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
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 29 January 2008
[Mr. Eric Illsley in the Chair]
Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 421, in clause 143, page 66, line 8, at end insert
(za) in subsection (1) delete the words interested in land in the area of a local planning authority;.[Robert Neill.]
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
The Minister for Local Government (John Healey): Welcome back, Mr. Illsley. I am glad to see that you are in rude health.
I was setting out the way in which an obligation is formally registered as a land charge. It serves as a permanent restriction on the land, whereby that planning obligation will transfer to any successor in title who owns that land. The amendment would remove the need for a person to be interested in land in order to conclude a planning obligation with the local authority. Therefore, the planning obligation, which hon. Members are concerned about, would not attach to particular land in the way that it currently does under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
I began my remarks by saying that I have some sympathy with the proposal and recognise that this concern has been raised by practitioners. I recognise that under section 106, a developer who is seeking to acquire an interest in land through a compulsory purchase order cannot enter into a planning obligation, while at the same time the existence of a planning obligation may be an important factor in deciding whether a local planning authority grants that planning permission in the first place.
In practice, the way through that problem is generally that the developer negotiates the terms of the section 106 obligation before acquiring the land and submits in draft for the approval of a local planning authority. The planning authority then comes to a preliminary view on the application and indicates whether it is minded to approve the application, subject to a prior completion of a planning obligation. Assuming that it is minded to grant consent, the applicant then goes about securing an interest in the land, which can take the form of a legal option to purchase the land, subject to the planning permission being granted. Often, in such circumstances, those three elements are brought together and concluded simultaneously.
Although that process can be cumbersome, the alternative approach that would be put in place by the amendment, not just for major infrastructure projects under the infrastructure planning commission but much more widely under the Town and Country Planning Act system, would cause more problems than it would solve. The mechanism of a planning obligation relies on a charge being placed on the land, which makes the terms of the obligation enforceable against subsequent owners of it. That works because any prospective purchaser gets notice of the planning obligation before buying the land and is fully aware of the burdens or responsibilities that come with it. At the same time, the purchaser gets the benefit of the planning permission issued in relation to the planning obligation.
In contrast to that, the amendment would allow persons to enter into planning obligations even when they do not own an interest in the land in question. It would therefore be impossible to place a land charge on the land. That would make enforcement increasingly problematic, particularly if there was a change of ownership. A planning obligation in those circumstances would be more like a personal contract that is enforceable against the original parties but would not be passed on to subsequent land owners.
Although I accept that the procedures that are necessary under the existing section 106 terms can be rather awkward, the answer is not to alter fundamentally the nature of a planning obligation from a covenant attached to the land to a contract that is more personal in nature. I hope that I have given the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst sufficient reassurance and that he will withdraw the amendment.
Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Welcome back, Mr. Illsley. I hope that things are improving vocally for you. I am grateful to the Minister for his full explanation. That is helpful. I will obviously speak to those who have raised concerns with me. We are all agreed about what we want to achieve. Perhaps everything will be sorted out before Report so that everybody is satisfied. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 143 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Blighted land: England and Wales
(2A) In section 150(1)(b) (notices requiring purchase of blighted land)
(a) for 21 or insert 21,,
(b) after notes) insert or paragraph 24, and
(c) after Schedule 13 and insert (except in the case of land falling within paragraph 24(c) of that Schedule).
(2B) After section 165 (power of Secretary of State to acquire land affected by orders relating to new towns etc. where blight notice served) insert
165A Power of Secretary of State to acquire land identified in national policy statements where blight notice served
Where a blight notice has been served in respect of land falling within paragraph 25 of Schedule 13, the Secretary of State has power to acquire compulsorily any interest in the land in pursuance of the blight notice served by virtue of that paragraph.
John Healey: These two amendments are technical amendments for the purposes of what might be termed integrating new categories of blight within the general blight provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act. A national policy statement which identifies a location as either suitable or potentially suitable for a big infrastructure project may, of course, create blight at that location, reducing land values and making it harder to sell the land. Blight may also result from an application being made for an order granting development consent, which authorises the compulsory acquisition of the land through the IPC. This clause is therefore intended to enable people in those circumstances to gain access to the normal provisions set out in statute in the Town and Country Planning Act. Those are provisions whereby people whose land is blighted can obtain compensation. The amendments make a couple of changes that are needed to make that work properly.
Amendment No. 445 gives the Secretary of State the power to acquire land when a valid blight notice is served as a result of a national policy statement. Having the power in practice means that the Secretary of State is obliged to purchase the land when a valid blight notice is served. Without the amendment, there would be no one to whom the owners of the land could sell their land. Amendment No. 446 is another technical amendment which identifies the appropriate enactment. Essentially it ensures that people would get the compensation to which they should be entitled for any loss in the value of their property due to blight. It allows us to define the appropriate enactment for compensation in the case of national policy statements and nationally significant infrastructure projects. Both amendments are important. They ensure that we get the framework right. I commend them to the Committee.
Robert Neill: We do not have a problem with these amendments. They are sensible. I reassure the Minister that I will not put out a press release about the increase in the amount of blight.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment made: No. 446, in clause 144, page 67, line 34, at end insert
(3A) In section 170 (appropriate enactment for purposes of Chapter 2) after subsection (8) insert
(8A) In relation to land falling within paragraph 24(a) or (b) of that Schedule, the appropriate enactment is the enactment which, by virtue of the order granting development consent, provides or is treated as providing for the compulsory acquisition of the land.
(8B) In relation to land falling within paragraph 24(c) of that Schedule, the appropriate enactment is the enactment which, if the order applied for were made, would provide or be treated as providing for the compulsory acquisition of the land.
(8C) In relation to land falling within paragraph 25 of that Schedule, the appropriate enactment is section 165A..[John Healey.]
Clause 144, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 145 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Local development documents
Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): I beg to move amendment No. 571, in clause 146, page 69, line 18, leave out paragraph (a).
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 572, in clause 146, page 69, line 40, leave out paragraph (c).
Dan Rogerson: I welcome you back to the Chair, Mr. Illsley, for round 10 of our detailed deliberations on the Bill. The amendments were suggested to me by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and concern the provisions for consultation on local development documents. That organisation is concerned that some of the consultations up to now have not borne fruit in amending important documents. The system has not worked as well as it would have liked and it would be even worse to remove those provisions altogether, as is proposed in the Bill.
The amendments would protect the provisions for consultation that have been won in the past. I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say about the concerns of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association on how peoples views have not been taken into account, in particular those who have visual impairments and have particular needs for the built environment to cater for them.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): Thank you, Mr. Illsley. It is good to see you back in[ Interruption. ] I was going to say in fine fettle, but it is good to see you in fine-ish fettle.
I hope to be able to give the hon. Member for North Cornwall some reassurance on our ongoing commitment to consultation with the public. The amendments would change the proposed amendment of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 under the clause so that statements of community involvement remain subject to public examination. How best we carry out public examination is the key to this issue. In practice, examination is done by the Planning Inspectorate.
The first reason for wishing to remove the public examination of statements of community involvement is that the process is very costly and time-consuming for local authorities. That is not the main reason, but it is a reason. They should be getting on with genuine engagement with the community and not preparing for legalistic hearings or written representations with the Planning Inspectorate, which local authorities tell us they are invariably doing at the moment. The process also takes up a great deal of inspectorate resources. Most importantly, the Planning Inspectorate is not the best organisation to assess community engagement.
Officials are in discussion with the Audit Commission to see how the proposed comprehensive area assessment process will assess engagement overall. I think that that might be a better way forward. We want to see community engagement joined up across the local authority to reduce duplication and make matters easier for the public to understand. A joined-up strategy for this
Dan Rogerson: I will not press the amendment to a vote, but I hope that the Minister will reflect on the sentiments that have been expressed by one group, which has seen fit to contact members of the Committee with its concerns. No doubt there are many others, representing many people across the country, who feel that there are shortcomings in the consultation procedure. The Minister has set out ways in which he feels that the process can be made more effective but remain meaningful. With those assurances and on the basis that that is delivered, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 427, in clause 146, page 70, line 13, at end insert
(6A) After section 37 insert
37A Primacy of national policy statements
National policy statements shall take precedence of all other planning documents or planning guidance..
I shall try not to tax your voice too much, Mr. Illsley.
The somewhat draconian, as it reads, amendment is intended to tease out from the Government another aspect of national policy statements, which we have already indicated that we approve of in principle. We have previously had a debate on consistency between national policy statements, planning policy statements and planning policy guidance. The purpose of the amendment is to get the Governments view on how local development plans will fit into the national policy statement framework, and which, in their view, will take primacy.
If local people and local authorities spend a great deal of time developing a local development planamendments have been tabled to try to streamline that system, because the Governments Act has not delivered the development plans with the speed that they wantedwhich then collides with an infrastructure project, to which they have rooted objections, the local development framework will not necessarily fit nicely into the national policy statement. I hope that the Government have thought that through. We have tabled the amendment so that they can share their thoughts with us on which would win: local communities or the Government?
Mr. Dhanda: I hope that everyone can be a winner. I do not think that the hon. Member for Beckenhams amendment is draconian; it asks some fair questions about how everything fits together, and I will attempt to make that clearer in the next few minutes.
The amendment proposes to amend the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to give precedence in the town and country planning system to national policy statements over all other planning documents or guidance. That is why the hon. Lady was suggesting that it was perhaps draconian, but that is what it does.
Were the intention of the amendment to facilitate the progress of renewable projects through the town and country planning system, which it is notalthough, reading through it, it could have beenI would have had some sympathy for the outcome. But I consider that the amendment would be inappropriate and unnecessary.
Under the town and country planning system, there is already a statutory requirement for regional planning bodies and local planning authorities to have regard to national policies and guidance when preparing their local development plans. Therefore, under the Bill, once a national policy statement is published it should be fully reflected in relevant development plans, regional spatial strategies and local development frameworks.
Under the town and country planning system, planning authorities decide on applications in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations dictate otherwise. That means that the relevant national policy statement would influence local authority decisions below the threshold for the IPC, if it contained policy that applied to infrastructure generally, and not solely to nationally significant developments. Decisions by the relevant authority on any non-nationally significant infrastructure projects would be made in accordance with the development plan, which would need to reflect national policy, including the relevant national policy statement.
Mrs. Lait: I perceive a circular argument here. Given that it will take some time for national policy statements to be put in place and that part of the purpose of the Bill is to speed up the local development framework process, if a local authority area is affected by a big infrastructure project, as foreseen under the national policy statements, will it have to assume that it will have an infrastructure project without knowing, or will it have to start going through it again? Would an infrastructure project not be regarded as significant enough for the LDF to be redrawn, given that a lot of the amendments would make minor changes to the LDF, so that the whole process would not have to open again? I hope that the Minister sees why I am saying that it is a slightly circular argument, and it would be useful if we could break the circle.
Mr. Dhanda: It is important to get across that local development plans need to consider everything in the national policy statementI hope that I am getting that across to the hon. Member for Beckenham. Perhaps her perspective is that the two must be in conflict with each other. From my experience of local development plans, they are not some kind of one-hit wonder, but evolve over time, and it is really important that they evolve with consideration.
The hon. Lady has been quite specific about the possibility of a nationally significant infrastructure project within a locality and how the two fit together. I agree with her that it is important for that to be taken into consideration, and I am sure that local authorities will want to do so as part of their local development plans. In short, existing arrangements will ensure that national policy statements are taken into account when deciding relevant planning applications. I hope that that is of help to the hon. Lady and that she will withdraw her amendment.
Mrs. Lait: The best thing to say is that that gives us food for thought, and we might come back to it on a future occasion. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 146 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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