Examination of Witnesses

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:05 pm on 23rd June 2022.

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Nicholas Boys Smith, Lizzie Glithero-West and Adrian Dobson gave evidence.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough 2:29 pm, 23rd June 2022

Thank you, Nicholas, for waiting so patiently. You are here and alive.

Nicholas Boys Smith:

I am certainly alive.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

We now move on to the fourth panel. I will not list everyone’s names, because I am going to ask them to introduce themselves. I will first ask the witness who is with us in the room to introduce himself.

Nicholas Boys Smith:

My name is Nicholas Boys Smith. I am the founding director of the social enterprise Create Streets. I think it is probably also relevant to say that I was previously the co-chair of the Government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I ask the lady on the Zoom call to introduce herself.

Lizzie Glithero-West:

I am Lizzie Glithero-West, chief executive of the Heritage Alliance, which is the umbrella body for the independent heritage sector, with over 180 organisational members.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

And the gentleman on screen.

Adrian Dobson:

Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Adrian Dobson. I am the executive director of professional services at the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

For the benefit of the Committee, I am told that we have until 3.10 pm with this panel. Who would like to start? The Housing Minister seems most keen.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

Q Thank you, Mr Bone. There has been quite a bit of criticism that much of the development that we see around the country is the same wherever you are, and that there is a lack of imaginative design. Some would describe those developments as uninspiring places to live. How important is it to improve the design of new developments for the people who live there and to encourage more support for development in communities?

Nicholas Boys Smith:

I assume that question is for me. Thank you, Minister. That is a very profound question, and I do not mean that in a sycophantic way. The current percentage of British people who trust planners to make their local neighbourhood better is in medium single figures, and for those who trust developers, it is in low single figures—between 4% and 7%. Despite the widely accepted desperate need for new housing, the instinctive assumption of most neighbourhoods, most of the time—sorry, this is a bit of a coda, but we have the lowest houses to households ratio in the western world—is that new development will make places worse. That informs the politics of all large developments and most small ones.

That is new, and it used not to be the case 50, 70, 100 or 200 years ago. It is something that is particularly prevalent in this country. Until we fundamentally fix the instinctive assumption that people have—before they learn more—that new development will worsen your bit of the world, the caught-between-the-horns nature of the politics of housing will never go away. As elected Members of Parliament, you do not need me to tell you that. This is not a criticism of the Bill, but it will not fix that—no one bit of legislation or set of actions can—although some elements of it are relevant.

I will say one final thing before I shush so other people can come in. This is not just about support for new housing, important though that is. Provably, where we live has very measurable and, in some large degree, quantifiable and predictable consequences for the lives we lead, our personal health, our mental health, how many of our neighbours we know and how much we walk in our daily existence, rather than just jumping in a car to go to the shops. It has very profound consequences, not just for spatial development patterns, but for the depth with which we tread upon the planet.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Q Lizzie, do you want to come in on that?

Lizzie Glithero-West:

Very briefly, because I am sure that Adrian will have some points on this. From the perspective of heritage and the environment, the Bill and the things around it—I support the point that this is not just about the Bill, but about the policies around it—should support sustainable reuse of buildings. Some of the best new homes are not necessarily new built; they can be renovated. Something that would be on our list for the Government to think about alongside the Bill would be the incentives to encourage reuse rather than demolition and new build.

We welcome the possible introduction of design codes, which would allow for developments that could recognise the local vernacular. Design codes should offer sustainability, safety and quality. There is a big point about the protection of designated heritage assets, as well as non-designated heritage assets, which are not necessarily included in the Bill. Some provisions could be made, either within the Bill or around it, to incentivise repair and saving buildings, and using them as a way to keep the character of a place rather than just resorting to new homes and new buildings.

There are two things that we could look at in particular. The first is removing the permitted development right for demolition, which is a problematic loophole at the moment; it incentivises flattening beautiful buildings that may not be listed. Secondly—I can presumably talk about this in more depth later—we could look at the VAT on the maintenance of current buildings. That is normally 20%, which is completely contrary to the 0% rate for new build and incentivises the wrong solutions for the environment as well as for local communities.

Adrian Dobson:

The Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission highlighted the value of good design, presumably in part because communities are more likely to accept well designed buildings. It also highlighted a lack of resource within the planning system, particularly in design expertise. The Bill itself places a lot of emphasis on local design codes. I am sure the Committee will want to talk about that; it is something that excites quite strong opinions both ways. Some people see local design codes as a way of establishing good basic principles, greater certainty around development and the ability to reflect local needs, but some people see them as potentially stifling innovation. That would be one way of addressing the issue.

I think it is important for us to think about design as not just being skin deep, although it is about appearance. Good quality design needs to address issues around sustainability, quality of build and the health and welfare of the people who use the buildings. When we talk about the Bill, there are perhaps some contradictions at the moment. There is possibly a contradiction between emphasis on local design codes, but growth in permitted developments. They seem to contradict each other slightly, and that might be one thing to think about. Also, there is a tension in the Bill between national development management policy and its relative weight against local development plans. Again, that might be part of the area of debate on the issue.

To follow up on something Lizzie said about the sustainability and embodied carbon aspects, we probably ought to be making more presumptions on reuse, retrofitting and alteration of existing building stock, and not just looking to new build as the solution to those issues.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

Q Looking more broadly at heritage, there have been a number of calls for the strengthening of measures. Do you think the Bill goes far enough in answering the calls that the sector have been making for some time?

Lizzie Glithero-West:

We believe that heritage is at the heart of the levelling-up and place agenda. We are really pleased that heritage is in the Bill and has its own chapter—chapter 3. There is a lot to welcome in the Bill. Given that heritage has not recently had any distinct legislation of its own, as we had hoped to have with the draft Heritage Protection Bill of 2008, nor is it likely to, it is important for us to take any opportunity to address some of the legislative aims of the sector and policy makers. Many of those aims had cross-party support. This Bill is one of those significant opportunities. There is always more to be done around heritage protection, but several elements of the Bill, and some further measures we have sent in a briefing to the Committee—I can unpack that, if it would be helpful—address some of those long-awaited calls from the sector.

We strongly support clause 185, which would make historic environment records statutory. That has been a long-term ask from the sector, and it features in our heritage manifestos. The sector is delighted that this has made it into the Bill, and I congratulate those working on that behind the scenes. We strongly support clause 92, which extends the protection of heritage assets. We suggested a limited number of key additions to the heritage assets list that would ensure that protection was clearer and more comprehensive, and those are outlined in our briefing.

Given the presidency of COP26 last year and the recognition of the climate emergency, we hope to see more action from Government in parallel with the Bill, or possibly within it—for example, the mention of permitted development that I made earlier for demolition —to encourage the use of current building stock over a presumption to new build. We hope that will be picked up in tandem.

Clauses 93 and 94 are also welcomed by the sector. Clause 93 makes stop notices, which have long been available within the wider planning system, applicable to heritage consent regimes. There is strong support from some in the sector for clause 94, which says that urgent works can be required in certain cases where listed buildings are occupied.

I think clause 95 is the one that you are probably referring to. There is general agreement from the sector that there needs to be a better system for the protection of buildings that are being considered for listing. The whole sector recognises that interim protection of heritage during the listing process is important. There are different views in the heritage sector on the proposals in the Bill to address that. Many in the sector welcome the removal of compensation in clause 95 and would go further by asking for a duty on local planning authorities to serve a building preservation notice where they believe criteria for listing can be met.

A significant minority, however, have concerns about the removal of compensation from those wrongly served a BPN, which could result in delays and losses. There is a concern that that would set a precedent for other compensation clauses. The organisations that I mentioned would rather have a system of interim protection akin to that in Wales. It is important for the whole sector that there is clarity on the approach taken in any transition period until the Act is fully effective. There are other bits I would like to mention, but they are not necessarily directly on the heritage angle and are particularly in relation to the replacement of environmental impact assessments and strategic environmental assessments. We can come on to those if the Committee would like to touch on them later.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Q Nicholas, did you have anything that you wanted to add?

Nicholas Boys Smith:

I will make a quick point linking to the wider discussion on levelling up. The danger in the years to come is that as public sector money rightly supports the regeneration and investment in left-behind towns and places, in areas with low land value, that could actually lead to the reduction in quality of the urban realm and thus the reduced liveability of lots of historic but low-value places—the Grimsbys, the Hulls and the Stoke-on-Trents of this world. It is very important that the Bill focuses on the protection of heritage.

I think it will be very important in the years to come to think hard about how we protect, as we do not do quite so well at the moment, late Victorian and early 20th century heritage. At the moment, the ability to list gets much tougher for the late 19th century. This is not something that needs to be done through the Bill; it could be done through secondary legislation or guidance. We should make sure that as lots of money and focus goes on to levelling up places, we do not, as we have too often in the past, erringly do great harm to areas with unlisted and perhaps not very fashionable early 20th century-style places.

The quality of the urban infrastructure and realm of many of our left-behind towns is fantastic. They are often post-industrial towns with much lower levels of listing than the Salisburys and the Winchesters of this world; that is no disrespect to Salisbury or Winchester. There is a quite urgent need to face into that. Doing so would have the added advantage that more of our housing requirement could hopefully come in a more sustainable pattern from these rather under-utilised, under-invested-in and under-lived-in towns in the midlands and the north.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Q Adrian, did you want to add anything?

Adrian Dobson:

I return to capacity and expertise, because the Bill puts more and more pressure on stretched planning departments. We know that they struggle to compete for resources with other frontline services, and yet the care of these heritage assets requires more expertise both within planning departments and among the professionals who carry out the work. To pick up on the last point about the huge volume of pre-1945 housing stock that we have, all of that will have to be improved and have its insulation improved. There are risks that if that is not handled sensitively and with the right expertise, we could damage the very environment we are trying to protect. It is just that issue of how we lever that, whether or not from the private sector, and how we get that sensitivity and expertise from the conservation architects and conservation specialists.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I should have said to the witnesses at the beginning that you might be surprised that you are getting questioned by the Minister, but the advantage of these evidence sessions is that we can have a wider debate and get more information, which feeds into the process later on, so Ministers are taking the chance to get your evidence for that purpose. We are now going to go to the shadow Minister.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Thank you, Mr Bone, and thank you to our witnesses this afternoon. Your time is much appreciated. I also want to turn to heritage. It is an area of the Bill about which there is a high degree of consensus on its importance. As you say Lizzie, it is important that it is seen as a levelling-up issue and a place issue, and I think that gives us exciting scope to build on. I will turn Q to clause 92, and I will go to you first, Lizzie, but I hope the other panellists might put their views in, too. I will just ask you to expand on your written evidence, in which you say that there is scope to go a little bit further. What sorts of things did you have in mind?

Lizzie Glithero-West:

We are very pleased to see the list of assets. While this table does cover many of the key asset groups we would expect to see—it has been pointed out that the inclusion of registered battlefields could be a little clearer—it would be good to address a couple of gaps at this stage. To be clear, they are not major gaps, and we really welcome this clause being in the Bill.

One such gap would be around the setting of conservation areas. A number of my members are supportive of the idea of inserting a clause to allow the protection of a small number of nationally important archaeological sites that cannot now be designated because they lack structures. These are things that would have gone into other Bills. It is a very small number of sites, but they are very important. They cannot currently be designated but they could be designated, so there is a great opportunity to address that.

The point about setting is around conservation areas and the impacts of, for instance, tall buildings nearby and so on. Our briefing refers to that not currently being in the Bill. The other thing we would like to probe a bit for parliamentarians is how these designations will interact with other natural environment designations—for example, ancient trees, ancient woodlands, veteran trees and ancient hedgerows. There is such a symbiotic relationship between the natural and historic environment. Often, a few different designations will be in the same area, and it is important that there is clarity around that. It has also been noted that there should be consideration of maritime archaeology—perhaps looking at the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 in addition to what is already in this list.

One other point I want to make is about the clarification of some of the wording. If the wording has been chosen to align the Bill with the national planning policy framework, it should be noted that the NPPF talks about preserving and enhancing significance, which is subtly but importantly different from preserving and enhancing assets. A related amendment should replicate the intent of the NPPF, which would ensure that the process of undertaking archaeology, which, by its nature, can be destructive but enhance knowledge and significance, is covered by the duty and not inadvertently excluded. The concern from some in the sector is that unless enhancement of significance is properly defined, it could lead to unintended consequences. Those were the main points on my list. I hope that is helpful.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

That is very helpful. Do the other panellists have anything to add?

Nicholas Boys Smith:

I will make a point very quickly; I will not comment on those detailed points. This does not actually need to come through primary legislation, but, building on what I was saying earlier, there is an important opportunity and need in the criteria for listing, as set out by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Historic England, to put more focus on issues such as townscape quality, pride in place and local popularity as well as—not instead of—issues of architectural importance.

An architectural historian might say about a building, “Oh, there are 50 of those around the country” or “Well, that is the 15th of those, and there are earlier ones over there.” Actually, if that were a town hall, it would be very significant to the people living in that town. It comes back to the wider debate about levelling up and pride in place. There is an important need to gently weave those things more clearly into the guidance for listing, but as I say, that does not actually have to come through the Bill. I do not get invited to this kind of thing every day of the week, so I have taken the opportunity mention this today.

Adrian Dobson:

I do not think I have anything to add on this particular point.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Q Turning to clause 93 on the stop notices, are you confident that they are rigorous and strong enough to beat back unscrupulous developers? Lizzie, you mentioned your concerns about the period between now and Royal Assent; I think you were making a point about greater risk. Could you cover that in your answer? I am interested to hear the views of all the panellists on that.

Lizzie Glithero-West:

It is a very short answer from me. Clause 93 is supported by our membership. Private owners of heritage will want to be sure that it is very clear, but the clause is welcome. My only point would be that in any transitional system between Bills, you want to ensure clarity and that there is no confusion.

Adrian Dobson:

I have just a general point. One of the challenges for the planning system is that, inevitably, things get concentrated on development management and that can be, initially, at the expense of what you might call proactive planning and also enforcement activity. There is just a concern that the proactive planning and enforcement activity can become the Cinderella element of the planning system if you are not careful.

Nicholas Boys Smith:

I think I am done on heritage.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Q Thank you ever so much to the witnesses. In representing York, I certainly understand the importance of archaeology, so I emphasise the point that has been made. Will you elaborate further on whether there are any omissions from the Bill or anything that could be added to help protect our archaeology? If I may, I will go to you, Ms Glithero-West.

Lizzie Glithero-West:

Excellent—yes, of course. I have mentioned a list, particularly in relation to clause 92. There is always more that we can do. It is not an omission but an opportunity—that was the point about sites without structure and the list that is in our briefing.

What I would like to turn to, which is very much related to this—and which is less an omission and more an area that we think needs scrutiny—is the environmental outcomes reports. We are pleased that the relevant clause recognises that “environmental protection” should include protection of the cultural environment and landscape, as well as the natural environment. The historic environment often forms part of the habitat for nature, and it is vital that that symbiotic relationship is recognised. It is important to archaeology, which I know is your area, too.

However, we have some questions about how the proposed EORs will differ from the current environmental impact assessments. It is good that cultural heritage is included, but we need a bit more information on how they will work, and it is important to ensure that the definition of cultural heritage in the Environment Bill is not used in this legislation. We were not happy with the Environment Act, because it excluded built heritage. If that were translated across to this Bill, that would become problematic for heritage and archaeology.

There are particular concerns about an inadvertent drop in the protection currently offered by EIAs and SEAs—strategic environmental assessments. The sector seeks reassurance that that will not be the case. Those concerns arise, as it is difficult to see the detail. We are concerned that the delivery through regulations might mean that there is not the same opportunity to scrutinise the details as would be the case through primary legislation. We want to ensure that the new EORs have the same scope as the current EIAs, which include protection of cultural heritage and landscape. We want those aspects to be given the same weight as the natural environment.

Also, there is a question about clarity. It would be useful and helpful to have clear confirmation that cultural heritage includes underwater cultural heritage—that is particularly important for archaeology as well—and clarification of what “relevant offshore area” will mean in the context of the Bill.

Rachael, I hope that that is a couple of points in addition to the points about clause 92.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Nicholas, do you have anything to add?

Nicholas Boys Smith:

Again, I could add something on wider things, but not on that particular point.

Adrian Dobson:

Interestingly, Lizzie has made the connection between the new, so-called EORs and their impact on the heritage environment, and she has made the point that there is a lot of detail still to be developed. I think you could apply that to the Bill generally, so I just make a plea for the various sectors—the heritage sector and the architectural sector—to continue to be engaged, because there is a whole level of detail that we cannot really comment on today, because the ambitions and powers are there, but quite how they will be evolved and enacted is not so clear.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

Q Before I ask my question, I should say this: it is not an interest to declare, but I should say for transparency that when I was a councillor in Fulham, Mr Boys Smith was one of my ward residents and he is known to me.

Nicholas Boys Smith:

Many years ago.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

It was many moons ago, but I thought I should put that on the record for transparency.

We have been looking at what the Bill is seeking to do in terms of protecting heritage and identifying that which makes a place within the planning system. For rural communities, one of the defining characteristics, certainly of every village that I represent, is the farmland and the food production that goes on in that village. It is the farmers who maintain the hedgerows, the beauty of the place, and so on. Therefore, can I explore with you, in the spirit of protections for heritage, place, and identity for a locality, how much, in a rural setting food, production and agriculture should equally be protected or at least considered as part of the planning process? Perhaps we could start with Lizzie.

Lizzie Glithero-West:

I am just pondering that for a moment. Your question is on the balance of the production of food versus land being taken out of production—is that the nature of the question?

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

Q That is certainly part of it. To clarify, it is equally the case that a lot of rural communities would not look the way they do if it were not for farmers maintaining the hedgerows, looking after the land and maintaining the footpaths that people use for leisure. If you are going to identify the characteristic and heritage of a place, as well as the physical architecture, in a rural community, it must surely equally apply to that which makes the countryside happen—if I can boil it down to its lowest common denominator. My question is, to what extent, on top of architectural heritage and so on, should that equally be considered in the planning process?

Lizzie Glithero-West:

I feel I am perhaps leaning into a discussion about the Environment Act, but it is absolutely a part of levelling up. As archaeologists, we do not see a dichotomy between the natural environment and the historic environment. In fact, none of our landscape is purely natural in that sense. Hedgerows and features in the landscape—often scheduled ancient monuments—can provide homes for biodiversity. The two need to be thought about together. It is actually really fundamental in the roll-outs of the Agriculture Act and the Environment Act. Heritage is a pillar at the heart of the 25-year strategy and it is so important that it remains so, hence some of our concerns around the Environment Act.

We absolutely believe in public value for public goods. As some of those public goods would be around the preservation of heritage, which then goes on to support rural communities and biodiversity, it is all part of character of place to be able to use those assets; they are at the heart of place both in the town and in the rural landscape. A lot of the measures we are talking about today contribute to that.

We would like to have seen more in the Environment Act. We were concerned about some of the definitions, and that heritage was removed from some of those protections. The future farming regime and how farmers are paid for public goods will be fundamental to the point you raised—that although those features in the landscape and these places often might not be seen as valuable for food production, they are incredibly important for rural tourism, local communities, biodiversity and heritage.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

Q Thank you. I appreciate that answer. Before I bring in the others, I appreciate that there will be crossover with the Environment Act and the Agriculture Act. However, I am looking at this very much through the lens of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, and planning reform. Mr Boys Smith, you were indicating that you would like to come in.

Nicholas Boys Smith:

Yes. I can come in with passion and, perhaps, too much aplomb. One of the most consistent, heartfelt and distressing pleas that I have heard, that the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission has heard and that is shown in evidence more widely is that people feel that new housing is done at them, not with them, and that it is of everywhere, not of “here”. That theme emerges in every piece of research I have done or read, even if it is expressed differently.

At one of the very first co-design workshops I ran, a marvellous lady from the West Indies—I forget which island—said that she wanted places with a heart and places that could not just be anywhere. You hear the same thing in the Cotswolds, Buckinghamshire or York. It comes up time and again. We know from neuroscience that people need and want that sense of place—a place that is their home in the world. It is unquestionably the fact that we are not currently providing that. That is something that is particularly heartfelt in your type of community, Mr Smith.

Why is that? There are several reasons. One is that although our policy on design quality and on the nature of developments we create is often quite aspirational and sounds nice, it is not cutting through in reality. If you look at the houses and the types of place we create, they are pretty similar from Cumbria to the Cotswolds—to take two random places beginning with c—or from Berkshire to Buckinghamshire, or wherever. They are very standard typologies, done with very similar highways rules.

We were doing a design code for a housing association that wanted to do houses that fitted in with rural communities. The highways rules and expectations for parking and for splay circles—things that sound technical and boring—meant that they could not. We desperately need to empower people’s preferences—it is right to do this; the NPPF has already made some good moves—for the types of places that they pay a premium to live in, so they must value them. The best way to achieve that is to stop banning the types of village centre that we have essentially banned. That does not quite answer your agriculture question directly, but it does indirectly.

If we are able to stop villages growing carcinogenically, by which I mean you have a village centre and then sprawl being—rude word—into fields around, we could perhaps allow a secondary village centre, which is perhaps more nature-similar and linked, and accept that perhaps some of the houses or flats in the village or town centre have fewer cars and are a little bit tighter together. Lots of the types of traditional village or small town street, you just could not build, although it is getting easier now. Until recently you could not build at all, but thanks to recent changes, it is getting easier.

We need to allow a visualised expression of local character to more axiomatically set local standards and expectations, as defined by local people—not by me or you or the council, although it might have a role. That becomes absolutely essential and it will allow us—again, you can see the premium in the numbers—to develop at slightly higher densities. I call it gentle density, which, again, people will pay a premium for. It does not need to be spewing out into field after field. If we can, we should create a type of walkable, attractive, gentle density, and the focus on design codes linked to the NPPF and the new national model design code in the Bill makes that more possible. It will not solve all the challenges, because they will be existential and go on forever, but it is the best and most credible route.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

Thank you. Adrian, do you have a view on this?

Adrian Dobson:

Just to reiterate the point about density. Higher densities can be acceptable. If they are designed in the right way, that is very valuable. The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 has served us quite well in many ways, although criticisms of it could be made. We have some slight concerns about over-centralisation. The concept of local plans and local design codes, where good designers can respond to that local context, is one of the traditional strengths of the UK planning system.

Nicholas Boys Smith:

Can I constructively, in a good and friendly fashion, disagree with that point? Is that allowed? I don’t want to be out of order.

Nicholas Boys Smith:

It is constructive and friendly, Adrian; it is not meant to be unfriendly. I agree with the principle of what you say, but I think the reality is different. If you do a comparative analysis of the power and strength of our local plans compared with equivalent documents in other countries, our local plans are incredibly weak. They are policy documents that are verbalised and in practice allow you to do almost anything most of the time. Let me paint a picture. In Sweden, in much of America and in parts of France, and in different ways in Holland or Denmark, it is much easier for someone almost to pick a house out of a catalogue provided by a much wider range of providers, rather than being reliant on a small number of house builders who produce far too high a proportion of our homes.

We are living in a—am I under parliamentary privilege? I don’t know. I am not sure whether I am allowed to say “cartel”. We are certainly living under a massively overly concentrated market, because the local plan has not managed to set regulatory clarity. A lack of regulatory clarity, although associated with nationalised development rights, is a major barrier to entry, and it is exactly how it is operated. I agree with what you say in principle, Adrian, but sadly not in practice. I hope that was okay, Mr Bone—sorry.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Q We have time just before the end to ask each of our witnesses to say briefly what they think we should have asked and did not. This is your opportunity to influence the Committee before we go into the detailed discussion of the Bill. I will start with Adrian.

Adrian Dobson:

Thank you, Chair. I disagree and agree at the same time. I think all the witnesses agree that design is highly important. I have tried to say please let us not think of it as just skin deep. We need to create buildings and public spaces that address sustainability, build quality, safety and welfare, and that are responsive to local need. I would still make the point that it is at that local authority level that you can get the best response to local context. At the micro level—neighbourhood plans and, although we have not talked about them, street plans and so on—we have not had a good record of really making that work in the UK, so it is at that local authority level that we can be most effective.

Really though, the Bill’s ambitions can be met only if we have proper resources. Design expertise in particular is just not there in local authorities. That is not a criticism; it is just a reflection of the facts. In fact, we do a monthly economic survey of our members, and although at the moment the biggest barrier to projects proceeding is probably inflationary costs in construction products, in every survey we do the time it takes to navigate the development control process is always a halt on development.

Finally, we have not really talked about it but the Bill has lots of ambitions on climate change and sustainability, and there is obviously a lot of movement in the right direction generally from Government, but this is another one of those areas where there is not much detail about how that will actually be realised. I just make that point as my third one.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Thank you. Lizzie, as I said to Adrian, what would be the one point you would want to make? [Laughter.]

Lizzie Glithero-West:

I suppose it would be that this Bill is part of a wider jigsaw of the Government’s levelling-up agenda. Building on “Building better, building beautiful” and other reports, what does the Bill not do that the Government also need to think about in tandem? I have touched on it already, but this Bill is one component of thinking about a fiscal and legal framework to incentivise heritage and reuse at the heart of place.

I touched on them briefly, but there are two key things, one of which could be picked up in the Bill, and I encourage the Committee to be thinking about it. The removal of permitted development for demolition is truly damaging to really valuable recyclable stock. Associated with that we really welcomed in the “Building better, building beautiful” report the strong recommendation that the fiscal regime for repair and maintenance needed looking at. That is a really significant change that the Government could now effect that would incentivise repair. It would also boost productivity, and there is some great research behind that. The Federation of Master Builders and Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors looked at a temporary five-year cut and estimated a £51 billion economic stimulus from construction and repair around that. Of course, it would also help the Government to meet their net zero targets as well.

In the context of the Bill, I would strongly encourage policy makers to consider those two points.

Nicholas Boys Smith:

Briefly, did you say? I will make one point, into which I will weave three themes, quickly. [Laughter.]

Nicholas Boys Smith:

One of my favourite quotes from the “Book of Common Prayer” is that we should be “godly and quietly governed”. That is probably an old-fashioned quote these days, but Mr Kruger may like it. The way we currently run planning is not quiet. We put a disproportionate amount of the process and the political difficulty—and my golly it is difficult—on the development control system or process, and not on politically acceptable local plans. My ultimate plea to Ministers, shadow Ministers and Members on both sides of the House is to work together to try and bring the democracy forward into the plan-making process and to rely less on the hard-to-avoid, personal, difficult and emotional debates that will then happen around individual development decisions.

That is not necessarily politically easy, because the whole process around it and around civic society is to worry about the individual planning applications. We actually have to allow more power and more popular process on the local plan, to express that visually and typographically, and to think about sustainability not just in terms of the energy and use, but the lifestyles that we live and the longevity of buildings. More beautiful buildings get reused and last longer, and their embodied carbon is recycled. I think, “Pull the democracy forward,” is my plea to you all.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Thank you all very much. I very much appreciate your evidence. That ends this session, and we will now move on to our fifth panel.