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Boroughs will still continue to determine over 99 per cent. of all applications.
That may be true, but if anyone were to think that it refers to 99 per cent. of all their housing or of all the space taken up, it would not be true. We are talking about mansard roof extensions being in the same league as the redevelopments of the Heygate estate, the Aylesbury estate, the Greenwich riverside and the St. Helier estate in Sutton or as a development along the riverside in Richmond or Kingston.
Contrary to some claims, there is considerable support for the planning changes. A recent Ipsos MORI poll showed that Londoners support the proposals for the Mayor to approve major planning applications. Sixty-four per cent. of those polled reported that they would support the Mayors involvement in applications for a new recycling plant to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill sites in London.
A huge 83 per cent. supported the Mayors target that 50 per cent. of all new homes should be affordable for people on low and moderate incomes.
Well, there is a surprise. Of course people want a high target on affordable housingI do for my constituency. I have always argued for a figure of 50 per cent. to apply in Southwark, as have my colleagues. As an aside, they were defeated during the previous administration, when we were the minority, by a Labour-Tory coalition that regrettably voted down a 50 per cent. proposal.
I shall reinforce the argument as to why the current proposals are not only flawed, but wrong. They undermine democracy and will, if the Government sustain them, in all likelihood, be defeated when the Bill goes to the other place. I am sure that those proposals will not get through because they offer a power to the Mayor to grab the decisions on matters that are not of strategic importance to London. I want to give two examples in that regard.
The first concerns a debate that is going on in my borough about whether, in a small development by Barratt Homes in Surrey docks, there should be a larger or smaller development. Barratt wanted a larger development, but the local authority said no. There was an appeal and the matter went to a public inquiry. The inspector said no, so it went to the Secretary of State, who said yes. Why has the Secretary of State said yes? Because that is the implication of what the Mayor wants; he wants that bit of Surrey docks to be designated as urban, not as suburban, even though it is woodland and is meant to be laid out in a suburban way. That is the reason why the Mayor is objecting to the unitary development plan. The development has no strategic importance for London. Southwark, which is doing well at meeting its housing targets and wants to do more, wishes to replace the big Heygate estate with new housing, including more social housing, and to replace the Aylesbury estate with a development involving at least as much social housing as at present, as well as other housing.
There is, of course, a debate about how to achieve the amount of housing that we need in London. There should be a dialogue and agreement between the Mayor and the local authority, and the local authority must then be free to decide where to put the housing and how to build it. It should be able to decide whether it wants a tall development, a big estate, or lots of little developments. Such decisions should be taken by local authorities, so it is not for the Mayor to say, You will have this great big development in the middle of your borough, whether or not you think it is appropriate.
There will be a huge danger if a development becomes strategic just because it is regarded as being biga development with more than 500 dwellings, to cite the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter). The two biggest developments in my borough are strategic for Southwark, but not for London. They are replacements for existing developments. They will involve more social housing, although sadly they cannot be made up of council housing in whole or part because the Government do not make such an option available. There is a great danger that if the Mayor and the Governmentif they are in cahootssuddenly decide to define something as strategic, that will determine the interpretation.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) and the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich, I have a huge amount of riverside in my constituency all the way from the Oxo tower to Deptford creek. It would be absolutely possible for a Mayor to say that every single development on that river is strategic. Of course, there is a site of huge strategic importance by Tower bridge and City hall on Potters Fieldsit is strategic because it involves a world heritage sitebut that is not the same as a little site in which a development could be squeezed down in Rotherhithe, Surrey docks, or the Deptford borders.
We are absolutely right to oppose these dangerous proposals. I am keen for the Liberal Democrat and Conservative amendments to be put to the vote. If they are defeated, I am as sure as anyone can be that this will not be the last that people will hear of the matter. I ask the Minister, in all seriousness, to back down. This is not local government, but a creep towards regional and central Government making decisions that should be taken by local councillors. Why will people stand for local elections and participate in the process if, at the end of the day, someone else takes the decisions?
Mrs. Villiers: The amendments have been tabled to address the fundamental flaw in the Bill: it takes powers away from local communities and the boroughs. The Bill gives the Mayor power over strategic developments, but the elasticity of the term strategic could give him significant new powers to overturn local decisions. The local community is much more likely than the Mayor to be able to respond to local concerns and to be aware of local problems regarding infrastructure. The enhanced powers that the Bill will give the Mayor over section 106 agreements could undermine the already limited capability of the section 106 system to address the necessary extra infrastructure that is needed to support developments.
People in my constituency are deeply worried about over-dense development, but the Bill will serve only to enhance the concerns of the people of Chipping Barnet, who feel strongly that over-development can significantly undermine the quality of life in our suburban areas. It is vital that we recognise the importance of the suburbs in our social fabric. They are not only extremely successful, but pleasant places in which to live. All hon. Members know that insensitive planning decisions can destroy communities and thus destroy the unique character of the suburbs and ensure that they are no longer places in which people want to
live. We are considering extremely important decisions that should be taken by local people after they have taken account of local concerns. Those people are best equipped to protect the suburbs, which, in Barnet and throughout our country, do much to make this country a good place in which to live.
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): I congratulate the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) on getting her head around the order extremely rapidly and for refraining from using any footballing metaphor, which was a relief to me at least. I also join her in wishing the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) a speedy recovery. I imagine that he, of all people, would suffer from not having his voice. He certainly ensured that debates in Committee were always amiable and cheery, and we have had a good debate today too.
Hon. Members have raised a series of issues and tabled a series of amendments on the planning measures that are part of the GLA Bill. In the limited time that remains, I will try to address as many of those as possible. I will begin by addressing some of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), and then deal with some of the points made about specific amendments by Opposition Members.
The approach set out in the draft order does not use size as the only test of strategic importance. It does set thresholds, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich is right that the thresholds are modelled around those for the negative powers. A policy test is also set out in paragraph 8 of the order to ensure that the development to which the application relates must be of such a nature or scale that there would be a significant impact on the implementation of the London plan.
The thresholds were modelled around the negative criteria because many of the stakeholders had asked for some simplicity and clarity in the operation of the process. In particular, London First, which represents major business development in the capital, argued for the same thresholds to apply for the negative and positive criteria, to ensure some simplicity and clarity for people making applications. We are not talking about increases in the number of cases that need to be referred to the Mayor, except on issues such as waste. We are, however, talking about giving the Mayor a positive power, not simply an anti-development power.
As for how the current criteria operate, until September last year about 3000.3 per cent.of the 90,000 applications were referred to the Mayor, and he used his power of direction in about three or 0.003 per cent. of those applications. Obviously, those are the largest of the applications, because that is exactly the specification in relation to strategic importance. We expect the Mayor to be similarly sparing in the use of the positive power, which is why we have set out proposals in the order. There are areas in which the negative criteria, applied in the same way as the positive criteria, do not work. That has been raised in discussions and consultation with stakeholders on the order, and particularly in relation to paragraph 3, I think, of the schedule. I have already asked officials to
look again at those matters, because, otherwise, there is a risk that there will be perverse incentives for developers and decision making in that area.
We need to recognise the difference between the way in which the thresholds and policy tests work. We are currently consulting on that, and we will consult formally on the final version of the order. We thought that it was important, however, to debate the order as part of the Bill.
In Committee, I said that there are arguments in favour of a geographic test, which the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich raised, and which is specified in some of the amendments now being considered. We consulted at an earlier stage on a possible geographic test. Again, London First was among those who argued that it would lead to a lack of clarity and greater complexity. For that reason, it was not appropriate to include it in the draft order, but we will continue to listen to views on that in the consultation, as, clearly, there are some arguments in favour of such a test.
Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 deal with issues relating to planning obligations. They would remove the Mayors ability to negotiate and agree planning obligations relating to the planning applications that he is responsible for deciding. That would be unworkable in practice. Planning obligations play an important role in planning applications, and can be about either mitigating the adverse impact of development or the importance of affordable housing as part of that development. It is unworkable to expect the Mayor to take decisions on a planning application but not to be engaged in the planning obligations that make those applications possible.
Similar arguments apply to enforcement and the need to be able to ensure that the decisions that are taken are properly enforced. It would of course be far more sensible in practice for the boroughs to take the lead on those enforcement decisions, but it is not right to rule out the possibility of the Mayor also being able to take enforcement action where necessary. Planning guidance circular 05/2005 governs planning obligations and is clear that the Mayor cannot simply take section 106 moneys for his own schemes and ignore local issues. There is already clear guidance to ensure that where the boroughs have issues that section 106 needs to fund, that must happen, to ensure that the application can go ahead and that infrastructure considerations are properly taken into account.
New clauses 9, 10, 11 and 12 seek to apply the provisions of part 5A of the Local Government Act 1972 to the Mayor and to address the need for transparency and a proper process. I have a lot of sympathy for those new clauses, which raise some important issues. As part of the order, we have set out some requirements relating to transparency and process. However, were we to redraft the 1972 Act now, I am not sure that there would be the same appetite for setting out those requirements in primary legislation rather than in secondary legislation. Many of those issues are dealt with far better through secondary legislation. I am happy to look again at what should be in primary legislation rather than in secondary legislation, but my presumption is that such procedural issues are best dealt with through secondary legislation. However, we are sympathetic to the idea of ensuring
that the representations from local authorities and others should be heard in public meetings, rather than ensuring simply that they take place. We covered that point in Committee, although we shall certainly consider it further. However, there are advantages to ensuring that such issues are covered through secondary legislation as far as possible, in order to have the flexibility to respond to new problems that arise.
We have ensured in the order that the Mayor should give at least 14 days notice of any hearing, and publish agendas and relevant reports at least seven days ahead of the meeting, which goes further than the proposals in new clause 10. On amendment No. 3, there is a need to place a time limit on the Mayors decision. However, our proposal is that the Mayor should decide within 14 days of being notified of the boroughs proposed decision, not within 21 days of being notified of the application. Amendment No. 3 would have a perverse effect, which is not supported by the boroughs, the Mayor or London First, in that it would involve the Mayor taking a decision much earlier, and potentially even taking over more applications than he would need to. London Councils were strongly against that approach in its representations to us, which is why we have not taken it forward.
Amendments Nos. 18 and 31 set out alternative definitions of strategic importance. I have dealt with the geographic test and said that we are happy to consider that further. We also think that there are some benefits to the wording in those amendments, in ensuring that there are sound planning reasons for so acting. A series of respondents have put that proposal forward, which might be a helpful addition to the order.
The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) raised the specific circumstances that the City of London faces, which we recognise. It has a much higher proportion of commercial developments as opposed to residential developments, and faces particular circumstances, given its role in the economy. We have therefore already set higher thresholds for the City of London, and we are prepared to consider the issue further as part of the consultation.
Members raised a range of issues and tabled various amendments in this group; however, I am running out of time. The debate on the order is the appropriate place to discuss this level of detail. We should have the opportunity to review the performance of this provision, and we will debate it further. However, we do not think it right to put all such measures into primary legislation and to try, in effect, to remove the Mayor from all consideration of housing matters. There are important strategic housing issues across London
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