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John Healey: We have reached a group of amendments that the Government tabled in the other place in response to the debate that took place there and in this House. The amendments constitute useful additions and, in some places, important strengthening of the provisions. I pay tribute to hon. Members in both Houses who helped us to frame them and I look forward to discussing them this afternoon.
I shall deal first with the amendments that relate to health. Amendment No. 3 inserts the London boroughs and the City of London into the list of bodies and persons whose role in implementing the health inequalities strategy the Mayor must describe. Inclusion of the boroughs in the list also results in their being consulted by the Mayor during the early rather than the final stages of developing the strategy. That is sensible, because they have an important role to play in helping pursue the strategy.
Let me consider the amendments on housing. The Bill already contains provisions that require the Mayor to consult the London boroughs, the Corporation of London and any other person who is considered appropriate on the London housing strategy. That is in line with arrangements for other London strategies for which the Greater London Authority Act 1999 provides. However, uniquely, delivery of the London housing strategy will be heavily dependent on the Housing Corporation and registered social landlords. Amendment No. 8 therefore introduces an explicit requirement for the Mayor to consult the Housing Corporation and bodies that represent registered social landlords on a new or revised London housing strategy.
Robert Neill: The Minister and I are in accord on the amendments and I am grateful to him for the spirit in which he moved them. I agree that they are sensible and improve the Bill. They attracted support from all quarters when they were discussed previously.
I highlight amendment No. 3 because I especially welcome the recognition of the role of the London boroughs in health matters. As I said in an earlier debate, it is important to stress the importance of partnership between the Mayor and the boroughs from the earliest possible stage. I wish that the Mayor would sometimes recognise that as much as the amendments do. However, given the spirit in which the amendments have been moved, we are happy to accept them.
I, too, support the amendments. If I were being churlish, I would question the reason for missing out local authorities the first time from the health inequalities strategy, given their prominent role
in sport, care for the elderly and so on. However, I do not want to be churlish, so I simply emphasise that I support the amendments.
Mr. Mark Field: Like other hon. Members, I support what the Government are trying to achieve. However, in view of the many planning measures that will be introduced, I hope that there will be a culture of greater transparency, especially on housing-related matters. I speak with a constituency interest in mind about the large-scale development in the Victoria area. There is grave concern among my constituents that a deal has been done between Transport for London, which is under the Mayors auspices, and the developer, Land Securities, for some £270 million. Consequently, the current proposal is that there will be no social or affordable housing on the site. All residents in the Victoria area greatly regret that.
I appreciate that I have raised a specific issue and that we are at an early stage in the process. I wanted to make the simple point to the Minister that, on housing negotiations between the Mayor, housing authorities and the Housing Corporation, greater transparency is vital as far as that is possible. I appreciate that much of the lack of transparency is institutionalised in the planning regime, particularly given the manner in which section 106 agreements operate, which many of us in the House and those who have served as local councillors regret. However, I hope that the point will be borne in mind in this Bill and in other legislation that the Government bring forward.
Clive Efford: The hon. Gentleman has spoken with a great deal of common sense in this debate, although we were on opposite sides about the Mayors accountability for the budget. He has shown great attention to detail on the Bill, so will he tell the House whether he was overlooked as a candidate for Mayor or whether he was rejected in the selection process? Unfortunately, the Conservative partys candidate for Mayor does not seem to have a view on anything in the Bill
Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): Perhaps I could just say that I want very much to echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) has said. In supporting and welcoming the spirit of the amendment, I think that I speak for a lot of people in this Chamber when I say that anything that encourages more co-operation and consultation between the Mayor and the boroughs is a good thing. I therefore think it wholly right that we should
Mr. Boris Johnson: I think that everybody in the House wants to see a mayoralty that responds to the wishes of local communities and that works with the boroughs and not against them in imposing planning decisions that go against the wishes of locally elected politicians. That is exactly the direction in which the amendment is going and that is why I approve wholeheartedly
John Healey: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the debate. We missed his contribution and his presence in earlier debates. May I tell him that he was in fact speaking to the next group of amendments? We are talking about housing strategy and health, but we will come to planning next. I hope that he will stay and contribute to that debate as well.
Lords amendment No. 16 introduces new clause 2E, which introduces into the Bill the requirement for the Mayor to give the local planning authority and the applicant an opportunity to make oral representations to him about a development proposal. It is designed to do what the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) was urging, namely to make the planning process more open and transparent. It further requires the Mayor to prepare and publish a document setting out any other persons from whom he will hear oral representations, the procedures that he will follow for considering oral representations and the arrangements for identifying the factual information that is agreed by the parties. I hope that the House will welcome this approach.
Lords amendment No. 16 also requires the Secretary of State to apply, by order, the terms of the Local Government Act 1972. Those requirements will ensure that representation hearings are open to the public and that the public have access to agendas and reports. That
is designed to ensure that mayoral decision making in the process is as open and transparent as that of borough planning committees. We will apply those requirements through a Mayor of London order, a draft of which I have already made available to the House.
On a wider point, which is none the less directly connected to the amendments, we have made it clear throughout the passage of the Bill, in this House and in the other Place, that decisions on applications should be taken by the boroughs wherever possible. Indeed, our proposals expressly provide for that. It is important that the Mayor takes only the decisions that it is appropriate for him to take. Lords amendment No. 12 makes an important change to give further effect to that principle. It will provide an express power for the Mayor to pass the decision making back to the relevant borough on subsequent applications for the approval of reserved matters or the approval of details under a listed building consent, where he has already determined the earlier outline application. That new provision, alongside clause 33, will ensure that decisions on all applications are taken at the appropriate level.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): As someone who did not serve on the Bill Committee I am perhaps not as au fait with this matter as I should be. Will the Minister give the House a couple of scenarios in which the Mayor might get involved?
John Healey: The provisions in the Bill allow for the Mayor to get involved in major developments and applications that might have a wider, strategic significance. In the amendments, and in the Bill, we are keen to ensure that decisions are taken at the appropriate level, and that wherever appropriate local boroughs continue in their role as the planning authority. The amendments in this group, which we passed in the other place, strengthen that principle and put in place for the future a more balanced system that will serve London well.
I do not quarrel with the detail of the amendments that the Minister has put forward. It is obviously right and sensible to place the requirement in Lords amendment No. 16 in the Bill. We argued for that in Committee and I welcome this recognition of our argument. However, that does not alter the fact that we thoroughly dislike the principle underlying the amendment, namely that the Mayor should have the ability to take planning applications away from the boroughs and decide on them centrally. In our judgment, that is a profoundly anti-localist, anti-devolutionary measure. The amendment at least makes the operation of an undesirable system more acceptable in regard to practical issues, so we will not seek to oppose it, but that does not for one second mean that we think that this is a wise course of action for the Government to embark on.
On Lords amendment No. 12, although it is perfectly sensible to pass back issues of detail on reserved matters, the underlying principle of letting the Mayor get involved in the first place is, in our judgment, flawed. The degree to which the Bill will allow the
Mayor to interfere in planning matters far more than before is a much greater recipe for conflict than any of the issues concerning the budget and the Mayor and the assembly that we have discussed. The history of London government is full of tension and conflict between the upper tier and the boroughs. That was so with the old Greater London council and elsewhere.
Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the amendment, however helpful in improving the position, does not lend itself to the task of trying to involve local people in local decisions? It puts the Mayor in a position to override local wishes, which, franklyunlike the future Mayor, my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson)he could not care less about.
Robert Neill: I agree with my hon. Friend. A regrettable fact of London life is that the Mayor has not approached planning matters with anything like the spirit of reasonableness and restraint that the Minister displays in speaking to these amendments today. I regret to say that I have no confidence that the current Mayor will use these powers with the degree of restraint and sensitivity that the Minister clearly hopes for. Again regrettably, the evidence of the Mayors behaviour so far is very much to the contrary. We have seen too many examples of worthwhile developments in London being delayed and potentially prejudiced by the Mayors needless interference, which is not in Londoners interests.
With a very large caveat, we will not seek to oppose the amendments; we recognise that they provide amelioration of a system that we believe is flawed in principle. At some point, a future Governmenta Conservative Governmentwill have to return to effect a better balance in achieving planning policy in London.
Tom Brake: I echo the hon. Gentlemans points. What the Government are proposing will certainly improve a flawed system, but that system remains flawed and the concerns raised in this House and the other place about the Mayors planning powers continue to be held. Regrettably, the amendments will not change that situation in any respect. We will not oppose them because they at least slightly improve the flawed system.
Mr. Mark Field: We have rehearsed on several occasions in the House and in Committee our concerns about strategic powers and, more precisely, what a strategic planning power means for the Mayor. We are not entirely satisfied and we will have to see how the system operates over a period of time before we can move forward.
I would like the Minister to comment on this narrow point. How does he view the operation of appealsdirect appeals by the public or resident associations? How will appeals operate as between local boroughs and the Mayor, and what of the ultimate right of appeal to the Government inspector? Does he envisage that where the Mayor has called in a particular planning application, it will preclude central Government from
doing so under any circumstances, or will there still be a safeguardand perhaps further complication and delayin the hands of central Government to call in such an application? From the perspective either of developers or of local communities that want a particular development in their area, it would be highly undesirable if the process led to yet another layer of delay and bureaucracy. Does the Minister envisage that where the Mayor calls in an application in London, central Government will not do so?
John Healey: I welcome both Opposition parties support for the amendments, if not for the broader principles, relating to this part of the Bill. The system is very complicated, so I will write in response to the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) to provide the detail that he requests.
In the other place, the Government agreed to consider, along with interested parties, the best way to implement our commitment to a London waste recycling forum and fund. As a result of those discussions and further consideration, we decided to put the body managing the fund on to a statutory basis. The argument was strongly put to us that the advantage of doing so was that that would provide greater stability and focus and help to ensure that the fund was deployed in the best interests of London at all levels. Ultimately, we took the view that that approach had the advantage over a voluntary system, in that it provided a legal certainty for the basis on which the fund is paid and administered.
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