Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill


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Malcolm Wicks: So is Croydon.

Andrew Stunell: I fully accept what the Minister says. In the queue behind Merton was the metropolitan borough of Liverpool, which is controlled by the Liberal Democrats, and there were Conservative boroughs in the queue, too; it is not a party-political matter. Throughout the country, local planning authorities of every political persuasion are keen to move forward. On that occasion, they found that central Government stopped them.

Although I understand that the Minister might not want to take the wording on board, perhaps he could acknowledge the thrust of the new clause. The national Government need to say to local authorities not simply “If you twist our arm, we’ll let you do it,” but “We positively want you to do it, and please get on with it.” If that is the spirit of the new clause, it should have his support.

3.15 pm

As a keen supporter of the Bill, I listened carefully to what its promoter said about his approach to the new clause. The last thing that I want to do is sabotage inadvertently the Bill’s prospects of progress. I hope that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle will reflect on that when he sums up, because it would be a great shame if his enthusiasm for a highly desirable move were to get in the way of the Bill’s further progress.

I give that cautionary word to the hon. Gentleman and I hope that the Minister will accept a cautionary word from many of us. I ask him to get the agencies, Ministries and Departments pushing in the same direction, rather than hindering some of the initiatives that would help them deliver on their national aim of tackling climate change, improving energy efficiency and delivering more renewables in the United Kingdom.

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): I greatly appreciate the opportunity to address the Committee on such an important new clause to such
 
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an important Bill. If the Bill is to have an impact and to expand dramatically the scope of renewable energy and microgeneration, as we hope it will, the new clause could have a significant impact on bringing about that goal. It is vital that we tackle the issue of new build. We need much more action on renewable energy from developers; I should also like to see action on energy efficiency. That is one of the key levers available to us in the House for encouraging changes in practice and the expansion of microgeneration.

If the Committee agrees to the new clause, we will tilt the planning system toward renewable energy and microgeneration and towards requiring councils to include action plans to encourage the take-up of such schemes. That will have a significant impact. We would do well to listen to the advice of a number of the organisations focused on environmental and renewable energy issues that support it. Their concerns on the matter have impressed me, in that I support the new clause.

The new clause is also very timely, as local authorities are currently looking at their development plans and frameworks. Choosing not to go down that road would mean an opportunity sadly missed, because the clause should be a vital part of achieving the Bill’s aims of expanding the amount of microgeneration in this country. For those reasons, I urge the Committee to support the new clause.

The Chairman: Before I call the Minister, I remind the Committee as a matter of order that we are also discussing new clause 19. Does the hon. Member for Southampton, Test want to speak to it?

Dr. Whitehead: I should be delighted to speak to new clause 19. The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) mentioned the need to make a substantial impact on how microgeneration works in terms of our buildings and communities. The whole topic of microgeneration concerns the fact that it is micro and, by and large, it works on buildings. Therefore, if there are various impediments to the installation of microgeneration—even where it is generally acceptable and takes place within defined limits—we are perhaps not implementing the otherwise good intentions that we all share on how to develop renewable energy sources in our homes and buildings.

The new clause attempts to address that problem. The truth of the matter up and down the country is that if people are in the process of seeking to place a microgeneration device in or on their houses, they do not know what the reaction of the local authority will be. Many local authorities will say that it is fine. Sometimes, there will be objections that have not been raised by the local authority next door. Within a few miles, there may be one house with a solar PV installation on the roof that has been franked and okayed by planning officers, whereas in the next local authority a person undertaking the same activity has to pay a large amount of money and go through the planning application process. That is because the position on whether such devices need planning permission is very unclear.


 
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Manufacturers of microgeneration devices are not clear as to the advice they can give to purchasers, and whether they can honestly say, “You can take this home and put it on your roof or in your house, and that will be the end of the matter.” The idea of being able to purchase such items in a large do-it-yourself shop and take them home and install them—an idea that many people would welcome greatly to make a breakthrough in the way that microgeneration is marketed—is some way off, because it is not possible to give such advice when the devices are sold. It entirely depends on the part of the country where the device is sold, and it may be that the place of sale is not the same as the place of installation. In effect, 400 pieces of advice have to be given on any one item.

I declare an interest at this point, because at the moment I am engaged in extensive clarification with my local authority on the installation of a windsave device on the roof of my house. I hope that I shall not have to pay £265 and go through the planning permission process, but I do not know that at the moment. It is that uncertainty that, in my recent experience, is a real issue in moving forward with microgeneration technology.

The new clause attempts to clarify the position by empowering the Secretary of State to carry out a review of the effect in England of the permitted development orders. Once the review has been undertaken, the Secretary of State is empowered to form a view on whether those orders should be extended to such devices—with proper safeguards in relation to such matters as conservation orders and the size and effect of equipment and appliances—and on which devices might be placed within the permitted development order category. It asks the Secretary of State to submit a report on the conclusions of the review as soon as that review is completed. I hope, and naturally I am confident, that a review such as the one that the new clause empowers would ensure that the change in permitted development orders would enable microgeneration devices—solar PV, solar water, combined heat and power boilers, ground heat pumps and wind turbines of a domestic nature—to be installed as a matter of course when a householder wished to install them.

Were that to be done, the step change in the ability to market and install microgeneration could be well under way. With that and a number of other devices, the atmosphere surrounding the perception and installation of microgeneration would begin to change, and that would take us a long way towards our shared goal of ensuring that this technology plays a real role in our energy production.

Malcolm Wicks: Both the new clauses are important and we have had a useful debate about them. Although the Government resist the inclusion of new clause 16, we fully agree with the sentiments behind it.

We recognise the crucial role that renewable energy can play as part of our armoury in combating climate change, and the provision of renewable energy on site as part of new developments is vital to that. However, we believe that legislation placing specific requirements on local planning authorities and
 
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developers is not necessary, although I have listened to the arguments of the self-proclaimed localists on the need for central direction here. Progress will be achieved through action at the local level, delivered through existing planning mechanisms and within the context provided by national guidance on planning and renewable energy in planning policy statement 2, which is also known, I am advised, as PPS22—not the usual kind of PPS.

Gregory Barker rose—

Malcolm Wicks: The hon. Gentleman wants to intervene at this early stage in my remarks.

Gregory Barker: I do. I want to ask the Minister a simple question. If we do not need to change the legislative framework, why is such action not taking place now? Why do we have these islands of good practice and seas of minimum standards? What possible hope can there be of changing, in the immediate future, that disparity up and down the country without a change in the system?

Malcolm Wicks: I want to continue, and to say more than I have been able to so far. The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. Here we have a longish list of local authorities, although it by no means approaches the majority. They are doing the right thing on this—that seems to be the consensus in the Committee—and perhaps we should all play a role in embarrassing the local authorities that are not on the list. Although I jested with the hon. Gentleman, many of us often want to be localists and to resist the heavy hand of the central state. Perhaps we should go out and prepare to challenge local authorities across the country on why they are not on this glorious list.

I shall come to detailed comments about the new clause, but perhaps I should clarify the provisions set out in PPS22 and say why I consider them to be sufficient to ensure that the purpose of the clause can be met without the need for legislation. PPS22 was published in August 2004 and was warmly welcomed by the renewables industry. As national policy, local planning authorities are required by legislation to have regard to it when preparing development plans. In practice, the “have regard to” test is a strong one. Planning authorities will need to have very good reason to depart from it in their plans, which will be scrutinised by the first Secretary of State—[Interruption.] I think of him very much as the first Secretary of State; I hope that he notes that. I should have said that the plans will be scrutinised first by the Secretary of State and will then be subject to testing at public examination by an inspector. The Government have recognised that policies, such as those produced by the London borough of Merton, can play a vital role in ensuring that we maximise the potential for on-site renewables. As an adopted plan, Merton’s policies have the Government’s tacit endorsement.

3.30 pm

I was touched by the shadow spokesman’s proclamations about Croydon. I have often wondered whether I am right or wrong in not being one of those
 
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MPs who mentions his constituency or borough in every paragraph of every speech. Some do that very well. I have never quite been in that camp. Although the hon. Gentleman is not exactly applying to become my research assistant should things go wrong for him at the next general election, I was still touched by his repeated mention. Essentially the argument was today Croydon, tomorrow the world when it comes to microgeneration. The good electors of Croydon will be marching to the polls in May to the drumbeat of his endorsement. I thank him for that.

Andrew Stunell: Will the Minister give way?

Malcolm Wicks: We must not waste too much time on further endorsements.

Andrew Stunell: I wonder whether the Minister expects to be as successful in Croydon as he was in the western isles.

Malcolm Wicks: Despite my modesty in mentioning Croydon, Croydon, Croydon at every opportunity, I am told by the psephologists that for some reason I have the largest numerical majority in Greater London, so something is going right.

PPS22 is supported by a companion guide in which the Merton example is used as an example of a local plan to secure on-site renewables. That guide also has a whole section devoted to developing renewable energy in the built environment. Paragraph 8 itself endorses use of Merton-style policies. It says:

    “Local planning authorities may include policies in local development documents that require a percentage of energy to be used in new residential, commercial, or industrial developments to come from on-site renewable energy developments”.

The text in PPS22 then goes on to indicate that such policies should be applied only to developments where the installation of renewable energy equipment is feasible given the type of development, its location, and design. It also indicates that the policies should not be framed in such a way as to provide an undue burden on developers.

Those qualifications are important and necessary to ensure that a balanced approach is taken and that is based on a proper assessment of the potential for renewable energy when individual planning applications are received. More planning authorities are putting such policies in their plans, either at the regional or local level. And we expect more to do so as the new style plans come forward, following the introduction of the new plans system in 2004.

In terms of the specifics of the new clause, the Government consider there to be some fundamental problems. Subsection (1) would be a prescriptive measure that applied in all circumstances. It would allow no flexibility to be varied for different types of development, in different locations and in differing circumstances. It would not allow the potential of a specific site for renewable energy to be properly assessed when an individual planning application was made. Also it might have the unintended consequence of raising the costs of developing particular sites and
 
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reducing their economic viability. At present authorities are using their planning powers to seek provision of a percentage of energy from on-site renewables. The percentages sought may vary between authorities, but we believe strongly that decisions on such matters should be left to local discretion.

Subsection (2) would set a precedent by specifying what development plans should contain. Planning legislation does not currently specify the content of plans. Instead, local authorities are required to have regard to national guidance in deciding the content of their plans. They therefore retain the autonomy—one could say the localism—to prepare policies in accordance with the needs and circumstances of their areas.

The new clause would also set a precedent for planning legislation by requiring that the possible extra costs of a development be met by developers. Although there are many requirements placed on developers—for example, the provision of open space alongside proposals for housing development—those are matters for individual planning authorities to decide, having regard to national guidance and the needs of their areas.

Nevertheless, we recognise that concerns have been expressed as to whether all authorities will include policies on on-site renewables, as PPS22 says they should. At the moment, however, only limited evidence is available. My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has given a commitment that her Department will undertake an urgent review of local plans to determine whether there is a problem with emerging plans that do not fully incorporate PPS22 guidance. If a problem is identified, her Department will take swift and appropriate action.

Depending on the severity of any problems identified, that action could include undertaking further direct engagement with local authorities, issuing a Government statement, or consulting on an amendment to PPS22 in order to make clearer what authorities should do when planning for on-site renewable generation.

Although we completely support the principle of the new clause, we do not consider primary legislation to be required. However, we will take positive action to address the underlying issue. I hope therefore that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle, who moved the clause so well and with much knowledge, might consider my remarks and recognise why I oppose it.

We do, however, support new clause 19. Of course, we want to make it easier for householders to install microgeneration equipment, including the sort that my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test mentioned, such as photovoltaics, roof-top wind turbines, solar thermal panels and combined heat and power units. Prompted by my hon. Friend, I shall declare an interest in the issue. Like him, I am in the early stages of negotiating a micro-wind turbine on my own dwelling, which obviously is in Croydon—a leader in the field. I declare an interest in at least two senses of the word. Indeed, I might swap notes privately with my colleague afterwards.


 
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In April, for those reasons, we will publish a wide-ranging strategy for the promotion of microgeneration. The ODPM has been conducting a review of householder development consents. That review was set up to address the problem posed by the unnecessary complexity of the planning legislation that governs minor consents. The legislation is possibly too constricting, and could be interpreted in different ways by local planning authorities. In many cases involving the installation of microgeneration equipment, it is not clear when an application for planning permission is required. The review will be published soon.

Clause 2 of the Management of Energy in Buildings Bill would have required the Secretary of State to amend the secondary legislation—the general permitted development order, which I am advised is sometimes known as the GPDO—in order to permit small renewable energy developments. That would mean that such developments would not need specific planning permission.

We supported the earlier intention of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test to allow householders to install microgeneration equipment without the need of express planning permission, although that would be the case only if the installation were to have an appropriate impact on the amenity of the neighbourhood. However, we did not want to have to implement a succession of small amendments of householders’ rights under the order. Instead, we now propose to take forward our reappraisal of the permitted development rights currently available for dwelling houses. The review will seek ways to simplify the relevant sections of the GPDO, so that planning authorities and householders will have a clearer idea of the situations in which microgeneration technologies could be installed without the need for a planning application.

The new clause fits well with the programme on which the ODPM has already embarked. It requires the Government to conduct a review to assess what more can be done to make it easier under planning controls to install microgeneration equipment in houses. At the end of the review process, the Secretary of State must report his conclusions to Parliament and then put forward a new permitted development order. I therefore support new clause 19, but for the reasons that I have given, I oppose new clause 16.

Gregory Barker: I shall first deal briefly with new clause 19. I am glad to hear that the Minister supports the sensible new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test. I also strongly support its encouragement of the consumer to buy microgeneration technology, and of manufacturers to invest in it. That is critical, and the new clause is a small but welcome step. We must have a level playing field and clarity in the market for consumers as well as manufacturers. The new clause will greatly help to push the mass market that we want.

In supporting new clause 19, I should declare my newly installed solar panels, which were the subject of a class discussion a couple of weeks ago on sources of energy in which my 10-year-old son, his teacher tells
 
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me, participated energetically. They were discussing various types of fuel, and he proudly told the class that we had had solar panels put in at the beginning of January and that he had not had a hot bath since. Despite those initial teething problems, I am confident that the Barker family will play their role in reducing carbon emissions, even if it is at the expense of a little cleanliness.

To be serious for a moment, there is, for the first time, an issue that divides us. I refer to new clause 16. I am sympathetic to what the Minister says, and I know that he speaks with a great deal of sincerity, but there is a fundamental question to be raised. We know that the current system is not working, and that we are not reducing our CO2 emissions at anything like the rate that would enable us to hit our 2010 targets. Frankly, we will have to move heaven and earth to hit our 2050 target. We must completely change the way in which we look at power generation and energy efficiency, and live our lives and use transport—a whole range of issues. There is so much that we must do, and simply tinkering with the planning system and playing with the existing levers will not get us anywhere. I appreciate the Minister’s saying that his colleague will revisit the issue, but none of us in this room would be here if we did not believe passionately that we needed to take urgent action, and that the existing system was not working.

I do not know when the next such opportunity will present itself. I accept that the new clause may not be perfect, but I say to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith that the fact that it refers to regulations set by the Secretary of State means that it contains a degree of flexibility that the Secretary of State could sensibly use.

Mark Lazarowicz: The hon. Gentleman is obviously building up to a crescendo when he will say that he will put the matter to a vote, as he is entitled to. The regulations refer only to on-site renewable energy, and do not help with the issue of appropriateness, which I raised. In developing the Bill and accepting the various changes that have been made to it, I have been conscious that to take it forward, one has to recognise not just the practicalities of getting support, but that we must have the right wording and regulations. It is understandable that one might one want to work along lines that have a superficial attraction but, to have an effect, the wording must be right.

Gregory Barker: I take on board what the hon. Gentleman says, but I do not accept that the wording is not right. The advice that I took when drafting the new clause did not throw up that point. I notice that the Minister, with the benefit of advice of officials, did not deploy such an objection. I accept that the new clause could be improved further, but I do not think that we can let the opportunity to legislate on the issue pass by. Goodness knows how few and far between such opportunities with private Member’s Bills will be. It is remarkable that we have got this far.

Malcolm Wicks: May I clarify one point? The hon. Gentleman said that he had heard me say that my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning would
 
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examine the issue. We have looked at this very carefully and she undertakes to initiate an “urgent review”—those are her words—of local plans and I asked what could follow from that including an amendment to PPS22. This is not a casual look at it. This is a matter of urgency because we understand his arguments and we understand the urgency of the issue.

3.45 pm

Gregory Barker: I appreciate that, and such action may have to be taken if the new clause is not accepted. I am not trying to create differences between us where none exist. I accept that we are at one in trying to achieve the same aim. I am being realistic. We have an opportunity to legislate; indeed, we are sent here to do so. We are in this Committee scrutinising the Bill. There is a huge opportunity here which I, as an individual Member of Parliament and a Front-Bench spokesman, would hate to miss. Why put it off until tomorrow when we can do it today?

I shall be entirely frank with the Committee and show a degree of political candour. This is probably a new clause that the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman before 6 December would never have been able to move or possibly even support. This represents a new, fresh look at the way in which we will drive forward our climate change goals. I am breaking confidences when I say that there was significant debate within my party among the Front-Bench teams about whether the new clause could be supported. It went all the way up to my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron).

We are a party that is fundamentally one of enterprise and business, and that is always loth to impose new regulations either directly on business or on Government or authority. We always think very hard about imposing any form of new duty or regulation through primary legislation, so a new clause such as this is not something that comes easy to us. We recognise, however, that climate change transcends any of those objections and that we have here an opportunity to do something.

If the Government were on course to hit their climate change targets and if we thought that there was any sort of slack in the system, I would defer to the Minister, who has a great deal of knowledge and speaks with conviction on this matter. But we are not. We are miles off and we are kidding ourselves if we think that we have the time to tinker with the existing system rather than put in some really radical reforms. This is not a hugely radical measure, but it goes further than the officials in the Department perhaps want to go. It is incumbent on us as politicians and opinion leaders to put down a flag and say that this is something we believe in and that the system must change sooner. I do not seek to endanger this tremendous Bill or in any way fracture the excellent spirit of cross-party consensus that has existed today,
 
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but this is important. The Opposition feel strongly about the matter and we will push the new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 10.

[Division No. 1]

AYES

Barker, Gregory
Clark, Greg
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa

NOES

Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Lazarowicz, Mark
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Ruddock, Joan
Smith, Mr. Andrew
Stunell, Andrew
Walley, Joan
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm

Question accordingly negatived.

 
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