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I accept the relationship identified by my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) and the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon, and we must work through it in Committee. They noted the fact that when one determines national policy statements on some issues, one almost determines where particular infrastructure projects will be located and, to some extent, one prejudges the decision of an inquiry into a particular project. How do we arrange those two things to ensure that local people feel that they have had a chance to have their voice heard, rather than that a national policy statement has been drawn up, an inquiry has been determined by it and a major
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project will be sited in their area irrespective of what they say? We need to address an issue about public involvement. We must tease out and work through the relationship between the national policy statements and the process that the infrastructure planning commission will go through.

Concerns have been raised with hon. Members on both sides of the House by coalitions of various interest groups—the Campaign to Protect Rural England has come to talk to me and Friends of the Earth has expressed concerns—about the democratic process and involvement of communities in such matters. We need discussion on the detail of the Bill to give reassurance that there will be room for public involvement and democratic input. I welcome the fact that, at the pre-application stage, before applications for major infrastructure projects are put in, the applicant will be required to consult. That is an important way to enable the local community to make its views heard even before the application is lodged. Even bodies such as the Royal Town Planning Institute, which has generally been more supportive of the Government’s proposals than some other bodies, say that we need to get the process right in terms of consultation and democratic involvement.

Ministers need to reflect on two other issues. The Local Government Association has expressed some concerns about the process, but it has generally welcomed it. It said that it wants to see how the role for elected bodies—the local councils—can be entrenched in the process. Perhaps they could be given a special role so that their voice can be heard as elected representatives of local communities.

The Association of National Park Authorities has also raised concerns about the special status of national parks in our planning legislation to ensure that it is enhanced, and not cut across, by anything in the Bill. I received an assurance to that effect when I raised the issue at the Select Committee inquiry on the Government’s proposals some weeks ago. I would like Ministers to give further assurances that the role of the national parks authorities, and their special status, will not be undermined by anything in the Bill.

I am confused by one of the major infrastructure project proposals and I do not understand the Government’s logic. Despite the proposed establishment of the infrastructure planning commission, with experts, planning inspectors, hearings, consultation and representations from the community, in the end a decision on something as important as a nuclear power station will not be made by the Secretary of State, but by one, two or three inspectors or experts sitting together on behalf of the planning commission. The explanation that I have been given so far is that there is no reason for political involvement because the national policy statements will be the political input and the commission will be expected to operate in accordance with them. However, there are many other matters that are initially determined by local councils and then referred on appeal to planning inspectors and in the end to the Secretary of State for approval. It does not seem right that decisions about where to put a local football ground or to encroach on the green belt marginally to accommodate an extension to a local school, as has happened in my constituency, will ultimately be determined by the Secretary of State, but the decision on a nuclear power station will not.
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That apparent lack of democratic accountability undermines the rest of what the Government are trying to achieve through this process. I hope that Ministers will reflect on that.

On the community infrastructure levy, I welcome the Government’s acceptance of the real problems with the planning gain supplement, as proposed. The Select Committee considered it and we had concerns about some technicalities. We accepted the principle that increases in value from developments should provide some benefit for the public purse, but the proposals had real technical difficulties, especially in respect of the valuation procedure. The Lib Dems said that British Chambers of Commerce was opposed to the proposals, but that ignores the overwhelming support for them from the CBI, the Home Builders Federation, the British Property Federation, the Major Developers Group and the LGA. It is right in principle that if an act of public policy enhances the value of a private asset, the owners of that asset should make a contribution to the public purse over and above any direct cost of the development itself. We are trying to capture the planning gain for the public purse and the public good.

In the past, section 106 has been expanded to try to incorporate some of those arrangements, although there are some doubts about whether all such arrangements have been legal. They have usually been made after consultation with, and with the consent of, the developers concerned.

Jeremy Corbyn: On the question of section 106 payments, does my hon. Friend share my concern that they are often negotiated and the money is sometimes paid in lieu of housing development by housing developers in big cities, which does nothing for social housing? On other occasions, it is paid to the local authority to enhance the community with sports facilities or something, but that does not happen and the money sits in local authority accounts for year after year with no benefit to the community. It is unclear what happens to the interest payments on that money, let alone what it is eventually spent on. Should not there be a tougher process to ensure that the community gets a more foreseeable and immediate benefit?

Mr. Betts: My hon. Friend’s comments have a ring of truth, and I am sure that many hon. Members and people outside share that view. Ultimately, section 106 agreements are a matter for local authorities, and central Government cannot be too prescriptive. In the past, I have regularly encouraged Ministers to issue firm guidance on section 106, and there could be some naming and shaming of authorities that do not use 106 agreements for the intended purposes.

It is unclear how section 106 will relate to the new community infrastructure levy. Presumably section 106 will still be used for affordable housing, parks and community centres. However, if a road is needed to connect a new development to a main road, is that infrastructure that has to be funded out of the community infrastructure levy or can it still be funded out of 106 funding? If 106 funding is agreed for particular items, will it reduce the tariff payable, or will the tariff be fixed in respect of the 106 contributions? In Committee, we will have to examine the 106 funding arrangements and their relation to the community infrastructure levy. Does an increase in one mean a reduction in the other?

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In general, the CIL will be better than the PGS, because the former will be part of the planning system, variable at local level and determined by local councils as part of the local development framework, and it will therefore relate more to local circumstances in which it is collected and spent. However, we need to examine precisely how it will operate and its relationship with other provisions, such as section 106.

Opposition Members have raised the issue of whether the levy might be required, or possibly allowed, to fund sub-regional and regional infrastructure projects. We have to be clear about whether there will be a requirement by the Government for local authorities to make contributions from their levies to such projects, or will authorities be permitted to contribute if they want to do so? I think that that is what the Secretary of State said earlier, but we will need greater clarity on that point.

The levy will not be a simple tariff, such as that in Milton Keynes, where the developer pays a certain amount for each individual house that it has built. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich said, the levy can vary by type of development, purpose of development or description of development, although not by location. There is an omission from the legislation. Presumably, if a development takes place in an inner-city area, as opposed to a suburb, we would want a power for the local authority to vary the levy according to location. Ministers should consider whether the current variability of the levy is sufficient.

I support the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich. I do not understand why the word “value” is included in the Bill in relation to the potential regulations. If we are not going to have a planning gain supplement or reference to a complicated method of trying to identify how much the value of a site has been increased by planning permission, why does the Bill need to give a local authority the right to vary its tariffs according to the increase in value of a site because of planning permission? Ministers will get themselves in an awful mess if we leave the valuation process in the Bill. Presumably the whole intent of the levy is to get away from that and to have a system that is determined by planners, in discussion with developers, on a much simpler and more certain basis. At the same, there should be some flexibility in the levy, so that it can be varied according to the type of development, and hopefully its location. Clearly, there is a balance to be struck between flexibility and certainty, but Ministers should reflect on the whole issue of including valuation, as otherwise we are going to get into some real difficulties when it comes down to practical examples of calculating the value of the levy.

There is one issue that has not been mentioned very much in the discussions about how far we are enabling an increase, or causing a reduction, in democratic input into the planning process. Local member review boards are to be set up to ensure that more decisions on planning matters, particularly smaller ones, are not referred outside the democratic process, to the Planning Inspectorate, but are dealt with inside the democratic arena, with reference to another board of members. We should welcome that. The Local Government Association
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has certainly welcomed it. The Government should be congratulated on giving more responsibility back to local councils, and putting more trust in them, in a way that most of us would welcome.

In general terms, I welcome the proposed legislation. The Government are right to highlight the problems with major infrastructure projects and to bring forward a system of dealing with those projects in a particular way. There are concerns and questions about community and democratic involvement, which we need to tease out as the Bill progresses. It is right to bring in the community infrastructure levy to ensure that the public purse benefits from the gain to private developers when planning permission is given. There are lots of questions about how that will operate in practice. It is also right to set up the local member review boards, as a commitment to the local democratic process, which I know that fundamentally the Government support.

6.42 pm

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): First, I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests, so that they are clear that I have an interest in a family business.

Planning causes more anger and concern among my constituents than virtually any other issue. In my constituency surgery, I probably see more people about planning than any other issue. Any Government who seek to change and reform the system are very brave because planning is an issue that angers and moves people. It is rising up the political scale—a situation that is likely to get worse. We are a nation of owner-occupiers and people relate almost everything that goes on in their neighbourhood to the value of their home. Even when something might put up the value of their home, they always presume that it is going to reduce it. That tends to make people very anxious about what goes on.

As a nation, one of our problems is that occasionally we have been too parsimonious in the compensation that we have paid people who live in the vicinity of very large infrastructure projects. Sometimes people feel that they are going to lose out, whereas if there were a far more generous scheme, we could speed up the planning process and allow people to be bought out. I have always thought that we ought to be a little more French when it comes to our large infrastructure projects. Clearly, there has been something wrong, over years, when it has taken a long time to produce something that is of overwhelming national interest. In the case of terminal 5, Schiphol and de Gaulle airports have added various runways in the time that it has taken us to get one more terminal at Heathrow. Our European competitors sometimes benefit from a much more streamlined system.

Nevertheless, I am concerned about what the Government are suggesting in terms of the national policy statements. Clearly, one can set what might have to be a national target for the number of people who want to use airports or for the amount of energy that should be produced, but I am not sure whether one should discriminate between one form of energy or another in a national policy statement. Many of these things are market driven, and markets move. If politicians set a particular objective in a planning statement, in a
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short space of time the economics of their proposal may well change. I wonder how specific the policy statements are going to be. Will they specify X nuclear power stations, or will they specify what might be needed, on the one hand or the other, to meet a balanced energy policy?

Rather like other Members who have contributed to the debate, I am a little concerned that the national policy statements will be too specific on a particular objective and that, as a result, they may do a lot of the work of the infrastructure planning commission by pre-determining what may be in the national interest without paying regard to the various options and alternatives and to what is happening in terms of the world economy. I am concerned about how those things will interact.

I also have a concern—this point was raised ably by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts)—about the infrastructure planning commission. The Secretary of State may well be able to determine smaller applications, but that body may well determine some substantial decisions, such as those on nuclear power stations. In the same way as the perception is that the Foreign Office represents foreigners, we may well get a situation in which the infrastructure planning commission will represent the large infrastructure planning projects and be seen by most of my constituents and many people in this country to lead in those areas. Like many other contributors to the debate, I have a concern with the experts, rather than people who are neutral, who will make a judgment on some of these things.

We need to speed up the planning process, but I am not sure that this proposal will do that, or do it in a way that does not cause great concern. At the most extreme, we have seen examples of civil protest. We have only to consider the Newbury relief road, and the cost that was added to that project by security, to understand that although we may on occasion be trying to save money on planning in the Bill, there may be other costs because of the civil disobedience that might occur if people do not feel that the system is fair.

I welcome what the Government are doing with the community infrastructure levy. The original proposals were flawed and the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) set out that the Bill is not entirely clear about how the levy will develop. However, a low tariff that captures some value from all developments, including one-home or two-home developments, is a much better way of doing things in the long term. Clearly, a lot of questions need to be asked.

The Secretary of State said that there might have to be a regional or a county levy. Any source of money that is raised via a form of taxation will always be prone to Treasury interference. In the case of the grant settlement for police authorities, there is a formula to share the money. In the case of council housing rent, there is a national fund. Money is taken from some housing authorities and given to others. I cannot believe that a situation in which there will be hundreds of millions, if not billions, of pounds, and some authorities will get considerably larger sums of money than others, will not become a key item in relation to which the Government will need to build in some kind of transfer of resources.

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The Treasury may well lose capital gains tax on some projects as a result of the measure and therefore will be tempted to interfere. The amount of money raised will be substantial, so we need to know a lot more. What will happen to the interest on such moneys? Will there be pressure to spend the moneys within a particular time? Will authorities be allowed to passport money to other authorities if they perceive that there is some benefit to them?

Although my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) joked about his constituents not wanting to pay for Luton, there might be an interest in a Luton airport expansion that provided some money for the region. That might be legitimate, but such a scenario might also be legitimate in relation to the extension of a motorway or a spur road that may not be within a particular council area, but may have an impact on businesses or vehicles going to that area. In East Anglia, for example, there are some quite isolated communities. Improving roads 20 or 30 miles away might have a benefit. We need to know how money can be moved around, so we need much more detail. I hope that the Public Bill Committee will be given that when it considers this important proposal.

I raised conservation areas earlier. If more freedoms are introduced for people involved in the planning control system, will the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda)—if he is winding up the debate—tell us how that will impact on conservation areas? Clearly, there will be concerns that if people are allowed to do various things in Georgian areas, even if they are environmentally friendly, that might have an impact. We need a clear statement on where we stand.

We need a little more information about what can be done about development control, which most of my constituents consider a serious issue. There are a lot of people in Poole who use the planning system to get what they want—plus a bit. They create valuable developments by breaking the spirit of the system, and sometimes by deliberately breaking the law. We can all be blasé about the millions of pounds that are made through planning applications, and there have been a lot of major developments, especially infill developments, in Poole. The system does not give local authorities’ development control people enough clout to deal with those who wilfully try to ride roughshod over the system. The fines need to be substantially higher, and the process and timetable to deal with such transgressions need to be faster. As the Bill goes through the House, especially in Committee, I hope that Ministers will look carefully at the real value that people get. Many development control officers are at a great disadvantage when dealing with people who break rules and regulations and ride roughshod over the system. The Bill might be an opportunity to deal with that problem.

We have heard the Bill described as a house with no furniture. Although I welcome some aspects of it, we will need a lot of detail before we will know whether its architecture will work well. The Government must be careful about national planning statements, and the infrastructure planning commission is probably a move in the wrong direction. Like many hon. Members who have spoken, I think that it would have been better to have gone down the route of the Planning Inspectorate. The community infrastructure levy—if it is a levy—
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represents a much better way of raising money, given its transparency and the fact that it should be simpler. More importantly, while complicated section 106 agreements employ lawyers for ever—some cases take two years—the measure should cut a lot of lawyers’ bills and the effort that they have to put into the planning system. If the proposal speeds up the system and allows people to do their calculations, it will be welcomed by both industry and those in government.

Opportunities have been missed, however, so I hope that the Minister will at least look at whether we can increase fines and the powers of local authorities so that they can deal with people who transgress. Problems are being caused by the great shortage of decent planning officers because the private sector has taken good planning officers from the public sector to become private consultants. Nevertheless, we need to strengthen our local authorities’ ability to deal with those who transgress.

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