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New Clause 1 - Purpose of planning

Growth and Infrastructure Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 6th December 2012.

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‘In Part 2 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 insert—

“13A The Purpose of Planning

(1) The purpose of the planning system is to positively promote the long term spatial organisation of land in order to achieve sustainable development.

(2) In the Planning Act 2008, sustainable development means managing the use, development and protection of land and natural resources in a way, or at a rate, which enables people and communities to provide for their legitimate social, economic and cultural wellbeing while sustaining the potential of future generations to meet their own needs by respecting environmental limits.

(3) In achieving sustainable development, planning should—

(a) positively identify suitable land for development in line with the economic, social and environmental objectives so as to improve the quality of life, wellbeing and health of people and communities;

(b) contribute to sustainable economic development;

(c) protect and enhance the natural and historic environment and quality of existing communities and the countryside;

(d) ensure long term sustainable patterns of resource use;

(e) positively promote civic beauty through high quality and inclusive design; and

(f) ensure the planning system is open, transparent, participative and accountable.”.’.—(Roberta Blackman-Woods.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 4—Development plan documents: climate change policies—

‘In section 19 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (preparation of local development documents) after subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) Development plan documents must (taken as a whole) include policies designed to secure that the development and use of land in the local planning authority’s area contribute to the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change in line with the objectives and provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008.”.’.

New clause 5—Sustainable development as a criterion for deciding development consent applications—

‘In section 105 of the Planning Act 2008 (decisions of Secretary of State) after subsection (2)(a) insert—

“(aa) the objective of achieving sustainable development”.’.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I will do my best to canter around this lap, which I think will be the last lap of new clauses, as quickly as I can. This group of new clauses seeks to use the Bill to establish a positive definition of planning and sustainable development that would allow for long-term economic growth, and create places in which people truly want to live and work.

New clause 1 seeks to include, in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, a definition of the purpose of planning. That definition puts the need for the positive promotion of sustainable, strategic development first and foremost, and it sets out the need for planning policy to: positively identify suitable land for development in line with the economic, social and environmental objectives so as to improve the quality of life, well-being and health of people and communities; contribute to sustainable economic development; protect and enhance the natural and historical environment and quality of existing communities and the countryside; ensure long-term sustainable patterns of resource use; positively promote civic beauty through high quality and inclusive design; and ensure the planning system is open, transparent, participative and accountable.

In their rush and desperation to be seen to be doing something to produce growth, the Government seem to have forgotten the real purpose of planning. Planning is not necessarily an obstacle to growth, a vehicle for nimbyism or, despite what the Minister seems to believe, a platform from which to make statements about the need for land for housing without delivery mechanisms to support it. Planning is a tool for people to shape places positively and for communities to ensure that they have homes for their children and the type of development that is beneficial to them and the economy.

The national planning policy framework paid lip service to that by touting the importance of sustainable development, which was mentioned 68 times in the 50-page document but was not adequately defined once. Hence the urgent need to define it in the Bill.

The Town and Country Planning Association has said there is a

“need for strong legislative signals if we are to achieve transformational change on issues such as housing, climate change and equality. The new Growth and Infrastructure Bill is an opportunity to enshrine an effective and open system which allows communities to face up to and tackle the major challenges, as well as deliver the kind of visionary sustainable development which can help deliver a low carbon economy and better places to live.”

The TCPA goes on to say, in support of the new clause’s purpose:

“There has been an active debate over many years about making planning more positive and visionary and less procedural and inward looking. Both in law and practice the planning system would benefit from a clear statutory purpose. This would supplement and ultimately clarify the existing specific duties on planning and provide for a lasting settlement about the direction and value of the system. A specific purpose for planning was set out in early planning legislation (1909 Housing and Town Planning Act) but has subsequently been lost adding to a sense that the system is about process and not outcome focused. Statutory purposes exist in wide range of legal frameworks from National parks to Insolvency law but the planning system remains largely based on procedural rather than outcome duties.

The purpose of planning should have a vision of bringing together strands of environmental planning, economic and housing development and community empowerment. It should be based  on the UK sustainable development approach and recognise the specific role of planning in promoting a pattern of development which is long term, spatial, environmentally sustainable and”— most of all—

“socially just. It should reflect the aspiration of the planning movement and in particular the promotion of civic beauty.”

I am confident that all members of the Committee will have had first-hand experience of the positive impact that planning can have on communities. If not, I suggest they take a trip to Letchworth, Milton Keynes or many of the other well planned garden cities and new towns that have incredible resident satisfaction ratings. We often hear negative things about Milton Keynes from people who do not live there, but people who live there say it is a truly wonderful place to live. The Minister has just reminded me that the next time I visit Letchworth I need to take a “Newsnight” crew with me, because much in its development underpins the case I am making about the positive role that planning can play in shaping our communities.

A similar logic applies to new clause 4, which would create a legislative duty for development plan documents to include policies to mitigate climate change. The new clause is supported by both Friends of the Earth and the Town and Country Planning Association, along with many other environmentally conscious organisations. Climate change is one of this century’s most pressing challenges, and we still do not fully know what the implications will be for the United Kingdom. Strategic planning could play a huge role in mitigating the effects of climate change and ensuring that our towns, villages and cities are adequately prepared.

In its evidence to the Committee, the Town and Country Planning Association, in support of the new clause, said:

“Section 182 of the 2008 Planning Act created a new duty on LPAs to contribute to the mitigation and adaptation of climate change by amending section 19 of the 2004 Act. This only applied to development plan preparation defined in part 2 of the Act. But there is no linkage with the 2008 Climate Change Act which does not apply directly in law to the local authority planning functions. Ensuring a close fit between the Planning Acts to the provisions of the Climate Change Act in plan making would solve this problem and provide legislative force to the provisions of the NPPF”.

The new clause is therefore essential to ensure that planning is able to meet its potential in tackling the urgent issue of climate change.

New clause 5 would put a duty on the Secretary of State to promote sustainable development under the Planning Act 2008. That is particularly important given the powers introduced in clause 21—we have discussed it at length, but probably not enough—which will bestow on the Secretary of State the power to decide on a huge range of nationally significant planning applications. We simply want to ensure that, should he ever get those powers, they are exercised within the framework of sustainable development.

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Veterans of previous Bills involving planning will know that we have been here before with this discussion, most recently during the passage of the Localism Act 2011, when the merits of clauses on sustainable development and climate change were debated at considerable length. They will also know—I notice a wry smile on the face of the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich—that successive Governments,  including the previous Administration, have resisted attempts to impose more specific sustainable development obligations on the planning system by legislation. There are, of course, good reasons for that.

First, policy can set out more fully and effectively the ways in which planning can and should contribute to sustainable development. Since the Localism Act, we have published the final version of the national planning policy framework, which makes absolutely clear our commitment to put sustainable development at the heart of the planning system. Indeed, the framework says that the purpose of the planning system is

“to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development”,

as well as setting out the Government’s view of what that means in practice. There is absolutely no need to duplicate elements of that strong policy framework in legislation. It would set an unhelpful precedent and have undesirable consequences.

The second reason why Governments have resisted more specific legal obligations on planning is the difficulty of applying them in practice. The debate in the Lords during the passage of the Localism Act highlighted a wide range of views about what a legal definition of sustainable development should embrace, from culture to spirituality. There was no consensus on the right formula; nor was it clear that any formula is right in all circumstances and for all planning decisions. The result of the new clauses tabled by the hon. Member for City of Durham would be disproportionate box-ticking to avoid the risk of challenge to decisions, rather than a considered approach to how planning can promote sustainable development and address climate change.

The third reason why the new clauses—I refer not just to new clause 1, but to new clauses 4 and 5 also tabled by the hon. Lady—should be resisted is that we already have a strong statutory basis for securing sustainable development and addressing climate change through planning. That is found in the existing duty under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 on those who prepare local plans to do so with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development; in the changes introduced by the Localism Act, which extends the same principle to neighbourhood planning; and in the requirements under the 2004 Act for local plans to include policies for mitigating and adapting to climate change. We already have legal requirements that the principle of sustainable development, including in climate change considerations, should run through all levels of plan making—strategic, local and neighbourhood.

The existing duties, reinforced by the clear policy in the national planning policy framework, mean that we already have the right tools in place to ensure a positive planning system with a clear and unambiguous mission to deliver sustainable development, including the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, without the risk of the unintended consequences that would arise from the new clauses. I therefore hope that the hon. Lady will withdraw new clause 1.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 4:30 pm, 6th December 2012

Once again, I am very disappointed by the Minister’s response. I think that he knows very well that references to planning, particularly  in the NPPF, concern plan making, so they are about process duties. New clause 1 would place an outcome duty on those involved with the planning system. I cannot see how the Minister can disagree with that, because in his speech to the Town and Country Planning Association conference only last week, he spoke of the need for greater focus on the outcomes of planning and because many aspects of the Bill seek to affect behavioural change in the planning system. It is therefore time to concentrate specifically on outcomes.

Given that the Minister has previously spoken about the need to consider outcomes in the system, I will leave him, over the coming week, to reflect on the new clauses, and I will not press them to the vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.