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and that

Mr. Raynsford: I shall come on to ways of addressing the problem, but the hon. Gentleman has suggested part of the solution. First, however, I wish to explain why the draft order is fundamentally flawed and should not be pursued in its present form.

Paragraph 1(a) of category 3A deals with development which is likely to

In our area, we have several unsatisfactory council estates dating back to the 1960s and ’70s that are being cleared and replaced. A significant number of them would fall within the criteria, particularly the Ferrier estate in Kidbrooke, the Connaught estate in Woolwich, the Morris Walk estate in Woolwich and others. We are not talking about one or two large developments of London-wide significance but about a number of cases in a particular area that are only of local significance. Ironically, as part of the council’s regeneration policy, some of those estates will be replaced by developments containing more properties than the number removed. However, those properties are part of a mixed development, so there will no
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longer be a mono-tenure estate of council housing but a development in which people have opportunities to buy as well as to rent.

Mr. Slaughter: In making that point, my right hon. Friend has partly demolished his argument. There is a similar situation on the South Acton estate in my constituency, which is a large estate subject to demolition. A doubling of housing density and a complete change of tenure have been proposed. Although it is contained entirely within Acton, that issue could be used to attack the London housing strategy for which the Mayor is responsible. It is a good example of something that is local having strategic importance.

Mr. Raynsford: There is absolutely no reason why that should apply, because the question of the tenure mix has been addressed. The provisions of the London plan set out criteria on the mix of affordable and social housing in developments that boroughs are expected to follow. The Mayor has perfectly adequate powers to exercise his influence in that respect, but I am arguing that such developments, certainly in the London borough of Greenwich, are of local significance and not of London-wide or strategic significance. There would be a serious breach of the principle that the Mayor should have strategic powers if the statutory instrument were introduced in its present form, but local service delivery should rest with the boroughs. I stressed in our earlier debate on waste the importance of maintaining the distinction between a strategic role for the Mayor and a local role for boroughs, and I emphasise that distinction again.

Why was that formulation used for the statutory instrument? I think that the answer is idleness. That may appear to be a perverse comment, but the measure is based almost entirely on the existing order, which allows the Mayor to refuse permission in certain cases. A moment ago, I discussed the example of a building that is more than 25 m high and is adjacent to the river. A developer who is worried that their application will be refused will not submit a proposal that falls within the criteria, as it would be much more unlikely to receive permission. Conversely, if the Mayor has a positive power to intervene, there is a perverse incentive to increase the height of developments. The officials who drafted the proposal have taken the easy course of using existing powers, without considering the contradictions raised by different uses. They simply propose that the existing definition should be extended to cases where the Mayor has the power to require approval.

The measure is not appropriate, and it requires rethinking. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to take another look at it, because if the criteria were adopted there is no question but that the problem of mission creep will arise, as I have suggested. We will break the fundamental principle, on which the GLA legislation was based, that the Mayor should have a strategic role, and should not have powers to trample all over the boroughs in matters subject to local decision.

That leads me on to the way in which the statutory instrument should be changed. I hesitate to raise the issue, because it is not the subject of the Bill, and I do not wish to be called to order. However, it is only right that I should give my thoughts on the right way forward.
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First, to pick up the point made by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), there should be an attempt to define strategic impact as an effect covering an area wider than one particular borough. It should include, too, issues of genuine strategic impact, and should not simply be a matter of scale.

Secondly, the criteria in the draft statutory instrument must be reconsidered with a view to catching only large developments that have a big impact. “Large” can be strategic, but it is not necessarily strategic, and we must distinguish between the two. A definition of “strategic” and a revision of the criteria to raise the threshold and avoid the circumstances that I have described are therefore essential, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can provide the House with an undertaking to look at the criteria again. If so, I would be happy to support the statutory instrument as and when it is introduced, but it must achieve the objective that the Government want to achieve, and give the Mayor an appropriate power of intervention to match the existing negative power. He should exercise that power in cases where it is justified to do so, because the development has a strategic impact across London. If that objective is met, I, for one, will be entirely happy, but I am afraid that I could not possibly support the statutory instrument in its draft form.

Tom Brake: I do not know whether it is possible to have two cruxes of the matter but, if so, we have come to the second one: planning. We debated the first earlier, before we divided on new clause 8 and the Mayor’s budget.

I cannot do better than the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford)—who is the architect of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 and, indeed, had ministerial responsibility for London—in setting out concerns about the planning aspects of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will deal with the point about whether the order was simply a cut and paste exercise, or perhaps a search and replace one, which officials are beginning to regret following such trenchant criticism from the right hon. Gentleman, who knows better than anyone in the House the implications of the Government’s proposals.

In Committee, various planning matters were debated, including planning applications that give rise to strategic issues, thresholds, planning obligations and the issue of enforcement. Members will know that planning is the most controversial local issue in many, if not all, constituencies. In my own patch, current concerns include back-garden development—and I urge the Minister to change the classification of brownfield sites to exclude back gardens—and a proposal for a new secondary school in the borough. The choice of the site for that school is a hugely controversial issue locally, with the local authority having identified three sites: the existing site, an allotment site and the site of an NHS facility that is soon to be vacated.

8 pm

Planning issues are highly controversial. Members can imagine how much more so they will become if the Mayor starts to get involved in matters that are not of a strategic nature. We already have many examples of
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that. I have previously quoted the example of the Mayor getting involved in a regeneration project in my constituency whereby 150 to 200 flats were to be rebuilt. His intervention in connection with the provision of cycle facilities stalled the project for nine months. If he can already do that under the current arrangements, we can only imagine how much more tempted he will be to get involved if the proposals go through.

New clause 9 seeks to ensure open planning meetings. In her response, the Minister may say that it is not appropriate for a single person executive to hold open planning meetings, but we can argue that it is even more appropriate for a single person executive to do that. I understand that in Lewisham and Watford, where there are executive mayors, they do indeed hold development control committee meetings that those of us with a local council background would understand.

Mr. Pelling: Although I recognise that the current Mayor is not the fount of all sagacity, is it not important to note that he is keen to be able to sit in public and act in a transparent fashion, partly because of the risks of placing so much power in the hands of one elected official?

Tom Brake: Indeed. The Mayor will no doubt be grateful for the amendment tabled by the Conservatives, which we will support tonight. It may pre-empt a scenario described to me by my noble Friend Baroness Hamwee, who will lead on these matters in another place—the “here’s what came to me in the shower this morning” scenario, where the present or future Mayor dreams something up from we know not where, which has not been subject to any scrutiny.

I understand that the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor consult advisers, but what goes on in those meetings we do not know. A Liberal Democrat member of the GLA does not know what discussions take place in those meetings and what decisions are made. I do not know whether Members present who also serve on the GLA have a better understanding of what goes on in the meetings between the Mayor, his advisers and other interested parties. We would like to see that out in the open and fully documented, in the way that would be the norm for a local authority.

Robert Neill: The hon. Gentleman is right. He will know that the London Assembly’s planning scrutiny committee, of which I was for a time the chair and Baroness Hamwee the deputy chair, produced a report criticising the Mayor’s behaviour on those very matters. Does he agree that although the Mayor has, in response to questions in the Assembly, rather belatedly conceded that he would hold planning meetings in public if he got the positive power to do so, it is not satisfactory for that to depend purely on the assurance of one individual, who might change after an election, and that it is crucial that a safeguard is written into the Bill to ensure that planning meetings are held in public? That should not be dependent on the Mayor’s personal concession. It should be in the primary legislation.

Tom Brake: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful intervention underlining the fact that whatever commitment is given by the present Mayor, a future Mayor could renege on it. I hope that whether they are given the powers or not, current and future Mayors will
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welcome more openness in the way that matters are handled, and not rely on future legislation to change the way in which they operate.

Amendment No. 4 lists the people who will be given an opportunity to appear in front of the Mayor before an application of strategic importance is determined by him. We support that, with one caveat. Perhaps inadvertently, paragraph (c) gives special status to constituency members of the GLA. We would want all GLA members to have the same degree of responsibility and access to the Mayor and to appear when matters of strategic importance are debated.

We are happy to support the official Opposition on amendment No. 5, which deletes the provision for the Mayor to carry out planning enforcement. We are a little less certain about amendment No. 18, which seeks to give the City special status in the handling of its applications. The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich pointed out that special circumstances apply in all boroughs, so it is not obvious to me why the City should have special attention. However, as other aspects of the amendment are in keeping with our views, we will support it.

The Liberal Democrat amendment No. 31, which the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) kindly described as very similar to one of the Conservative amendments, was plagiarised and is identical. There are no differences, except that we lopped off a few of the provisions to sharpen the focus on planning applications of potential strategic importance. I do not see a need to reinvent the wheel if it functions effectively. As we have seen, there is substantial co-operation between Opposition Members displaying Liberal Democrat tendencies.

We fully support this group of amendments. They underline the need for a much more open planning process and a much tighter definition in the Bill of applications of potential strategic importance. Even if the Minister is not inclined to respond to the representations that the official Opposition and I have made, I hope she will listen to the former Minister for London, the architect of the Greater London Authority Act 1999, who knows the implications of the Government’s proposals. I hope she will take on board his concerns, as well as ours.

Mr. Slaughter: I fear that those in the Chamber have become the victims of group hypnosis, which has led them to believe that the Bill removes planning powers from local authorities and gives them wholesale to the Mayor of London. That is a travesty. It seems to have slightly affected my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), as well as the more susceptible Opposition Members. [Interruption.] I have known the Mayor of London for many years, and there is nothing of which I would not suspect him, but I am referring to what appears in black and white in the Bill.

Planning powers relate to the London plan, not to the individual development plans of the boroughs. It seems entirely logical that the Mayor should have a call-in power and should be able to enforce the London plan, otherwise it is a bogus and almost worthless document.


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Simon Hughes: Things are not quite as simple as that, as the hon. Gentleman will realise if he reflects carefully. At this very minute, the Mayor has made an objection to the final draft of the Southwark unitary development plan, even though it has gone through all its processes, in order to try to influence it in a way that is against all the local views. Although he will argue that it is a London plan justification, it has a unitary development plan implication.

Mr. Slaughter: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman—but my advice to him would be not to worry. Obviously I am not an expert on Southwark, but I am an expert on Hammersmith and Fulham, and I can say that it has decided to ignore its unitary development plan entirely at local level, giving the reason that it is entirely out of date—and as the plan is nearly two years old, I suppose that it might well say that. As a result, on housing and planning policies generally, exactly the opposite of what is said in the UDP is being done. Local boroughs have a great deal of leeway in that respect. The essence of the point remains: that what is guiding the Mayor is the London plan. Yes, there will be some conflicts, and they can be resolved, but we are still talking about matters of a strategic nature.

One of the most controversial parts of the draft order will possibly be the proviso, which mirrors what was in previous policy, that the Mayor can intervene on developments larger than 500 units of residential accommodation. That must be right. I doubt that there could be such a development in London that would not have some strategic impact.

Simon Hughes: In my borough, two big housing redevelopments are on the drawing board—one at Elephant and Castle, on the Heygate estate, and one slightly further south on the Aylesbury estate. They are both entirely contained within the borough boundary and are replacements of old housing stock by a better development. They have a key Southwark strategic impact, but certainly one, and probably both, have no major London strategic impact, although they comprise at least 1,000 dwellings each.

Mr. Slaughter: The hon. Gentleman may be falling into the same error that he accused me of a few moments ago. Often what appears to be a like-for-like replacement involves a significant change to the type, quality or tenure of the accommodation being provided. We are all now familiar, because of their notoriety, with the way in which Conservative local authorities in London, in particular, have endeavoured over the years to build the minimum amount of social affordable housing, principally through the abuse of large developments, and we know what they have allowed large developers to get away with. Those developments may be wholly within one borough—some of those in outer London are very large constructs covering very large areas—but may nevertheless have a strategic impact across the whole of London. I am not arguing for a lower figure than 500, which seems in all ways appropriate.

Justine Greening: With the greatest respect, the hon. Gentleman did not deal with the previous point that was made. I have Europe’s largest council estate in my constituency—the Alton estate in Roehampton. Any
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regeneration that happens on that estate will necessarily be large, purely because of the estate’s size. It is therefore unacceptable for him to say that anything over 500 units is strategic by definition. That is not a workable proposition in reality.

Mr. Slaughter: The hon. Lady represents a constituency in the borough of Wandsworth, which possibly has the worst housing record in London, and where, in the last year for which figures are available, only nine affordable rented homes were built, and total output in terms of affordable housing is running at about 21 per cent. That is a shocking record. She illustrates the point that I am trying to make. Unless the Mayor has the power to intervene on large schemes, the affordable housing targets that he is rightly seeking to ensure are met across London will not be met.

Justine Greening: We have already started a consultation on the regeneration of the Alton estate. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that if the people there have a particular overall viewpoint about how they feel it should be regenerated, and that does not correspond with what the Mayor happens to want, now or in future, he should overrule local people on that estate, who know it better than he ever will?

8.15 pm

Mr. Slaughter: With respect to the hon. Lady, I was talking about the London borough of Wandsworth, not about people on the Alton estate, who no doubt get the level of care for which Wandsworth council is notorious. However, I am glad that she intervened, because she allows me to correct the mistake that I made when I credited Wandsworth with building 21 per cent. affordable housing over the past three years—in fact, the figure is 12 per cent. That is a truly shocking record on the part of her Conservative authority, and I am surprised that she wishes to draw attention to it.

As far as I am aware, nobody has disputed that the overwhelming majority—about 99 per cent.—of planning decisions will remain with the boroughs. The Bill is about strategic importance—not only in housing, although that is a key area at the moment because of the neglect by certain boroughs. That is what is being lost in this debate. There is a clever attempt by the Opposition parties to portray this as a power grab by the Mayor, in relation to a Bill that should be relatively uncontroversial, given that purportedly all main parties support the success of the GLA and the Mayor since they were introduced by a Labour Government. This is an attempt to smear part of the Bill with the idea that this is a power grab from the boroughs by the Mayor.

On transparent decision making, some Members have conceded that the Mayor has now set out a clear chain of decision making that will be transparent and open to scrutiny. I remind Opposition Members that several boroughs, which are all Conservative—Hammersmith, Kensington, Westminster—do not allow representations to be made. Only an hour ago, I was talking to a social housing developer who last week was refused permission to put forward representations at a Hammersmith planning committee. It is an act of pure hypocrisy for the Opposition parties to accuse the Mayor of a lack of transparency when the practices that are being followed in some of the leading Conservative boroughs in London are far less democratic and open.


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Mr. Mark Field: I will concentrate my remarks on the two amendments in my name—amendments Nos. 28 and 29—which would affect the City of London Corporation. They would put the area covered by the City of London in the same position as the areas covered by the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation and the Olympic Delivery Authority, as land exempted from the Mayor’s new powers of intervention. The areas to be covered by Thames Gateway and the Olympics are in a sense very special areas, but their general features are probably much more characteristic of London as a whole than is the City of London.

In Committee the Minister said that the land within the Thames Gateway and the ODA area were not excluded because there is no need to include them. Later, she said:


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