because they were anti-development but because they didn’t know where things were going.”––[Official Report, Localism Public Bill Committee, 25 January 2011; c. 80, Q131.]

He is one of many in the private construction sector who has said that, both to the House and certainly in meetings I have held. The hasty removal, therefore, of the RSS has created a dangerous policy vacuum that has left too many local authorities stranded, sometimes in a state of confusion, and unable to understand exactly what is now being proposed for the future. For housing, the removal of the regional spatial strategies has been nothing short of disastrous. We know from the evidence of the National Housing Federation that plans for more than 200,000 homes have been scrapped.

Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Labour, Lewisham East 12:30 pm, 15th February 2011

My hon. Friend might be interested to know that when the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government discussed the research commissioned by the National Housing Federation, the Secretary of State referred to the numbers of new house builds pulled out of the planning system, and described the research as somewhat iffy. I was quite concerned that he characterised the research in that way, and wondered whether my hon. Friend had any comment to make.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

I am surprised at the typically cavalier approach of the Secretary of State—if Henry VIII can be cavalier—because the evidence was painstakingly researched and, as far as I am aware, with the exception of the Secretary of State, no one has challenged its validity.

The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Greg Clark) rose—

Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Decentralisation and Cities) (also in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills)

Now is the moment. In fact the organisation that published the research gave it limited force. The report of Tetlow King said that the data were speculative, unofficial, subject to testing and examination, and only to be considered approximate, and that the majority of authorities are still sitting on the fence, or unprepared to comment. Even the people responsible for that evidence, therefore, caution against its being used as it was. I think that is what the Secretary of State had in mind when he said it was iffy.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

I was not going to give these examples, but now I shall: it is not speculation that plans for 9,600 homes were scrapped by Bristol city council or that plans for 3,000 were scrapped by Exeter city council.  Nor is it speculation that 10,750 planned homes were scrapped by North Somerset, or that 9,002 planned homes were scrapped by North Hertfordshire and Stevenage.

Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Decentralisation and Cities) (also in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills)

The bulk of those examples are from the south-west, which has not even adopted a regional strategy, so it is hard to see how the revocation of regional strategies could possibly have influenced those decisions.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

It is the uncertainty generated by the Secretary of State and the decisions that have subsequently been made. The evidence is clear. Does the Minister challenge the figures? They come from the councils themselves.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

Perhaps my hon. Friend will also bear in mind the fact that it is incontrovertible that the Secretary of State’s decision to try to abolish the regional spatial strategies last summer was struck down as unlawful in the High Court.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

It was indeed, and the cavalier failure to consult is likely, unfortunately, to lead to too much litigation in the years to come. I stress once again that the abolition of the regional spatial strategies and the absence of any significant transitional arrangements have created a mess.

What, then, of the alternative?

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

From my experience in the north-west of England I take issue with what the hon. Gentleman has said. In my experience as a councillor in Warrington the regional spatial strategies throttled some of Warrington’s development plans. That sub-region—a term I use with some hesitation as it is not one I like—comprising the new Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester unitary authorities, and Warrington—has now been set free from the regional spatial strategy’s big north-west plan. The authorities are free to work together, and they are doing that well on a range of issues, from prosperity and waste to alcohol harm reduction.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

I know Warrington well and have travelled there many times over the years, because of the British Nuclear Fuels Ltd centre at Risley, just outside Warrington town centre. With respect to the hon. Member for Congleton, it would be interesting to hear what the warm glow in Warrington amounts to in terms of practical steps, new homes and new economic development.

It is one thing to have a belief that is almost messianic in its fervour for what it can deliver—that is not the case for the hon. Lady, but it is sometimes the case for the Secretary of State—but it is another thing to point to what has been delivered or to argue convincingly that something will be delivered. Once again I stress that the body of evidence to the Committee was overwhelming and clear: unless the duty to co-operate is significantly strengthened, that vapid concept will not deliver on the Government’s stated public policy objectives.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Conservative, Croydon Central

I want to take the hon. Gentleman back to the issue of principle that he addressed earlier in his speech, and to the  correct level at which decisions about housing should be made. Let us take as a hypothetical example that his constituents in Birmingham—whom he speaks of with great pride—do not want additional housing in their area. That is probably not the case. They probably want more affordable housing but let us assume that they do not, and that that is also the view of Birmingham city council. Does the hon. Gentleman think that someone sitting above the city of Birmingham should have the right to override that decision?

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

The straight answer to a straight question is that if we believe there is a serious housing need that needs to be met, the idea that nimbyism should be allowed to frustrate the delivery of that much-needed housing is not acceptable. That raises difficult issues, including how to have a sensible sub-regional framework while also taking proper account of legitimate local concerns and sensitivities. I shall come to that issue later, but it is at the heart of the debate.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Conservative, Croydon Central

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that answer, which I think was yes, he does believe that someone should have the right to overrule the city of Birmingham. Will he clarify two points? Who is the “we” he referred to when he said that if we believe that there is a pressing need for housing, there is the right to overrule the people of Birmingham? Does he think that his constituents share his view?

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

On the hon. Gentleman’s latter point, the view of the constituency is clear and overwhelming, not least because of the mismanagement by Birmingham city council of its housing stock. There is a waiting list of 35,000 and growing, and a big demand for affordable homes both to rent and buy. On his former point, it will be interesting to hear from hon. Members who might believe with sincerity that the proposed framework will deliver more homes, for example. What is the evidence for that? How will they argue that point? How will they disregard the concerns expressed by those who have given evidence to the Committee? We look forward to that debate with some eagerness.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Conservative, Croydon Central

Will the hon. Gentleman give way one final time?

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Conservative, Croydon Central

The hon. Gentleman asked about the evidence. If he looks at other spheres in life, does he generally find that people are more likely to do something when they are incentivised to do it, or when someone tries to compel them? Which does he find more effective?

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

I look forward to the hon. Gentleman’s speech later. The issue of incentive is important. However, the delivery of key public policy objectives such as housing, transport, waste management, infrastructure development or more general economic development requires sensible sub-regional planning arrangements, of the kind that are not included in the Bill because of the vapid concept of the duty to co-operate and to pick up the phone and talk, which is about as far as it might go.

Photo of James Morris James Morris Conservative, Halesowen and Rowley Regis

The hon. Gentleman keeps describing the duty to co-operate provision as vapid, but there are many examples of such things around the country. I am thinking of the area I represent in the black country where four local authorities have demonstrated their ability to work collaboratively on a range of issues. Why should they not be perfectly capable of making the strategic decisions that he is referring to when he talks about sub-regional planning?

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

Of course it is to be welcomed when local authorities co-operate sensibly to deliver what their communities need, but the key question is this. What happens if they refuse to co-operate with one another? What happens if the duty to co-operate simply stops at sending a letter and being told to take a running jump? Where do we go then? Hon. Members will have to address that in the course of this debate.

The new system that we are putting in place must deliver on the issues that require strategic planning. Those issues include housing needs, climate change mitigation and adaptation—in particular, flood risk—economic development including retail needs, energy needs and capacity, biodiversity, natural resource use including waste management, and transport. I stress again that the overwhelming body of evidence that came before the Committee in relation to all those issues—everyone was saying the same thing—was that without effective sub-regional planning, they would be immensely difficult to deliver.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

One of the problems was that the planning was not sub-regional; it was regional—it was too big.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

Local authorities can and should take initiatives to meet needs. If that is right—unless the hon. Lady is saying that all those who have given evidence are suffering from a delusion about the need for sub-regional planning in relation to certain key issues, whether voluntary or structured—how will it be achieved through the Bill?

We now come to what the Bill does not say. Does it have anything to say about housing need? Nothing. What does the Bill have to say about economic development? Nothing. What does the Bill have to say about climate change, biodiversity and our country’s future energy needs? Nothing. The Government’s proposed resolution for those vital, greater-than-local strategic issues is a duty to talk and to shuffle paper. Not one of the organisations whose representatives we have met thinks that the duty to co-operate as proposed in the Bill is sufficient or in any way capable of dealing with the strategic issue that I have just mentioned. Indeed, if we look at the body of evidence that has been given to us, we see that we could assemble the friends of the Government’s proposals for a duty to co-operate in a telephone box.

Matt Thomson of the Royal Town Planning Institute says that his organisation is concerned that

“the revocation of regional strategies will result in the loss of important policies at the strategic level that were directly driven by local communities.”

The Federation of Small Businesses says that the Localism Bill lacks clarity as to how a new sub-national approach will work. It fears a regional planning system deadlocked by indecision or obstruction as a consequence of what is being proposed.

Liz Peace of the British Property Federation describes the duty to co-operate laid out in the Bill as “spineless”. There is no incentive to co-operate and no penalty for non-co-operation. Ms Peace warns of the danger that the duty as it stands will be a meaningless “tick-box exercise”. She says that

“it shouldn’t be, ‘Well, we wrote to the local authority next door and it never replied’—tick, carry on.”––[Official Report, Localism Public Bill Committee, 25 January 2011; c. 98, Q165.]

Environmental groups are particularly concerned. Friends of the Earth says:

“The Bill falls short on tackling those issues which rely on local action but which cannot be dealt with solely locally.”

The Woodland Trust says that the duty to co-operate

“seems to amount to little more than a duty to exchange information.”

For pressing, larger-than-local issues, such as environmental sustainability, co-ordination at a larger-than-local level is crucial. The powerful evidence given by Dr Hugh Ellis of the Town and Country Planning Association, echoing those sentiments, was particularly interesting. He asked

“what we are going to do with the major issues like climate change and renewable energy”.

When he came before the Committee, hon. Members will remember, he talked about

“forms of development that play out at a regional or national scale”.

He asked this question of us,

“will the sum total of 350 individual local authority decisions on carbon deliver the effective action we need on climate change—or on housing or on retail development?”––[Official Report, Localism Public Bill Committee, 27 January 2011; c. 140, Q231.]

The House Builders Federation has said that the duty

“must be considerably strengthened in the Act if issues of larger than local impact are to be adequately incorporated into development plans.”

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich 12:45 pm, 15th February 2011

My hon. Friend makes a powerful case. Can I remind him that the Government do not even have the courage of their own convictions? Although they say that they are abolishing regional spatial strategies, there is one notable region of the country that will continue to have a regional spatial strategy: the London region, which is now presided over by the predecessor of the hon. Member for Henley, so he is probably very familiar with it. That is, in effect, the Mayor’s London plan. It will not be left to local authorities to take decisions, and they cannot take decisions if they contravene the London plan. If the Government believe it is right everywhere else in the country, why are they not doing the same thing London?

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. It is one law for Boris and another law for Britain.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Conservative, Croydon Central

Does the hon. Gentleman feel there is any difference between the identity of the city of London and that of the whole of the south-east of England?

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

As far as I am aware, there is not a council covering the south-east of England. The hon. Gentleman will hear later about some of the concerns that are being expressed in the south-east of England  about what might happen if the Government do not hear the evidence and act to strengthen proposals to ensure that there is effective sub-regional planning in the south of England.

We are determined to hear the voice of those who have come before us, even if the Government parties are not. Jessica Bauly, head of sectoral affairs at the CBI, told us:

“At the moment, as the Bill is currently drafted, it is not clear how that duty to co-operate could be strong enough and enforced.”—[Official Report, Localism Public Bill Committee, 27 January 2011; c. 118, Q201.]

Indeed, the CBI urged members of the Committee to strengthen the duty in terms who should be engaged, the activities upon which they should be engaged, and the engagement that is required. It has said that the duty to co-operate is not strong enough to ensure that sub-national infrastructure is delivered.

Are all those who have said those things suffering from a delusion? Are they failing to see something that the Government have seen? If that is the case, we shall wait for what will no doubt be a gripping account of why they all have it wrong and the Government have got it right.

Adequate infrastructure provision is under threat by the removal of the RSSs and, crucially, the weak duty to co-operate contained in the Bill. Again and again, fears have been expressed—not just by all those to whom I have referred, but by local councillors, developers and authorities—about how to co-ordinate infrastructure projects at the sub-national level. With the abolition of the RSSs, which played an important role in co-ordinating between the national and local level for infrastructure provision, how are local authorities to assess larger-than-local needs and provide adequate infrastructural access? It is clear that the duty to co-operate in the Bill as it stands is a poor and insufficient replacement to the co-ordination offered to councils by the regional spatial strategies.

Photo of James Morris James Morris Conservative, Halesowen and Rowley Regis

One of the missing links in the hon. Gentleman’s case is democratic accountability. The regional spatial strategies were deliberately remote from ordinary people, and there was no link between them and the level of democratic accountability that is provided for in the Bill.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

I await with some eagerness the answer to the question that I posed earlier. If the hon. Gentleman is so confident that the new arrangements will work, why did all those who gave evidence to the Committee express the alternative view? Are they wrong and the hon. Gentleman right? As a man with an interesting past on these matters, I have no doubt that he will make an erudite contribution, which I look forward to hearing.

Photo of James Morris James Morris Conservative, Halesowen and Rowley Regis

I take the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about some of the contributions from business groups, but evidence from ordinary people—I am sure that he has knocked on their doors in his constituency—is completely absent from his comments. They have absolutely no idea who is making decisions about spatial planning in their area or why they are being taken, and they are frustrated by the system’s inflexibility to respond to their needs.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing)

I believe in democratic accountability with a passion, so I look forward to the debate on neighbourhood planning—the capacity of three men, three women and a dog, in the Dog and Duck, to constitute themselves as a neighbourhood without any kind of serious accountability to the communities they represent. If we, as I do, believe in democratic accountability, it should apply to all the provisions of the Bill.

Instead of the duty enshrined in the Bill, there should be a framework for the delivery of development and services across a broad area, allowing for proper decisions to be made about housing, transport infrastructure, national resources, the most sustainable locations for particular projects, and protecting important social and environmental assets. Without such a framework, we risk losing many of the benefits of co-ordination that we had in the past, and this could lead to more local disputes, as well as piecemeal delivery of key national goals on climate change and the environment.

There is a crucial need for clarity and a strong strategic planning framework that includes the larger-than-local issues. How are they to be adequately addressed unless that is done? However, the duty to co-operate, as it stands, is passive. One hopes that people will come together and co-operate, but unless there is enthusiastic co-operation, which cannot be guaranteed under the Bill, the provisions will have at best a marginal impact on issues of concern expressed in evidence to the Committee. At worst, the Bill’s provisions could have a seriously negative impact.

There is no specific product, in terms of evidence or guidance, that the co-operation has to achieve. There is no indication of the important issues on which bodies should co-operate. The duty talks of co-operation with neighbouring authorities but makes no mention whatsoever of the need for much wider spatial co-operation. We have proposed an amendment to the duty to specify the kind of co-operation required while allowing the specific bodies to respond as they want to the issues in question. For example, we would involve local enterprise partnerships rather than neighbouring authorities only because otherwise the process will not work for issues that require wider spatial co-operation, such as landscape and catchment area planning issues.

In contrast to the Government’s policy, our proposal sets a spatial framework for local planning. That would ensure that there was a meaningful debate about the consequences of development and consideration of the cumulative impacts of local development. It would bring local authorities together, providing a forum for managing larger projects, such as transport schemes, that cut across local authority boundaries but are not large enough to merit national planning. Such strategic planning would provide the means of managing debate between local authorities and resolving disputes over the level and general location of development.

I have discussed some of the areas that the duty should cover, but it is important to look at what has happened in the past as a result of such co-operation and at what we may lose in the future. To return to the south-east, examples of necessary co-operation include the Thames basin heaths and the Dorset heathlands.  The Thames basin heaths delivery plan forms part of the arrangements for delivering housing growth around the Thames basin heaths special protection area. Likewise, local authorities in south-east Dorset and across Berkshire, Hampshire and Surrey have set up formal co-operation mechanisms to manage the pressures on sensitive lowland heath that result from development.

The Thames basin heaths delivery plan involves no fewer than 11 authorities. For it to work, all the authorities must adopt a common approach to mitigation, otherwise house building around the SPA will not be possible, even if local authorities want such developments to go ahead. However, under the Bill, it is highly unlikely, to say the least, that an effective mitigation solution could ultimately be delivered in the absence of mechanisms for mediation and the strategic approach provided by the regional tier. Such a solution can be provided at the moment, but that cannot be guaranteed in the future.

An analysis of SPAs in England shows that many cover multiple local authorities. Twenty-eight SPAs contain no fewer than five local authorities, and six contain at least 10. Many SPAs are in areas of development pressure where there are big demands for housing and economic development. Crucially, local authorities need to work together to ensure that the conservation objectives for SPAs can be met, as well as to provide the necessary economic, social and housing benefits for their areas. To achieve that in the future, there must be more than just a duty to talk.

I turn now to planning and the deployment of renewable energy. Regional strategies have provided a range of mechanisms to facilitate the planning and deployment of renewable energy by creating a strategic approach and mapping areas of opportunity and constraint in what were known as regional energy capacity studies. Their revocation will result in the removal of a range of targets, including carbon dioxide reduction targets, renewable energy generation targets and climate change adaptation objectives. Previously, those helped to translate EU and national aspirations into effective local delivery.

The Yorkshire and Humber regional spatial strategy, for example, contained the ENV5 policy, which promised to support growth in the microgeneration industry by promoting new building developments that made greater use of decentralised and renewable or low-carbon energy sources. The role of local authorities is central to enabling the Government to meet the legally binding target of securing at least 15% of all their energy from renewable sources, but it is unclear which mechanism in the Bill will help them to do so.

Renewable energy projects can be controversial. Local authorities will have different constraints and capacity, which will have an impact on site selection for renewable energy facilities. The regional tier provided a mechanism for mediation between local authorities, but that will no longer happen.

The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at Four o’clock.