Previous Section Index Home Page

In the secondary legislation to which I referred a moment ago, we will set thresholds as well as the policy
12 Dec 2006 : Column 757
test. We do not think that the Mayor should take over applications at the beginning of the process, as proposed in the arrangement that we initially set out for consultation. We agree with London First, London Councils and the Mayor that it would be better for boroughs to make their decisions on an application before the Mayor decides whether the policy test is met and whether he wants to intervene. We believe that that will provide a better parallel to the Mayor’s current powers and give the boroughs the clear central role in dealing with a planning application and its impact on a local area. In addition, the approach that I have set out would limit the Mayor’s intervention to those cases where strategic issues are at stake.

We also believe that, when a decision is taken about using the mayoral powers, account should be taken of the boroughs’ wider ability to deliver against the London plan and of their record in doing so.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): I have followed my hon. Friend’s presentation with considerable care and interest. I am very broadly in agreement with the approach and I believe that she is right to focus on the fact that there is currently a power on the part of the Mayor to intervene negatively, but not to intervene positively. The concern of many of us who have looked at this matter closely is about definition. Without a clear and precise definition, there is a real risk of mission creep and of the Mayor extending the powers beyond those envisaged in what my hon. Friend has set out to the House. There is a possibility of wrangles and disputes between individual boroughs and the Mayor about the definition of strategic. Will she assure us that, very soon—certainly before the Committee stage begins—the detailed proposals will be published and there will be a full opportunity for Members and interested parties to consider them and respond to her on whether the precise definitions are workable and will achieve the objective that she sets out?

Yvette Cooper: My right hon. Friend makes an important point. We think that that needs to be set out in secondary legislation and we intend to publish that before the Committee stage discussions on this aspect of the Bill. It is important to do that through secondary legislation because that gives us a further opportunity to review the details and to have a process to amend the secondary legislation, should that prove necessary over time. One of the reasons why we have not yet published the detail for what the policy test should be is exactly that we have been undertaking detailed discussions with the London boroughs, the Mayor, London First and a series of regional organisations and stakeholders across London to try to build a consensus on the most effective way for the test to work.

My right hon. Friend is right to say that we need to get the balance right and to focus on the major strategic decisions that are fundamental to the London plan, rather than on individual applications, which would be far better dealt with by the borough, which has the expertise and is involved in leading the debate about the impact on the local community and place. We are clear about that. We are also interested in how,
12 Dec 2006 : Column 758
as part of that process, we can best take account of the borough’s previous record in delivering against key issues in the London plan.

Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): Will the Minister tell the House in what way, and to whom, the Mayor will be accountable for the decisions that he takes under the new plans?

Yvette Cooper: The Mayor is elected every four years and so he is clearly directly accountable to the people of London for his decisions. He is also regularly scrutinised by the Greater London authority. There is appropriate accountability, which is why these reforms are right.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): Does the Minister agree that such an emotive change to planning powers should be evidence-based? If so, where is the hard evidence that important strategic developments for London are being refused and frustrated by inappropriate refusals at the borough level?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman may be aware that some people have argued that the level of refusal of planning applications in London is higher than in other regions. There are certainly concerns from businesses and developers across London that inappropriate decisions are being taken, which is why so many cases go to appeal. There are also views across London, both within and across London government, about difficult decisions being taken by boroughs that might have an impact on the London plan. In practice, my view is that the measure should apply to a small number of cases and that only a small number of cases could be described as having strategic significance.

Given the importance of having a city-wide voice, a London-wide strategy and a London-wide plan, if the Mayor has a plan, it is important that its delivery should not be frustrated by the fact that he only has the power to intervene negatively in the major strategic decisions for London and does not equally have the ability to intervene positively. We think that giving the boroughs the ability to take the first decision and to deal with the application will allow them to take the lead role in many cases. It should, one hopes, allow the borough and the Mayor, working together, to resolve difficulties before they arise, rather than leaving them needing to be taken over by the Mayor at a later stage.

Mr. Mark Field: The Department’s consultation paper on the Mayor’s powers lists some 25 examples of what it regards as strategic planning applications that would have benefited from positive mayoral planning powers. However, does the Minister not recognise that significant heritage considerations must be taken into account? Indeed, local heritage considerations and concerns meant that some of those applications were refused or altered. Is she seriously suggesting that we should allow such considerations to be put to one side by allowing the Mayor to have strategic powers?

Yvette Cooper: Heritage is clearly one of the things that the Mayor must take into account, just as any borough must take it into account. I am sorry that it is difficult for me to engage in a discussion about individual examples. When we publish the detail of the
12 Dec 2006 : Column 759
secondary legislation, I would hope that the hon. Gentleman and I could have a further conversation about how to ensure that the kinds of cases about which he is thinking are not dealt with inappropriately under the arrangements.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): I, too, support the positive role for the Mayor. However, when he exercises that positive role, will he be able to impose section 62 agreements on developers so that they undertake infrastructure work associated with their planning applications? Indeed, will he be able to impose conditions on developers to protect the environment of local residents?

Yvette Cooper: I assume that my hon. Friend is talking about section 106 arrangements. We have said that we need to change the process to allow boroughs to take the lead role on individual planning applications. An advantage of that will be that the boroughs will be allowed to begin discussions about what the section 106 agreements should be. Clearly, we need to ensure that the section 106 process is sustained so that the end result is the investment that is needed in not only affordable housing, but infrastructure. It is critically important that the arrangements are retained as part of the planning process.

Mr. Burrowes rose—

Mr. Khan rose—

Yvette Cooper: I will take two more interventions and then, if I may, I will make some progress because I know that many hon. Members want to speak.

Mr. Burrowes: Is there not a concern that resources arising from section 106 agreements and the planning gain will be siphoned away from local communities that are in desperate need of receiving mitigation from the impact of such developments? Does the Minister realise that my constituents in Enfield, Southgate want more public participation and involvement, greater transparency and greater accountability? What assurance do we have that the Mayor will not intervene in an opposite direction on individual planning decisions?

Yvette Cooper: Hon. Members will be aware that we introduced reforms to increase the involvement of local communities in the planning system at an earlier stage of the process than was previously the case. Clearly, if people become involved only at a late stage—when a notice appears on the lamp post at the end of the street—there is a lack of effective community involvement and engagement in the overall way in which the planning system works. There will be a benefit if local communities are involved at an early stage in not only the London plan, but the local development framework that is drawn up by their London borough. That will be critically important. The hon. Gentleman is right that transparency is needed in the way in which any mayoral decisions are taken. This goes further than simply being able to replicate the Mayor’s existing negative power. When considering whether to use the positive power, it will be critical that there is proper transparency, so arrangements will need to be in place to allow people to see the exact way in which decisions are taken and to be aware of the involvement that they can have in the process.

12 Dec 2006 : Column 760

Mr. Khan: Is not one of the problems with the numerous interventions that we have had the fact that we assume that we have a perfect system? We forget that planning inspectorates, the Government office for London and the regional housing board—and, dare I say, the Secretary of State—can call in applications, although they are unaccountable. If people have local concerns, is it not better that they feed those into the London plan so that when the Mayor calls things in, he will be accountable to the plan that we have all fed into?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right. If there is to be a London plan, with a process of democratic engagement around the plan and an agreement that the plan is the right thing for the city, we will need to make sure that the delivery of the plan cannot be scuppered by major developments being refused in circumstances in which there would be no ability to address that decision, especially if they are important strategic developments that would have an impact on not one borough, but the delivery of the plan as a whole. That is why we need to recognise that the provisions are about allowing the Mayor to do his job. They are about allowing London to have proper leadership, while ensuring that proper safeguards are in place for local communities, so that London boroughs can do their job—can do what they do best—and can take the lead on the overwhelming majority of applications. The Mayor would need to intervene in a very small minority of cases. It is worth recognising that the Mayor has intervened and used his negative powers to turn down applications in a very small number of cases. The powers proposed in the Bill should be used in a similarly judicious way, limiting the number of cases that will be covered in future.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con) rose—

Yvette Cooper: I shall take one more intervention on that point, and then I must move on.

Justine Greening: Does the Minister not agree that the extension of planning powers to the Mayor can only mean that the decisions and representations of local people and their elected council representatives will increasingly be overridden at a high level, by the Mayor? That is simply inappropriate. At a time when people are so switched off from politics, why are we introducing legislation that takes power out of local people’s hands and gives it to those at a higher level in government? The result is that people will be more dissatisfied.

Yvette Cooper: Opposition Members do not seem too bothered about the fact that when a borough wants to accept a planning application, the Mayor can step in and turn it down, if it is a major strategic application. They do not seem too fussed about the Mayor having negative, anti-development powers relating to major strategic applications. We are simply saying that there should be a balance, and that we should be able to approach matters positively, rather than taking a continually anti-development, anti-housing approach to the needs of London. That is simply about taking a properly balanced approach to the major strategic decisions for the city.

12 Dec 2006 : Column 761

Ms Buck: Is the Minister aware that Londoners have been asked their views on the subject and are strongly supportive of the Mayor taking additional planning powers, because they are aware of the crisis in housing provision? Conservative authorities across London and elsewhere attempt to block the provision of housing, using their development powers. Londoners know that they need more homes, and they know that it is the Mayor who will deliver them.

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right that the reality is that we need additional homes. We are currently not delivering on the London plan. The homes that are needed, as set out in the London plan, to which people have agreed, are currently not being built, so we have to recognise that there is a need to increase housing and the responsiveness of the planning system across the capital. I have taken a range of interventions on the subject, and I have set out further details on the Government’s approach and the further safeguards that we think are appropriate. We will set out more details in secondary legislation, and there will be plenty of opportunity to discuss the matter in detail in Committee.

Finally, I shall highlight a couple of other issues covered by the Bill, including the environmental role for the Mayor. The Bill strengthens London’s ability to manage its waste sustainably without changing existing structures. It also places a duty on the Mayor and the London assembly to address climate change, and that is particularly important. Clearly, the Mayor is already taking action on climate change, but it is important that it has a stronger focus, to consider measures to prevent and reduce carbon emissions, and to adapt to the challenge that climate change poses to London. We hope that the Bill’s provisions will help to establish London as an important model of carbon management for other major world cities.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): On waste disposal, is the Minister satisfied with current arrangements, under which London has a rather low recycling rate for domestic waste, and an even lower rate for business waste? Does she not think that there is a case for extending mayoral powers, so that the Mayor is responsible for the disposal, but not the collection, of waste created in London?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has looked into the issue in some detail, and his concern is that we need to make substantial progress in a relatively short period of time to deal with issues to do with waste disposal in the capital. We are in no doubt about the challenges that London faces, but as we need to make progress in a relatively short time, my right hon. Friend, having considered the issue in some detail, does not believe that it is the right time for major structural reform in that area. He thinks that we would do better to make progress within existing structures, while strengthening the Mayor’s role in that respect.

We will devolve the Government’s responsibilities for the funding and governance of the Museum of London to the Mayor, and we will strengthen his role in public health, so that he can lead the drive to reduce London’s
12 Dec 2006 : Column 762
health inequalities and improve the health of London’s most disadvantaged communities. We will strengthen, too, the scrutiny role of the assembly to make it more effective. The Mayor will be subject to a duty to pay regard to the assembly’s responses to consultations on drafts or revisions of strategies. He must respond in writing to the assembly, which can hold non-binding confirmation hearings for preferred candidates for key appointments that the Mayor intends to make, so that there is greater public scrutiny of those appointments before they are made.

Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): The Minister said that the Mayor will pay due regard to consultation with the assembly, but what about the wider point about the Mayor paying due regard to much larger consultations? There is a serious problem across London, as the Mayor has commissioned consultations on the extension of the congestion charge zone and new bus routes, but he simply ignored the findings.

Yvette Cooper: I appreciate that the Mayor makes decisions with which the hon. Gentleman disagrees. He must take that up with the Mayor, and his local community may wish to do so, too. However, that is democracy, and that is the arrangement that we have set up. The Mayor must make decisions, and clearly he must respond to consultations.

Richard Ottaway rose—

Yvette Cooper: I will not give way, as I have accepted many interventions, and I know that many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate.

We have set out a series of reforms in the Bill, which was introduced after a relatively recent review of the new powers and arrangements. The review and the measures in the Bill have been widely welcomed. The Government have restored democratic, city-wide government to London. The Greater London authority is a great success, and it has given London strong leadership. It has restored London’s voice, and it has refreshed the capital. The Mayor and the assembly have already tackled many of the capital’s deep-seated problems, and made genuine improvements to Londoners’ quality of life. As we said in our manifesto, however, we need to go further. Devolving more power to London has the support of Londoners and many London councillors, as well as London businesses, which have championed the establishment of the post of Mayor and the further reforms that we propose. London First, London councils, the Mayor and the Government have worked hard to build consensus on the right way forward for London.

The Bill provides the basis for that consensus and, with the further work that we will undertake on secondary legislation, we can build agreement on the best way forward for London so that it can face future challenges and opportunities. The challenge for Opposition Members is to join that consensus. Time and again, they have opposed reforms only grudgingly to accept them later. They opposed the Mayor, but then they changed their mind. They opposed the GLA, but then they changed their mind. They opposed the congestion charge, but then they changed their mind, only to change it back again. I urge them not to do so again. They should take
12 Dec 2006 : Column 763
the opportunity to get it right first time round by backing the Bill as it goes through the House. I urge them to back the reforms to strengthen London and to give further devolution for London and Londoners a real chance. I commend the Bill to the House.

Next Section Index Home Page