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Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I shall come immediately to the Bill. Clause 2 relates to permitted development orders. The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) made a timely intervention about permitted development rights for telephone masts. I sound a note of caution because we probably all know from our constituencies about the
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trouble that they have caused. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) has sensibly anticipated a potential problem, because clause 2(5) allows the Secretary of State to

such as appearance and noise.

As I said in the previous debate, I am not an engineer, and I am not clear about one of the criteria for classifying something as a small renewable energy development being its power output—

I wonder whether some appliances that fulfilled that criterion would comply with the provisions about appearance and noise. The last thing that hon. Members want to do, through the best intentions, is to cause many unsightly units to spring up throughout the country through permitted development rights. We all know from our post bags the trouble that that can cause, especially when the planning system is powerless to do anything about it.

Mr. Forth : Does my hon. Friend share my worry that if we loosen the planning regime sufficiently to allow all the allegedly good things to happen, there is a great danger of intrusion by noise from windmills and other devices? Perhaps health and safety hazards could be caused by generating plants that are not properly maintained or managed by people who do not know how to do that. Does he agree that some protection is required in the planning regime?

Mr. Harper: I agree, but I do not want to dwell on that now because such detail is for consideration in Committee.

Martin Horwood : The hon. Gentleman may have misheard the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who mentioned the noise caused by such technologies. The noise created by a micro-generation wind turbine, which is only a few feet high, is negligible. Surely he agrees that noise will not be a bar to their introduction.

Mr. Harper: That is a timely intervention, but the promoter acknowledges that there are potential problems with the noise and appearance of the units. Clause 2(5) gives the Secretary of State the power to make conditions about the appearance and noise of such devices, thus heading off those anxieties. However, I am worried that the Bill gives the Secretary of State the power, but not the duty, to provide for those conditions. We could get into a dangerous position whereby the Government did not make such provisions and we could end up with the same problems as we experience with phone masts. We do not want to repeat that problem.

There is a potential problem with clause 3, which deals with building regulations. The problem does not affect new buildings, but subsection (3) provides for energy ratings for dwellings. I am worried about the use to which the information could be put, especially the potential use for taxation. It is probably reasonably cost effective to construct—through modern technology and all the latest building techniques—new build housing that is as energy efficient as possible. That is welcome.
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However, in constituencies such as mine we do not desire massive new housing development. Many of the properties in the area, including the property in which I live, are hundreds of years old, so without spending huge amounts of money they are not amenable to becoming especially energy efficient. I would not want my constituents to have their properties rated as energy inefficient—

Dr. Whitehead: The energy efficiency rating in clause 3 applies to new build only and not to retro fitting on existing buildings.

Mr. Harper: I am grateful for that clarification, but I am not sure whether that is the effect of the clause. It does not specifically provide for an energy rating only on a new dwelling.

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): It does.

Mr. Harper: I am slightly less concerned if that is the case. There is a difference between new build and existing dwellings.

I am slightly worried about the language in the Bill, which refers to a

having a meaning to be prescribed in future. I should prefer such meanings to be defined in the Bill.

On clause 4, in relation to dynamic demand technologies, it is sensible to use technologies that use the power available more efficiently. It would be helpful if the Minister were to tell us whether she was attracted by this part of the Bill, because one of the concerns expressed by the CBI and other business organisations is that if this winter is particularly harsh there might be restrictions on power availability. It might therefore suit the Government to have a wide availability of technologies that enable energy suppliers to cope more easily with not being able to produce to previous peak demand levels. We do not want to overdo it, however, because that would reduce the duty on power suppliers to supply the power that we demand. To some extent, that is sensible, but I do not want to start forcing people to make do with less power than they require.

Paddy Tipping : Surely, however, the whole input of the Bill is to reduce carbon emissions, and if we can do that from our own homes that makes sense. It also makes sense in economic terms. These are good value-for-money measures and I am perturbed that the hon. Gentleman is arguing in favour of the big generating companies and not for his constituents and mine.

Mr. Harper: I think that it was pointed out earlier that the building regulations will only apply to new buildings, so most of my constituents will not be affected as there will not be substantial new build in my constituency—nor is it wanted. I am addressing my constituents' concerns. In areas where there will not be substantial new build, I do not want a future Government to be able to tax people based on the energy rating of their homes, which some interest groups have already discussed.
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For many constituents, in areas where there will not be new build it is not possible, at an economic cost, to make homes—

Dr. Starkey: Is not the logic of the hon. Gentleman's point that we should rule out windows in houses on the basis that some future Government might decide to introduce a window tax?

Mr. Harper: I think that the hon. Lady will regret making that point, as we have known since a week or two ago that the Government propose to build a database of views from windows, and my constituents in the Forest of Dean might be affected by that.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I remind hon. Members that we ought to concentrate on the Bill before the House.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): I want to try to help the hon. Gentleman out of the hole that he was getting into. During my experience with an existing property over the past year, I have learned a lesson from Woking council, which has taken existing buildings and incorporated them into a local energy system, raising the standards of the built environment and giving renewable energy systems to those properties in different energy market contracts. Is that not the significance of supporting this Bill and the preceding Bill?

Mr. Harper: As I have said, I am not an engineer or scientist by training, so the hon. Gentleman's points about his experience are most helpful. He makes a valuable point about the effectiveness of local action. If it is possible under existing regimes to do as Woking council has done successfully, it strikes me that we should be cautious about making things more complicated. Given that many people have said that these sorts of issues are important, and people are chomping at the bit to be able to do their own thing, we should focus on reducing the complexity and bureaucracy and removing barriers. I think we should be a little cautious about making things more complicated.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) mentioned cost. The Government have rightly focused on the cost of providing homes for those who find buying low-cost homes difficult. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test touched on the question of how much we load on to the building of new homes. The Minister has expressed an interest in producing low-cost homes, as has her boss the Deputy Prime Minister, but building regulations often add costs. We should not make things more expensive and difficult to achieve while saying that we want to do the opposite. I end on that note of caution.

2.6 pm

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