Previous Section Index Home Page

9 May 2008 : Column 1004

New clause 9 deals with the duty of consultation. We should be concerned about consultation and ensure that it is as full as possible. The Town and Country Planning (Local Development) (England) Regulations 2004 already impose a requirement on local authorities to consult widely when drawing up their local planning frameworks. New clause 9 is not inclusive. It mentions local businesses, house builders, residents organisations and social housing providers, but does not include energy providers or commercial developers, who may have a view on viability. I would therefore prefer the consultation duty to remain as it is under the general town and country planning regulations.

We are considering important issues, and cost is especially important, but I hope that my points will reassure the hon. Member for Hendon.

Stephen Pound: My natural instinct is obviously to support my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore). However, reading new clause 9, as compared with the elegant phraseology originally propounded by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), I am rather more inclined to support his view than that of my hon. Friend. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, the list in new clause 9 is not entirely inclusive and might be counter-productive. He mentioned some organisations that could be added to the list—personally, I would like to see tenants associations as well as residents associations. There are also no references to health authorities, primary care trusts or any other health provider. However, an essential component of the Bill and everything that we are discussing is the health of the tenant, the resident, the country and the world.

It is crucial that we consider the wider issues, particularly as, after a week of balmy, sunny weather, the weather forecasts predict a weekend of hail, gales, storms and tempests. Our world is clearly changing rapidly; therefore, we need to make progress. The hon. Gentleman rightly reminded us of the requirement for all homes to be zero carbon by 2016. It is important to realise that we are in a process. What we need to discuss is what best aids us in that process.

I have an instinctive antipathy towards ever-widening processes of consultation. In my many years of experience as a councillor, I found that people always pray in aid consultation when they do not get the result that they want. It is always said that consultation did not spread widely enough, but that usually just means that someone’s view did not prevail. The existing legislation on statutory consultation is tried and tested. We already have a process. For instance, the consultation process for Captain Morgan’s, a pub that has just opened in my constituency—it is not named after Simon Morgan, the former captain of Fulham, but is the generic name for a group of pubs—involved a wide variety of stakeholders and local residents. However, people who did not want the pub to open still said that they wanted wider consultation. The difficulty with new clause 9 is that if it becomes a statutory requirement that

that will provide a green light for people who wish to expand the process ever more widely.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the problem is that we have an eight-year time frame. We are already in the process and we need to move forward. I deeply regret
9 May 2008 : Column 1005
to say that were new clause 9 to become part of the Bill, it would slow the entire process down. That is not to say that we need to parachute in new building systems or create new methods of house construction. However, we need to accept that there is an urgency on the one hand and a need for sustainability and energy efficiency on the other. It is not impossible for us to marry those two. The new clause is widely drawn, including house builders in one category—an enormous range of people could see themselves as coming under that umbrella—but, equally, excluding other people, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

The test of utility that should always be applied when considering a new clause—I do not remotely intend to recast “Erskine May” or to influence you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—is whether it adds to the substance of the Bill. Does the new clause make it a better, more workable or more viable Bill? My concern is that if new clause 9 were accepted, it would not pass that test.

Chris Mole: We are talking about the Bill operating in the context of existing town and country planning law. A number of references have been made to the local development framework. Part of existing planning law requires local authorities to set out a statement on the consultation process that will be undertaken on the local development framework. I think that my hon. Friend is saying that new clause 9 over-eggs the pudding.

Stephen Pound: I think that it was on the Floor of the House that I first heard the word “otiose”—I had not heard it used much before—and I have to say that it has sprung to mind frequently since.

Chris Mole: But not when I am speaking.

Stephen Pound: Not, of course, when my hon. Friend is speaking; he makes a very important point.

Something that bedevils local government in its planning activities is the ever-widening process of consultation. When I read new clause 9, it reminded me immediately of when the London Eye was being built. At that time, my proud, glorious and noble borough of Ealing, which is right on the other side of London, had to be statutorily consulted because someone who stood at the top of a hill with a telescope could see the London Eye! I appreciate that many developments that we are dealing with will not be as high as that, but another good example is Ronan Point, one of the largest buildings ever constructed in London. It had a disastrous life, with a quarter of it collapsing. My main point is that the process of consultation is widening. I am not saying that energy-efficient buildings will necessarily be higher, but that the widening of consultation might completely slow the process down. It is like sand in the gearbox, slowing down the process so much.

I understand the motivation of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon in tabling new clause 9. In presenting the new clause, he acts as he does in all things—in the interests of his constituency and in the wider interests of the people of our city and our country. As a good and proud democrat, who has a great history in that respect, he wants to see wider
9 May 2008 : Column 1006
involvement. What he actually wants to see—if I may try to interpret the words of the new clause—is an element of ownership of the process: a wider ownership beyond the person who builds, the authority that permits and the resident who occupies. He really wants to see wider and further involvement. That is entirely laudable, but I believe that that laudable element is already met by existing planning law, and that if the new clause were implemented, it would slow the process down. Slowing it down is not a bad thing in itself—there is no problem with that—as long as it adds substantively to the original intent behind the Bill, but I am not entirely convinced that it does.

The points in new clause 8, however, are pertinent and important. That is particularly true of new clause 8(e), as

should and must be considered because that impact could be positive or negative. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks has gone a considerable way towards answering the concerns that many of us expressed about the cost element and whether it might prove to be a disincentive to the overarching ambition of us all to provide decent, safe and energy-efficient housing. The impact on affordable housing provision, particularly over the next few years when the statutory provision of social housing components within all new residential developments will become increasingly contentious, will be very important.

There is much in new clause 8 that deserves to win the House’s approbation, but I feel that new clause 9 would take us into a wider area without substantially adding to the overall impact of the Bill. Reluctantly, I have to say that I am more attracted by what I referred to as the original Bill’s elegant, terse, sparse—the hon. Gentleman himself used the word “taut”—wording than by the wording of new clause 9. May I, through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, assure my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon that it is nothing personal; it is simply due to the process of education and self-education that is occasionally a feature of Friday mornings in this place.

12.45 pm

Mr. Dhanda: I should say to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) that I am instinctively attracted to new clause 3. Its principle is the promotion of microgeneration, and in my previous incarnation as an Education Minister I did all I could to get more microgeneration into our schools through the sustainable schools programme. As a consequence, we have seen real changes, which local authorities are working with: there are now better standards, and that ties in with the thinking behind new clause 3. Our schools have moved towards being BREEAM—Building Research Establishment environmental assessment method—very good, and some of them are moving towards BREEAM excellent. There are also exciting developments in terms of carbon-neutral schools, as well as solar panels and other forms of microgeneration. Our children are learning from these developments in schools, too. Therefore, this is making a difference in terms not only of energy generation, but of education. However, although I am attracted to what my hon. Friend proposes, as I shall explain, the new clause as phrased is not a good idea.

9 May 2008 : Column 1007

My hon. Friend talked a great deal about microgeneration, but much less about community schemes such as those involving combined heat and power and biomass, and we must remember that all of these are also important elements of the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon). My hon. Friend also talked about the costs. I asked whether that was the cost to local authorities or to consumers, and he spoke in some detail on that point. I shall refer to it, too, because the implications in terms of housing are relevant and pertinent to the debate.

New clause 3 would require a local planning authority to consider the desirability of increasing the extent of microgeneration in its area. New clause 7 would require local planning authorities, when setting the proportion of energy from renewable and low-carbon sources, to consider whether supplies are available locally. I asked my hon. Friend about the term “local”. That was discussed in depth in Committee. For instance, the Committee debated whether “locality” referred to on-site, near-site or off-site. It is my understanding that the Committee agreed that both on-site and near-site are a part of what is termed as “locality”. It is important that such progress was made in the Committee, and I am grateful to its members for putting in that work and for providing such clarity.

New clause 8 would require local planning authorities to consider the costs relating to the policies they are proposing; we had a good discussion about that. New clause 9 would require local planning authorities to consult various organisations and groups when drawing up policies—my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) has just let us know his views on that.

I understand the intention behind the new clauses. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon wants local planning authorities, when drawing up their development plan document—DPD—policies on such matters as local energy supply and energy efficiency, to think about local opportunities and the costs involved. He also wants them to consult those whom they should consult, and, in doing all that, to bear in mind the desirability of increasing microgeneration. These are all worthy goals, and he should be congratulated on promoting them.

My hon. Friend will not be surprised to learn that these are just the sort of concerns that we would expect local planning authorities to consider, and I hope it reassures him to know that I believe that his proposals are not needed to make that happen. I hope that I can convince him in the coming moments that they are unnecessary. In explaining why, I shall touch on each of them briefly.

As for new clause 3, our planning policies already promote more use of both renewable and low-carbon energy. For example, our renewable energy planning policy statement requires local authorities specifically to encourage small-scale renewables through positively expressed policies in their local development documents. The climate change planning policy statement, which was published just before Christmas, has taken this further, and gives a big boost to supplying new development with local energy, including energy from microgeneration.

Mr. Dismore: Perhaps I should explain to my hon. Friend the point that is involved here, because I think
9 May 2008 : Column 1008
he is examining new clause 3 in isolation from the Bill as a whole. New clause 3 effectively refers back to clause 1, which says that if a local authority wants to go beyond the national guidelines, in general terms it can do so. He is setting out what the national guidelines are, but I am saying that if a local authority wants to go beyond them, it should take certain factors into account. He has yet to answer the particular point about what happens when people want to go beyond the safety net that he is explaining.

Mr. Dhanda: I am sure that this is an issue that the hon. Member for Sevenoaks may wish to come in on too. I shall come in a moment to the point that my hon. Friend raises, although the Bill is about encouraging local authorities to go further.

Mr. Fallon indicated assent.

Mr. Dhanda: The hon. Gentleman is nodding his head. I think that I have said exactly what he would wish to say. Nothing in the Bill prevents local authorities from going further—quite the opposite, because the Bill encourages them to do so.

Mr. Dismore: That is precisely the point, because through new clause 3, I am attempting to say, “If a local authority is going to do this, it should take into account these factors and all the other factors in the other provisions too.” My hon. Friend is simply saying, “The Bill will allow local authorities to do more.” That is fine, because we all agree with that, but my new clauses are an attempt to be more specific about what they should do.

Mr. Dhanda: I accept that, but it is not necessary to include in the Bill the things that my hon. Friend is proposing, and I shall try to explain why that is the case.

I am unclear what extra would be achieved by introducing the requirement for a local authority to consider the desirability of increasing the extent of microgeneration in its area. We must put this in the context of not only the Bill, which has been discussed in Committee, but the planning policy statement to which I referred. Microgeneration technologies, such as solar panels and small wind turbines, will undoubtedly be among the range of green energy solutions used in the delivery of the policies enabled by this Bill and expected in our planning policies.

If the argument is that we would have the provision in statute, may I remind my hon. Friend that section 3 of the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006 already requires local authorities to have regard to the energy measures report? The report provides information on the steps that local authorities can take to increase microgeneration and other low-carbon technologies. New clause 3 is therefore unnecessary.

Mr. Dismore: That is exactly the same point; what my hon. Friend has done is set out one of the national requirements, as he has done on several occasions in his speech. The point is that the existing provisions in the Bill would enable local authorities to go beyond those national requirements, but if they are to do so, we
9 May 2008 : Column 1009
should include my new clauses, which are an attempt to explain in a little more detail what they should be doing as part of that process. If he is only going to repeat what the national standards are and say that they are what the Bill provides, the Bill ultimately provides no added value at all.

Mr. Dhanda: One issue that was discussed in Committee was the fact that planning policy statements can change, but that when the Bill goes through Parliament—I am sure that it will go through Report and Third Reading in the coming hours—these matters will be on the statute book. That is fundamentally different from having only PPS guidance. That is why the Bill is important and why we have been commending the hon. Member for Sevenoaks.

I worry that new clause 3 would create ambiguity about the Bill’s intentions. It prompts one to ask why there are not other clauses requiring planning authorities to consider the desirability of community schemes that serve more than one building. Examples include combined heat and power schemes in Southampton and Woking, medium-sized wind turbines, and imaginative strategies for using a community’s waste to generate heat and power for that community. Focusing on one desirable, whatever its merits—I agree that microgeneration has real merits—risks relegating other desirables. I know that that is not the intention of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, but helpful as his new clause has been in stimulating debate, I think that he will agree that it is imperfect as it is currently drafted.

Mr. Dismore: I think that my hon. Friend has overlooked new clause 7, which is sufficiently broad to take into account ideas such as combined heat and power and other forms of energy generation. Again, we must ask what the added value of the Bill will be if we do not go beyond the national standards. If we are to go beyond them, how will we do that if we do not set out targets, criteria and ideas for local authorities to follow?

Mr. Dhanda: Targets, ideas and criteria are better placed in guidance than in detailed legislation. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees. Perhaps I have not made this point clear enough, but we are supporting the Bill because it is about going beyond targets, and about local authorities encouraging ambition and innovation.

My hon. Friend mentions new clause 7. Our planning policy statement on climate change requires local planning authorities to have an evidence-based understanding of the local feasibility of and potential for renewable and low-carbon technologies, such as microgeneration, supplying new developments in their areas. They are required to pay particular attention to opportunities to utilise existing decentralised and renewable or low-carbon energy supplies, and to fostering the development of new opportunities to supply proposed and existing developments.

I worry that the clause would bring ambiguity, as it could be seen to water down the Bill’s focus on local energy. Local planning authorities would be expected only to

of renewable and low-carbon energy when setting their requirements for energy supply to new developments. We want them to do more than simply take local
9 May 2008 : Column 1010
energy into account; we want them to be more ambitious. As I have said, we want them to push hard on local energy if there is potential for it to supply new developments in their areas. We want them to be ambitious, but we want their ambition to be evidence-based, as their targets must be feasible and viable.

Next Section Index Home Page