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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Gentleman is confusing me. Amendment (d) to new clause 2 has not been selected, so he may not refer to it.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I apologise. There are so many amendments in this large group. I now have the selection list in front of me, and I see that your advice is very helpful. I will therefore move on rapidly to amendment (e), which has been selected. It is a probing amendment, to leave out proposed new subsection (5), which states:

That, it seems to me, could cover almost anything under the sun. It is a very widely drawn clause, and I want the Minister to explain exactly to what he intends it to apply.

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Amendment (f), which has been selected, is an interesting amendment that the Government might consider seriously. It relates to the land transfer provision under proposed new subsection (6), which states:

I can see why the Minister has included that in the new clause, as he wants the obligations to be carried on, in so far as they are unspent, to the next owner or occupier of the land. My amendment allows for circumstances in which the tariff has been completely met and paid and the land is then transferred—a system should exist whereby the local authority can issue a certificate to say that the contribution has been fully paid and met, and the transfer of the property can then take place without the obligation clogging up the works.

Amendment (g) is also interesting and deals with proposed new subsection (6)(b), which relates to the provision

I can understand why that provision is included—it is an attempt to improve the cash flow of local authorities by making sure that the contribution is paid before the development starts. The problem is that that is not, in many cases, how the section 106 procedure works. Usually, the developer is allowed to make some money by building some part of the development before he is obliged to pay in relation to the section 106 agreement, because he has some money in the kitty to make the payment. If it is all done up front, however, that is an additional cost, which is unfair on the developer. It would be much more flexible if the same procedure that currently applies under section 106 could also be applied to the new tariff procedure, which is the purpose of amendment (g).

In relation to amendment (h), we have heard concerns expressed in numerous interventions today about how the money is actually spent. We have dealt with what the section 106 procedure and the tariff can be used for—the necessity test and the de minimis test—under previous amendments. What is not so clear, however, is how the money is actually spent. There are anecdotes that in some authorities 90 per cent. of the money raised through planning obligation simply disappears into the general budget. That is not satisfactory, as I hope the Minister will agree, so I have tabled amendment (h), which states that the Audit Commission

That seems to me to be eminently sensible, for two reasons. First, we want to ensure that the money is applied to the purposes for which it is paid. Secondly, even when it is applied to those purposes, we want to ensure that it has achieved proper value for money and that it has not been wasted or squandered. Giving the Audit Commission that duty is a sensible way of getting round that problem.

To move on to amendment (i), currently, in relation to developments and the section 106 procedure, the amount is negotiated at the time of grant of planning

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permission, or subsequently if it is a condition, but always before the development starts. Often, there are unforeseen costs produced by Departments, which are then taken into account in the section 106 payment, which can be adjusted accordingly. I have in mind such matters as archaeological digs, unforeseen contamination, problems with legal title, and so on. The amendment would provide the opportunity to go back to the local planning authority and have the section 106 agreement adjusted to take into account any extra costs that might be incurred. If there is no opportunity to change the tariff that has been set after the development has started, some developments could become unviable. We need some mechanism for certain narrowly defined categories to allow the tariff to be adjusted in the light of unforeseen circumstances.

5.45 pm

David Wright: Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the community contributions should bear the development risk? If a developer purchases a site, it should bear the risk as part of its commercial operation. Is he suggesting that, if circumstances change, the element of the costs that should bear the development risk is the community contribution?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful for that intervention, because it helps me to clarify my point. The amendment would apply only when local authorities or Departments imposed additional obligations on developers, such as an extended archaeological dig if some important remains were found during the course of the development. One can think of other unforeseen circumstances in which Departments could impose additional obligations, such as flood alleviation measures that were not foreseen when the development started. Other examples include contamination of land previously owned by the Government that was not fully disclosed at the time of purchase but became apparent after the development had begun. Therefore, we need some mechanism to adjust the costs—not to reduce developer risk, which should be borne by the developer—but to cover additional costs imposed by a local authority or Department.

The Minister said that the local authority can decline to accept a tariff in some circumstances. Amendment (k) seeks to explore the circumstances in which the local authority may decline to accept the tariff, and I would be grateful if the Minister would elucidate further on that point.

Amendment (j) covers the very point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) mentioned. It is often the case that two local authorities produce a joint development plan, and the Government hope that that will happen more often. Such a joint development plan, produced by two or more authorities, should allow for joint section 106 or tariff payments. The converse should also apply. If an applicant makes an application for a large development that spans more than one local planning authority, we should have proper arrangements to cover that.

New clause 3 mirrors new clauses 1 and 2, except that it would devolve all the powers concerned to the National Assembly for Wales. I have no problem with the devolution of powers to the National Assembly,

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except that in the devolution settlement this House reserved certain matters to the relevant Secretary of State, who is accountable to this House. One of those matters is taxation. Before we devolve the powers in the Bill to the Welsh Assembly, we need to be sure that it will produce similar regulations to those that will apply in England. The Minister needs to explain the time scale under which he will devolve the powers to the National Assembly and whether he will delay issuing a commencement order for new clause 3 until he has seen the proposed regulations and is satisfied that they are reasonable. Developers and Welsh communities need to be protected. As we have said many times before, if the charge is set too high, no developers will come forward, but if it is set too low—which is unlikely—the Assembly and the planning authorities in Wales will not get the planning contribution to which they are entitled.

I have come to the end of my amendments. The Bill makes a large and important change, and the Government are rushing it with undue haste. The new clauses are far too general and they do not answer our specific points. I have put a large number of questions to the Minister and he may not be able to answer all of them in the time available, so I should be grateful if, before the Bill reaches another place, he would write to me with the answers to any questions that he cannot answer today, and put a copy of the letter in the Library.

As this huge Bill is of a technical nature, I have no doubt that Members of another place will want to give it close scrutiny. I have major concerns about the tariff proposals, not least because they will put significant burdens on local authorities at a time when the authorities are already overstretched and when they will also have to deal with the onerous regulations in the remaining parts of the Bill. The Government are introducing an entirely new planning system, so it seems an act of folly to reintroduce new tariff proposals that were deemed unworkable by many people when the Government mooted them at the first consultation—that is why the Government withdrew them. Why not ensure that the existing section 106 procedure works properly before trying to provide an alternative?

When the existing procedure does not work especially well, why are the Government trying to provide an alternative that will stretch local authority resources such that the planning system will be paralysed in some areas? In all seriousness, I offer the Minister this positive contribution: why not consider delaying the commencement order for these provisions at least until the current 106 procedure can be clarified and streamlined? When that is working, we can introduce the alternative system.

I commend my amendments to the House.

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