Crossrail Bill

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Clause 13

Power to disapply section 10(1)
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Stephen Hammond: I have a short contribution to make. I invite the Minister to tell the Committee what is the purpose of the clause. The explanatory notes say that it
“allows the Secretary of State to switch off the deemed planning permission granted by the Bill in respect of future Crossrail works, should he decide to do so”.
The preceding clauses have given the Government the power to obtain deemed planning permission to build the network, presumably to facilitate and speed up the construction process. However, under clause 13, we see that they do not want that power and are saying that the process can go down the normal planning permission road.
Why does the Secretary of State want special powers in relation to the deemed planning permission process at one stage and, in respect of clause 13, under what circumstances is that not necessary? I find the clause slightly confusing in that regard and I look forward to the Minister elucidating.
2 pm
Mr. Harris: The clause allows the Secretary of State, by means of an order, to disapply the deemed planning permission granted by clause 10(1) in respect of maintaining or altering any Crossrail work from the date specified in the order. That is most likely to be used in the case of the electrification and signalling work done on sections of the existing railway network. It will ensure that a single planning regime covers works in relation to existing track after the Crossrail construction phase has been completed. In the event of a disapplication, any such development would be subject to the normal provisions of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 applying to development authorised by a local Act.
Stephen Hammond: I am interested that the Minister has chosen to mention electricity. When we touched on that point this morning, he said that he required special powers to deal with electricity, yet now, when discussing other provisions relating to it, he says that he can use normal powers.
Mr. Harris: I am not entirely sure that I follow the hon. Gentleman’s logic on that point. Does he want to elucidate?
Stephen Hammond: This morning we looked at the Electricity Act 1989 and the normal consent regime that applied. I was told that that regime clearly was not appropriate and that a special consent regime needed to apply. I cannot understand why a special consent regime is needed to deal with the building and moving of electricity infrastructure, but not a special planning regime.
Mr. Harris: I will tell the hon. Gentleman shortly.
Stephen Hammond: Inspiration has arrived.
Mr. Harris: Yes, inspiration has arrived from on high. The clause is about works to maintain or alter the existing infrastructure. It is not about creating new infrastructure, which is why there is a different planning regime. I hope that that makes sense to the hon. Gentleman. The clause allows the planning regime to change and then to revert back to normal—as it was before the construction took place.
Stephen Hammond: I was hoping that the answer would make sense to me. The Minister says that the clause relates to the alteration of existing infrastructure rather than to new infrastructure, but we are taking deemed planning permission to do all sorts of alterations to existing infrastructure. Will he clarify what infrastructure already in existence he wishes to alter and why? Why, in another case, does he want existing infrastructure that needs to be altered to be dealt with under a different planning regime?
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 15

Extension of permitted development rights
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Stephen Hammond: For the purposes of clarification, will the Minister assure me that clauses 15, 16 and 17 merely bring into effect schedules 8, 9 and 10, and that they have already been extensively covered by the Select Committee and are not really within the jurisdiction of this Public Bill Committee?
Mr. Harris: The hon. Gentleman is right that these provisions have been covered by the Select Committee. However, since they are in the Bill, it is within the jurisdiction of the Committee to amend and debate them.
Stephen Hammond: I thank the Minister for that reply. Within the schedules, I understood that we were not able to touch the routes or the highways, but that we might be able to change some parts of the schedules relating to methods. I was seeking clarification that my understanding was correct.
Mr. Harris: That is a procedural matter that you may wish to clarify with the Clerks, Lady Winterton, but it is not a matter on which I can rule.
The Chairman: For the Committee’s information, an amendment that seeks to re-hybridise the Bill falls outside the scope of the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 8 agreed to.
Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 9 agreed to.
Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 10 agreed to.

Clause 18

Power to deal with trees on neighbouring land
Stephen Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 14, in clause 18, page 12, line 7, at end add
‘, and is subject to the conditions set out in subsection (3)’.
Clauses 18 and 19 quite rightly deal with trees, because overhanging trees could delay the scheduled works, and it is understandable that they might need to be trimmed or removed so that they no longer obstruct the construction or operation of Crossrail. Clause 18 allows the owner of a tree to appeal against any such action and entitles them to receive compensation for loss or damage. One would be hard-pressed to disagree with the general provisions. The amendment is not designed to revise that purpose, or the general principle behind it, but to make the process slightly more watertight.
Subsection (4) enables the nominated undertaker to do the work himself, if the owner of the tree has not undertaken to do so within 28 days of being served a notice by the nominated undertaker. However, the clause would benefit if the words of the amendment were appended because there will undoubtedly be some cases in which the reason for the landowner’s inaction will be that he has objected to the proposed works in accordance with subsection (2). It may be that, within those 28 days, he has served a counter-notice and is therefore awaiting confirmation by a county court. When the 28-day deadline expires, he may still be waiting for that response. If that is the case, it will be prudent for the nominated undertaker to await the judgment of the county court before starting work on the affected tree. By making a reference to subsection (3) in subsection (4), we would ensure that the nominated undertaker would not start chopping off branches before he was sure that any appeal to the courts has been properly processed.
Mr. Harris: I can see what the hon. Gentleman is attempting to achieve with the amendment, but I can tell him that the powers featured in subsection (4) are not what he assumes them to be. I will explain.
The clause deals with the removal or lopping of overhanging trees on adjacent land that is necessary for the Crossrail works to be constructed or maintained, and for their safe operation. The nominated undertaker can give notice and, if there is no objection, can undertake the works after 28 days, if the owner has not dealt with the trees himself. If a counter-notice is served within the 28-day period, the notice has no effect unless confirmed by a county court. That provision is very similar to that provided under the 1996 Act, which used a procedure for notices and counter-notices similar to that provided under the Telecommunications Act 1984. That Act gives the landowner the suitable protection that he can choose to lop or remove the trees himself, but if he disputes the need for lopping or removal, he can serve a counter-notice. In that case, no action can be taken, unless the county court confirms the notice.
If the intention behind the amendment is that the county court should confirm every notice, whether contested or not, I would argue that it would add no benefit. If a landowner has done nothing about a notice, it is highly likely that the county court consideration would be uncontested. It is unclear, therefore, what such consideration would achieve. However, it would create extra work, including for the courts, and might cause delay. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.
Stephen Hammond: I initially thought that the Minister was saying that the serving of a counter-notice stopped the time limit on the notice. Was that what he was saying?
Mr. Harris: If a counter-notice is served, no action can be taken until it is confirmed by a county court.
Stephen Hammond: I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification. If that is the procedure, my amendment is rendered unnecessary, and I beg to ask to leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 20

Control of construction sites: appeals
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Stephen Hammond: Clause 20 will effectively disapply the provisions of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, which will mean that appeals are determined by not a magistrates court, but the Secretary of State, which is concerning. The Government are trying to enact legislation that allows them, or their nominated undertaker, to create a great deal of noise—I accept that sometimes that is unavoidable—in and around London. Under the 1974 Act, the Government can apply for prior consent for such a level of noise. Normally, such appeals would be heard by a magistrates court, but now the Government want to hear those appeals themselves. In legal terms, they would therefore be the defendant and judge. I invite the Minister to clarify the situation and explain how he will seek to remedy it. It is an extremely important matter.
This morning, we tackled briefly the possibility of noise due to the extension of boring and drilling downwards. However, we have only touched on noise. Clearly, noise blight could be a major result of the construction phase under the Bill. Whole communities might well be affected during the construction, and the 1974 Act seems to be more or less the only protection for a neighbourhood or community. It would seem invidious for appeals to be determined by the Secretary of State rather than through the normal channels. How on earth could a local community protect itself? Is the Minister saying that the Government should be above the law for the purposes of this Bill, and therefore—potentially—for the purposes of other Bills?
Sir Peter Soulsby: May I reassure the hon. Member for Wimbledon that the question of noise during construction was repeatedly a matter of concern in petitions heard by the Select Committee? We spent a considerable amount of time listening to those concerns and were heartened to receive from the promoters and the Government a number of assurances about the way in which the construction would be undertaken. That enabled us to reassure those petitioners. Although I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making about the general provision, I hope that I can reassure him and the Committee that some of the specific problems anticipated by petitioners, residents and those in the neighbourhood of the construction sites were considered at an early stage and a number of remedial measures were put in place.
2.15 pm
Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): There are laws in place relating to noise pollution from works. However, my constituency has the highest number of underground stations—a total of 14—and lot of work takes place outside normal hours and causes massive disturbance, and that is just the ongoing regular work. There will be much more work to be done during the construction stage of Crossrail, which is why this important issue needs to be addressed.
Mr. Binley: May I confirm what my colleague the hon. Member for Leicester, South said about the concern raised by petitioners not only about noise, but about other pollution? Noise, vibration and dust were the major concerns. Indeed, we went through the code that has been adopted—at considerable length and to a considerable depth. The hon. Gentleman is right. We should be happy with the conditions built in to the code and the fact that the undertakers are aware of the need to act properly in this respect. However, there are sad occasions when things go wrong and we have seen examples of that in this place over the past week.
I am concerned about whether there is a fall-back position. Many of the petitioners felt that they had a fall-back position with regard to magistrates who knew their own locality. That was an important safeguard for them: if the code and the promises and all that was said to good effect did not materialise, they could appeal to local magistrates. Again, the “local” gave them comfort. I am concerned that we are removing local knowledge from the equation. I would like the Minister to reassure me and tell me exactly why he feels that that element should be removed or whether my concerns do not matter and are of no consequence. If that is so, I am happy; if not, I will not be happy at all.
Mr. Harris: I will try my best to offer comfort to Opposition Members, although I am not sure whether I will be successful, given the concerns that they have raised. However, I believe that their concerns are unfounded. I am grateful for the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South in that regard.
May I use an increasingly over-used word, which is perhaps devalued currency, and say that the clause is precedented in the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996? The purpose of the clause is to modify elements of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, so that an appeal against a construction noise notice under section 60 of that Act, or a refusal or conditioning of a consent to construction arrangements under section 61, is determined by the Secretary of State instead of by a magistrates court.
The Crossrail scheme is a linear work of some 100 km in length, passing through the areas of many petty sessional divisions. Although magistrates courts are an appropriate forum for the resolution of disputes in relation to schemes and activities that have discrete local effects, using such courts as appellate bodies is not likely to secure the co-ordinated and unified approach to construction activities that is desirable for the effective management of a project the size of Crossrail.
Mr. Binley: The point about which we are talking relates not to the code, but to the failure of the code. The code should be adjudged from a local perspective, because local conditions impact upon dust, noise and vibration. We were told that at great length. That is why, given that the conditions and the code are in place, I want an appeal, as a fall back scenario, to be interpreted from a local viewpoint, rather than from that of the Secretary of State, who has, as the Minister said, the broader view. It is for that exact reason that I want the local input.
Mr. Harris: I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, but do not accept his assumption that the Secretary of State is somehow an inappropriate person to hear those appeals. As a member of the Select Committee, the hon. Gentleman will know that an awful lot of work has been done on agreeing the working hours for Crossrail works. That has been the subject of lengthy discussions with local authorities and, of course, the Select Committee.
Sir Peter Soulsby: I wish to respond to the suggestion that local knowledge will somehow be lost by this process. I am sure that the Minister can confirm that the role of the local authority will be completely unaffected by the provision, and the local knowledge that the local authority undoubtedly has will still be an important part of the enforcement of the controls over this nuisance.
Mr. Harris: My hon. Friend is correct and, once again, shows deep knowledge of the subject at hand. The position agreed with local authorities is reflected in the construction code mentioned by the hon. Member for Northampton, South, which forms part of the environmental minimum requirements, for which an undertaking has been given to the House.
I would like to clarify the fact that the Secretary of State will not necessarily be the Secretary of State for Transport. The hon. Member for Northampton, South has suggested that the Secretary of State for Transport might be in some kind of double bind, being both the appellant—the person creating the complaint in the first place—and the person hearing the appeal. It does not have to be the Secretary of State for Transport.
Stephen Hammond: If it does not have to be the Secretary of State for Transport, which Secretary of State does the Minister envisage it being? It would help a lot of people if that was specified in the Bill. Is he proposing that the appellate procedure be held by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government?
Mr. Harris: In practice, it would not necessarily be the Secretary of State for Transport. Instead, an independent inspector is likely to be appointed with the authority of the Secretary of State. That is what happened with the 1996 Act. As the appeal in the case of the Thameslink box at Kings Cross has shown, there can be no presumption that the inspector will find in favour of the project. We know that the promoter lost that particular case.
I understand the general concern that the Secretary of State should not have those powers, but they have been invested in previous legislation and hybrid Bills because a strategic approach is needed. Of course, local knowledge is absolutely essential. However, that local knowledge will not be lost, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South has already said. In a project of such importance and physical size, the appeals should be heard by someone with a strategic overview of the project, not by any number of local magistrates courts.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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