House of Commons
|Session 2007 - 08|
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General Committee Debates
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Alan Sandall, Committee Clerk
attended the Committee
Phil Jones, President, Energy Networks Association
David Smith, Acting Chief Executive, Energy Networks Association
Neil Sinden, Policy Director, Campaign to Protect Rural England
Paul Miner, Planning Campaigner, Campaign to Protect Rural England
Rt Hon John Healey MP, Minister for Local Government, Department for Communities and Local Government
Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP, Minister for Housing , Department for Communities and Local Government
Bernadette Kelly, Executive Director of Planning, Department for Communities and Local Government
Ian Scotter, Head of Planning Reform Team , Department for Communities and Local Government
Miles Gibson, Deputy Director for Economic and Social Policy , Department for Communities and Local Government
Public Bill Committee
Thursday 10 January 2008
[Sir John Butterfill in the Chair]
The Committee deliberated in private.
The Chairman: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Could I make an announcement about mobile phones? Would you please turn any mobile phones off? It is not sufficient to leave them on silent because even on silent they interfere with the sound system in this room. Could everyone therefore ensure that their mobile phones are turned off during this sitting?
I am very pleased to welcome Philip Jones and his colleague David Smith from the Energy Networks Association. Do you have any opening statement that you would like to make briefly or shall we proceed directly to questions?
David Smith: I am David Smith, the acting chief executive of the Energy Networks Association. With me this afternoon is Phil Jones, who is the president and chief operating officer of CE Electric, which covers the north-east of England and Yorkshire. We are delighted to be here to talk about the Planning Bill. I will take questions first, if that is okay, and then Phil will pick up on specific points.
Q 274274 Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): Welcome. I hope that you are pleased about the Governments announcement earlier today on nuclear power. That will keep your industry going for some time to come. I do not know whether you have seen the statement, but it says that the Government will be inviting energy companies to put forward proposals for new power stations. This obviously affects your association. I wonder what you think about the policy statement process. We will keep the infrastructure planning commission out of it for the moment, but what, from your point of view, should be in the national policy statements?
David Smith: I have not seen the announcement, so apologies for that.
David Smith: I think the interesting thing is that nuclear and wind will be quite remote, so there is some need, not only for us to build new, but for network reinforcements, and we will need to look at that.
The national policy statement on planning must have some legitimacy through a wide, deep democratic process, which may take a long time, and we are quite comfortable with that. However, we must ensure that they are agreed to the widest legitimacy and that they will go into the right levels of detail to aid the IPC in its decision-making process. Investment now, looking at it very carefully, will save time later and prevent the need for amendment by the Minister at a future stage.
Phil Jones: From the point of view of a company like my ownI should stress that it is pretty much exclusively a network organisation; we move other peoples power around for them to the good people who want to use itthe acid test of the policy statement would be to ask if it is able to change the proposal that people would make. I used to do that kind of work in the organisation, planning and laying-out of networks.
The test at the drafting and consultation stages is whether it gives guidance on what are effectively the network planners key choices. We are fairly old technologythere is nothing brand new about the kind of assets that we put in placeso the straight question about whether or not we should be there has pretty much already been answered. Until we find a way to broadcast power without some kind of physical infrastructure something will have to be there. The questions are not so much, Shall we have it or shant we?if there is a requirement for power we shall have to be there in some formbut about overhead or underground. Policy guidance on where those kind of things are acceptable and where they are not would substantially aid the process. By way of illustration, we are running a fairly complicated process at the moment with our colleagues at National Grid. That is just an example, but it is probably the best example I can think of.
We did detailed planning on well over 40 different scenarios for a particular route to a particular site, which is the kind of guidance that we would expect from a national policy statement, for example. It would help us say, Dont bother with nos. 37 and 42. They are no-hopers because the policy statement is quite clear. What we do not want is something that says, It needs to be very carefully considered, because I like to think that we always do that. To the extent that it can influence the choices made by the planners, that will be the acid test.
May I tell you what I think they should say? As I said, we are quite neutral as an organisation. Lots of our assets are above ground and lots are below ground; some of it is a long way from the sub-station and some is close. As a generality, we are indifferent to those choices. Guiding the choices in practice would be my observation. I hope that does not seem as if I am evading the question; I am trying to answer it effectively.
Q 275 Mrs. Lait: I draw from that that you would like to know from the national policy statement the precise locations of the power stations so that you would know the points that you are connecting. In the jargon that we are using, you want a location-specific policy.
Phil Jones: Yes, if it was in a policy statement about power stations it would definitely help. I apologise if it is stating the obvious, but to companies like ours, the fact that there has been an announcement today that a certain type of technology will be encouraged is neither
Location is definitely a key issue and so is proximity to other development. For example, it makes a big difference to us how close is it to where people live and how close it will be to the users of the network. If you are talking about a national policy statement for something other than the stations themselvesperhaps for the kind of assets that we put in the groundmore specific guidance would be, We do not like it in these circumstances, but do under those. Basically, changing the decision of the planner would be the acid test, and I think that is what to look out for.
Q 276 Mrs. Lait: Have you considered that, if it was a location-specific statement, it is the equivalent of giving planning permission in principle without having consulted the local community, and hence there is the potential for conflict between the development and the local community?
Phil Jones: We have considered it from a point of view that is much more self-interested for the kind of business that we are, as I guess you would expect. I do not think that a policy statement would in any way amount to that for us. Leaving aside for a moment whether it is true that the power stations will go there, with regard to the infrastructure assets, which is what I am qualified to speak about, I do not think that it would amount to that.
If a policy statement said, We are going to put a power station there, we would look for some common sense that said, By the way, all that goes with it, subject to it going through the proper process, also now needs to be tested. Right now, I have schemes running in Yorkshire and the north-east for which permission has already been granted for the site-specific location, as you would describe it, but the debate about whether there can be a line to connect it is completely and utterly separate. That is the kind of scenario we face in reality and do not want, as schemes can be paused for 10 or 15 yearsI have one that has been running longer than I have been in the industrybecause we cannot get permission for a line to something that is already permitted as the development itself.
Imagine the situation where we can have all of those power stations ready to go now. That might be excellent, but it carries no weight whatsoever in whether the local infrastructure company can proceed, and from what I have gathered about the statements I have read in the papers this week, I do not think that they will be troubling us to put too many wires to those nuclear power stations. Imagine if whoever has to do the application can in absolutely no way whatsoever try to get some wires to the place. You will end up with some power stations, but they will be of absolutely no use to anyone.
Q 277 Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I shall come on to the issue of infrastructure planning permission and accountability. In your submission you mentioned how, in relation to the IPC, the legitimate needs and concerns of local communities must be a central consideration and that they must be effectively consulted before an application is made. I just wonder
David Smith: We are of the view that community engagement will be enhanced under the IPC. The vital role of pre-application consultation, combined with a more holistic consent process, will ensure better-informed and, indeed, more empowered stakeholders who can communicate with each other more effectively than is probably the case currently.
Q 278 Tom Brake: It was not so much the pre-application stage that I was worried about. You have identified that it is important that the needs and concerns of local communities are a central consideration for the IPC, but if the Bill goes ahead, the IPC will not allow local communities to cross-examine, for instance. Do you still feel that the needs and concerns of local communities will be a central consideration for the IPC?
Phil Jones: My company and I do not feel particularly strongly about where that comes in the technical process of the IPC. As far as I am concerned, it can do it when it likes. What we favour very strongly about the whole concept of the planning commission is that, in scenarios not dissimilar to that which I described a few moments ago, it puts us in a situation where we would be engaging with a set of people who would probably be quite well qualified to have those kind of discussions. Certainly, after working at it for a while, they would become increasingly proficient in the difficult trade-offs and dilemmas that have to be faced when questions are being asked, such as, Where shall we put the assets that people do not think are too pretty?
From our point of view, I do not think it holds any positive prospects for us, in the sense that there is more, or less, cross-examination. What we like about it is the measure of consistency and the opportunity to go to a place that is proficient, expert, well resourced and set up to do that kind of thing, and it will debate till the cows come home. Then we would be told in one place, by people who know what they are talking about, that we have brought a bad proposal, and to go away and come back with something different. I do not profess to be an expert in whether that is appropriate or otherwise, or whether it is feasible and practical to allow that kind of cross-examination, but I certainly do not mind it. They can do it whenever is most appropriate.
We would like to be able to put our hand on our heart and say, This makes us more accountable, not less. We are not trying to move the debate into a smoke-filled room somewhere, where it is done behind closed doors and nobody has a say. Just bring the debate on in one place, so that we do not have to go to six different planning authorities for different aspects of the same scheme. If somebody wants a connection, and if it is in the national interest, and it brings with it a whole hostmaybe many milesof overhead lines, cables, substations and lots of other works, let us put it all on the table, and let everybody who is interested in any part of it come and challenge us. They can cross-examine us, or do it however they wish, in our view.
Q 279 Tom Brake: Have you, as an industry, assessed what was implied by one of our earlier witnesses: that if the IPC, for instance, goes ahead in the form set out in the Bill and does not allow cross-examination, there may be scope for significant civil unrest? Have you, as an industry, considered the implications of that, and what it might mean in terms of the time scales, for instance, for delivering some of your projects?
David Smith: I do not think we have considered it in such fine detail. Certainly, the fine detail of the inquisitorial rather than the adversarial approach will need to be sorted out. I believe there are some amendments down to consider allowing a single barrister within each IPC. It is difficult for us to say. If you can go through and have people who are professionaland you need a networked person on the IPCwho understand the issues, and are able to sit there and have a discussion rather than a legalistic bouncing backwards and forwards in an adversarial role, that seems to us to be more appropriate.
Q 280 James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): The Local Government Association expressed support for the Bill on the condition that the number of nationally significant infrastructure projects was going to be in single figures. In the energy sector, how many do you believe there will be each year?
Phil Jones: More than single figures. I would not like to pin myself to a number. I think we would be happy to be more precise of that outside of here, but I can see what they are driving at. Quite frankly, we drive in entirely the opposite direction. Our agenda, as the networkthe Cinderella part of the organisation, as we like to complain to everybodyis that everybody always forgets about this kind of thing. I can think of an offshore wind farm we are considering a connection for. It is not our wind farm, but we are considering the connection for it right now. The sub-station that we are working on is 15 miles, I think, from where the thing would come on shore. We would say: what is the point taking, in this case, the IPCs time and trouble to look at the development itself, and maybe the overhead line that connects it? We would want to lump everything in, as I have said, and all that goes with it. Right now, we have three or four of those being considered at any one time. We cover, say, a fifth to a sixth of the UK land mass. There are going to be 20 or 40not 100, I would have thought, but not single figures.
James Duddridge: The figure the Local Government Association was quoting meant overall, not just in the sector. That is well out of kilter with what they think is acceptable.
Phi l Jones: This is on existing arrangements, by the way. This is before you start pursing the kind of climate change objectives that have been kicked around in the past 12 months. When we say 20 per cent. did we mean electrical energy? No, we meant all energy. Oh, better stick to it, then. That kind of thing. That is a massive change that is being talked about now. Against that backdrop, I would not like to hazard a guess or stake my professional reputation, at this point, on how many nationally significant developments there would be. I can see the concern that they would not want people like us trying to flash everything through as being nationally significant, and therefore, perhaps, you
Q 281 James Duddridge: Can I put it to you that, in some cases, when 1 per cent. is not agreed, perhaps the whole thing is not appropriate? It is not simply a numbers game. Theoretically, if only 1 per cent. was objected to, it is quite possible that the project should not go ahead. When we look at these things on a more regional basis rather than looking at them from a local authority perspective, you are moving the decision-making process further awayliterallyfrom those who know about the area and know about that 1 per cent.
Phil Jones: Yes. So far as we have been able to tell, one of the big question marks for us about the Bill as drafted is what would be attached to any given proposal. Let us say that we are talking about the scenario that I have described, where the thing at the end is clearly material. Our question as a network company is whether you will include all the things that go with it. I do not mean that you should give us open season on anything in that particular set of postcodes to do whatever we want, but you should put us through a process that can be validated externally, which says, Is this or is this not the marginal infrastructure that is required to put this in place? By the way, the person who is developing the nationally significant asset has an interest in making sure that we are not doing that, because generally speaking they will be paying for those connection assets. The honest truth is that I think that it will be a bigger number than those people who are lobbying you, for sure, if we want to hit the type of targets that we are talking about. It is just time for some hard choices.
Q 282 Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): There are two issues that I would like to explore with you. The first is the national policy statements, which you say that you have generally supported. But you have put in your evidence to us at the top of page 2:
However the interrelationship between them and the hierarchy of the existing suite of planning policies, statements and guidance must be addressed if they are to be effective.
In saying that, are you basically concurring with what the Royal Town Planning Institute said to us yesterday? Their representatives said that the planning policy
Phil Jones: I neither wrote the letter nor made the statement, so I cannot be certain what was in the minds of the people who said what they said to you yesterday, but it sounds that way to me, yes. It just needs to all make sense; that is what we are saying. There are some existing frameworks that we know would stay in place; this is not going to supersede everything that is to do with planning. We just want to take care to make sure that those things are not at odds with each other.
Q 283 Mr. Betts: Can I come on to the community infrastructure levy? With any proposal to collect money, some organisations will be against it. In this case, most organisations do not appear to be absolutely against it. One or two, such as yours, are saying, Actually, it is quite a good idea, as long as it does not apply to us.
There are two reasons that you advance as to why you should be exempt from the levy. The first is that you pay through section 106 arrangements anyway, but that is true of all developers and the interrelationship between section 106 and the levy is one of the issues that we have explored. Secondly, it is argued that there will not be any uplift in value on your sites generally and therefore, because the levy is about capturing some of that uplift in value for the public purse, you should be exempt from it.
However, is it not the case that there will be many types of development, not just energy developments, where there may not be an uplift in value but they will still have the levy applied to them? As an industry, why should you be exempt, given that we will have applications from the transport industry, the minerals industry and lots of other people who would want to advance a similar case?
Phil Jones: Our position is as you reflect it; it is that we look and say, If everybody was like us, would there be such a thing? I take your point that it is not clear-cut; we are not the minor exception and everybody else over here is making out. However, I would say that never is only just too strong; we hardly ever, if ever, harvest any of the benefits that you rightly describe in the levy as seeking to put back into the public purse. It does not accrue to us.
Generally speaking, we reduce the value of land and I facetiously said to colleagues, Hey, if this thing is symmetrical and we can have a pay-out every time of a share of the diminution that we have created, I guess we would be in favour. I say that because if you put an overhead line right across some land, it does not generally increase the value of property in that area. Generally speaking, we end up settling claims because of a diminution. The value that is released is in the hotel, the retail development or whatever industrial site we are enabling by our network assets. We have a hard time seeing how we would ever be in pay-out mode for our assets.
Q 284 Mr. Betts: I know that there is a problem because of the use of the word valuing in clause 163, which people latch on to. When we talked to the Local
David Smith: We already contribute through section 106 agreements, as you rightly said.
David Smith: The other way that we pay is through arrangements by which we pay wayleaves where our assets cross land, which are predominantly paid to local community farmers. That has been a feature of our industry for several decades. We believe that the bureaucracy will cause more of a problem because we will have to get people in to deal with it. There are very few occasions on which we believe that any benefits will come back to us. Strengthen section 106 and carry on using the wayleaves; we believe that that would be a more appropriate way of doing this.
Q 285 Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Do you have a standard pre-application consultation procedure?
Phil Jones: Do you mean does the industry have that?
Phil Jones: The answer to your question is no. At the level to which it is currently standard, you would say that it is not standard. I could say political things such as that our standard is that it is always carefully considered, that it always involves the right people and that we always ask the right questions. However, the honest answer is, no, we bespoke it to the situation. If we think that it is a straightforward industrial brownfield development site, we might not need to engage in anynever mind very muchconsultation. If we are undergrounding overhead lines in the Yorkshire dales, for example, and are consulting the Association of National Park Authorities, Friends of the Lake District and all of the people who have pushed very hard for funding for such things, that will be a much longer and drawn-out process. We have to consult with them about where the vans will park when we arrive on site and so forth.
Generally speaking, we bespoke the consultation to the project. Do I think that this is something about which the industry can learn lessons going forward? Yes, for sure. It will have to over the next 30 or 40 years. For example, the electricity industry has probably got something to learn from the water industry, which makes a bigger impact when it arrives in a community wanting to do a big piece of work. The answer is no, we do not have a standard consultation period.
Q 286 Mr. Llwyd: Living in a national park myself, I am aware of the delicacy of the position, whether going below or above ground. Looking at the Bill, have you had any thoughts on the pre-application consultation that is envisaged?
Phil Jones: It did not frighten us, if that is the nature of the question. For my company, it will be a refreshing challenge to have to go back to first principles and be asked to engage with an expert body that regularly does this kind of thing. The manner in which we had dealt with the local community before it had got to that stage would be a factor in how our considerations proceeded. Because of the very ad hoc nature of the planning process nowit depends upon what the scheme is, where it is, how many people will be cut acrossthere is not that level of consistency that you have described. Do I think that we are geared up for it on that scale now? I should not speak for the industry; I can speak only for my company. At the moment we handle each scheme on its merits. It will be a positive challenge for us to become a better organisation. We do not fear it, but are not ready for it in full.
Q 287 Mr. Llwyd: Earlier on, you said that you would be happy for decisions to be taken by the IPC because it would be manned by expertsthat was your word. But is it not right that experts do not always get things right, otherwise there would not be such things as appeal courts? Looking at the Bill, are you confident that the IPC will strike the right balance between economic factors, environmental factors, local considerations and so on? If not, would either of you like to see any change in the Bill?
Ph il Jones: Shall I dive in to answer that?
David Smith: Yes, go ahead. I will follow up.
Phil Jones: No we are not, but that is not trying to be unduly confrontational. We are not as confident as we would wish to be, until, for a start, we see how that group is resourced, what levels of expertise sit there and exactly what kind of process it will go through. I was asking colleagues about that on the way here. I presume that it would amount to a similar situation to the one that I am used to in terms of network regulation.
If we sufficiently dislike the body of experts that Ofgem decide on, we can take them to the Competition Commission and, ultimately, we could go to judicial review. But those are very onerous routes for us to take as a company, so we would have to be very sure of our ground. We say that generally, because we can scrutinise the quality of the work of the organisation that we are dealing with. Until we are able to look at the IPCif it is one man and a dog, then I would say that I would be confident that they would get it wrong lots of times and, whatever is behind it, decent-sized companies like us would not have too much trouble overturning some of those decisions if it is not well organised.
You have to look at how our public bodies have had their decisions overturned. It is generally done on process, on the quality with which they have consulted, on the type of advice that they have been able to afford, and the quality of people they have on their teams; if the decision is not good enough, companies like usor whoever is on the other sideget it overturned in the
David Smith: The other important point to remember is that a large number of decisions are taken by the Secretary of State anyway, under the electricity and gas Acts. The consent team would also move across, which is a body of expertise. We have been quite clear in our evidence that people who understand energy infrastructure need to be involved in this, because we require particularly unique planning regimes.
Q 288 Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Gentlemen, you have just said, At the moment, there is a control for all the reasons that you have just set out to Mr. Llwyd, but is that not, in reality, precisely because there is an appeal? Exactly the point you and Mr. Jones are making, Mr. Smith, is that, because there is an appeal, that is a discipline. You get it right and you do not go to the commission unless you really must. There will not be any appeal from the IPC, will there? Who will judge the experts? Other experts?
Phil Jones: I may be misguided here; I only checked it yesterday. Is this parallel to the situation that we are dealing with, where, if we do not like a regulatory settlement, behind that is the competition commission?
Robert Neill: They say that it is not, Mr. Jones. That is the point. Apart from the Secretary of State calling something in, there is no appeal.
Phil Jones: So you would not be able to JR these guys at all?
Phil Jones: That is my point. I realise that it is not entirely analogous, but the point is that in the end we do actively consider, Would we push this decision all the way to judicial review?
Robert Neill: I am just wondering whether you really think that that will give you major savings, or does the idea that the only route is judicial review make life more complicated, do you think?
Phil Jones: I would not have thought so. Maybe I am just guilty of being comfortable with the framework I am used to working with.
The other thing that interests me is that Mr. Smith said that you must have someone from the industry on there. I understand whythere must be some expertise in how it worksbut the IPC will also have to take decisions on the balance of benefit versus impact, which
David Smith: The pre-application consultation, combined with this holistic consent process will mean that community engagement will be enhanced, potentially.
Q 289 Robert Neill: Mr. Jones, you do not have a problem with cross-examinationit is robust enough. Once it is done, if you have single consent, which is important, you can get on with the job. That is the key thing for you, is it not?
Phil Jones: Indeed. I think so, yes.
Q 290 Robert Neill: I can understand that side of it. I suppose that some lawyers would have to be involved, would they not, as the IPC will have to take decisions on domestic and international law? That is one of the grounds on which it can depart from a national policy statement. It makes one wonder how much it will have to expand to include an expert in everything.
Phil Jones: I will give a personal viewin the sense that it is a company view, not necessarily an industry one. I have a hard time imagining that this thing could ever bealthough it is easy to say that it needs to bestaffed up with all the expertise that it needs. I was careful when I chose my words. It needs to have access to the expertise that it will need on a case-by-case basis. In other words, it will have to have a budget to pay for decent advisers at times, on specific issues. That is what it will turn on. It will not be, Do we dislike this entire process? It will be This is stuck because of that particular support on that line, from that aspect and that view. It will have to be specific. You cannot be ready for all questions with permanent staff; no way.
Phil Jones: Indeed.
David Smith: I did make the point early on that it needs to be high-quality and well resourced.
Q 291 Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): In his most recent statement, the Secretary of State said that the Planning Bill will expedite planning applications more effectively and efficiently, particularly when it comes to new nuclear power stations, but he also mentioned what concerns some people who object to nuclear powerthe cost. He said quite clearly:
It will be for energy companies, not Government, to fund, develop and build new nuclear power stations, including meeting the full costs of decommissioning and each operators full share of waste management costs.
Can you envisage any situation where the taxpayer, not consumers or businesses, will be asked to pay either directly or indirectly towards the building of any new nuclear power station?
Phil Jones: I realise that I am the person giving evidence here, but I suppose that I could ask you that. I would hope that you would say no. I can see why you might be concerned, but of course I can envisage it. It is like asking six months ago whether I could envisage that the taxpayer ever having to shore up a bank that
Q 292 Jim Sheridan: But do you think that it would be helpful for the industry to clarify that it will not expect the Government or the taxpayer to pick up the bill for any new build nuclear power stations?
Phil Jones: I am not qualified to comment on the nuclear industry. I guess that what I am asking is whether it would be worth anything when it came to stick and lift. The lawyers would come back into play again thenFifteen years ago, somebody said that they could assure the taxpayer that they would not be doing this. Then, no doubt, there would be some reason why it should not be changed. I am not in a position to give that assurance, on nuclear or any other form of technology. We just connect them.
The Chairman: We have two minutes left. Does anybody have another question for these witnesses? No. In that case, thank you very much, gentlemen. We are grateful to you. You have been most helpful in assisting us in our deliberations on the Bill.
Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming. Mr. Sinden, would you introduce your colleague, please?
Neil Sinden: I am Neil Sinden, policy director of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. On my right is Paul Miner, a senior planning officer at the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Neil Sinden: Yes please, Chairmanbriefly, if I may. I should clarify that CPRE has been campaigning and working jointly as part of the Making Planning Better coalition on the planning White Paper in the Bill. That coalition consists of environmental organisations that, together, are supported, we estimate, by more than 5 million people. CPRE considers itself one of the leading third-party participants in the planning process at all levels through our local groups, local volunteers, regional groups and national office.
We firmly believe that the planning system is a crucial, well-established but undervalued part of the democratic process. It has a crucial role to play in delivering sustainable development, and we recognise that climate change is an important part of that agenda and a huge challenge. We are deeply concerned, however, that the Bill could lead to things getting worse in relation climate change, rather than better, as some may claim. The infrastructure that the Government want to fast-track through these new procedures includes such things as airports, major roads, power stations that will run on fossil fuels, and incinerators. All of those are likely to increase greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable energy schemes are only one of the kinds of infrastructure about which the Bill is concerned.
We are also concerned about the treatment that the Government have given to responses to the planning White Paper. The vast majority of the responses that the Government received came from supporters of coalition
Finally, our concerns revolve around three key themes. The first is the proposals for national policy statements. We welcome, in principle, the recognition of the need for clearer national policies and the commitment to sustainability appraisal in relation to national policy statements, but such statements need meaningfully to contribute to sustainable development and to complement existing planning policy statements, rather than supersede them. Secondly, we are concerned about the need for the proposed infrastructure planning commission. A far better option, we believe, would be to use existing Government agencies to assist Ministers in making quicker decisions on infrastructure schemes. Finally, the proposed reforms of public inquiry procedures do not inspire confidence in ourselves or, we believe, the public.
Q 293 Mrs. Lait: Good afternoon, gentlemen. You talked latterly about the national policy statements. You were very brief on the subject, and I just wondered whether you had any views about what they should and should not encompass. As you may have heard, we have had evidence that the ENA would like to have all the substations included in them and others wanted all the ancillary roads included. Would you be looking for NPSs that went into that level of detail?
Neil Sinden: First, to come back to the point that I made in my opening remarks, we need to look at the national policy statements in the context of the existing suite of planning policy statements. It is important to recognise that we have more than 20 PPSs, which already set out national policy considerations on a wide range of issuesnot only infrastructure, but issues of environmental quality, housing delivery and so on. In terms of the content of national policy statements, we would like to see the Government using the framework provided by the existing suite of PPSs and to develop that. As I say, they should be seen as a complement to existing PPSs, rather than as a substitute for them.
In terms of the specific issues of content, we believe that national policy statements in general should address very fully and thoroughly the question of need in relation to certain kinds of infrastructure. They should look very carefully at alternative ways of meeting the needs that are identified in relation to energy supply and so on. As part of that process, they should look at issues to do with demand reductionat ways in which needs and demands can be reduced. In relation to energy, for example, we would have better promotion of energy efficiency and so on.
We believe that in very few cases, if any, should national policy statements be site-specific. However, we would draw a distinction between site specificity and locational specificity. In relation to sites, we have deep concerns that the national policy statements go too far down the road of identifying particular sites for particular kinds of infrastructure. We are slightly less exercised
My final point on this question is that the national policy statements should seek to embrace a wide range of considerations and give guidance to the decision-making body, whoever that may be, on the kind of weight to be attached to a wide range of economic and environmental considerations relating to particular forms of infrastructure, rather than dictating or determining the weight that should be attached to specific considerations. Fundamentally, we believe that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to separate considerations of national policy need from considerations of the impacts that a particular scheme will have on a particular site. It is vital that the inquiry process, whatever that may be, is not constrained to the extent that full and proper consideration cannot be given to those locational and site-specific considerations.
Q 294 Mrs. Lait: I am grateful to you for that and for bringing up the consultation process to which an NPS should be subject. Do you have any more extensive thoughts on how that should be accomplished, particularly given that, as I understand it, the Government want Parliament to give final approval to any statement?
Neil Sinden: We are very interested to see what Parliament decides on the remit and the role of Select Committees in examining draft national policy statements. We believe that Select Committee investigations into draft statements could very usefully identify no-go areas in terms of a degree of site-specificity that would be unjustified for a draft national policy statement. A Select Committee investigation could highlight areas where the commission, or any decision-making body that we may see given responsibility for decisions on these schemes, might test and cross-examine particular pieces of evidence at the inquiry level. We would also want the Select Committee to consider very carefully the extent to which the Government have adequately appraised draft national policy statements from the point of view of sustainable development. It is important that that process is transparent and can be tested, probed and judged by Select Committees looking at draft national policy statements.
Paul Miner: We think that there is a strong case as well for the public examination process that already happens for existing regional spatial strategies. That would enable some of the pressure to be taken off Select Committee inquiries in terms of looking at all the relevant planning considerations that national policy statements would have to consider.
Q 295 Mrs. Lait: So do I gather from that that you would see the Select Committee as the driver of the consultation, or just one part of the process of the consultation?
Neil Sinden: That is an interesting question. It may be too much to ask of a Select Committee to be driving that process, and possibly inappropriate in the light of these statements being Government documents. But I think it should be seen potentially as a critical part of that consultation process, a sort of testing of the robustness of the evidence that is being brought to bear on questions
Q 296 Mr. Betts: Can I take you through one or two of the points you raised in your evidence? First, you said that you welcome the concept of the national policy statements, but you do not want them to be accorded greater weight than existing PPSs and PPGs. In particular, you drew attention to PPG2 on the green belt and PPS7 on nationally designated landscapes. In the end, must not one document take precedence over the others? Otherwise there will be conflict between a policy statement and PPSsplanning statementsor planning guidance? If there is that degree of conflict, the commission must know which is the priority statement.
Neil Sinden: If I may, I will start on this and then hand over to my colleague. This is an important question, which comes back to my original comment about the relationship between national policy statements and existing PPSs. To some extent, of course, national policy statements concerning particular kinds of infrastructure will need to be much more explicit and deterministic about questions of need and location, and so on. But in so doing, they will need fully to take account of existing national planning policy principles set out in PPSs.
We believe that the decision-making authority needs, to some extent, to play a role in balancing the weight of consideration to be given to different statements of national policy. For example, in relation to green belts or protected areas such as national parks, weight should still be accorded to the national policy considerations set out in PPS7 and PPG2 alongside the national policy statement on a particular kind of infrastructure.
Paul Miner: In the planning process at present there is a well-established formula that has been around since 1990, that decisions shall be taken in line with the development plan unless material considerations dictate otherwise. We think that such a formula should be used in these cases as well. As you mentioned, in the last sitting the RTPI gave evidence to that effect, saying that PPSs and development plans should be relevant considerations. If you start saying that national policy statements can be primary considerations, you will have a two-tier planning system, with some levels of policy having more weight than others, which will be very confusing.
Neil Sinden: I want to emphasise that there are some very important national policy principles set out in the current suite of PPSs. Precisely how the relationship between those and the national policy statements evolves is a critical issue for the CPRE and many other environmental organisations.
Q 297 Mr. Betts: . One of the issues you raisedsome of us have a degree of sympathy with you on itis that the Secretary of State should be the responsible decision-maker in all cases. When some of us have put that argument before, we have been told that all the
Neil Sinden: This is a fundamental issue of principle for us. You have heard evidence from previous witnesses that suggests that there is a big gap, or issue, to be addressed in relation to the opportunities for third partiesor, indeed, first partiesto appeal against or to probe decisions or recommendations made by the proposed new commission. At the moment, the system is that the Planning Inspectorate, in many but not all cases, prepares reports for Ministers, with a recommended decision. Ministers then take on those reports and consider the recommendations in the light of wider factors.
That system contains enough checks and balances for wider considerations concerning domestic or international law, for examplewhich the IPC possibly does not have the expertise to take into account adequately or to addressto be considered by a Minister. It allows third parties and other interests better to inform the way in which a Minister considers a report by the commission or, as is currently the case, by the Planning Inspectorate.
A lot can hide behind the phrase quasi-judicial but fundamentally we believe that the decisions on some of the big infrastructure schemes are inevitably hugely controversial and require a degree of political judgment in weighing up the very wide range of issues that are often entailed in consideration of these schemes. They are not only exclusively technical issues or issues of science or the weight of evidence; in many cases, they are political judgments, which we think can effectively be made only by elected politicians.
Paul Miner: May I point you to the example of the Competition Commission? One of the bodies that it replaced was the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, which had a very wide remit to consider competition policy in relation to wider issues of public interest. Since the creation of the Competition Commission, its remit has been narrowed to focus very stringently on competition policy issues and on making recommendations to Ministers. In the Competition Commissions 2006 annual report, the chairman said that it is far better for issues of public interest to be considered by Ministers than by bodies such as ours. That is a very relevant comparison because if you look at how the IPC is to be constituted, its structure with a panel, commissioners and such like, strongly suggests that it will be an advisory body like the Competition Commission.
Q 298 Mr. Betts: In responding to the proposed changes in procedure that the commission will adopt, you have said that all we really need to do is to work through the Town and Country Planning (Major Infrastructure Project Inquiries Procedure) (England) Rules 2005, which you say have already worked on a trial basis at Stansted. You think that those should simply be adopted. When I put that to a witness on Tuesday, I think from the Planning Inspectorate, I was
Neil Sinden: That is true to an extent, but I think that I am right in saying that very similar procedures have applied to energy projects. Two pieces of secondary legislation were introduced in 2005, one relating to the Town and Country Planning Act schemes and the other to energy infrastructure schemes. There is no reason why the new procedures, which are yet to be effectively tested, could not be applied to a wider range of kinds of infrastructure.
Paul Miner: We would accept that you would need to apply the principles within those rules to a much wider selection of projects, such as those defined in clause 13 of the Bill. You would need to bring those provisions into the Bill, or say in it that regulations will make provision for inquiries and then apply the existing town and country planning major infrastructure projects rules to all nationally significant infrastructure projects, as outlined in the Bill. That change would need to be made.
Q 299 Tom Brake: I am not sure whether they are part of the umbrella group, but the wildlife trusts have put forward the idea that there should be a national policy statement on the environment, so that whichever body considers the NPSs when deliberating on projects will have to also consider an NPS containing environmental considerations. Do you think that there is any merit in that and, if so, what would you want to see in that NPS?
Neil Sinden: That really depends on the relationship between PPSs and NPSs. At the moment, we have a number of planning policy statements that addressperhaps inadequately from the point of view of the wildlife trusts, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and other environmental groupsa wide range of environmental factors. There is one on nature conservation, one on countryside and protected areas, and so on. If the relationship between NPSs and PPSs is one of equality or complementarity, there might be no need for a national policy statement on the natural environment. However, if there is a clear hierarchical relationship and a sense that the national policy statements relating to particular kinds of infrastructure are trumping the national policy considerations set out in PPSs at the moment, we would support the call of the wildlife trusts for a national policy statement that gives full and proper weight to environmental considerations.
Q 300 Tom Brake: Okay. So if the NPSs were trumping PPSs, what would you want to see, in brief, in the NPS covering the natural environment?
Neil Sinden: We would want to see the national policies that are set out in existing PPSs translated into, and built on and developed within, the new national policy statement. We would want to see proper coverage of international legal requirements, such as those relating to the habitats directive and the strategic environmental assessment directive, so that they are translated into the
Paul Miner: I think that this also highlights the sustainability appraisal, which we spoke about briefly. We very much welcome what the Government have done in spelling out clearly that all national policy statements will be subject to a sustainability appraisal, but we would like to see quite a bit more detail about how that will work in practice. It is important that a sustainability appraisal is published when a national policy statement is produced, and that the Government explain the reasons for their final policy decision and also are required to have regard to the findings of the sustainability appraisal.
Q 301 Paul Clark (Gillingham) (Lab): May I turn your attention to the community infrastructure levy? You said in your written statement that you are concerned about it and that it should
derive benefit for localities less able to attract development.
How do you see it working, and what proposals would you lay down for calculating the charge?
Neil Sinden: The first thing to say about the community infrastructure levy is that we welcome Government efforts to secure a better mechanism for extracting what planners call betterment from development schemes. However, we are concerned about how they will work in practice, particularly the relationship between the levy and section 106 agreements, and specifically in the area of affordable housing provision. I am sure that Members are aware that, at present, a significant proportion of such provision comes through section 106 agreements on the ground. They are a useful complement to Government subsidies for affordable housing provision.
The danger with the community infrastructure levy, regardless of where it is applied, is that it could draw money and resources away from the provision of affordable housing through section 106 and thereby damage the Governments objectives of increasing the provision of affordable housing in appropriate locations to meet identified needs.
Paul Miner: We would add that the National Housing Federation has also expressed concerns about this aspect of the Bill, and we agree with its concern that a clear relationship between the new levy and existing section 106 agreements is needed.
Q 302 Paul Clark: Just to follow through on that. Do you think that safeguards should be put into the policies developed for the levy, and do you have a view on whether some of the levy should be used for sub-regional or even regional spending on infrastructure projects?
Neil Sinden: There is an important issue around geographical disparities in development pressures and the need for infrastructure and such things as affordable housing. We probably need to give this further thought, but, basically, we feel that redistribution of a levy generated through development should be, first, through
Q 303 Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): I have to say that you are not too enamoured of the idea of the commission. There are several factors that slow down applications and lead to uncertainty, duplications and so on. Do you think that other measures in the Bill would be sufficient to overcome those problems without the need for an independent commission to make the final decision on applications?
Neil Sinden: To a large extent, they would. We welcome the principle of a unified consent regime, for example. There is a lot of merit in that proposal. We welcome the Governments recognition of the need to increase the institutional capacity for decisions on major infrastructure. It is just that we do not believe that that institutional capacity should come from the establishment of a new body. We believe that the Planning Inspectorate would be well suited to having a division set up within it to deal with major infrastructure projects, which could be resourced and staffed by experienced senior planning inspectors and staff, and would achieve many of the Governments aspirations with regard to speeding up decisions in an appropriate manner. However, on a matter of principle we have a fundamental concern about a body such as the IPC taking decisions out of the hands of elected Ministers.
Paul Miner: We would also point you to an article that the former chief planner at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Mike Ash, wrote in Planning magazine, in which he suggested the setting up of an authoritative taskforce to look at major infrastructure projects.
Q 304 Robert Neill: I want come back to the IPC and the issue raised in paragraph 15 of your written submission. Perhaps you could flesh it out for me. As everyone seems to accept, there is merit in the single consent regime, in more work being done at the pre-application stage and in trying to limit the issues that arise when a decision-making process has to be gone through. We have had other witnesses say, Well, the more we talk to the IPC and the more information that we are able to exchange between our experts, that will simplify things. I wonder whether you have concernsperhaps you will amplify themabout the real difficulty of having one party talking to the person who is, in effect, the judge and jury behind the back of any other party?
Paul Miner: Yes, we very much agree with the concern. The proposed IPC has a significant range of functions in relation to producing guidance, giving advice, monitoring the quality of pre-application discussions and then making a decision on the final planning application at the end of it. Again, the way it has been set up suggests an investigative body like the Competition Commission.
Q 305 Robert Neill: Are there other ways in which you could achieve a safer division in that regard?
Paul Miner: We actually think that the Planning Inspectorate could have the role of issuing advice on how the procedures work, as it already does for appeals and compulsory purchase orders. It would not take too much more for the Planning Inspectorate to continue doing that role in relation to the new development consent regime proposed in the Bill. We also have other Government bodies that can provide advice, such as the Planning Advisory Service.
Q 306 Robert Neill: I wonder whether clause 45, if it were operated in the way suggested, runs the risk of falling foul of the Aarhus convention.
Paul Miner: We think that it does and that there is a very strong danger of that, because one of the central points of the Governments reform is to have this two-stage process where all of the national policy principles are decided at the national policy statement stage and then a local inquiry is solely focused on site-specific issues.
As I am sure many of you will be aware, we have been here before. The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 provides for a planning inquiry commission procedure, which would be a two-stage procedure with the national policy issues debated at an inquiry at the first stage and the site-specific issues debated at the second. That commission procedure has never been used because in 1986 the Government responded to a Select Committee inquiry by saying that it is impossible to untangle general national policy issues from site-specific environmental impacts. Bob Woolf also said in 1985 that the Minister is entitled to have a policy, but must always be prepared to derogate from it in special circumstances.
Q 307 Tom Brake: In relation to the national policy statement, or potential national policy statement on aviation, assuming that the Bill went ahead in its present form, what do you think could be done to convert the White Paper into a national policy statement on aviation?
Neil Sinden: I think, bluntly, we would have to start from scratch. We are entirely dissatisfied with both the process and the outcome of the air transport White Paper consultation. If we are being optimistic, we would see the Governments commitment to preparing a national policy statement on aviation as an opportunity to properly address the wide range of very difficult issues surrounding aviation policy, not least the problems associated with projected expansion and climate change emissions.
Paul Miner: It is important to remember as well that the air transport White Paper was not sold to the public as a national policy statement when it was consulted on. If the public were awareand they will become awareof
Q 308 Tom Brake: Presumably there is the potential for the energy statement today to become a national policy statement on energy as well. Do you have similar concerns about a conversion process there?
Paul Miner: There is an interesting point raised here about what national policy is. The Planning Bill aims to address the lack of clarity in national policy at present. Clause 98, I think, includes a power that enables the Secretary of State to call in a decision for his own determination if the policies in the national policy statement have changed materially since they were produced and that change was not anticipated at the time. We think that the power needs to be much wider and should cover all matters of controversy at the very least, or preferably that the infrastructure planning commission should not have the decision-making role.
Q 309 Tom Brake: You said all matters of controversy. What would you like to include in that phrase?
Paul Miner: The existing call-in power does not define what controversial matters are. It says it could include issues that affect the interests of foreign Governments, matters of substantial national or regional controversy. We think that virtually all nationally significant infrastructure projects, with a few exceptions, will be controversial, which is why we do not think it appropriate for the infrastructure planning commission to make decisions on such projects.
The Chairman: There being no further questions, may I thank you very much for coming to give evidence to us this afternoon? It has been most helpful and instructive.
The Chairman: This room is susceptible to mobile phones and they should, therefore, be turned off completely, rather than simply put on silent, as it seems to interfere with the sound system.
We now come to a very important part of the proceedings: evidence being given by the Minister and his colleagues. Mr. Healey, would you like to introduce your colleagues, please.
John Healey: Thank you, Sir John, for that welcome. I am the Minister in charge of the Bill. Yvette Cooper, of course, is Housing Minister, and she is also responsible for the Housing and Regeneration Bill. Unfortunately, we will be deprived of her expertise through all the subsequent stages of the passage of this Bill. With us are three officials: Bernadette Kelly, who is director of planning in the Department; Miles Gibson, at the far end, who is deputy director of planning policy; and Ian Scotter, who is deputy director of the planning reform team.
I will briefly make a couple of remarks in two areas, by way of introduction. First, I welcome the chance for this evidence session before we get into scrutiny. My interests are in getting the best possible legislation to achieve our policy purposes, and in getting the strongest possible support or assent for our proposals. I know, of course, that not everyone will agree with everything that we propose in the Bill. That is inevitable. I will not go into detail, but I hope that the way that we have developed our proposals to date, and the significant strengthening and changes made since the White Paper, as a result of the consultation, are demonstrated in the content of the Bill.
When I referred to our policy purpose, I had this in mind: we are facing far-reaching and long-term challenges in this country at present. Several of the witnesses who have come before us in the past two days have mentioned the need to replace about one third of our electricity generation capacity in the next 25 years or so. That is more electricity than is needed to power probably at least two thirds of the homes in this country. Of course, there is also the need to ensure that we have much more secure energy supplies. Some have also mentioned the need to see new and renewed infrastructure for transport, waste and water. Others, not least the environmental groups, have emphasised the need to transform what is a successful economy in Britain into a successful low-carbon economy.
Big decisions will be involved as part of those challenges, some of which will be about major infrastructure investments and applications. We simply do not have a planning system at present in Britain that is up to that task. That is what the proposals in the Bill are designed to deliver.
Q 310 Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): After listening to two days of evidence, what amendments do you think you will need to make to the Bill to take account of concerns that have been expressed by witnesses?
John Healey: It has been a very interesting couple of days. All of the witnesses whom we have heard todaythis will not surprise youplayed an active part in the consultation and have been involved in detailed discussions with the Department, including in the run-up to the publication of the White Paper. Therefore, I am relatively familiar with many of the arguments that we have heard.
Q 311 Mr. Curry: Sorry to interrupt, but are you telling us that you have delivered domestic witnesses in front of the Committee, who are all house-trained?
John Healey: Not much of what we have heard from the witnesses over the last two days would suggest that, and if it is the case we have not done a very good job of training them. I simply make the point that many of the groups, quite rightly, are those with an established interest in this field from a range of points of view, have already submitted written evidence to the Committee and have had detailed discussions with the Department, as one would expect them to do.
You asked specifically about amendments. It is my intention to ensure that any Government amendments will be tabled in good time and I will try to ensure that the time in which we do that is better than the required convention. We have no amendments in mind for part 1.
Q 312 Mr. Curry: As you know, I am interested particularly in the infrastructure levy. Just on the process of that, could we have an assurance that the regulations that will give flesh to it will be available during the course of our discussions? Otherwise, we have to agree or object to something in principle, whereas the devil is very much in the detail. That is something that came out fairly clearly from the witnesses.
John Healey: Perhaps I can respond on the process, and if members of the Committee want to get into the substance of the policy, Yvette might want to pick it up.
It has never been our intention to set out in detail in the primary legislation how the community infrastructure levy will work. It has always been our intention to develop that in detail with those who have a direct interest and to introduce most of the detail in secondary legislation, which we will publish in draft and on which we will consult. Members of the Committee will remember from Tuesdays evidence that that approach has been welcomed by the Home Builders Federation and the British Property Federation. That is the approach that we plan to take. The framework in the Bill gives us the provision that we require to introduce such a levy. Were any amendments to what is in the Bill required, in the spirit of what I have said, they will largely be technical or clarifying or to ensure that we have a working framework.
John Healey: The short answer to your question is no.
Q 313 Mr. Curry: The problem caused by that is that I am broadly in favour of the infrastructure levy and accept that we need to fund the infrastructure that developments entail. Provided that local authorities are the prime movers of that levying, so that for local infrastructure it is predominantly local, I am relatively satisfied. I would get very upset if I felt that the regional development agencies were preceptingas it wereinto that process because that would make me feel differently about it. I give you notice that I would like to come back to that issue.
If the Chairman will allow me to ask an additional question after this, I will accept your answer.
Yvette Cooper: There is one additional piece of information that might be useful in terms of the process; I will not go into the content. We expect to publish more information about the approach to the community infrastructure levy relatively shortly, and we are working
In addition to the draft regulations, we expect to publish relatively shortly a more detailed account of the approach we want to take to the community infrastructure levy, and I hope that some of that detail will be available for the Committee to discuss in advance of detailed consideration of the clauses.
Q 314 Mr. Curry: Finally, I listened to the Secretary of State make a statement on nuclear power in the Chamber today. He said in his final paragraph:
I therefore invite energy companies today to bring forward plans to build and operate new nuclear power stations.
That is a national policy statement, is it not?
John Healey: No.
Q 315 Mr. Curry: Well, what would a national policy statement have that this does not, other than to say where?
John Healey: Today the Government announced that we believe that it is in the public interest to allow energy companies the option of looking to invest in new nuclear capacity. A careful study of what has been published todaythe decision was set out in a White Paperwould make it clear that there are two essential steps in relation to national policy statements that will have to be completed first, as an element of the work that the Government are proposing today: first, the completion of a strategic siting assessment, which we do not anticipate being completed until perhaps autumn next year. The second is a strategic environmental assessment. They will be two essential building blocks towards any national policy statement that may cover nuclear power, which will have to be in place before we get a national policy statement.
Q 316 Mr. Curry: So the national policy statement would be site-specific in this case. If it is site-specific, it is difficult to see what the planning commissions job is, other than to sign it off, is it not?
John Healey: It is reasonable to expect the strategic siting assessment work to conclude with a statement which may confirm criteria for siting and potentially a list of sites. In a sense, however, we are pre-empting the work that must go on.
My point here, in reference to the Planning Bill and national policy statements, is that those two elements at least will need to be in place before a national policy statement that applies to nuclear could be in place. Were any potential developer to submit an application before that, it would be handled and dealt with under the current arrangements.
Q 317 Mr. Llwyd: A few minutes ago, Minister, you said that you would bring forward amendments in good time. We are in Committee on Tuesday; where are the Welsh framework clauses?
Ian Scotter: The Welsh Assembly Government asked for framework powers under the Government of Wales Act 1998. They are being worked on at the moment and
John Healey: I hope we make good progress in our scrutiny sessions, but I do not expect us to reach part 9 on Tuesday.
Q 318 Mr. Llwyd: I am not saying that, Minister. It would be normal to see a Bill before we go into Committee, would it not?
John Healey: Indeed, and it is before us; it is what we are examining.
John Healey: You asked about amendments and I explained our approach to amendments. Any amendments in relation to any of the Welsh provisions will be entirely within the devolution settlement, as is the Bill.
Q 319 Mr. Llwyd: Yes, and I spoke with the Minister for the Environment yesterday, who was a little concerned about the length of time being taken to draft these clauses, but we will leave it there.
Would you agree, Minister, that consultation is a very important word in relation to this Bill?
John Healey: I would indeed. I think that that is recognised strongly in three important parts, from a public point of view, and has been strengthened between the proposals in the White Paper and the Bill.
There is a provision for and a requirement on Ministers for consultation in the preparation of national policy statements. There is a new requirement, as part of the pre-application process that the IPC will oversee, which we have examined with witnesses over the last two days, and which will include rights to consultation and to be heard. There are also clear provisions and rights, particularly for those who are interested parties or affected by any potential application, to be heard, to play a part and to have their views known, as part of any application procedures that the IPC conducts.
Q 320 Mr. Llwyd: On the issue of consultation, will you confirm that the planning White Paper drew 32,000 individual responses, of which the vast majority were against the Bill?
John Healey: I will, indeed. It was confirmed in the published summary of the responses to the consultation that we set out. It was referred to by the Secretary of State in her statement and discussion in the House. It is certainly the case that around 30,000 of those were largely individual members of the public. They were mostly members of organisations who had come together in the early days, before they really understood or were able to see what was proposed in the Bill, under the Planning Disaster campaign. Those organisations have a total membership of perhaps 4 million or 5 million.
Q 321 Mr. Llwyd: Again regarding the White Paper, the initial assessment was that there would be about 10 major infrastructure projects each year. Subsequently, when the impact assessment came in, that rose to 46. Which is the more likely figure?
John Healey: The later figure is the one contained in the impact assessment. We anticipate a figure of around 45 applications a year that are likely to fall to the IPC, on average, to be examined.
Q 322 Mr. Llwyd: For accuracy, the impact assessment for the Planning Bill found the annual cost of the IPC would be about £9.3 million, and setting up the IPC would cost £5 million. Are those figures accurate, as of today?
John Healey: They are indeed. Those are the latest figures that we have and are working with. You will understand that the purpose of an impact assessment is to publish, so that it can be cross-examined, the latest estimate of those sorts of features, and that can be revised at various stages. Those remain the best estimates and the working basis for the likely number of cases on average each year and for the set-up and annual running costs of the IPC.
Q 323 Mr. Llwyd: Finally, and briefly, I ask you to consider that, from my reading of the Bill, the IPC can rule in or rule out, in a hearing, the right to cross-examine and for parties to be heard. Is that correct?
John Healey: We have been concerned, and it has been clear from the outset that we have been anxious to see the IPC operate in a way that avoids some of the problems and pitfalls that all members of the Committee and many of our witnesses have recognised are part of some of the inquiry processes at the moment. What this emphatically does not do is rule out cross-examination, but it does start with the predisposition to see a different approach to the probing and interrogation of evidence and views. That approach is principally led by the IPC and its members, not by expensive hired hands and third parties who perhaps have the resources and some interest in stringing out the proceedings, rather than getting to the heart of the matter.
Q 324 Mr. Llwyd: As an inexpensive hired hand, may I finally put to you what the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government said on 27 November? She said:
The Bill will make it clear that any person who registers an interest can give oral evidence at relevant stages of the inquiry.
In other words, that overrides the IPCs right to discount oral evidence.
John Healey: I think that there are two things. Cross-examination is a particular form of oral evidence, but the Secretary of State was of course right: within the Bill there is a right for those who register the wish to do so to be able to give oral evidence in an open session, and where the IPC has sessions that look at specific issues, it will be possible for those with an interest and a wish to do so also to give evidence orally at that point.
Q 325 Dan Rogerson: I have heard from pretty much everyone who has given evidence that there is a desire to see a more streamlined process. With regard to bigger projects, people accept that there are too many regimes under which schemes are decided. This is the same question that I asked a previous witness. If we have national policy statements and a unified development consent scheme, why do we have to have a new body to do that? Why cannot we look at existing means of deciding on those applications?
John Healey: First, it is important not to overlook how radical and important an innovation national policy statements will be. They have been described in various terms, but by several of our witnesses in a way consistent with that argument. Any body that is set up to hear major applications in the context of national policy statements, and which would provide a principle primary source of reference for the matters that need to be taken into account, would require primary legislation. We have set out the arguments why we believe that there is a strong case for setting up the IPC and for doing so on basis that will make it independent and that will make it a body taking decisions within the framework set principally by national policy statements, which will have the authority of being developed through a systematic process of public consultation, having been scrutinised strongly and systematically in Parliament. The combination of the national policy statements and the IPC gives us the fundamentals for the sort of reform of the planning system that I spoke about in my opening statement.
Q 326 Dan Rogerson: I have heard their argument for national policy statements, but still do not feel that I have heard an argument for the IPC, other than it will take decisions so that Ministers will not have to. What is the real justification for the decision having to rest with an unelected body?
John Healey: If your contention is that Ministers and not members of the IPC on an independent basis should take such decisions, I have two things to say. First, one of our objectives has been to try to establish a system in which the roles and accountability for the discharge of those roles is much clearer. At the heart of the proposition for the IPC, therefore, is the idea of separating the responsibility for policy making, which rightly should be with Ministers and will be captured and set out in national policy statements, from the process of taking decisions on specific applications within that framework. At present, it is the case that in some circumstances for some major projects, Ministers are acting as the source of the policythe promoters, in effectof the individual applications and the authority that makes the decision on those applications. That is particularly true in areas of transport such as highways. In my view, that is an unsatisfactory situation. This gives us a chance to make that clearer and stronger.
The second reason is this. I have been struck by the observations of a number of witnesses whom we have heard over the last couple of daysand it is largely a misapprehensionabout the accountability of Ministers in acting in the planning capacity. It has been acknowledgedquite rightly, because this is what happensthat Ministers who take planning decisions do so in a quasi-judicial fashion. Essentially, that means that the basis and the terms on which they do so are tightly prescribed by planning legislation. Ultimately, when one is concerned about accountability, that means that were I as a Minister to take a planning decision, I would not be accountable as a politician to Parliament, and I would not be accountable to Members of this House or this Committee for that decision; I would be accountable and challengeable through the courts to a judge. That is the reality of the decision-taking role of Ministers within the planning system.
Q 327 Dan Rogerson: In terms of consultation and the pre-application stage, which is obviously a crucial stage, do you feel that people in the local community where a project is proposed are likely to feel that there has been enough independent engagement with them if the process is being led by the developer and paid for by the developer and the applicant?
John Healey: I thought your question to the Energy Networks Association was very interesting, Mr. Rogerson; it managed to smoke out the fact that the proposals in this system will be a change and improvement on what is currently the established practice within such companies. What is interesting is this: there will be a pre-application process, which is not simply set out in significant terms within the Bill, but will be overseen by the IPC. In other words, what a developer must do in preparing an application, even before he gets to the point of submitting it to the IPC, can be set out not just as a reflection of the Bill but in guidance from Government and from the IPC. It will require that developer to consult locally. It will require him to consult with certain statutory consultees. It will allow the IPC to set standards and specific things that it will require as part of the preparation of his application. It will enable the IPC to send back any proposed application if it does not believe that the developer has met that, and it will allow the statutory consultees, including local authorities and others, to make submissions to the IPC if they do not believe that the developer has undertaken his duties properly, including on the consultation, before submitting the application. The IPC will then be obliged to take those into account.
What we have here is a proposal for something that is a new and important stage in the process. It should give reassurance to local communities, local authorities and other interest groups that they have a chance to have their views and their concerns taken into account even before that application gets into the process of consideration by the IPC.
Q 328 Tom Brake: As the Minister, you have sat here and listened to two days of evidence. You will have heard many organisations, some of which you may regard as the usual suspects and others that are not, expressing concerns about both the national policy statements and the infrastructure planning commission, and how concerned it will be about sustainability issues. You heard the debate about whether appraisal of sustainability meant the same thing as sustainability appraisal. What reassurance can you give Members that the Bill and the different components that you propose will take on board sustainability and climate change? For instance, will you give us a guarantee that the national policy statements will be subject to a strategic environmental assessment?
John Healey: There are two elements to your concern: one specifically about climate change and one about sustainability and the environment. On climate change generally, I said in my opening remarks that the Bill is being introduced alongside the energy Bill and the Climate Change Bill as a set of three pieces of legislation this Session that try to help us deal with some long-term and far-reaching challenges. The Climate Change Bill includes the legally specified target for Government. In other words, it will start to fashion an overarching
On national policy statements, as several of the witnesses have mentionedI think that you, Mr. Brake, would recognise that we have made it clear in the Bill, and these provisions have been strengthened since the White Paperin preparing a national policy statement of whatever type, Ministers will be under an obligation to do so with sustainable development in mind. That will require an assessment of sustainability, including on the environment, as part and parcel of the preparation of the policy statement. That assessment will build the concern and the duty to take account of sustainable development into the national policy statements. I have described the national policy statement as the framework within which the IPC will make any decisions. In that way, we can ensure that concerns about sustainable development are built into the judgments that the IPC will make on any application.
Q 329 Tom Brake: You have not been able to confirm that the national policy statements would be subject to a strategic environmental assessment.
John Healey: If a strategic economic assessment is required for a national policy statement, under the European directive, it will have one. It is not entirely clear that that directive will be applicable to all of the potential national policy statements that the Government may produce. John Hutton this afternoon confirmed, and I mentioned earlier, that whether or not a strategic environmental assessment is required, it will be an element of what we do in relation to nuclear. Whether or not a strategic environmental assessment is required, we will ensure that there is a duty on Ministers about sustainable development in every NPS.
Q 330 Tom Brake: Earlier, you referred quite specifically to the Climate Change Bill and have said that the national policy statements would need to take that into account. Do you mean, therefore, that any national policy statement on aviation will have to take into account the 60 per cent. reduction in emissions?
John Healey: Any national policy statement, whether on aviation or anything else, will have to meet the criteria that are set out in the Bill. The standards that we are setting out in the Bill for consultation and sustainable development must be met for it to make the grade as a national policy statement.
Q 331 Tom Brake: I am not sure that that answers my question, but perhaps we can continue with one final question on the national policy statements. The Minister will have heard concerns expressed that the current White Paper on aviation might simply be adopted as a national policy statement. Minister, if this Bill were to become an Act, what would be required for the aviation White Paper to be converted into a national policy statement? Can it be done?
John Healey: I thought I had just answered that. It would certainly have to meet the standards that we set out for national policy statements, such as those on
Q 332 Tom Brake: Your initial assessment is that you are comfortable that that could be done, taking on board the points that you have made about the need for consultation.
John Healey: We already have a commitment to review the aviation White Paper between 2009 and 2011, and that is an opportunity to examine the question of the suitability of the White Paper and whether it makes the grade, as I put it earlier on, as a national policy statement.
Q 333 Mrs. Lait: May I be very boring and process-oriented? Having spent two days listening to the witnesses, one of the things that I cannot get my head around, and I would be grateful if the Minister could give me an indication of this, is roughly how many national policy statements he expects in total? What does he expect them to cover, because we have heard representatives from ports and harbours say that they want ancillary roads and railways, and we have heard the Energy Networks Association saying that they want all their substations to be included? What sort of scope should be included? What time scale does the Minister reckon it could take each policy statement to get through both the outside consultation process and whatever process he is planning to invite Parliament to undertake? How will he create consistency? I have a list of questions.
John Healey: I have lost count of the number of questions there, Mrs. Lait, but let me try to reply.
With regard to scope, the short answer is that we set out much of this alongside the statement in November, and it is worth referring to that if you have not got it in front of you. The scope will include things such as waste, offshore renewables, water infrastructure, transport and aspects of energy.
As regards timing, it will vary from policy area to policy area. It will be different because the considerations are different for nuclear, for instance, as they would be for ports infrastructure. In terms of the process for Parliament, there are four points to make. First, for the first time there will be wide consultation and debate in the production of these policy statements, and a requirement on Ministers to ensure that that happens.
Secondly, we are proposing to the Housealthough it will be a matter for the House to make its decision, of coursethat we draw on the joint expertise of four Select Committees: the Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Committee, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the Transport Committee, and the Communities and Local Government Committee. I hope shortly, with the Leader of the House, to meet the Chairs of the Committees. There is, after all, a precedent for this with the Quadripartite Committee on arms control.
Thirdly, that Select Committee, or the arrangements that Parliament puts in place, will have the scope, as closely as they wish and in the manner that they wish, to scrutinise and comment on the proposals, and we will then take them into consideration in the finalisation of our national policy statement.
Finally, we have made it very clear, in parliamentary terms, that if the Select Committeelet us call it that for the momentbelieves that the matters are important enough to require parliamentary debate, we will make time for that. Of course, there is also the option for Parliament to decide to move to votes if it wishes to do so. I hope that that covers the main points of your questions. You obviously have more.
Q 334 Mrs. Lait: I can see us having policy statement indigestion. You did not answer with a ballpark figure of how many statements you were expecting: 20, 10, five?
John Healey: I am not sure that it is particularly relevant or useful to have a fixed number. If you look at the energy field, which is perhaps one of the most important and multi-faceted, we have said that in 2009 we would look to be producing an overarching national policy statement. That would consider things like security of supply, climate change imperatives, energy markets, and some questions about demand projections and energy efficiency. This is why I cannot give you a fixed answer, because in the end it will be a decision not for now or for me but for down the track in respect of either separate national policy statements oralthough I do not really like the worda suite of technical annexes. It is plausible and reasonable to anticipate policy statements that will look at different forms of energy generation, from renewables to fossil fuels, to annexes or to a separate policy statement on electricity networks or gas infrastructure. That is another reason why it is difficult to give you a precise answer.
Q 335 Mrs. Lait: So given that Mr. Hutton, in his answer to me during his statement on the energy policy, said that he was working on a national policy statement on nuclear power and that you are saying that you expect an overarching national policy statementI assume in draftin 2009, who is preceding whom? If the Government are trying to get their first nuclear power station built by 2020, given the difficulties in so doing, I cannot get my head around whether we will have the nuclear statement separate and free-standing or as a subset of the one coming out in 2009, or subsequent to it. If it is going to be subsequent to it, why are the Government working on one that is specifically site locational, as Mr. Hutton told me, on nuclear power? To summarise, we are already seeing inconsistency in the Governments approach.
John Healey: Perhaps I am being a little slow. I am not really grasping your concern about inconsistency or uncertainty about timing. I was quite clear earlieras John Hutton wasthat one of the building blocks before a nuclear national policy statement could be drawn up would be the strategic siting assessment. That is likely, as things stand at the moment, to be completed in autumn 2009. As we said, alongside the ministerial statement in November, and as I said about four minutes ago, in 2009 we anticipate a broad, overarching national policy statement on energy, encompassing some of the elements that I have mentioned. In terms of timing, it is reasonable to conclude that one could expect a broad national approach in a national policy statement that attempted to deal with that and then, subsequently, when the other elements essential to nuclear were in a fit state, to follow up with one on nuclear.
Q 336 Mrs. Lait: I look forward to that process. Can we go back to the consultation process that you will be undertaking on these statements for the draft policies?
John Healey: Yes. What would you like to know about it?
Q 337 Mrs. Lait: Precisely how you expect it to work. Will it be a document similar to a White Paper that you will put out for general consultation? Would the Government expect to do a roadshow round the country? Would they hold regional meetings? Would they expect Parliament to be driving this?
John Healey: I shall ask Bernadette Kelly to give you some of the specifics.
Bernadette Kelly: The Bill provides for a fundamental requirement to consult on national policy statements. In reality, the nature and character of the policy statements is going to vary quite a lot. Some may be relatively technical in nature, and some may be fairly substantive and raise bigger policy issues. The precise nature of the consultation process that you would need to ensure the right level of engagement will vary from national policy statement to national policy statement. One thing that we have indicated in the Bill is that, where they are locationally specific, there will also be an absolute requirement for particular consultation with affected communities. That is a given.
I would say that we are trying to provide a sensible balance between a clear legal framework that creates strong obligations in relation to consultation and a framework that allows the precise process of consultations to vary according to the needs of the policy under discussion.
We do not generally prescribe consultation processes in great detail in primary legislation because they become too rigid and unsuitable for the purpose. We are trying to strike a balance between those elements. The Government have been clear in the White Paper and their statement in November that the consultation will need to be effective, will need to properly engage communities and will need to be extensive to ensure that it allows the level of debate and scrutiny that is needed.
Q 338 Mrs. Lait: Given the Governments view that so much of our national infrastructure needs to be replaced in the very near future, when do you expect any of these national policy statements to be effective?
Be r nadette Kelly: The Minister has indicated that we want the policy statements to be in place by 2009.
Q 339 Mrs. Lait: No, you have not said that. As I understand it, you will have published a draft by that stage.
Be r nadette Kelly: There must be some misunderstanding. We have not set out a detailed timescale for when consultation will begin on the national policy statements because the relevant Departments that will need to produce them are still deciding. Some things have been indicatedfor example, in relation to the strategic site assessment, which is a building block in relation to the nuclear policy statement. In practice, the Departments intend to move towards the consultation on national policy statements sooner, where it is possible to do so. One area in which it might be possible to begin the
Q 340 Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): Minister, could I return to the first point made by Mr. Llwyd, with respect to the Welsh framework powers? When was the request first received from the Welsh Assembly Government for framework powers to be incorporated in the Bill?
John Healey: I apologise; I did not hear the question.
Mr. Jones: I am talking about the Welsh framework powers. Can you tell us when the request was first received from the Welsh Assembly Government for framework powers to be incorporated in the Bill?
John Healey: Truthfully, no. I cannot tell you when it was first received or when it was first raised.
John Healey: I can tell you that we are working on it and that we are planning. I think that it is right to look to use the Bill to make those reforms, which are wanted in Wales. They are entirely consistent with the devolution settlement and seem sensible. In terms of the process, as I said at the outset, I will ensure that any amendments that give effect to that are tabled in good timeI hope in better time than the convention of this House dictatesso that the Committee will be able to give them proper scrutiny. I would be happy for any of my colleagues to add anything on the specific background to that.
Ian Scotter: I cannot remember the precise date, but it was during the summer.
Q 342 Mr. Jones: During the summer? That is about six months ago. What concerns me is that the first I heard about these proposals was at a briefing session organised by the Wales Office yesterday evening. I was handed, together with other Welsh colleagues, a memorandum with a letter that was apparently sent out on 17 December, although I do not recall receiving it. We are talking about the devolution of primary legislative powers to the Welsh Assembly, which, I think the Minister would agree, is a matter of some constitutional significance.
John Healey: I would not agree because these matters are already devolved to Ministers in Wales. Essentially, these provisions are likely to allow Welsh Ministers to have legislative competence in the areas for which they already have devolved powersin other words, in relation to the Wales spatial plan and local development plans in Wales.
Q 343 Mr. Jones: Forgive me, Minister, but that is not right. This is not the devolution of powers to Ministers. This is the devolution of legislative power to the Welsh Assembly. It is extraordinary that the Government are introducing these powers by a bolt-on provision to the Bill without allowing hon. Members to debate it on Second Reading on the Floor of the House. Does that not concern you?
John Healey: Not as much as it appears to concern you. If we wanted the Bill to alter the essential devolution settlement, a much more substantive point would underlie your concern, but we are not doing that.
Q 344 Mr. Jones: Again, I must take issue with you. We are talking about law-making powers being devolved to the Welsh Assembly. You say that we are not likely to see the clauses for several days yet, until we get to part 9. Is that right?
John Healey: No, I said that all members of the Committee will have any amendments that we propose on this matter, which is within part 9 of the Bill, not only within the terms and in the time that comply with the conventions of the conduct of Committees in this House, but earlier than that. That was one of the undertakings that I gave as my aim, in respect of the Committee and my responsibility for seeing this Bill through Parliament.
Q 345 Mr. Jones: So the first opportunity the full House will have to debate those proposals will be on Report. Is that correct?
John Healey: Should it wish to debate them, that will be the first time that the full House could consider them.
Q 346 Mr. Jones: I wish to raise two more brief matters, with your permission, Sir John. Clause 15 provides that competence will be reserved in respect of power stations in excess of 50 MW generating capacity onshore and 100 MW offshore. Is that correct?
John Healey: Correct.
Q 347 Mr. Jones: I see also from the White Paper that there has been some pressure from the Welsh Assembly Government for such powers to be devolved.
John Healey: Correct.
Q 348 Mr. Jones: I take it that the Government are adamant that they will not devolve such powers. Is that correct?
Q 349 John Healey: Correct.
Mr. Jones: Finally, I revert to the point raised by Mr. Curry, who commented on the somewhat skeletal nature of the community infrastructure levy. Clause 164 provides that one of the possible charging authorities will be the Welsh Ministers. Is that right?
Yvette Cooper: That is right.
Mr. Jones: Can you say at this stage whether it is intended that all levy-charging powers in Wales will be exercised by the Welsh Ministers, or will it in some cases be the local planning authorities? Perhaps you have not arrived at that point yet.
Yvette Cooper: Our approach across the country is for local authorities to be able to put a community infrastructure levy on new development. That will include Welsh local authorities, as we have been discussing with the Welsh Assembly. As part of clause 164 we have also included the ability to empower Welsh Ministers also to be a charging authority, but we are clear that this is
Q 350 Mr. Jones: Will any of the primary powers to be devolved to the Welsh Assembly enable Welsh Ministers to make amendments to these levy provisions?
Yvette Cooper: By that, do you mean, Will the Welsh Assembly itself change this framework?
Yvette Cooper: That is not what this does. This simply empowers the Welsh Ministers to effectively be a charging authority in order to be able to look, for example, at what issues might apply across Wales. This is something that we will discuss further with Welsh Ministers, but also as part of a wider consultation on how sub-regional considerations will need to apply.
Q 351 Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I would like to understand a little more about how the IPC will operate and be appointed. How will members be appointed to be commissioners, and is the intention to designate particular categories of experience that would be seen to be relevant or is it more open-ended? Would you explain a little more about how that will be done?
John Healey: The chair of the commission would be appointed by the Secretary of State, and the appointment process for the chair and all commissioners would be entirely consistent with the guidance from the Commissioner for Public Appointments. The broad composition of the commissionwe are looking at a total of up to 35 commission memberswould be drawn from experts in a wide range of fields, including experts in planning, law, local government, community involvement, engineering, economics, business, security, environment, heritage and health. I had not thought about social skills, which was raised by one of our witnesses in an earlier session, but will reflect on that.
The other important point is that the legislation also explicitly allows the commission to engage experts for any particular purpose when considering an application if it feels that it requires that in order to conduct its proper scrutiny in assessing an application.
Q 352 Mrs. Ellman: How are the reserve powersthe circumstances in which a decision could go to a Ministerto be drawn up and would there be ways of extending what those are?
John Healey: Those reserve powers are proposed in the Bill and are set out, therefore, in primary legislation. They are in two areas: matters of national security; and in the territory where a national policy statement was materially out of date and the urgency for a decision
John Healey: That would be a matter that the commission may take a view on, and one that Ministers would undoubtedly take a view on, and ultimately, if it was challenged, the courts may take a view on it.
Q 354 Mr. Betts: The degree of support that was shown in evidence for the community infrastructure levy was quite interesting. It is supported not merely by those who will collect it, the local authorities, and those who are advising on it, the planning professionals, but by those who will have to pay it. On Tuesday, it was quite interesting to listen to the British Property Federation and the Home Builders Federation enthusiastically endorsing a levy that their members will have to pay.
Recognising the general support for it, I wonder if you had time to reflect on the issue that gave them collective cause for concern: the reference in clause 166 to the increase in value as a way in which the levy might be calculated. More particularlythis came out almost by default from the evidence that we heard today from the Energy Networks Associationclause 163 states that the primary purpose of the levy is
to ensure that the costs incurred in providing infrastructure to support the development of an area can be funded...by owners of land the value of which increases.
The argument there is, Well, our land has not increased in value and we do not assume that it will from the development, and therefore we should be exempt from the levy. There is a possibility that that basic requirement in clause 163 could lead to judicial review challenges by some people. Have you had a chance to reflect on those issues and whether there is a need for a revision of the wording of the Bill?
John Healey: I have and I shall also ask Yvette to come in on this. In our view the reference and the element of value is a useful part of the provision that we are making. As the Minister for nearly three years with responsibility for development work on the planning gain supplement at the Treasury, I was very struck, as you were Mr. Betts, by the range of support for the community infrastructure levy among the witnesses here, and encouraged by it too.
Yvette Cooper: On the issue of value, we hope to make this clear in the further detail that we will publish about our approach to the community infrastructure levy. Where this is very different from the planning gain supplement approach is that the planning gain supplement was an attempt effectively to have a valuation of each piece of land and the increase in value of each piece of land according to the planning permission being granted. The conclusion that we have come to is that we recognise the concerns that have been raised about the difficulties in getting that kind of valuation on each piece of land, and so the community infrastructure levy should not take that approach.
The approach is therefore not to try to assess the value of every single piece of land. However, we think that when the community infrastructure levy is set, it
If the community infrastructure levy were set too high, it would prevent a lot of important development from going ahead. So issues around land value and broader assessments around increases in planning gain are the kinds of things that would need to be taken into account by a local authority when assessing what the community infrastructure levy should be across the area as a whole. They might also be something that you would expect the local authority to take into account.
Let us suppose that it wanted to be able to say that a particular urban extension, for example, should have a higher rate of community infrastructure levyperhaps it was a greenfield urban extension or something like that. Again you might want to be able to include value as part of the consideration of what the overall levy should be. We are talking about value in the context of setting the levy as a whole, which would then apply across areas, as opposed to the planning gain supplement approach, which was to consider the value increase on every individual piece of land.
Q 355 Mr. Betts: I do not think that it is absolutely clear in the Bill. We may want to return to that. I still think that there is a danger that clause 163, as currently drafted, could lead to individual owners of pieces of land that are developed arguing that they are exempt from it. We have to be a bit concerned about that. I also think that in terms of your urban extension, you might easily cover the difference between that area and another area by simply putting the word locality somewhere into clause 166. I think that that was the original proposal from the British Property Federation and the Home Builders Federation when they came forward with their proposals.
Yvette Cooper: But what is it that is significant about one locality rather than another? One of the things that is significant about one locality rather than another will be around the land values in that area. To be unable to take account of land values in the setting of the levy would be to take a risk with viability. The key issue here is being able to think about what the appropriate level of the levy should be in order to ensure that it supports development, housing growth and economic growth, and to make sure that development in the area is viable.
In order to have an assessment of what is viable in that area, one of the things that you need to take into account is broad assessments of land value. That is a very different approach from looking at valuations on individual pieces of land or saying that individual pieces of land, according to valuation, would not therefore be covered by the levy. The approach is to look at the levy-setting across the area as a whole. As I said, we are keen to set out further detail and hopefully to clarify that for the Committee. But this is very different. The local planning authorities are looking at setting a charge across an area as a whole and they need to take viability into account. They are not looking to assess the value on every individual site that will come forward.
Q 356 Mr. Betts: We will have further discussion in due course about whether clause 166(4)(b) allows for that possibility. I think that that would be quite concerning, and that it is worrying some of the stakeholders in the process, but we will probably come back to that.
In terms of the role of Parliament, I accept the Ministers line that in the end it is up to Parliament to determine its own procedures for how it will give consideration to national policy statements, but surely we ought to have laid down in the Bill that there will be a right for Parliament to scrutinise the draft statements and eventually to approve them?
I am told that, irrespective of which particular procedure Parliament eventually adopts to do that, its right to do so is not dissimilar from orders under the Regulatory Reform Act 2006 or the Human Rights Act 1998. In both those Acts, it is laid down that Ministers must propose a draft order for Committee scrutiny and then lay an order for approval. Are we not asking for something very similar for national policy statements: giving Parliament the right to scrutinise and then to approve?
John Healey: There is likely to be a substantive difference between the general scope and significance of an order, and a national policy statement. Although I understand your argument about process, I am not entirely certain that, in principle, you can make that direct comparison.
Q 357 Mr. Betts: But ought there not to be something in the Bill that gives Parliament the right to scrutinise and eventually to approve? Ought we not just to have something laid down, not relating to the process of it but enshrining the rights in legislation?
John Healey: I am not sure that it is necessary or sensible to put into primary legislation that sort of approach, but it is clearly the case that the statements of Ministers in the passage of legislation through Parliament have a significance. I think that the commitments that I am making clear about the approach that we wish to take as a Government to this, and the scope that we wish to give Parliament to determine the way that it wishes to deal with proposed draft national policy statements, are right.
Q 358 James Duddridge: When you spoke earlier, Mr. Healey, about national policy statements, you said that you were not sure how important the potential number was.
I tend to agree with you, if the difference is between 20, 22 or 25. However, if the difference is between 20, 70, 80, 90 or 100, would you concede that there was a sizeable difference, and that that makes the case more compelling for an overarching national policy framework bringing together the different elements?
John Healey: There are two questions there: one is about numbers, and the other is about whether there is a case for what is almost, in effect, a national development plan, bringing all potential national policy statements covering all areas together. On the latter, I do not think
I have been reluctant to talk about numbers because I think that it is most relevant that we have national policy statements in the areas which will be required in order to deal with the
Q 359 James Duddridge: Can I press you for a high point, because it might become ridiculous? I foresee a point in the future, perhaps three or four years down the line, where we have 150 national policy statements, and the Minister has not put on the record that any number in three figures would be pushing it.
John Healey: You can press me, Mr. Duddridge. Your low point was 24 or 25. I think that my ballpark estimate would be about half of that.
James Duddridge: So, 12 or 13 national policy statements? I am reassured by that. Thank you, Minister.
John Healey: I am glad to have been able to reassure you.
John Healey: Length?
James Duddridge: Yesthe length of national policy statements. You could simply have fewer and bigger national policy statements. I was reminded particularly of the ports authority, which talked about the interaction between the port infrastructure and the rail infrastructure. Do you see each national policy statement having linkages, meaning it will become big, or some type of overarching document that will say how they connect and interrelate with one another, because they may well be contradictory?
John Healey: You may want to pursue that with my good friend and colleague, the Transport Minister, who is serving on the Bill with me. The ports authority made an interesting point. It strikes me that in the consideration and preparation of any potential national policy statement on ports, those questions of linkage with transport infrastructureeither road or railserving ports directly would have to be looked at closely. I am glad that I have been able to give you some reassurance on numbers, but I cannot possibly give you any reassurance on length.
John Healey: The Government have the capacity to write very long documents and in some cases good and shorter documents. I would hope that we get the latter rather than the former, but that will be a matter for Departments, not me.
Q 362 James Duddridge: Turning to the IPC, you have indicated that there are likely to be around 45 nationally significant programmes going through the IPC each year. The Local Government Association said that it was comfortable with the legislation if that
John Healey: The likely number is defined by the criteria, which specify which applications in particular areas will be a matter for the IPC and, therefore, which will not. Because the Bill is specific about that and because we have a system for dealing with such applications at present, we can be pretty confident that, unless the proposals in the Bill for what should qualify as infrastructure projects for the IPC changes significantly, the sort of figure that we are talking about40 or 45 on average a yearis what the IPC would be expected to deal with. The difference between our estimate and the figures that the LGA gave us on Tuesday is simply that it may have a different view about what is appropriate for the IPC to deal with, and what is appropriate for local planning authorities, or other forms of scrutiny, to deal with.
Q 363 James Duddridge: Would you be able to supply the Committee with some projected breakdown? Some criticism of the Bill says it is mainly focused around the energy sector. It would be useful to get a feel for this, because on looking at the definitions it is not clear how many projects will come through which sectors. Again, going back to ports, I am concerned that few ports might fulfil the criteria but an incredibly large number of electricity projects would do so.
John Healey: I am happy to try to give the Committee more information, for example, on how we arrive at that estimate, but in the end the decision on whether applications are prepared and submitted is not for the Government but for potential developers, and their decisions will turn not just on the nature of the planning systemdespite the reforms that I hope that we are able to makebut on a number of other factors as well. But I will certainly do that.
Q 364 James Duddridge: Perhaps one way of looking at it would be to look back 10 years and say how many would have qualified on that basis. The Department can look backwardsI appreciate that you cannot look into a crystal balland that would perhaps give us some perspective and indication based on hard facts.
John Healey: If the Committee would find that helpful, I am happy to do so.
Q 365 Robert Neill: I just want to come back to the IPC. Effectively, you are creating a bodythe IPCthat is neither subject to the discipline of elections and the political process, nor are its members bound by the obligations of a judicial oath. None the less, it will have powers to amend, apply, modify or exclude provisions of primary legislation. That is quite an extraordinary constitutional innovation, is it not? What parliamentary scrutiny will there be over the exercise of those powers?
John Healey: The IPC will report annually to Parliament about how it conducts its work. An important element of that report will be on how it has used the powers to make the consequential decisions to which you refer. Of
Q 366 Robert Neill: What I am interested in is that clause 105(6)(b) talks about having the ability to use those powers on primary legislation and local Acts when it is expedient. Some of us would like a lot more information about what is meant by and what will be covered by expedient. The consent regime is one thing, but what else might be covered by expediency? That is what worries us.
Be r nadette Kelly: The sorts of primary legislation that we envisage the IPC needing to amend to discharge its primary function of allowing the development consent are primarily private Acts of Parliament in relation to transport projects, many of which are ancient. They will be about byways and other provisions. The Bill also includes provision so that when the IPC exercises those powers, a Secretary of State can ensure that it does so in a way that is compliant with the European convention on human rights and other legal obligations. It is not a swinging power to amend all legislation. It is quite a narrow and confined area of competence for the IPC.
Q 367 Robert Neill: There is always the worry of mission creep in such matters. Perhaps there should be some obligation for there to be a specific report to Parliament every time such powers are used so that people do not to get too trigger-happy in the use of it. Could we look at that?
John Healey: Perhaps I was not clear enough earlier on. That is precisely what the commission will be required to do. When it exercises these powers, it will be required to explain how it has used them. Bernadette Kelly is right that there is, to be precise, a power of direction for Ministers to ensure that the commission uses the powers in certain ways and particularly to ensure that we do not breach any international obligations. To be clear, people who are subject to compulsory purchase orders as a result of this provision will have exactly the same rights that they have at present.
Q 368 Robert Neill: Will they have any right of appeal other than by judicial review if a compulsory purchase order is used as a result of a decision of the IPC?
John Healey: They will have a right to challenge any decision on compulsory purchase in the courts.
John Healey: They will have a right to compensation in the same way as now, determined by the Lands Tribunal.
Q 369 Robert Neill: Another point that interests me is what you said about consultation. We discussed that a lot, but will you help me with one issue? In what respect will the rights of people who would be rule 6 parties under the 2005 rules be enhanced or reduced under the new regime of national policy statements? How will their rights of consultation change?
Be r nadette Kelly: These are the rights of people who may be subject to a compulsory purchase order? Their rights will not in any way be adversely affected by this.
Be r nadette Kelly: I believe that the case still applies.
Q 370 Robert Neill: It comes down to this. A lot has been made about the delay caused by the planning process, which we all want to do something about. Minister, you have seen evidence submitted by the various witnesses that suggests that, in fact, a good deal of the delay is not occasioned by the prolongation of hearings by third parties or their representatives, but either by inadequate preparation by the applicants to start with, which was the case at terminal 5, or by the lengthy time taken within your own Departmentabout eight and a half months or something like that is the average. You can cure both those problems without setting up a quango, can you not?
John Healey: There are three things I would like to say, Mr. Neill, if I may. First, I would like to refer back to one of my starting points. We believe that there is a strong case for separating out the responsibility and accountability for making policy and making decisions.
Secondly, and by way of providing some reassurance I hope, at no point will the IPC decision on any application be taken by a single person. Even where there may be some cases that are heard by a single member of the commission, they will be referred and the decision will be taken by the IPC council, which will have between five and nine members.
Thirdly, it is not just a question of speed. If one thinks about some of the most complex, major inquiries, we were in a situation with the terminal 5 inquiry, for example, where Hillingdon council played an important part in ensuring that the views and concerns of its local residents were registered as part of that process, but it had to withdraw because it had exhausted its funds to be able to do so. In a situation such as that, simply tinkering with the timing rules of the existing system frankly will not do in order to put in place a planning system that can play its part in meeting some of those very big challenges and in helping to make some of the really difficult decisions that we face more broadly, which I referred to earlier.
Q 371 Robert Neill: Given the likely economic benefits that it is said will come from these projects, is it not rather odd to say that if it is too costly for some people to participate, you will abolish the right to cross-examination? Might it not be rather cheaper to give them some assistance with the costs of participation and thereby perhaps reduce the risk of costly appeals, both domestically and in Europe?
John Healey: Sir John, this is a theme that Mr. Neill has been pursuing all week. Just to be clear, if I may, this Bill does not abolish the right to cross-examination nor the practice of cross-examination. What it does is to set out a way of proceeding for the IPC that aims to probe, test and assess the evidence through direct questions rather than through cross-examination, particularly the hiring of expensive third hands, as I mentioned earlier. However, exceptionallywhere it is necessaryif either the adequate testing of any representations or the representation of interested parties requires that type of cross-examination, there is provision in clause 85 for that to happen, and that can be secured at the discretion and decision of the commission.
There is also scope in the way that the IPC will proceed for any interested party at the point at which they give evidence on a specific issue as part of the proceedings to counter the evidence of other parties by drawing in expert witnesses who can make those points of view.
Q 372 Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): My line of questioning now is probably to try to obtain a point of clarification, given the questions that Mr. Neill has just asked the Minister. I would like to clarify the way that the new IPC will report back into Parliament. What will the mechanism be to achieve that reporting?
John Healey: We propose an annual report from the commission to Parliament.
John Healey: It would be a report to Parliament, but formally it would probably be laid by the Secretary of State, simply because the commission would not have the powers, independently, to lay its report on its own directly before Parliament. But the effect would be the same. The commissions report would be laid formally via the Secretary of State and it would then be for Parliament, and whatever arrangements we have for taking an interest in these things, to decide how to deal with it.
Q 374 Jeff Ennis: I am just wondering, given the national significance and importance of the establishment of the IPC, whether we ought to be thinking along the lines whereby Ofsted reports directly to the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, for example. Might it not be more appropriate for the IPC to report back to the appropriate Select Committee rather than to the Secretary of State?
John Healey: You have one over me in that you have served for some time, and with great authority, on that Select Committee. I am not aware of whether, and if so how, Ofsted has direct reporting relations to that Committee. Particularly in the context of discussions that are likely to take place before long between the Chairs of the important four Select Committees, the Leader of the House and me, as Minister responsible for the Bill, that is certainly something that I will look at.
Q 375 Jim Sheridan: Minister, you will have heard during the evidence session that representatives from the CBI, National Grid and others in general terms welcomed the Bill, particularly the simplified planning applications that will help them grow their business. However, you will also have heard them express some concern about devolved planning applications that could slow the process. Some concerns were expressed about that, not just on cost but about the security of supply. Call me a cynic, but when organisations such as the CBI express concern, that usually means either disinvestment or job losses, which gives us cause for concern. Where planning applications are devolved, please do not give up on your northern comrades. Reassure us and the CBI, which asked for every level of Government in the UK to work together to ensure that the energy policy throughout the UK can be implemented.
Finally, Minister, during our deliberations on the Bill, if you or your officials can identify any concerns that may impact on the consumer or on businesses in the devolved parts of the UK, will you make those public so that we can bring pressure to bear on the appropriate people making the decisions, particularly on planning issues such as nuclear energy?
John Healey: Mr. Sheridan, you point to an element of the arrangements that has some jagged edges. This is clearly not a Bill in which it is appropriate to change or reopen the devolution settlement. As you rightly say, planning is a devolved matter, but aspects such as air transport policy or energy policy are not. It would be a great shame and it would serve Scotland and the people of Scotland badly if the exercise of the devolved functions in relation to planning meant that some essential investment that may otherwise appropriately look to Scotland did not come to Scotland because of the approach that is taken.
Q 376 Paul Clark: Let us go back to the community infrastructure levy. I have been asking about that for most of this week and have been pleased at the support for it, although when asking people how they would calculate it and for their suggestions they have been slightly more reticent in coming forward. However, having said that there has been a useful dialogue.
I recognise the difference between the planning gain supplement and the levy and the flexibility that that gives to local authorities and other charging authorities to be able to make decisions locally. Knowing the reticence and the delay that we have sometimes had with regard to approvals for house building and home creation and the delivery of that, will you take any steps to ensure that the levy is not used, through the guidance, powers and provisions that you make, to delay building where there are concerns about house numbers and house building figures?
Yvette Cooper: It is clearly important to ensure that the levy supports development and does not deter it. Its whole purpose is to raise additional resources on top of what is raised currently through section 106 in order to fund the additional infrastructure we need. We believe that there is significant additional planning gain that can be tapped in that way, without deterring development, and one of the strongest pieces of evidence supporting that is the fact that, according to one piece of research, only 14 per cent. of planning permissions for housing had a section 106 attached. Obviously, that is not 14 per cent. of houses built because that will cover the largest planning permissions granted and does not take account of the fact that some planning permissions are granted but the houses are never built.
We recognise that, but nevertheless it is certainly clear that a lot of medium and smaller-sized developments do not contribute anything to infrastructure of affordable housing at the moment, and it is right that we should be able to take account of the cumulative impact of a lot of those smaller developments on infrastructure, and be able to tap some of those resources for infrastructure too.
We believe, therefore, that it is possible to raise additional resources without deterring development. You are of course right that, if the levy is set too high, it could deter development and become a problem, so it is important to take account of that as part of the regulations and guidance and ensure that there is a process in place
We will need to work closely with stakeholders, including local government and stakeholders such as the Home Builders Federation and the British Property Federation, so as to be clear what factors need to be taken into account in an area and what kind of processes need to be gone through to be confident that an appropriate level is set. We envisage safeguards as part of the regulations and guidance, but will need considerably more consultation before we are ready to set out precisely what those should be.
The Chairman: We have eight minutes left and I have three senior Members who would like a second bite of the cherry. If they could each confine themselves to one question, we will see how we go.
Q 377 Mrs. Lait: Mine is just one question. Why are you not repealing the Planning-gain Supplement (Preparations) Act 2007?
Yvette Cooper: We think that it is important to move on with the community infrastructure levy. We have the provisions in place here to do so and have said that we will not be taking forward the planning gain supplement as part of the Bill. We want to ensure that the community infrastructure levy will work and do not think that there is any need to repeal the previous Bill and consideration. We want to ensure that we can raise additional resources from planning gain through the community infrastructure levy, but it is important that people should work with us to make it work.
Q 378 Tom Brake: We talked a lot about law making, but could we talk briefly about law breaking? A number of witnesses have suggested that the IPC might be in breach of article 6 of the Human Rights Act for not allowing people a fair and public hearing. What legal advice have you received on that?
John Healey: I will ask my colleagues to give you the specific details. First, the Secretary of State has signed off the Bill as being consistent with the Human Rights Act, which gives you your top-line reassurance on that. Secondly, if you refer back to what I said 15 minutes ago, I said that the conduct of the IPCs operations can be directed, if necessary, to ensure that there is no breach of international obligations, including human rights.
Q 379 Tom Brake: Does either the Minister or the official know whether the arguments were finely balanced about whether it met article 6?
Be r nadette Kelly: All I can say is that in developing the policy and developing the clauses of the Bill we have been extremely cognizant of the fact that questions have been raised about consistency with article 6 of the European convention on human rights. We have taken care to ensure that our policy is robust and is consistent with the ECHR. We have looked at this very closely in developing detailed clauses and we have certainly subjected it to close legal scrutiny. Clearly the Secretary of State would not have signed off the ECHR memorandum were we not entirely satisfied that the Bill met the requirements of the Act.
Q 381 Mr. Curry: Clause 164 deals with charging authorities and subsection (2)(e) contains the catch-all phrase
any other authority with responsibility for town and country planning.
I should be grateful if the Housing Minister could list the number of authorities that will be involved in the setting of the levy. Could she also explain what the reference to reimbursing expenditure in subsection (4)(a) of the clause over the page is all about?
Yvette Cooper: Which is the second clause?
permit CIL to be used to reimburse expenditure already incurred.
Given our concerns that this should be used to meet new infrastructure needs and not to fill financial holes, what does that mean and could she list the authorities that can precept or have a say in the fixing of the levy? I just need to know how wide the base of this pyramid goes.
Yvette Cooper: Clause 167(4)(e), did you say?
Q 383 Mr. Curry: Clause 167(4)(a) permits CIL to reimburse expenditure and the other query relates to clause 164.
Yvette Cooper: Let us deal first with clause 167. Again, this is about enabling regulations. As we have set out before, we want to have further consultation before we draw up the regulations and those regulations will be consulted on in extensive detail in draft as well. The principle that this is getting at is that there may well be areas where, for example, a piece of infrastructure needs to be provided up front and where a series of developments that take place over time ought to contribute to that infrastructure because they will all benefit from it. It might be appropriate for various agencies to borrow or provide additional funding in advance to get the infrastructure in place. However, as the development will start at a later date, it will contribute towards the infrastructure through the community infrastructure levy. A similar principle has been adopted as part of the Milton Keynes tariff approach, where some of the funding is being provided up front by English Partnerships and others, but is being effectively reimbursed as the development takes place.
There is an important issue behind your question about the need to ensure that this process is supporting infrastructure additional to that provided by mainstream budgets and funding. We must recognise that some of the things that it will contribute towards will also need mainstream budget funding. There will be some pieces of infrastructure that will get funding from not only a community infrastructure levy, but from the Highways Agency or other budgets. It is important to have that flexibility in order to get the infrastructure in place on time.
With regard to your second question about the charging authorities, we are providing flexibility, which we can discuss further, as part of the establishment of the regulations. Currently, there are bodies that can collect
We envisage this primarily as a local authority-driven process, but there is a wide debate about how to deal with sub-regional and regional infrastructure requirements. For example, junction 30 of the M25 will have an impact on south Essex and part of the Thames Gateway and will have an impact across local authority boundaries. Crossrail is a classic example of a piece of infrastructure that will have an impact across local authority boundaries. We want to have further discussions about how those arrangements should work.
Another example of that is the south-east councils that, through the South East England regional assembly, put forward a proposal for a regional infrastructure fund, which they wanted to be funded by our affordable
We have not taken any final decisions on how to support such arrangements. We want to have flexibility in how we can deal with them. I cannot give you a definitive list of all the bodies that might be involved, but I am very happy to have further discussions on how it should work so that it can work as effectively as possible.
Further consideration adjourned.[Mr. Watts.]
Adjourned accordingly at one minute past Four oclock till Tuesday 15 January at half-past Ten oclock.
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