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whereas the policies to be dealt with by the Mayor

On those grounds there would seem to be good grounds to exempt the area covered by the City of London as well.

The City is certainly a very specific and atypical area, and the policies applied there are not the same as in the rest of London. [Interruption.] I am slightly worried as I see in his place the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), who, together with the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), has fought various battles about the electoral system that takes place within the City of London.

There are, of course, other fundamental differences. For example, the existing order under the mayoral involvement is triggered on planning applications that make different height and size requirements in the City as against Greater London as a whole. It is very difficult to see how the areas covered by the Olympics and the Thames Gateway would therefore be more distinctive. It is not as though the Mayor does not already have some involvement. The City’s own planning regime has to be in general conformity with mayoral policies under existing legislation. Neither does the fact that the Mayor has taken on a role in supporting the Olympics and the Thames Gateway make the argument for treating them differently from the City.

If a role as a cheerleader has ruled him out from considering applications, the Mayor would equally be disbarred from deciding applications in the City of London, as many of them concern tall buildings, as the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) pointed out in his powerful contribution earlier. That is a policy that the Mayor has said very firmly that he supports. I hope that the Minister will reflect on the case for the area of the City of London to be treated differently from the other areas to which we have referred—and therefore exempted.

I would like to speak briefly to amendment No. 29. In July 2005, the Mayor produced for the consultation of the London assembly draft alterations to the London plan, which included a 10-year target for the City of some 1,700 units—in other words, roughly 170 units a year. In October that year, he published further
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alterations to the London plan, which included a lower target of 90 a year. The alterations were then subject to public consultation and, after an examination in public, were finally adopted as recently as December 2006.

In the 18 months between the publication and adoption, the City argued strenuously that the figure of 170 units a year anticipated by the Mayor would actually be too high. With a 10-year cycle and assuming an average two-person household, it would have the effect of increasing the City’s resident population by about 3,000 people—in fact, by more than a third in that 10-year cycle. I have to say that the City’s population has been reduced year on year since the very first census of 1801—with the exception of the last 10 years, when it started very gradually to move up again. None the less, increasing it by a third over a decade would, in my view, be wholly unrealistic. As a result of sensible negotiation the figure was reduced to some 90 units a year, and the fact that it was accepted demonstrates that the original figure was rather too high. I hope that, under amendment No. 29, an application will not be regarded as being “of potential strategic importance” simply because it fails to comply with any policies in the development plans.

I would like to associate myself with the earlier comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait). She made her case firmly, explaining why we believe that this is a step too far and would like to avoid having strategic planning powers passed on to the Mayor, particularly when the definition of “strategic” has been left so open.

Robert Neill: I entirely endorse the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field). I hope that he will appreciate why I will not follow through his points specifically, but they were well made and they stand very much on their own.

The debate operates at two levels. First, there is an argument of principle and philosophy as to whether the Mayor should have positive planning powers. There is a disagreement between the two sides of the House about that. We have rehearsed the arguments at some length and I do not intend to go into further detail. I believe that the Government are, for all the reasons that have been rehearsed in the past, making an error, but I want to move on to the second level of the debate.

If we go down that route, it is absolutely crucial to do so with care in ways that are workable and also to maintain public confidence. When it comes to giving the Mayor those powers, there is the strong principal objection of remoteness, but there is also the question of confidence, which links the two levels. Concentrating planning powers in a one-man elected Executive has to be handled carefully because of questions of remoteness and probity.

I hasten to add that to say that is to cast no aspersion at all on the current incumbent of the office; it is a fact of life that extra care has to be taken. That is why, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) said, it is crucial to write directly into the Bill the transparency in the process of handling planning applications. I explained why that was
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important when I intervened on the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), but I will not waste time in restating that at length. The key test is that if the public are to have any confidence in the process, they must be sure that it cannot be changed at the whim of any individual Mayor. There must be clarity and certainty about how to go through the process.

That same principle applies to the conflict resolution procedure, as highlighted by many leading academics, such as Tony Travers, who has been quoted a number of times both in Committee and on Second Reading. He understands a great deal about this matter and he rightly highlighted the issue of conflict between the two tiers as something going right back to the days of the Greater London Council. It was one of the things that has undermined the good working of London governance. Planning is the one area above all others where there is a risk of conflict, so spelling out precisely how it is to be resolved is crucial.

That leads, in turn, to the third strand, which is the question of the definition of “strategic”—the most likely area in which conflict will arise. I have always enjoyed my sparring in various venues with the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford). I particularly appreciated his contribution tonight. It is significant that there have been only two contributions from the Government Back Benches. One, at any rate, really added something to this debate. I say nothing of the other. The fact is that, even though I disagree with him at times, the right hon. Gentleman is widely respected on both sides of the House as someone who understands London government and its workings. I agree in broad measure with his successor’s tribute to him earlier.

Let me say in all sincerity that if the Government take anything away from this debate, they should take the comments of the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich about the definition of “strategic”. Even if they reject everything that my hon. Friends and I have proposed, I hope that they will take that on board. It was as effective a forensic demolition of a statutory instrument as I have ever encountered—a hugely powerful and immensely persuasive piece of work. The right hon. Gentleman has rightly ripped a flawed statutory instrument apart, and it would be no shame on the Government—it would be a proper part of our process—if they said that they would go away and change that statutory instrument, even if they did nothing else that has been urged upon them. If we are going to have this system, we must make sure that it works.

For whatever reason, the current statutory instrument will not deliver the purpose, nor will it achieve the Minister’s objective. I take her at her word, as she said in Committee that it was her desire and intention that only a small handful of cases should be considered by the Mayor. For all the reasons adequately and eloquently advanced by the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich, the current draft order will not achieve that. The mission creep point is all the more important if we are to achieve the Minister’s own desired and stated objective. I cannot emphasise that too strongly.

The other elements of mission creep are set out in our endeavours to define some parameters. We have
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done that, but it is always a problem when someone of the extraordinary mental agility of my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) is not here, because he can carry these things in his brain, while lesser mortals like some of my hon. Friends and me have to work it out on a piece of paper. We sought to construct a number of alternatives that would set out a scheme to define in a workable fashion what was meant by “strategic”. That could also be done by order, but we want to press our argument that the definition should be included in the Bill. The issue is so fundamental, and the risk of conflict so great, that at least the parameters of what “strategic” means should be in the Bill.

8.30 pm

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham dealt with many of the early new clauses and amendments, and I shall not repeat her arguments. I want to pick up on the last three of the amendments in the group, however—amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 7. Amendment No. 5 deals with enforcement. This relates to an odd provision in the Bill, which runs the risk of damaging the architecture to which the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich referred, because this is an area in which the Mayor could become involved in service delivery.

The Bill, as drafted, will enable a statutory instrument to make provision for the Mayor to undertake planning enforcement. I see absolutely no need for that, even if we buy the basic principle of the Government’s argument. Even if it were thought appropriate for the Mayor to have the power to call in and decide on certain applications, there is no reason why he should also be responsible for the planning enforcement that would follow. It is perfectly logical that, as a strategic authority, he should determine such questions, but the service delivery element—the planning enforcement—should be carried out by the London borough in which the development would be situated.

I do not relish the idea of any Mayor of London having a planning enforcement division with a lot of enforcement officers. That is clearly undesirable, and a recipe for bureaucracy. The Government would be sensible to think again about this provision, without damaging the overall scheme of the Bill. It seems anomalous that it should be there.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 touch on the other hugely sensitive issues of planning gain and section 106 agreements, which are often the elephant in the corner in these discussions. It is inconsistent with a devolutionary argument to say that because a development is classed as strategic, the Mayor should be able to appropriate the planning gain from it. There has been a lot of controversy in the history of planning gain and section 106 agreements. Some of us are old enough to remember section 51 agreements. I see the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich smiling in mutual recollection of such distant times—

Mr. Raynsford: A bygone era.

Robert Neill: Indeed. The fact is that these arrangements have been around for a long time, as have the discussions about them. Of course there is a legitimate argument for ensuring that there is a
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community benefit from any development. In the case of large-scale developments, some of that will relate to matters that could be characterised as strategic. However, other elements of the planning gain have always been recognised—we might as well be honest about this—as being something put back into the local community to make a development acceptable, when without it, it might not be acceptable. There is an element of trade-off involved, as there frequently is in planning matters. The fact that the community can get something back from a development is sometimes important in ensuring that the development is accepted and can be linked effectively in with the community. Even years ago, such arrangements were hinting at a move towards what would be known in modern parlance as a more sustainable form of community.

It is hugely important that the local community in which a development takes place has the assurance that it will get some of the planning gain back, however it is characterised. Effectively regionalising the planning gain by passing it over to the Mayor is not the way to do that. The only thing that would be worse is the idea, which has sometimes been floated, of establishing a national planning gain supplement, so that the Treasury could nationalise it and take it over. I am sure that the Minister would not be privy to the thinking of Treasury Ministers on that matter, but such a proposal would be of even greater concern to us. I do not want to set a precedent in London for such a move by enabling the Mayor to seize all the planning gain.

It might be argued that because of their strategic size, some developments will have implications for strategic infrastructure, in which the Mayor has an interest. I accept that, but the present procedures already enable Transport for London, for example, to be a statutory consultee in relation to such projects. TFL has every reason, and every ability, to get its demands heard in such negotiations.

I do not have a problem with the Mayor and his agencies taking part in the negotiations on what happens to the planning gain. I object, however, to their being the owners of the planning gain in such cases. I would far rather have the process driven by the boroughs, for the local people, and the Mayor could negotiate the arrangements and get out a chunk of what he wanted. That would be more in accordance with our localist tradition, and much more likely to command support.

The thought that a large-scale development could be imposed on a community against its will by the Mayor and that all the planning gain could then be taken by the Mayor, and spent not in that borough at all but somewhere else, is hardly likely to engender confidence in the planning system in London. It is potentially another one of those perverse incentives that were referred to earlier in the debate, whereby loosely drafted legislation can have damaging consequences that were not foreseen.

Mr. Mark Field: Does my hon. Friend accept that there is already a precedent for that very problem in relation to the congestion charge? The raison d’être of the congestion charge in so far as it ever makes any money, is that that money will be utilised for a very small area—for the rest of London, with its transport policies. There is little doubt that if the strategic policy
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goes ahead, the planning gain will be used on a London-wide basis, and therefore have little nexus with the community involved.

Robert Neill: My hon. Friend makes a fair and valid point. A lot of us have seen the Mayor’s behaviour in areas other than planning, and that fills us with some concern about the way in which he would exercise any enhanced planning powers.

Mrs. Villiers: Does my hon. Friend agree with my constituents, who are concerned because there is already pressure on infrastructure through population increase, and in many cases, over-dense development? If the section 106 money is taken away and not spent in the local area, that will increase the pressure exponentially.

Robert Neill: That is absolutely right; that is why I am concerned. It is regrettable that the discussion about section 106 comes towards the end of a time-limited debate, because it is a hugely important issue and probably deserves more time on its own. That is another reason why we should think again about this matter, and why I hope that we will press the amendment. There are ways in which we can make sensible and constructive use of planning gain. There is no doubt about that. There are ways in which the strategic authority can have a legitimate role, but we believe that the current proposal in the Bill is altogether too blunt to achieve that, and that our amendment provides a much more coherent way forward.

Justine Greening: I have a real sense of déj vu, having been present at the Second Reading debate, when many of the same concerns, about this part of the Bill in particular, were mentioned. Another thing that has contributed to my sense of déj vu is how few Members on the Government Benches have spoken in favour of the legislation. That balance of opinion should be reflected in the Government’s actions. They should take on board some of the amendments that have been tabled this evening.

I agreed with a lot of what the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) said. He eloquently set out some of the pitfalls that the Bill and the statutory instrument that underpins it might present to local residents if the provisions are passed in their current form. There is no doubt that, out of all the processes that happen at a local level, planning is the one that people understand and will engage with. Many of us, as constituency MPs, will have had experience of planning applications, often from mobile phone operators, that are subsequently overturned by the planning inspectorate. They are the applications that annoy local people most. There is plenty of evidence that when local decision making is overridden by a higher Government body, that is not taken well. We need to be careful that we do not remove decision-making powers from local boroughs unnecessarily.

Ultimately, we want strategic projects and regeneration to be successful and often the input of local residents into the plans is the reason why they are successful. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) noted, whoever the
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Mayor is, it is almost impossible that they will have that level of local knowledge and that sense of what will work in the local community. They will never have quite the same level of local knowledge as local people and councillors do. The unwitting impact of the Bill and the statutory instrument could be that strategic projects and regeneration are less successful.

The issue is important to me as a constituency MP, because I have at least two big regeneration projects taking place in my constituency. The first is in Roehampton, on the Alton estate, which is the most deprived part of my constituency, and the second is in the middle of Wandsworth, which cuts across all three constituencies in the borough—Battersea and Tooting, as well as Putney. I think that all local people want to be part of those regeneration projects. They want their views heard on how such projects should be tailored to local needs. It concerns me that the Government still intend to push forward with legislation that will fundamentally take away the ability of local people to have their voice heard on some of most important planning projects that residents in the area are likely to see in their lifetime. I shall leave it at that.

When the Minister for Housing and Planning responds to the overwhelming concerns of Members who are present, I hope that she will have something constructive to say, that she will give some assurances and, ideally, that she will take on board the proposals tabled by Conservative Members.

Simon Hughes: I shall be brief, but I have exactly the same strength of view as has been expressed by many on the Opposition Benches and by the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford).

As my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) made clear, the objection is to clause 31 as drafted. It gives a new power, which we have not had before, to allow an application made to the local planning authority to be the subject of a direction by the Mayor that he will be the planning authority—he will take that on. The criteria are defined in general terms in the Bill. One of the qualifications is that the application has to be

We are then meant to look at the secondary legislation, which is in draft, as the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich and others have mentioned, to see how that is defined. That is the thin end of a very dangerous wedge.

I believe that many of us will have received a letter from the Mayor in advance of this debate. It is extremely disingenuous in certain respects, as hon. Members would expect. It states:

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