Housing and Regeneration Bill

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Clause 14

The HCA as the local planning authority
Mr. Wright: I beg to move amendment No. 22, in clause 14, page 6, line 35, leave out ‘functions’ and insert
‘all relevant functions, or specified relevant functions,’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 23 to 29.
Mr. Wright: I shall be brief. Amendments Nos. 22 and 27 clarify the drafting. They allow the Bill to make it clear which non-local planning authority functions may be conferred upon the agency under the designation order.
Amendment No. 23 ensures that some non-local planning authority functions may be given to the agency concurrently with the existing body—for example, keeping registers of enforcement notices. Amendments Nos. 24 and 29 highlight the general power later in the Bill that would allow a designation order to a supplementary, incidental and consequential provision.
Amendment No. 25 adds section 330 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to the list of functions that may be conferred upon the agency in relation to a designated area. This function gives local authorities power to require information as to interests in land for the purpose of making any order or issuing or serving any notice or other document under the 1990 Act.
Amendment No. 26 removes section 76 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 from the list of functions that may be conferred upon the agency in relation to a designated area. The provision does not actually confer functions on anyone other than the Secretary of State. Amendment No. 28 inserts a new power to amend by order the definition of “planning-related provisions” or “relevant functions”.
As I said, these are technical amendments that clarify matters in the Bill, and if hon. Members are still with me—that is, if they are awake—I ask them to support the amendments.
Grant Shapps: I draw the Minister’s attention to Government amendments Nos. 23 and 27, which are connected. Amendment No. 23 refers to
“the functions concerned instead of, or concurrently with, other persons”.
Will the Minister define who “other persons” are in that context, as it seems to be missing from the description? Government amendment No. 27 might reveal something of the answer, to give him a helping hand. It refers to relevant functions of London borough councils and the common council of the City of London. I suspect that those might be the “other persons” described.
The concern is that these proposals could set the HCA up in direct competition to others, such as the London Development Agency and the Mayor of London. That conflict could take many different forms including direct competition. The end concern is that there could be delay and confusion about who ultimately is responsible. We have good evidence that, when that happens, it causes all kinds of problems. One has to look only as far as the Thames Gateway to see the kind of mess, confusion and delay that can occur when the lines of authority are not clear. Perhaps the Minister could explain those two points. One is about who the “other persons” are in Government amendment No. 23 and the other is about Government amendment No. 27, which seems to set up conflict. Is that a deliberate move? Is that the intention or is it intended that the HCA take on additional powers and ride over the responsibilities of the local authorities?
I note that in Sir Simon Milton’s evidence to the sitting on 11 December he says:
“There is a suspicion on the part of some councils that the view will be that if you do not deliver what the Government tell you to deliver on housing numbers your planning powers will be removed and given to the HCA. That would be completely unacceptable to local government as a whole.”——[Official Report, Housing and Regeneration Public Bill Committee, 11 December 2007; c. 6, Q5.]
In addition to that point, Government amendment No. 27 also raises the question over the powers of the London Development Agency and the Mayor of London, and how they will interact.
Lembit Öpik: Although I do not expect the Minister to repeat the comments that he made in the previous debate, he can surely see that this clause, the previous clause and the associated amendments are connected. It seems to me that Government amendment No. 23 serves to do exactly what the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield just highlighted by creating a potential conflict and an opportunity to sidestep the existing processes. I know the Minister’s argument because he made it in the previous discussion. I do not expect him to repeat it, but I put on record my considerable concern that a malicious Minister could easily use this power, with the amendments, to sidestep a local authority and exert the will of Government on it, regardless of the wishes of local people.
Mr. Syms: My comments are more general, so do you want me to wait, Mr. Gale?
The Chairman: It is all right.
Mr. Wright: I hope that I can clarify things for the hon. Gentleman. With regard to the points made by the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield on Government amendments Nos. 23 and 27, my strong feeling is that they work together, are complementary and not in conflict. The persons referred to in Government amendment No. 23 are the bodies listed under the relevant functions within Government amendment No. 27. I hope that that is clear. I do not think that it raises conflict, because Planning Acts impose functions on the local planning authority and other bodies, which are listed in Government amendment No. 27. I have mentioned the importance of the whole planning framework with regard to what the agency does. The intention of the amendment is to clarify which other persons those will be.
Grant Shapps: I want to ensure that we are absolutely clear. Does that mean that Government amendment No. 23 refers to Government amendment No. 27 and the persons are, specifically, the London Development Agency, the Mayor of London and London Councils?
Mr. Wright: Yes, that is certainly my impression of the Government amendments and I am more than happy to look to the skies to seek inspiration. If there is anything on which I have misled the Committee, I will certainly let them know in this afternoon’s session. I am looking to the skies, but they are very cloudy today and I cannot see much when I look outside, so I shall come back to that if I may.
The hon. Member for Poole asked some interesting questions about governance and raised an incredibly important point about who would sit on the relevant planning committees. My strong understanding is that board members of the HCA would do so, along with co-opted outside members. They are likely to be local councillors from the relevant areas. We would expect the HCA board to establish suitable arrangements so that the committees can accommodate such instances and address matters such as good governance, good practice and the avoidance of conflict of interest.
Paragraph 9 of schedule 1 provides for instances when employees or members of the committee must disclose the nature of their involvement. The agency will also have the ability to appoint people who are not employees or members and to co-opt such bodies to such committees as they consider appropriate. However, it is important to point out to the hon. Gentleman that they must gain the Secretary of State’s consent in those circumstances, which will help to maintain integrity in all external appointments. I think that it shows the difficulty in this whole issue of planning designation and how extremely rare that will be, and it goes back to the point that I made earlier about opportunity costs and the resources of the agency.
It is still cloudy outside, so I suggest that I need to go and have a look, perhaps in St. James’s park, but I hope to be able to provide clarification to the Committee this afternoon.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 23, in clause 14, page 6, line 40, after ‘(3)’ insert ‘—
(a) may provide for the HCA to have the functions concerned instead of, or concurrently with, other persons who have them,
(b) ’.
No. 24, in clause 14, page 6, line 43, after ‘(5)’ insert
‘, or section 274(1)(d) in its application to an order of a kind falling within this section,’.
No. 25, in clause 14, page 7, line 3, leave out ‘section 188’ and insert ‘sections 188 and 330’.
No. 26, in clause 14, page 7, line 5, leave out ‘, 55 and 76’ and insert ‘and 55’.
No. 27, in clause 14, page 7, line 8, at end insert—
‘“relevant functions” means functions of—
(a) a district council, a London borough council, the Common Council of the City of London, or any other body which is a local authority within the meaning of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (c. 8),
(b) a district planning authority (within the meaning of that Act), or
(c) a hazardous substances authority (within the meaning of the Planning (Hazardous Substances) Act 1990 (c. 10)),’.—[Mr. Wright.]
The Chairman: Before we move to amendment No. 2, in the light of the previous debate, I shall ask the Clerk to indicate to Mr. Benton that it is unlikely that it will be necessary to have a stand part debate on that clause. I inform the Committee of that now in case hon. Members wish to take advantage of an opportunity to raise other issues arising from the clause.
Amendment proposed: No. 2, in clause 14, page 7, line 10, at end add—
‘(8) Before exercising its powers under this section the HCA shall undertake formal consultation with the local authority and organise public information and consultation meetings with local community organisations and local people, in respect of any development in the designated area.’. —[Grant Shapps.]
Grant Shapps: The amendment is very much along the lines of some of the issues that were raised this morning, particularly in relation to clause 13, and relates to the extent to which the HCA will have to consult with local authorities. We have heard what could be described as a lot of warm words from the Minister about how the HCA, under the Government’s leadership, would widely consult on a whole variety of matters.
It being One o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned till this day at Four o’clock.
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