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Session 2007 - 08
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General Committee Debates

Planning Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Sir John Butterfill, Mr. Eric Illsley
Benyon, Mr. Richard (Newbury) (Con)
Betts, Mr. Clive (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab)
Brake, Tom (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) (Lab)
Curry, Mr. David (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government)
Duddridge, James (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con)
Ellman, Mrs. Louise (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op)
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab)
Fitzpatrick, Jim (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)
Healey, John (Minister for Local Government)
Jones, Mr. David (Clwyd, West) (Con)
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui (Beckenham) (Con)
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC)
Michael, Alun (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
Mole, Chris (Ipswich) (Lab)
Neill, Robert (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
Reed, Mr. Jamie (Copeland) (Lab)
Rogerson, Dan (North Cornwall) (LD)
Sheridan, Jim (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab)
Watts, Mr. Dave (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Alan Sandall, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 29 January 2008


[Sir John Butterfill in the Chair]

Planning Bill

Further written evidence to be reported to the House

PB 33 Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment
PB 34 Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors

Clause 105

What may be included in order granting development consent
10.30 am
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 26, in clause 105, page 49, leave out lines 26 to 29.
Welcome back to the scintillating proceedings on the Planning Bill, Sir John. We are starting with what appears to be an innocuous little amendment to delete clause 105(4)(h), which would allow the development consent orders to free land
“from any restriction imposed on it by or under the Green Belt (London and Home Counties) Act 1938 (c. xciii), or by a covenant or other agreement entered into”—
The Chairman: Order. I know that the hon. Lady would not wish to mislead the Committee, but the amendment would also delete clause 105(4)(g).
Mrs. Lait: Thank you, Sir John. I am grateful to you, because that paragraph is even more sweeping. It is considerably less innocuous, even if shorter. Unless I receive serious reassurance from Ministers, I will invite my hon. Friends to vote on the amendment.
You, Sir John, probably more than anyone, are aware of the pressure on the green belt in and outside London. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and I have long had to fight, on behalf of our constituents in Bromley, attempts to infiltrate the green belt with development; 50 per cent. of our borough is green belt, which leads to a lot of pressure on it. Anyone with an outer London constituency or one that borders any large metropolitan area—I do not use the term in the local government sense—will know that the pressure on the green belt is huge. The pressure to ensure that that lung remains around the big urban conurbations is equally huge.
The Government have for a long time been trying to use various methods and means to resist or break down the resistance to development in the green belt. They have been defeated so far on all occasions. It is, to say the least, sneaky to try to get it through in this Bill, in which no one would believe that it should be included.
We all know that the pressure for homes is enormous. The purpose of one section of the Bill, which we have still to come to, is to try to extract some extra value from the capital gains on housing developments because of demand in response to the market. However, the green belt is precious and is perceived to be precious. Should the infrastructure planning commission or any other body be able to override current legislation on it, I would suggest that the Government would live to regret it. We certainly think that that should be resisted wherever attempts arise to make incursions on to green belt land.
Therefore, as I have said, unless the Minister can reassure me as to the point of including paragraphs (g) and (h) in the Bill, I will invite my hon. Friends to oppose their inclusion as strongly as we can.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): I fully support the amendment. The power in the paragraphs concerned seems very sweeping. Were the commission considering making such an order, effectively freeing up green belt land, would there be a dialogue with people in the surrounding area before such an order was granted, so that at least the consultation would have been gone through?
The provision seems to be extremely sweeping, and as the hon. Member for Beckenham has said, green belt land is there for a purpose and is very much valued by those who live in its vicinity. Although I generally understand why the commission should have powers to vary existing legislation, which can sometimes be arcane, I find this power a little disturbing. Will the Minister give some assurances about the amount, form and timing of consultation and how the commission would be guided?
Mrs. Lait: Although I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman and generally agree that there should be consultation, I am concerned that we can consult until we are blue in the face. I rather suspect that the consultation will be completely meaningless if the provision is passed, and that our local communities will feel even more cheated.
Mr. Llwyd: The hon. Lady puts her case strongly and I hear what she says. No doubt the Minister heard that and will respond in due course.
Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): May I briefly support the observations that have been made? The provision is a concern, and I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy. There might be certain circumstances in which it is necessary to lay a pipeline across green belt land, or to undertake something similarly limited and modest that relates to infrastructure and development. However, a proposal to build a major infrastructure development within the green belt would raise great concerns indeed.
That issue relates not only to the suburbs, but to other areas of the country where we can envisage some type of infrastructure project being placed on the green belt, and the sweeping nature of the power seems to go well beyond what is set out in the subsection’s preceding paragraph, which sensibly limits the power in relation to electricity lines going across the land. What constraints and restrictions will there be on that power? Do we run the risk that many acres could be taken out of green belt land under the provision as it stands, with less protection and opportunity for the public to have their say than exists at the moment?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): On behalf of those of us on the Government Benches, let me welcome you back to the Chair, Sir John.
The Government do not support the amendment, but understand what the hon. Member for Beckenham is trying to do. She would like to see green belt land keep all of the protection that it currently enjoys against inappropriate development. The Government share that desire to protect those areas from inappropriate development, but the amendment would not achieve that intended result and is unnecessary.
It might help the Committee if I were to set out the main protections for green belt land, and to clarify the differences relating to the amendment and the apparently simple term “green belt”. The clause relates to land that is designated as green belt land in accordance with the Green Belt (London and Home Counties) Act 1938. Under the 1938 Act, local authorities were given power to hold certain lands surrounding London and other metropolitan areas on trust, and development of that land is subject to restrictions over and above those imposed by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
When land is designated as green belt land for the purposes of the 1938 Act, a separate consent is required from the Secretary of State to enable the land to be developed. I will refer to that type of green belt land as statutory green belt land. It is not the same as land designated as green belt land by a local authority in its local development plan. Such land is currently protected from development by both local and national planning policy, which prohibits inappropriate development in the green belt, except in very special circumstances. This type of designated green belt is not the same as statutory green belt land. Although the development of this designated green belt land requires planning permission in the usual way, it does not also require a separate consent from the Secretary of State under the 1938 Act.
The way the Bill works in relation to green belt land is to combine the consent regimes arising from the 1938 Act and the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 into the single consent regime and to give the commission, or the Secretary of State when she is the decision maker, power to authorise the development of both statutory green belt land and land designated as green belt in a local development plan. An order granting development consent in relation to green belt land will therefore have a similar effect to both a planning consent and a separate consent from the Secretary of State under the 1938 Act.
In deciding whether to grant consent for a development in the green belt, the decision maker will be required to adhere to the policies set out in any relevant national policy statement and to take into account such other factors as may be prescribed. It is intended that not only will national policy statements reflect existing policy on green belt, as set out in PPG2, but the Secretary of State will make regulations requiring the decision to take into account the purpose for which green belt land is held. In that way, the special status of green belt land will be protected.
Amendment No. 26 would mean that a development consent order could not include provisions on the transfer of land protected by the 1938 Act or the freeing of such land from restricted covenants under that Act. That would have no effect on the ability of the IPC to make orders that contain provisions relating to land designated as green belt by virtue of a local development plan. The effect of the amendment would be detrimental to the concept of a single consent regime as in certain circumstances it would be necessary for a promoter to apply for a separate consent from the Secretary of State in order to allow a proposed development to proceed.
Applicants could still obtain authorisations for such sales or transfers, but only after a separate application to the Secretary of State, who would be unsighted on those issues as she would have no role in the granting of the other permissions or consents in relation to the project. Furthermore, under the amendment, in cases in which the Secretary of State was the decision maker, the applicant would still need to make a separate application to the Secretary of State.
The Government believe that the right way to address the issue is by ensuring that green belt policy is properly set out in national policy statements. It is our intention that when we introduce national policy statements they will cover the special policy protection for green belt land, which prohibits inappropriate development except in very special circumstances. In turn, that will be reflected in the policies set out in any local development plan. When Ministers prepare national policy statements they will have regard to national planning policies, including PPG2 on the green belt. Special protections for green belt land will therefore continue to apply.
In addition, I should like to draw the Committee’s attention to clauses 94 and 95, which permit the Secretary of State to prescribe matters which the decision maker must take into account before deciding to make an order granting development consent. It is intended that those regulations will set out that in a case involving proposed development on any green belt land, the decision maker will be required to take into account the special status of the land. The Secretary of State already takes that into account currently when deciding whether to grant a green belt consent under the 1938 Act. The single consents regime, as we have discussed previously, is based on a clear separation between policy making and decision making. As such, the final decision maker needs to have the power to grant all the necessary consents for a particular project, which may include the power to free the land in question from the restrictions imposed on the green belt.
In response to the specific question raised by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy about dialogue with local communities, there would be three chances for local consultation: first, when the national policy statement is drafted; secondly, during the pre-application consultation; and thirdly, when an application is made. Therefore, there will be three opportunities to ensure that local issues are raised appropriately. On that basis, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw her amendment. Otherwise, I will have to ask my hon. Friends to vote against it.
10.45 am
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