Clause 20 - Deemed planning permission

High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 1 March 2016.

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Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport) 11:00, 1 March 2016

I beg to move amendment 13, in clause 20, page 9, line 14, at end insert—

“(d) No works that are not scheduled works under this Act may be undertaken until the Secretary of State has published guidelines on how developments will be assessed as likely to have significant effects on the environment for the purposes of subsection (2)(a).”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish guidelines on how developments will be assessed as to whether they are likely to have significant effects on the environment.

I am grateful to the Minister for his clarification of injurious affection. I thought that might be something to do with over-passionate kissing. [Interruption.] What people get up to in Whitby when Dracula is around, I leave to them.

I speak to clause 20 and the deemed planning permission provisions. Our amendment seeks to make a significant change. At subsection (2)(c) we add,

“No works that are not scheduled works under this Act may be undertaken until the Secretary of State has published guidelines on how developments will be assessed as likely to have significant effects on the environment for the purposes of subsection (2)(a)”.

That would simply provide that where development authorised by this Act consists of carrying out works not scheduled under the Act, subsection (1) does not apply—in other words, deemed planning permission—if the development is likely to have significant effects on the environment with factors such as nature, size and location. That is what we are trying to gain clarity about and I hope that my amendment will assist. As it currently stands, it is the decision of the Secretary of State to adjudge whether a future development that is not scheduled has a significant environmental impact. However, the criteria that the Secretary of State would use are not delineated or specified in the Bill. In the interests of transparency and specificity, we are seeking to secure guidelines from the Secretary of State about how such a decision will be made.

This is an important amendment—as they all are—because without that qualification the Secretary of State is able to deem a development not to have a significant effect on the environment, without an effective means of challenge. There could be circumstances where unscheduled works become necessary and the Secretary of State makes a decision that the said works do not have a significant effect on the environment. It is conceivable that there could be significant and substantial opposition to that development within a locality, so we believe that it is an important and necessary step for the Secretary of State to settle guidelines by which such decisions can be judged. The Select Committee process has gone through the environmental concerns for the matters that we know about, but if issues arise at a later date, somebody will undoubtedly come along and complain that the Secretary of State has used the powers as currently described to say that the development that people are complaining about does not have a significant effect on the environment in its size, nature or location. The general public would be more satisfied if they could refer to criteria detailed within guidelines to describe how the Secretary of State arrives at a decision. At the moment, this effectively gives the Minister carte blanche to deem development as not falling within that category.

In the absence of such guidelines, I ask the Minister to describe how these concerns would be addressed. If he concludes with me that there is no satisfactory method of adjudging whether the decision is a sound one, we will decide to press this amendment to a vote. I look forward to the Minister’s comments and explanation.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am happy to take criticism over various aspects of the way that HS2 has been delivered, but not in terms of the way we have addressed the environmental concerns that have been raised up and down the country. We made the point that there will be no net environmental loss in delivering the project, and indeed we have gone far beyond anything required in statute for a major infrastructure project. I spent the best part of an afternoon talking about tree species and how we can take this opportunity to work with those seeking to produce elm trees resistant to Dutch elm disease and ash trees resistant to ash dieback and re-establish those species.

I understand the importance attached to environmental considerations. Whether we are talking about pipistrelle bats, Bechstein’s bats or whatever else, we are aware of our obligations and we have been held to account by many of the environmental groups involved in that area.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

I seem to have inadvertently struck a raw nerve. By no means am I being critical of the environmental assessments to date; I am concerned about the powers that the Secretary of State has for the future. I will not criticise at all the excellent things done in the course of the Select Committee and by the Department, but there needs to be the power and ability to hold someone to account if a decision is made that someone objects to. It is about the future, not what has happened to date .

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I absolutely understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern, so, having set the context, I will proceed to put his mind at rest on the clause. I underline that I am committed to delivering environmental enhancements. Unfortunately, when one delivers such a project, one has to go through land that has some sensitive environmental features, so it is important to mitigate that by putting measures in place on the land that can be acquired for the project and they will be provided.

To put the clause in context, it refers to deemed planning permission, which it provides under part III of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 for carrying out the works authorised by the Bill. Deemed planning permission is granted only for ancillary work in the Bill when the impact of such work is assessed in the environmental statement or when the development is an exempt development in the meaning of the environmental impact assessment regulations. Exempt development includes developments such as defence installations, which are highly unlikely to apply to phase 1, but we have put that measure in for legal completeness. Any work outside those parameters will require separate planning permission.

Subsection (3) introduces schedule 17, which sets out the conditions of deemed planning permission. That includes the requirement for approval from relevant local authorities on specific aspects of design and  construction to ensure that local impacts, such as the movement of lorries to and from construction sites, are mitigated appropriately.

I hope to reassure the hon. Gentlemen that the bases he draws my attention to are already covered. The Bill gives permission for ancillary works for which the effects have been reported in the environmental statement and any works that give rise to environmental effects significantly different from those reported in that statement will require separate planning permission. The means of assessing whether an effect is significant are set out in the scope and methodology report that informs the environmental assessment of the Bill. That is not a matter for the Secretary of State’s whim but one that has been addressed and the process is set out in the report, which was subject to consultation with stakeholders during its preparation.

The methodology in the report is based on industry best practice. The Select Committee process has demonstrated that it is sound and it will be the correct methodology for assessing the environmental effects of works through the design and construction of HS2. I hope that that clarification reassures the hon. Gentleman that he can withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

It seems to me that the methodology that the Minister refers to could be engrossed into guidelines. I fail to see why a public-facing document cannot set that out. If that is how it currently works, I accept entirely what he says. It is not just a question of nomenclature; it is important that people have a reference that they can turn to and say, “These are the criteria that will be observed.”

I am not sure I am quite there if this is not a document that the public can refer to readily and automatically in the event of a decision being considered. I might have misunderstood—I will happily concede the point if I have—but when I listened to the Minister, I did not get the impression that this was something that would automatically be flagged and would be something to which someone could refer when they were thinking about whether the Secretary of State had made the correct decision or otherwise. I do not know whether the Minister can help me any further with that, but I will be interested to hear what he has to say.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 11:15, 1 March 2016

I will endeavour to help the hon. Gentleman. The methodology is public, and the way in which the methodology is being applied would be subject to the scrutiny of those who wish to test that the methodology is being applied properly. The project is not being delivered while the environmental non-governmental organisations are looking the other way. This has had intense scrutiny, not only from those who have the interest of the environment at heart, but from those who I suspect are using some of the environmental legislation to try to frustrate the delivery of the Bill. We have people looking for reasons why they could prevent this going forward. That is why we have had to make sure that in terms of the environment every single t has been crossed and every single i dotted.

As I mentioned before, we have been through the hybrid Select Committee stage, where those who may have considered the process to be an inadequate way to  deal with the changes could have raised that, but the Select Committee was content that the process would be robust. I hope I have reassured the hon. Gentleman that the methodology, which is public, will be used to determine where the clause would be applied. As I have already said, if anything reported was beyond the environmental effects reported in the environmental statement, that would require a separate planning permission. Of course, planning permissions would be subject to all the environmental and other consultations and challenges that could be made.

I think we are in a good place on this. I do not have any fears that we would be risking some of our environmental delivery on this project by having the clause in the Bill.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful to the Minister. He has gone all the way to satisfying my concerns. In a nutshell, the methodology contains the guidelines that I have been looking for, so I intend to withdraw the amendment. I simply ask that we be provided with a  copy of the document. It speaks to my ignorance rather than my trying to dig deeper into this. I was not aware of the existence of that process and I would be better informed if I had sight of it. It would be churlish of me not to accept that the Minister has satisfied the important intent of the amendment in every respect. Contrary to my initial intentions, I will—

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Before the hon. Gentleman finishes, I can assure him that I will get the relevant paperwork to him before we reconvene this afternoon, or if not, before our sitting on Thursday.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

On that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Jackie Doyle-Price.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.