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Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): What would happen when a planning development straddled local authorities or had a major impact on more than one local authority? Would there be a system of pooling? What would happen if two authorities opted for a different system and one decided to stay with the section 106 arrangements while the other decided on the tariff proposal?
Keith Hill: I can provide a straightforward answer to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question: there is provision for pooling, and we would encourage it where a development straddles two authorities. He raised a serious point about the possibility that local planning authorities might adopt different policies and
I gather from what the Minister said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) that he is willing to take advice and to listen to comments on this matter. In two-tier authorities, the county council may have a responsibility for some aspect of local government that it shares with a district authority, or a number of district authorities, each of which may take a different view. The matter could thus be even more complex than my right hon. Friend suggested, because a development could straddle many authorities in one area; it is a question not only of horizontal boundaries but of vertical boundaries between different tiers of authority.
Keith Hill: The hon. Gentleman tempts me down the path of tierism, which is dealt with elsewhere in the Bill. In the example that he cited, county councils will continue to retain planning responsibilities for specific matters, notably waste and minerals. On the whole, however, the material consideration in any planning policy devised by a local planning authority will be the regional spatial strategy. Obviously, no policy will be advanced by a local planning authority that does not take cognisance of the regional spatial strategy, so to that extent, when we are dealing with a possible section 106 negotiation, under the terms that I am attempting to set out for the House, we shall be considering a policy in relation to the development that has already been established in the local plan by the local planning authority, having taken into account all the proper influences to be considered in finalising such a policy.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister has just raised an interesting issue. What role will the regional planning body and the regional spatial strategy have in the new tariff proposals and, indeed, in the existing section 106 procedure?
Keith Hill: I think that I am right in saying that it is anticipated that the regional planning body will have no direct bearing on the procedures that we are debating. They are essentially for the local planning authority to deal with, subject to the usual scrutiny by the Secretary
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con): I am trying to save the House time by asking this question now. I cannot determine for sure from reading new clauses 1 and 2 whether a local planning authority will have complete power to decide the spectrum of planning applications in respect of which the planning contributions may be made, or whether the rules or the areas where they apply will be set by the Secretary of State. It might help the House to know the definitive answer to that now.
Keith Hill: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising an important issue. Perhaps I can put the matter in perspective by pointing out that it is estimated that no fewer than 98.5 per cent. of planning applications are not subject to a section 106 negotiation. In other words, we are dealing with a minuscule minority of planning applications, albeit the larger applications within the major application umbrella. Having said that, in some circumstances, in relation to a particular site or development, the local planning authority may decide that it will not impose a planning obligation. For example, the local planning authority may well decide that, in respect of a site that has a high level of contamination, where the costs of remediation will be extremely significant, it would be inappropriate to impose any sort of planning charge on the process.
To give another example, if a site has a multiplicity of owners, the local planning authority might deem the development to be sufficiently complex to discourage it from wanting to impose a planning obligation. However, it will be for the local planning authority to identify the sites and developments on which it will expect the negotiations to take place. In no sense will that be rocket science: such considerations will apply to the sorts of site in respect of which the negotiation takes place now. The House must remember that the point of the new arrangements is to provide all the stakeholders, to use the jargonthe developer, the local planning authority and the local communitywith a high level of predictability and transparency about what will occur in terms of charges relating to a particular development.
Sir Sydney Chapman: I am grateful for that answer, but I remain concerned. The Minister says that 98.5 per cent. of planning applications do not involve section 106 agreements. However, because the measure is a money-raiser for a local planning authority, it might want to extend the area in which it can introduce this alternative to a section 106 agreement. May I have his assurance that, if necessary, the Government will issue regulations ensuring that the present area in which section 106 agreements apply cannot be extended?
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): I have followed with care and interest the Minister's argument and the interventions of my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman). When a negotiation is taking place, it is possible for the applicant's agents to see how the money is to be spent. It might be spent on a school, a road, a work of so-called public art or a social housing obligation, but when money is simply handed over against a tariff to the local authority, there is no knowing what it will be spent on. How do the Government intend to ensure that money that is handed over is spent on such projects, and does not simply release resources to be shifted from the budget where they would have been spent, rather like some people have suggested tuition fees might be, into another budget?
Keith Hill: Or, one might say, into keeping down the council tax, for example. I take the hon. Gentleman's point, which is extremely important. We have made it clear throughout our consultation and proceedings that we expect the local authority to define in advance the purposes for which the charge will be used, and we propose an annual report that will contain information on how matters such as the planning contributions have been implemented, the amounts obtained and how the contributions paid have been used. The hon. Gentleman is right that it is fundamental that there should be maximum clarity on the matter.
Mr. Curry: The subject of housing is central to the debate. It is probably true that a majority of social housing is built through planning gain. Would the provision supersede the arrangements whereby, if a developer wishes to build market houses, he must build a certain proportion of social houses or affordable houses as well? If that is the case, what guarantees are there that the planning authority will choose not to put its receipts into social housing, so that the social housing sector might be left with difficult developments while the market housing developer might opt to pay the tariff in order to concentrate on the simpler development?