Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill

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Malcolm Wicks: This has been an interesting and useful debate and I have listened with great interest to hon. Members’ remarks. We have much sympathy with the intentions of new clause 14. Parish councils, especially the larger ones, rather like town councils, may well have a role to play in setting up local energy schemes. I am enthusiastic about enabling the community to play a role in respect of climate change.

I have a feeling that some of the anoraks in the micropower sector—I am not suggesting that there are any—

Andrew Stunell: They do not need them if they have micropower.

Malcolm Wicks: I do not think it stops rain. I might develop a joke about parish heat pump politics, but I will leave it at that.

I was interested in the range of possibilities under the community energy heading in which parish councils could get involved, and particularly intrigued by the idea of inter-parish energy forums. Perhaps on Report, an hon. Member will table an amendment, which we may not accept, that people can only walk or ride their bicycles to the inter-parish energy forums. We need consistency in what we are doing.

We should not lose sight of the fact that parish and town councils vary enormously in size, activities and circumstances. The main source of a parish council’s income is its precept on the district or unitary council. They are not, however, subject to the constraints on principal authorities through financial measures such as capping. The powers of well-being in the Local Government Act 2000 do not apply to them.

Parish councils could rely on the powers they have under section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972 to set up local energy schemes, which is a general power to spend where expenditure is in the interests of, and will bring direct benefit to, the area. The power is limited to spending locally and there are some legitimate doubts over the scope of it. In principle, we think the power that the new clause would introduce could be useful, and would enable parish councils to take part in setting up local energy schemes.

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We have some concerns about the scope of the limited power that local councils have in that respect and we need to explore the issues further. I undertake to consider them in greater depth with the intention of tabling a Government clause at a later stage. In the light of my comments, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be persuaded to ask leave to withdraw the new clause.

New clause 15 proposes an amendment to the Local Government Act 2000 to clarify the fact that the powers given to principal authorities to promote or improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of their areas also enable them to take action to alleviate climate change. The intention is well founded; if we are to succeed in reducing the emission of the harmful greenhouse gases that are causing climate
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change, we need to take action at all levels, not just in the international arena or in nation states, but at the most local of levels.

Local authorities are taking action. Bracknell Forest borough council is a good example; it has used well-being powers to provide a financial guarantee, enabling the go-ahead for the use of sustainable energy in its town centre regeneration. I am advised that a number of London boroughs have used the powers to work with an organisation called Smart Moves Ltd—it sounds like it might be advising the Conservative party at the moment, but I do not know whether it extends that far—in the setting up of CityCarClub, which helps to reduce car use, thereby reducing pollution, congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. Local authorities are therefore already using well-being powers to tackle climate change, which is why I believe the proposed clarification to be unnecessary. The new clause may also cast doubt on the breadth of the power to promote or improve well-being, by signalling that it is not as wide as indicated by the statutory guidance. We believe that it is likely to cause more confusion than clarity.

The Government were required by the Local Government Act 2000 to produce statutory guidance on the exercise of the well-being powers, which is useful in this debate. The guidance followed consultation with local government representatives, and was launched in March 2001. Before exercising the powers, principal authorities must have regard to the statutory guidance. Paragraph 6 sets out a broad range of the powers and states:

    “Authorities will also wish to consider how the new power can help them to contribute locally to shared national priorities, such as action to combat climate change.”

Gregory Barker: I am listening carefully to the Minister. Is he aware of any councillors or councils whose legal officers have told them about the guidance? If not, is that because there have not been any cases of such advice being given, or because his officials are unaware of them? If it is the latter, will he examine whether the point is being made?

Malcolm Wicks: I understand—I use that word because I am not an ODPM Minister; I am taking advice from the Minister and colleagues in that Department—that there has been confusion over the interpretation of the well-being powers. We should therefore undertake to seek to clarify the issue. It is more about information and education than taking a new power.

The well-being powers are part of a wider framework that includes the duty to produce a community strategy. Such strategies promote or improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of their area, and contribute to sustainable development in the UK. The statutory guidance, which is called “Preparing community strategies,” reinforces the message that combating climate change falls well within the scope of the powers.

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Dr. Whitehead: In addition to seeking information on whether local authorities have received legal advice in the way that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) suggests, will my hon. Friend consider strengthening and redirecting the statutory guidance towards local authorities, so that that point is emphasised? Will he suggest that to the Minister responsible at the ODPM?

Malcolm Wicks: The best thing that I can do is ensure that my hon. Friend’s remarks are brought to the attention of the Minister responsible and the ODPM. That has already happened, as it were, and they will reflect on his suggestion.

The Government’s two pieces of statutory guidance on the framework for improving the well-being of communities make it absolutely clear that local authorities can use their power of well-being and community strategies to combat climate change. I understand that some local authorities have received legal advice. This is complex because it will depend on the action being proposed. Adding the suggested wording would not make anything legal that was not legal before. If an action to combat climate change is currently illegal, the new clause will not change that. The legal advice to which I think the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle was referring may have been about the specifics of what would be legal or illegal rather than a general statement about well-being.

I give this undertaking on behalf of my colleague in the ODPM. We will reflect on what has been a useful debate. At the moment, there is nothing to stop the kind of projects that the hon. Gentleman described. I understand that there is confusion. There is an issue here about further clarification, although not in terms of statute. We are talking about better communication of powers. Indeed, I hope there would be some encouragement that parish councils will use these powers. I was wondering about parish meetings, but that is perhaps going too far. We all have a vested interest in combating climate change. I will have to oppose new clause 15 if it comes to a vote. In principle, we agree to new clause 14 and are looking at that.

Gregory Barker: I am grateful for the Minister’s comments about new clause 15. There is undoubtedly no difference between us in the intention here. It is simply about the practical implementation of the law on the ground. As is patently obvious, I am not a lawyer and the Minister has recourse to the advice of a great many experts. I am grateful for his acknowledgment that there is a real problem in implementation.

It may be that it is simply a misunderstanding for which the solution could be a robust restating of the statutory position. If we can solve the problem, even if it is only a small one, without recourse to primary legislation, that is a good thing. I am all in favour of not using the law when it is not necessary. If the Minister could write to the Committee once he has had a chance to confer with the ODPM, that would be very welcome and would help to reassure us that this will not simply be one of those issues that starts with good intentions, but loses momentum as the Committee
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disappears. Having made the point and found agreement across the Committee, I do not intend to press new clause 15.

I was greatly heartened by the Minister’s comments about new clause 14. If he and his officials have thoughts on how the provisions to empower those 10,000 parish and town councils may be better drafted, I will welcome that. As a champion of localism, I recognise that the effort to bring all those local committees into the battle against climate change will be much easier if it has the authority of a Government-drafted amendment rather than an Opposition amendment. In the interest of consensus and constructive cross-party politics, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 16

Planning and renewable energy

    ‘(1) Any person undertaking—

      (a)   a new commercial development exceeding 1,000 square metres, or

      (b)   a residential development exceeding five units,

    must make appropriate provision within the development for on-site renewable energy.

    (2)   A local planning authority must include policies to encourage on-site renewable energy in its development plan.

    (3)   In this section—

“local planning authority” has the same meaning as in section 1 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (c. 8); “on-site renewable energy” has such meaning as may be prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State.’.—[Gregory Barker.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Gregory Barker: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss New clause 19——Review of permitted development orders—

    ‘(1)   The Secretary of State shall for the purpose mentioned in subsection (2) carry out a review of the effect in England of development orders made by virtue of section 59(2)(a) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (c. 8) (which confers power by order to grant planning permission for development or a class of development specified in the order).

    (2)   The purpose of the review is to enable the Secretary of State to form a view as to what provision (or further provision) such development orders should make to facilitate development in England consisting of the installation, within the curtilage of a dwellinghouse, of equipment, apparatus or appliances for microgeneration.

    (3)   As soon as reasonably practicable after he has carried out the review, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report of the review, including his view as mentioned in subsection (2) and the reasons for it.

    (4)   The report must also set out what provision (or further provision), if any, the Secretary of State proposes to make in development orders by virtue of section 59(2)(a) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (c. 8) in consequence of the review.

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    (5)   Where the Secretary of State proposes to make provision (or further provision) in development orders in consequence of the review, he must—

      (a)   exercise his powers under section 59 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (c. 8) so as to provide that development orders made by virtue of that section make such provision in consequence of the review as he considers appropriate, and

      (b)   exercise those powers as soon as reasonably practicable after laying the report before Parliament under subsection (3).

    (6)   In this section—

“dwellinghouse” does not include a building containing one or more flats, or a flat contained within such a building; “flat” means a separate and self-contained set of premises constructed or adapted for use for the purpose of a dwelling and forming part of a building from some other part of which it is divided horizontally.’.

Gregory Barker: I am struck by two recent developments. First, as in so many areas of public life, it has been at a local level that we have seen the highest profile and most successful examples of zero and low-carbon policy measures, including energy efficiency. In both Merton and the Minister’s own borough of Croydon, the local authorities have successfully implemented a planning policy to require on-site renewable energy systems, such as those based on solar and wind power, in all major new developments. In Croydon, some 55 projects have been approved under the policy in the first 18 months. That is 55 developments with renewable energy systems in just one borough as a direct result of Croydon’s pioneering approach. Why are Ministers not shouting from the rooftops about the success of the policy and urging other local authorities to follow suit?

The second development that struck me is that mainstream developers are increasingly seeking ways to integrate renewable energy and energy efficiency systems into new buildings. Those technologies are no longer considered unfeasible technically, or as imposing an undue financial burden. If anything, they tend to make new commercial buildings more attractive to potential purchasers and tenants. Many companies are demonstrating that they see that as an integral part of good quality building design and construction, of ensuring competitive advantage in the marketplace and of attracting the brightest and best employees, as well as of sending a clear signal to the market and to their customers.

As might be expected, my new clause is supported by a wide range of organisations, including the Renewable Energy Association, the Town and Country Planning Association, Friends of the Earth, the British Photovoltaic Association—known as PV-UK—the Solar Trade Association, the Green Alliance and companies that are active in the sector, such as Solar Century and Sharp UK.

My new clause has also attracted serious business support beyond what one might term the usual suspects. Only yesterday, I received a letter of support from the chairman of Gazeley, a UK subsidiary of Wal-Mart based in Milton Keynes. Wal-Mart, of course, is based in north America. Gazeley is responsible for developing distribution warehouses for many of the top multinational companies across the
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UK and continental Europe, and is widely recognised as one of the leading, if not the leading, European logistics operators.

Gazely has already embraced the issue positively and cost-effectively by starting to integrate solar and wind technologies into new UK commercial developments. It is doing so for sound business reasons. We are making progress at a pace that may not always be appreciated by Ministers in Whitehall. If Ministers and officials find it hard to believe the solar industry when it talks about the technology’s potential in the UK, and if they discount a little of what it tells them on account of its in-built interest, perhaps they will give more weight to the views and experience of the chairman of a major European property developer of logistic space based in the UK.

Wal-mart is not known for its dewy-eyed approach to business or to anything that would put undue strain on the bottom line. It is renowned for its aggressive pursuit of profits and anything that came out of that company certainly could not in any way be seen as something that could not be adopted and taken forward by others with an equally competitive advantage in the marketplace.

My new clause is entirely in the spirit of the Bill. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) explains in his explanatory notes that clause 5

    “will put microgeneration on the agenda of local authorities”

and there is nothing wrong with that. However, we have an opportunity to go beyond the setting of local targets. Many local authorities have expressed an interest in developing policies similar to those in the Minister’s home borough, but two problems remain.

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Planning policy statement 22 on renewable energy, published by the ODPM in 2004, enables local authorities to go down that path, but it is subject to inconsistent interpretation by ODPM inspectors and Government officers. Last week, for example, officers at Breckland council in Norfolk reported publicly that they had encountered difficulties with the Government office, and others in the area have reported similar problems. Those isolated examples may be confined to one Government office, but at a time when climate change and the urgent policy responses needed to deal with it are high on the political agenda, it is one problem too many. Frankly, we do not have the time to let ambiguity and misinterpretation get in the way of progressive policy change at a local level.

More important, the new clause challenges the ODPM’s assumption that a simple enabling clause in PPS22 ticks the box on the need for practical, potential planning policy to require on-site renewables in the built environment. It does not. Local authorities are being required to write new local development frameworks, which gives us the opportunity to maximise the number of developing policies similar to those in Croydon.

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At a time when ODPM officials are reminding regional and local authorities of the need to include the Barker review assumptions and conclusions in their local plans, it is bizarre that no similar effort has been made to encourage local authorities to adopt best practice and planning on renewables and energy efficiency. As has been stated, energy efficiency remains the cheapest, quickest and cleanest way of achieving our climate change mission targets. Energy efficiency and renewable energy are not either/or options.

I fully recognise that we are not starting with a blank page. Policy is out there, it is legal and in many places it is working, but we need to see more than a few islands of good local authority practice, such as in the Minister’s back yard, surrounded by a sea of minimum standards.

Positive local planning policies also offer a huge commercial potential for the UK renewables industry. It has been estimated that, if 250 authorities were eventually to adopt positive planning for renewables policy, the annual market in the three technologies of solar thermal, solar photovoltaic and micro-wind would be £755 million a year. The annual market for those technologies in the UK is now about £30 million. The new clause would encourage the more widespread adoption of such policies by clarifying PPS22 and ensuring that all local authorities developed a variant of the Minister’s Croydon policy.

The Government have the opportunity to play a leading role, not in picking winners or singling out individual technologies, but in creating a national framework that would stimulate a pioneering industry and make us world leaders. We have a huge economic opportunity as well as an environmental one—if we grasp it now. We can become leaders, and certainly European leaders, in that field.

Lord Rogers reminded us last autumn that the UK’s record on delivering genuinely sustainable communities has so far been pathetic. It does not have to be like that. The Government are not afraid to take a lead in some areas, and they should not be timid in this area. It is no good having a policy of fine words if it is not followed through. Some will argue that such issues need time.

I understand the concerns of some developers about additional costs, but we need to keep those costs in perspective. I never cease to be amazed at what totally inadequate carbon standards are required for new buildings in the capital. Marsham Street, just around the corner from the Palace of Westminster, has been redeveloped. Prices for the smallest flats start at £390,000. I have found no one to explain why it was not made a condition of redevelopment that each unit should be built to the highest standards of energy efficiency, including at least some measure of on-site renewables.

Alternatively, rather than considering an expensive Westminster flat, let us take a mainstream house builder such as Barratt Homes, whose average national house price is £165,000. The additional capital cost of installing the solar PV required to reduce carbon emissions by 10 per cent. on one of its
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new-build estates is the equivalent of just 0.9 per cent. per dwelling. By installing the PV on every sixth home, rather than all of them, the estate builder can easily and efficiently meet a 10 per cent. reduction target from renewables over and beyond 2006 in terms of part L of the building regulations, and can, of course, market the solar house at a premium on the price of its standard homes.

We have to remember that that is a 0.9 per cent. cost for a technology that many regard instinctively as an expensive renewable energy option. If nascent technologies are to break out of the niche that they currently fill and enter the mass consumer market, the Government have a role to play, not by picking winners or preferred technologies, but by helping to create consumer demand that will feed and nourish the young markets.

Very deliberately, my new clause would not impose centrally agreed renewable energy targets on every local planning authority. I have spoken at length about my belief in localism. In some parts of the country, for good local reasons, the 10 per cent. target—a figure that was adopted in Merton and Croydon, for example—could, following local consultation, be surpassed as an appropriate requirement, reflecting local economic, social and environmental needs. However, I recognise that in other parts of the country, the figure might have to be lower. Nevertheless, all local authorities should have to set a local minimum standard and requirement, taking into account local conditions.

The new clause has the potential to deliver significant results for the short-term uptake of micro-renewable technology. If the Government support it, they will send a strong signal to local authorities that are writing their local development frameworks as we speak. If they do not support it, we will end up with, at most, 12 to 15 per cent. of local authorities adopting such a policy, even though this Committee has the means to ensure that 100 per cent. do so. I call on the Minister to be ambitious, and to take up my suggestion.

Mark Lazarowicz: The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle has made some very important points. I hope that at least the thrust of what he has said will find broad agreement in the Committee. I do not know whether he has tabled the new clause as a probing amendment, which he will withdraw depending on what the Minister says, or whether he intends to press it to a vote. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test, as well as colleagues from all parties, today and on other occasions, have performed a useful exercise in teasing out the policy implemented by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

I have some reservations, however, about the way in which the new clause is drafted, because as we have heard in discussions on other issues relating to this area of activity, we need to be precise about what we seek to achieve through legislation. Too many times, we adopt legislation, but its intentions are not carried through when it comes to policy areas such as sustainable energy. I am concerned that, for example, the requirement on developers to make appropriate
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provision is too vague. What is appropriate in the view of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle will be left to local discretion. However, it seems to me that we must state some kind of requirement, otherwise a range of possibilities will be made available to aggrieved developers who want to appeal on the basis that the provision that has been made is not appropriate. The current wording could lead to a lot of difficulty.

In addition, although one must be wary of going along a road that would allow people to draw back from the good intentions of the new clause, it seems that there will be some occasions, and some developments, on which it will not be possible to make renewable energy provision of the type that would otherwise be desirable. Perhaps in that sense the new clause is too prescriptive. My understanding is that combined heat and power is not usually defined per se as a renewable energy source. Although it is energy efficient, it is not necessarily provided by renewable sources. Sometimes, the best way to meet energy objectives would be to encourage a small-scale combined heat and power development, but that would not fall within the scope of the proposal. I am worried about the consequences, if not the intent, of the new clause, as I believe the objectives could be achieved in a better or different way.

Andrew Stunell: I very much support the intention and direction of the new clause. As the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said, major commercial organisations see the value of taking seriously energy efficiency and the potential use of renewables because it is cost-effective. As he said, they would not be doing so unless the bottom line was that they would benefit.

It is sad that the cost benefits are sometimes more visible to the industrial and commercial sector than to the domestic sector. It must be evident that incentives, regulations and a legislative framework need to be introduced. That would make it easier for new projects, whether they are industrial, commercial or in the domestic sector, to make the best available use of the technology to have energy efficient buildings and to draw in renewables. The new clause would provide an interesting foundation for that to happen.

The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle mentioned Merton and Croydon. Two years ago, the London borough of Merton was locked in a difficult negotiation with the ODPM about whether it would be permitted to do what is proposed. We have come a long way from an argument with the Government about whether a local authority was permitted to make such provision in planning policies to discussing a clause that might require local authorities to do so. That might be a big jump for the Minister, and an even bigger jump for the ODPM.

I am sorry to keep referring to my Sustainable and Secure Buildings Bill, but essentially it covered the same areas of policy. An early version had a simple clause saying something like, “For the avoidance of doubt, what Merton wants to do is lawful.” ODPM Ministers said that that would not be necessary because they were going to give in to Merton, while 12 other local planning authorities were queuing to press
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their case and to see whether the ODPM would concede their right to interpret existing legislation to allow them to make the provision. The situation now is that a local planning authority is permitted to do what the hon. Gentleman set out, but at the time, I was in discussion with several other planning authorities in the queue, waiting to see which way things would go. It was perhaps only when the London borough of Merton made it clear that it would go to the High Court to challenge a refusal that the ODPM backed down.

A matter that has arisen already in several different contexts in this debate and in our previous sitting is the lack of joined-up thinking by various Government agencies and Departments about how to implement what is supposed to be the highest priority in long-term policy plans: dealing with climate change. It cannot be right that when forward-thinking local authorities—I am prepared to confess that the London borough of Merton is Labour-controlled—

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