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I want the House to consider the whole group of amendments and new clauses, because as I said, they relate to the crux of the Bill. We object so strongly to the taking of powers from the boroughs to give them to
the Mayor that in Committee we tried to delete all the relevant provisions. Sadly, we failed, so we are returning to the charge in an attempt to constrain the powers that the Mayor is acquiring unto himself. We want the boroughs to retain as much decision-making power as they can, and we want the Mayor to know that there are significant areas in which he cannot involve himself.
Those of us with experience of the Mayors activities over the past few years are conscious of the fact that even with his current limited powers he has intervened where many of us feel he should not. It is worth repeating a point I made on Second Reading. Broomleigh housing associationmy local housing associationis part of the Affinity group, which joined the Sutton Trust to become Affinity Sutton. To make life even more complicated the association made a significant planning application for social housing in the borough of Sutton, which has nothing to do with the Sutton Trust. The Mayor intervened, which slowed down the process by at least a year, thereby making it even more difficult for people who wanted social housing to move in.
The Mayor has already stuck his nose into many areas where many of us think he should not have intervened. The powers given to him by the Government under the Bill will make his capacity for intervention even greater, while taking significant powers away from the boroughs.
We have tabled a long list of amendments and I hope that everybody will bear with me if I go through them all, even if only briefly. First, however, I want to put into context my position on overdevelopment, because the Minister referred to it in Committee. At the time, I managed to get out of the then Minister for London the information that he had every intention of doubling housing density in the borough of Bromley.
At least, we made the position clear, but our constituents in the borough of Bromley, especially my constituents in Beckenham, thoroughly object to the doubling of housing density because it will change the nature of the community in which they live. That is in no way, shape or form an objection to increased housing or to a wide variety of housing provision; it is an absolutely rooted objection to a level of development that will transform their surroundingsthe areas in which they have chosen to live precisely because of the values and environment that the borough of Bromley has created.
We are keen on transparency in decision making, for which we have set out a framework in new clauses 9 to 12. Under the Bill, the Mayor can call in planning applications and make decisions on them behind closed doors. Despite his promise that he will be open and transparent, we think that that needs to be written into the Bill. It is absolutely crucial that the decision-making process, the papers available to the Mayor, the record of decisions and the documents should be available to the public. The minutes and background papers should be open to the public for a number of yearsthe number varies according to the terms of the new clause.
Simon Hughes: As the hon. Lady knows, the Liberal Democrats very much support not only that amendment but the others in the group. We take the same general view. Does she agree that what is completely illogical about the present system is that the Government, of all people, keep saying that the Mayor and the Greater London authority are only a local authority, yet that particular local authority can do things entirely differently from any other local authority in the whole of England?
Mrs. Lait: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman not only for his promise of support, but for making that point, with which I thoroughly agree. It might be appropriate to mention en passant that it is not entirely clear whether the Mayor of London is subject to the same scrutiny from the Standards Board on planning decision as other councillors. It would be useful if the Minister could resolve that issue when she replies, even though it is not covered by an amendment in the group.
It is crucial that the terms of engagement for planning issues are set out in the Bill rather than in a statutory instrument, so that the Mayor understands that he is ruled by a statute saying that he has to be open and transparent, that the decisions and the papers involved need to be in the public domain and that decisions should not be taken behind closed doors.
Mr. Mark Field: I entirely endorse what my hon. Friend says. Does she not think that one of the more insidious aspects of the proposals is the very use of the word strategic, which suggests a broad overview and could allow the Mayor or anyone else in that position to avoid transparency in respect of the release of papers, as well as permitting a complete lack of transparency in their relationship with the public at large. That is why we are particularly concerned that the provisions should be in the Bill, rather than in a statutory instrument.
Mrs. Lait: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point because I will be coming on to amendments that we have tabled to try to begin to define strategic, which is crucial. Before I get to those, I shall continue logically through our other amendments.
New clause 16 would create a conflict resolution mechanism for the Secretary of State to use if a planning application to be decided by the Mayor would impact on other developments such as a boroughs development plan, a waste or transport plan, or any other strategy relevant to the planning application. This touches on the beginnings of a definition of strategic. The Mayor has responsibility for a number of development plans and if the Bill goes through Parliament he will have responsibility for another couple. It is entirely possible that a planning application could impact on one of the development plans, so there is a need for a mechanism to deal with that. We have created one in which, unusually for us, we would give power back to the Secretary of State to be the person who could resolve any such conflict.
I come now to amendment No. 3. I referred earlier to an area in which the Mayor has already intervened more than most of us might think he should, but the increased powers in the Bill will give him the opportunity to intervene in planning applications a great deal more. We believe that he should be able to take over an application only for a limited time after a borough has resolved to approve or refuse it, or where a borough has failed to make sufficient progress.
Amendment No. 28, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), correctly deals with the special position of the City of London, and we support it. It would bring the City, as the financial centre, into line with Thames Gateway and the Olympic site. Although I lived in the City, in the Barbican, for nearly 17 years, and much as I enjoyed my time there, I recognise that the number of residents represents a fraction of the Citys value to the rest of the country compared with its financial services.
My hon. Friend will be pleased with amendments Nos. 18 to 20, because they are our attempt to define strategic. We want to see such a definition in the Bill rather than in statutory instruments. An application should be regarded as strategic if it has an effect beyond the local planning authority, if it has an effect on the special development plan and if there are sound reasons for it. We believe that the City is a special case and that unless a very large building is proposed, as set out in our amendment on floor space and height of storeys, or the site is adjacent to the River Thames, which we think should be protected, an application should not be considered strategic. We therefore agree with amendments Nos. 28 to 30 tabled by my hon. Friend, and amendment No. 31 tabled by the Liberal Democrats, which, in essence, says much the same.
It is crucial for the good order of planning in London that everybody knows exactly when the Mayor can and cannot intervene and what is and is not strategic. After all, this goes back to the original thinking behind the Mayor and the assembly, which included the fact that the Mayor should be involved only in strategic issues. Too many of his interventions have not been of a strategic nature.
I shall now deal with the amendments to clause 31. I apologise for the fact that there are multiple references to section 6A. Not having been involved in tabling the amendments, I suspect that that is for a technical, drafting reason. The amendments try to set parameters for the Mayors powers. Obviously, we want as many of our amendments made as possible, and we recognise that if they are made there will be a numbering change. I shall take them one by one.
Amendment No. 21 tries to ensure that if a borough is achieving its housing target there will be no need for the Mayor to call in a planning application. On many occasions the Mayor has indicated an interest in a housing application on the ground that he thinks that there is not sufficient affordable housing or that the borough is not building enough houses. We say that there is no need for the Mayor to intervene if a borough is achieving its target. That would leave the power in the hands of the borough to continue to decide on its future development in line with the wishes of those who elect the councillors. One of the key
points behind all these amendments is that it is councils that are responsible to the electors and that know their community best.
Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): Does the hon. Lady agree that if a council that is meeting its affordable housing targets has to meet an additional housing requirement, that puts a stress on the other services that it provides? We have seen that in my borough. As the Mayor does not have to fund that additional support and provision, it is irresponsible to expect him to take responsibility for making that decision.
Mrs. Lait: I could not agree more. That is a concern expressed to us by many London councils. I am sure that any London Member of Parliament knows the pressure that council services are under at present. There are faults in the funding formula, we have a very mobile population and there is pressure on councils to pick up the overrun costs in the NHS. I do not think that any of us are unaware of the hon. Ladys point. We can easily envisage further problems being wished on us by a Mayor who takes a different view from local people as to the future development of their borough.
On amendment No. 22, I am sure that all Members of Parliament who have taken up any planning issue, and certainly those in London, are aware of repeat applications from people looking to develop. An elderly gentleman in my constituency is having to fight off his fourth or fifth application for one site. The Minister gave me a very useful answer to a parliamentary question that he has been able to wave under the noses of various people, and a few spines have been stiffened.
We are well aware that the large developments that are likely to be called in are also those where the applicant could apply directly to the Mayor for the application to be called in. The amendment proposes that there should not be the same opportunities for an applicant to go to the Mayor, and it would keep the decision at a local level. We tabled the amendment because the Bill is silent on the whole issue, but I am sure that most Members from London constituencies will have had problems with repeat applications and will know of applicants who would dearly love to go straight to the planning inspectorate and bypass the local authority.
Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 again relate to the meaning of strategic. They define floorspace and height of buildings, and they, too, include an explicit exception for buildings close to the river. Finally, I come to amendments Nos. 5 to 7, which are important. Amendment No. 5 is aboutwell, let me deal with amendments Nos. 6 and 7.
Amendment No. 5 does indeed deal with enforcement; I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), and I am sure that he will be able to expatiate on the
subject at much greater length than I can. The amendment proposes that functions in relation to the enforcement of planning control be provided for, and amendments Nos. 6 and 7 deal with section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. As everybody will know, section 106 is the basis on which local councils have been able to extract some value for their local communities from planning applications, in terms of doctors surgeries, roads, and schools. We have all experienced the benefits.
The Bill proposes that the Mayor should be able to dispose of section 106 agreements, but with the best will in the world we should just think about some of the Mayors pet projects, including his proposal on the gateways to London. The word hubris comes to mind when I think of that project, but some section 106 money might even be spent on that. Conservative Members do not wish the Mayor to get any control over section 106 money. If there is such a thing as a reward for local communities that face the pressures that increased housing could put on their services, it is that money, which is a way of dealing with those extra pressures and putting something back into the community. We do not wish the Mayor to be able to take it away from the community and dispose of it as he wishes, and that is why we have tabled amendments Nos. 6 and 7.
Mr. Raynsford: I intend to address the topic of the specific threshold for mayoral intervention in planning powers. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning will recall, I raised that issue on Second Reading. I expressed support, in principle, for the Mayor being able to direct that approval be given in appropriate cases, in which the development is of strategic significance, and is in conformity with the London plan. I argued that it was slightly anomalous for the Mayor to have a negative power to refuse proposals that were not in conformity with the London plan, but to be unable to require approval of a scheme that was in conformity with the London plan.
I argued the case for such a power, but I also expressed real concern about the thresholds that would be used to determine whether the Mayor would have that intervention power. I did so primarily from fear of what I described as mission creepthat is, the potential for such powers to be used far more extensively than might originally have been envisaged, in order to ensure the integrity of the London plan. However, I argued that we should ensure that the Mayor is able to direct, in appropriate cases, that an authority should not reject a strategically significant development that is in conformity with the London plan.
The worry about mission creep led me to say that I would want to look closely at the statutory instrument that would define the concept of strategic, and my hon. Friend the Minister undertook to make that order available by the time that the Bill reached Committee. It was delayed a little, but the draft order is now available, and we have had sight of it, but I am far from reassured; in fact, my concerns have been greatly heightened.
I have two major concerns. The first is that I believe that the statutory instrument confuses size with strategic. There is an assumption that anything above a certain size threshold is automatically strategic. Having looked at those size thresholds, it is perfectly clear to me that they would embrace a number of development sites in my constituencyand therefore sites in other parts of Londonthat are unquestionably of local, not strategic, significance. There has been a serious failure to consider what represents a strategic development. In my view, strategic refers to a development that is of significance more widely than in the borough in which it is situated. Its impact must be felt more widely than in one borough, and it must be likely to have a significant impact on the whole of London.
Justine Greening: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that an overlying problem is that boroughs often want to undertake regeneration projects that involve shopping centres or other buildings that will help to regenerate local economies? Such projects may be close together, but should the Mayor have the power to decide that only one should go ahead if he thinks that if both went ahead one might not be successful? It should be up to local authorities to come up with good plans that match, and it should not be for the Mayor to interfere with those plans.
Mr. Raynsford: I agree that local authorities should be in the driving seat when it comes to local regeneration schemes, but certain very large regeneration schemes could well have a significance that is felt more widely than in the borough. In circumstances in which the developments significance is truly London-wide, or when a development is significant to more than one borough, I would be perfectly prepared to grant that the Mayor should have a power to intervene, in appropriate circumstances. However, I would not be happy with a definition that would make it possible for the Mayor to use the power in relation to developments that are not strategic or, given the size criteria that are to be adopted, are not even very large.
the building is more than 25 metres high and is adjacent to the River Thames.
My constituency has a long Thames frontage, running all the way from Deptford to Thamesmead, and it has been subject to many developments. I cannot think of a single one in which a building of more than 25 m is not proposed, because of the strategic nature of the site, in the sense that it is on the river. I stress that strategic relates to the river; I do not mean that the site is strategic as far as London is concerned. The views across the river to Canary Wharf are such that it would be surprising if two or three-storey terraced, or semi-detached, properties were proposed. Almost invariably in such development proposals, there is at least one significant building that is taller than 25 m, but if the criteria as set out in the order were agreed, every single proposal would contain developments of that size. The developers would automatically put one
in to ensure that the development met the criteria that allowed the Mayor to intervene, because the Mayor is known to be sympathetic to tall buildings, whereas not all boroughs are.
I say to the Minister that the criteria are a perverse incentive that will result in particular development decisions being distorted by developers, who will seek to get their development into the size thresholds that allow the Mayor to call in the application. That is very bad policy making indeed.
Susan Kramer: I have not seen the details of the order, but in the borough of Richmond upon Thames developments by the river are low and open because of nearby features such as Kew gardens. Could not the Mayor force through a developers application for a tall building that was entirely out of keeping with Richmond palace, Kew gardens, and the open nature of that stretch of the river?
Mr. Raynsford: I shall not look at hypothetical examples or areas with which I am not familiar. I know the Thames reasonably well, but I do not know the full circumstances in the hon. Ladys constituency. However, in my own patch, the overwhelming majority of riverside developments already include buildings that are over the threshold, so there is an incentive for developers, as the hon. Lady suggested, to ensure that their buildings meet the threshold.
Tom Brake: Does the right hon. Gentleman think that his concerns about the order are addressed by the amendments tabled by the official Opposition and by the Liberal Democrats, including amendment No. 18, which deals with applications that
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