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Session 2007 - 08
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Planning Bill

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 5 February 2008


[Sir John Butterfill in the Chair]

Planning Bill

Further written evidence to be reported to the House

PB 37 City of London Corporation

New Clause 28

Delegation of functions of regional planning bodies
‘(1) In Part 1 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (regional functions) after section 4 insert—
“4A Delegation of RPB functions to regional development agencies
(1) The RPB may make arrangements with the regional development agency for its region for the exercise by the agency on behalf of the RPB of any of the RPB’s functions.
(2) Subsection (3) applies if, by virtue of section 2(7), the Secretary of State has power to exercise any functions of the RPB.
(3) The Secretary of State may make arrangements with the regional development agency for the region of the RPB for the exercise by the agency on behalf of the Secretary of State of any of the RPB’s functions.
(4) Subsection (5) applies if, by virtue of section 10(3), the Secretary of State has power to prepare a draft revision of the RSS because of a failure to comply by the RPB.
(5) The Secretary of State may make arrangements with the regional development agency for the region of the RPB for the exercise by the agency on behalf of the Secretary of State of the Secretary of State’s function under section 10(3).
(6) Arrangements under this section—
(a) may be made only if the regional development agency agrees to the making of the arrangements and their terms;
(b) may be varied only if the regional development agency agrees to the variation and the terms of the variation.
(7) Arrangements under subsection (1) may be brought to an end at any time by the RPB.
(8) Arrangements under subsection (3) or (5) may be brought to an end at any time by the Secretary of State.
(9) A regional development agency which, by virtue of arrangements under this section, has power, or is required, to exercise a function of the RPB, may do anything which is calculated to facilitate, or is conducive or incidental to, the exercise of the function.
(10) Arrangements under subsection (1) for the exercise of a function by a regional development agency do not prevent the RPB from exercising the function.
(11) Arrangements under subsection (3) or (5) for the exercise of a function by a regional development agency do not prevent the Secretary of State from exercising the function.
(12) “Regional development agency” means a development agency established under section 1 of the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998.”’
(2) The Regional Development Agencies Act 1998 is amended as follows.
(3) In section 8 (regional consultation) after subsection (2) insert—
“(2A) The reference in subsection (2)(b) to the functions of a regional development agency does not include any function conferred by arrangements under section 4A of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (delegation of functions of regional planning bodies to regional development agencies).”
(4) In section 11 (borrowing) after subsection (4) insert—
“(4A) The references in subsections (2) and (4) to the functions of a regional development agency do not include any function conferred by arrangements under section 4A of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (delegation of functions of regional planning bodies to regional development agencies).”
(5) In section 18 (regional accountability) after subsection (1) insert—
“(1A) The reference in subsection (1)(c) to the functions of a regional development agency does not include any function conferred by arrangements under section 4A of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (delegation of functions of regional planning bodies to regional development agencies).”
(6) In paragraph 7 of Schedule 2 (delegation of functions by regional development agencies) after sub-paragraph (1) insert—
“(1A) The reference in sub-paragraph (1) to anything authorised or required to be done under an enactment includes a reference to anything authorised or required to be done under arrangements made under an enactment.”’.—[John Healey.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
4 pm
The Minister for Local Government (John Healey): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
I welcome you back to the Chair, Sir John, for our latest, and perhaps last, sitting. The purpose of the new clause is to allow regional assemblies to work with regional development agencies on regional planning issues during the period of transition towards a new set of arrangements at a regional level, which we set out in July in the sub-national review of economic development and regeneration. The arrangements proposed in that plan will require separate, new primary legislation, and we propose to consult as a step towards that before long.
The new clause might be the subject of some misapprehension, so I shall start in the negative by explaining what it will not do and what it is not for. First, it will not allow regional planning powers to be transferred to the regional development agency. If Parliament agrees to such a transfer, it would be under the new legislation we propose and certainly would not be until at least 2010. Secondly, it does not allow the regional development agency to grab those powers because the initiative remains with the national assembly as the regional planning body. Thirdly, it does not undermine the regional assembly, which remains responsible as the regional planning body for the regional spatial strategy. Finally, it does not change the exceptional—some might say extreme—circumstances in which the Secretary of State may take regional planning functions back from a regional assembly as the regional planning body, as was set out in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.
However, it is important that the work that regional assemblies undertake as regional planning bodies in their area is not undermined by a reduction of capacity or a growing uncertainty over their future. That is particularly relevant in trying to maintain the commitment that we set out in the housing Green Paper to earlier revisions of the housing provisions in the regional spatial strategies.
The new clause is designed to encourage what in some regions is already close working between the regional assembly, the regional development agency, local authorities and some of the other agencies and interests in the region, and we want to allow regional development agencies to carry out some of the regional assembly functions on their behalf where that is wanted by the assembly and agreed by the agency.
Currently, there are limits on what regional development agencies can do in relation to planning, and that is where the barrier that the new clause is designed to overcome lies. For example, they cannot employ staff to carry out or be involved in functions that are currently assigned to regional assemblies. In some regions, such as the west midlands, the regional assembly and the regional development agency are keen to pursue early staff exchanges and do more on a joint basis. Therefore, the new clause is designed to try to remove the problems and barriers that are present in this period of temporary transition.
We do not propose to transfer regional planning powers to the regional development agencies in this new clause. We will not propose to transfer those powers until we bring further, more comprehensive legislation that we plan following consultation shortly.
I hope that that is helpful and I commend the clause to the Committee.
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): I welcome you back, Sir John, to what I am almost certain will be our final session.
The Minister has made as good a fist as he can on this new clause 28, given that Conservative Members are against this transfer of planning powers to the RDAs. The parallel, I suppose, is our attempt to repeal the Planning-gain Supplement (Preparations) Act 2007, because this paves the way towards this transfer of powers to the RDAs.
It is kind of the Minister to indicate that some of the RDAs are very keen to take on the regional assemblies’ planning powers. As far as I am aware local authorities would much prefer to take on these planning powers and get rid of the RDAs, quite apart from getting rid of the regional assemblies. I do not wish to advise my hon. Friends to support this new clause—
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): I have heard many Opposition Members criticise the lack of effectiveness of regional assemblies. Is it the hon. Lady’s argument that these powers should not be transferred; that we should simply keep the regional assemblies as they are and let them carry on?
Mrs. Lait: Heaven forfend that we should keep the regional assemblies. The Opposition do not believe in regionalised government. If the hon. Gentleman has not picked that up by now I do not know where he has been for the last 10 years.
Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): Would the hon. Lady give way?
Mrs. Lait: Is the right hon. Gentleman about to tell me that Wales is a region?
Alun Michael: I am about to tell the hon. Lady, who does not need reinforcing in any aspects of ignorance she might possess, that the Conservatives would appear to be making a considerable U-turn. She may have forgotten that they set up urban development corporations and under the last Labour Government they were given planning powers. I remember it very well because, although we had a Conservative Secretary of State he agreed not to pass those on to urban development corporations but to keep them with local government. It seems there is a bit of a conversion going on here—in England.
The Chairman: Order. I hope that the hon. Lady will not be lured down this particular alleyway, as it has no relevance at all to the matter under discussion.
Mrs. Lait: Sir John, you are spoiling a jolly good argument.
The Opposition have been against the regional assemblies from their inception and we believe that local authorities can carry out many of the RDAs’ functions, certainly on planning and housing. We should be moving towards that format for the transfer of powers not giving further powers to the undemocratic RDAs. We are against their housing powers, we are against their planning powers and we are against the transfer of resources. In fact, one of our concerns is the lack of reassurance that we have had from the Minister that the community infrastructure levy will not be levied by RDAs, thereby reinforcing their undemocratic and yet tax-raising nature. This may indeed be the first step—
Mr. Betts: The hon. Lady seems to be making Conservative policy up as she goes along this afternoon. I understand her position to be that the Conservative party is not in favour of the regional assemblies, is quite happy to see them go and does not believe that their power should be transferred to the regional development agencies. I think that her words were that some of what they do could be done by local councils, which seems to imply that some of what they do would not be done at local level. There would not be any regional bodies, so presumably she is going to transfer the power up to national government.
Mrs. Lait: The hon. Gentleman is having a jolly good try at diverting attention from the purpose of this new clause brought forward by his own Government which, of course, presages the end of regional assemblies. Given that he was elected at several elections on the retention of regional assemblies, the ground is shifting under his feet as well.
John Healey: As we are into our 14th session of scrutiny on this Bill, will the hon. Lady not accept that what she said a little earlier was mistaken? There is no power in this Bill for an RDA to raise the community infrastructure levy.
The Chairman: Order. It is time that we dealt with the new clause rather than being lured into discussions about what may or may not be the Conservative party’s policies towards either regional assemblies or RDAs.
Mrs. Lait: I accept your guidance, Sir John. Perhaps we can have some discussions in the corridors outside afterwards, or in other forums. However, we come back to the fact that this new clause paves the way for the RDAs to have planning powers that we do not believe the RDAs should have. Moreover, the Minister mentioned that the Government were expecting to have discussions on the transfer of those powers, but the Local Government Association, in particular, is exceedingly affronted about their taking place before discussion on the consultation document has been completed. We are back to the lack of consultation on the community infrastructure levy.
It is inappropriate for this House to agree to the potential for discussions between the regional assemblies and the RDAs under a legislative framework before the final structure has been worked out between the Local Government Association and the Government and indeed others who have an interest in this area. I seem to remember that not very long ago there was a bit of excitement when the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government signed a concordat with the leader of the Local Government Association indicating that local government initiatives should go forward only after consultation. The Local Government Association does not believe that the new clause complies with that concordat. We want to ensure that local government and the local authorities are not excluded from their rightful place in deciding where planning powers should go and what is appropriate for the regional development authorities, which, in my view, with regard to planning, is very little. As I understand it, many of the regional development agencies would much prefer not to be involved in the Government’s top-down direction of planning and housing. These powers should in fact be transferred to the local authorities.
I will draw my remarks to a close by saying that we are very unhappy about the new clause. There has been insufficient time to think these matters through in great detail as it has come forward so late, and we will consider returning to it at a later stage.
4.15 pm
Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): I welcome you back to the Chair for this final session, Sir John, as others have already done. I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Beckenham has just said, but there is certainly a difference of opinion between our parties on the potential for doing things at a regional level. I am sure we would agree, however, that the Government’s policy over the past 10 years has been a bit of a mess, and that any positives that might have come from it have been lost and we are left flailing around, trying to determine what the future should be.
The Minister has announced that there will be a major consultation on the way forward, at which point all sorts of organisations will express an opinion, not least the local authorities, who lost a lot of their planning influence when these matters were last addressed. Therefore, to bring forward this new clause now is a little premature. Just because an RDA is willing to work towards taking over some planning responsibility, and just because a regional assembly has a very limited life span anyway, does not necessarily mean that the policy is in line with what the people of the region would like to see. Neither the RDAs nor the regional assemblies as constituted are the most democratic of bodies, so for them to stitch up a deal between them in a particular region is not necessarily putting an especially good gloss on the way forward.
Hon. Members will have heard from organisations such as the wildlife trusts, who have great concerns about what the RDAs are set up to do. They are set up to deal with economic development matters, but planning is a much wider issue. Sustainable development and environmental concerns come a long way down their list of responsibilities and core functions. So to transfer powers from a body that at least, while not democratically elected in its current form, has a view to all sorts of policy issues, and hand them over to a body that has an important but fairly limited focus is not necessarily the right thing to do.
I am concerned that we could be moving into the territory that we discussed earlier on with regard to the planning gains supplement when we paved the way for something that might never happen. If it is not likely to happen and we were later to have legislation—
Chris Mole (Ipswich) (Lab): Has the hon. Gentleman ever spoken to a Liberal Democrat member of a regional assembly or a regional development agency? I ask that because, having been a member of an RDA and having now been joined in this House by an hon. Member for one of the Croydon seats who is on the London Development Agency, I have spoken to plenty of people who welcome the opportunity to be accountable for their decisions. We must remember that a large proportion of the regional assemblies are elected councillors themselves and are designed to bring in other interests as well. So if there is to be strategic planning, the hon. Gentleman needs to tell us how he would do that if not in the way in which it is currently done.
Dan Rogerson: The Liberal Democrats believe that there is scope for regions, where those regions are bottom-up, and where there is agreement on what those regions should be. I am a somewhat parochial Member of Parliament representing Cornwall, and there has never been any consensus within the south-west region that it represents a natural region. In an e-mail conversation with Councillor Chris White, with whom the Committee is familiar, he said that he was concerned about regional assembly staff and their future, which is a very touchy issue. However, I fear that I am getting away from the issue at hand.
This is a paving measure for something that might not be needed. If we are to have a proper consultation on the way forward, hopefully the ideas that that will generate will lead to something that is more accountable and fitting for the needs of sub-regional areas. Let us wait for that and not add this clause to the Bill.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): Having been told by the Minister this morning that, unlike Sampson, I had actually gained power by having my locks shorn, I would like to say my pennyworth.
The RDAs are hugely variable. Some are known to be pretty grim. Yorkshire Forward—the one I have to deal with—started off very well. It had a very strong strategic focus, but a lot of that has been dissipated in too many micro-actions as it has been asked to do too many things. That may be a general criticism. If I could make one recommendation it would be for it to stop coming down to the House of Commons to give enormously expensive tea parties at which three MPs and sundry Peers from the House of Lords with nothing better to do turn up, accompanied by a large number of their own staff. The RDA can much better do it in Leeds, where it is based.
Will the Minister clarify what is going to happen? He said that new legislation will ensure the formal transfer of planning powers to the RDAs. Fair enough; that is clean. He said that the RDAs cannot “grab” the powers. That is understood. However, where does the boundary lie between the powers that the regional assembly may decide to invite the RDA to take, and the formal powers with which they will be endowed under the new legislation? That is not clear to me. To what extent could the incremental transfer of competence amount to something very close to a full exercise of powers in anticipation of the legislation that will make that formal transfer? I do not like messy legislation; we have got to ensure that we know where the boundary lies.
The RDAs are not accountable. When the Government unveiled the sub-regional strategy before the summer break, they said that with the regional assemblies disappearing, mechanisms of accountability would have to be introduced for the RDAs. However, we still do not know what those mechanisms of accountability are going to be. At the moment, there is a vacuum. I have asked the Minister on a number of occasions over the course of these deliberations whether the Government are still intending to establish regional Select Committees. Each time he has studiously avoided referring to the question in his response, so I ask him again: are the Government still intending to institute regional Select Committees?
Finally, when the Government unveiled their sub-regional strategy, I was rather enthusiastic about it. City regions have a great deal of potential. The Leeds city region, in my part of the world, would incorporate what used to be the old west riding part of the north riding and that would make a great deal of sense. However, I would like the other instrument engineered to that geometry. In other words, the regional development agency would conform to the Leeds city region, just as if the south Yorkshire cities—and the Minister represents one of them—were to form their own city region, there would be a case for them having the development agency functions. I would not wish to create too much of a monolith in the RDAs if it makes sense later to try to re-engineer the situation, if the idea of a city region takes off.
We need to do some thinking about what the constitution of a city region might be—how would it actually work? The European Union, if I dare say so, gives some good indication of how big countries and small countries can get by with voting systems with which they can all live. However, there is a lot of work to be done before we get to that stage. Meanwhile, we should be a little cautious before we introduce what may well be seen as pragmatic measures that would leave very untidy edges. I would prefer to wait for the Minister to come forward with his formal consultations and legislation to complete the transfer, whether or not we think it is a good idea. If it is going to be carried out, I would like it to be done cleanly so that I can see what is happening. We are left with a very murky period in the middle of ill-defined boundaries. I would like to have as many landing lights as possible on the runway so that I know where I am going.
John Healey: Let me try to deal with the right hon. Gentleman’s questions, because they were precise and direct, although he did more generally welcome the direction of the sub-national review, which goes well beyond the bounds of the new clause. I welcome that, but will not dwell on it.
I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s desire for clean-cut legislation. That is why I am at pains to draw a distinction between what is proposed in the new clause and what may follow in consultation to put into practice the plan in the sub-national review, which will then be legislated for. I shall try to answer his questions as directly and clearly as I can. There is a distinction between what we want to see in practice during the interim period and what the arrangements might be after subsequent legislation. The first distinction concerns the functions relating to planning which a regional assembly can choose to delegate to a regional development agency. Future legislation might assume or bestow planning powers on a regional development agency. The sort of planning functions that the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members are thinking about might include monitoring developments against a particular plan, producing analytical reports to help develop a plan and managing events as part of a planning process, such as consultation events. Those functions are part of the planning responsibility. However, the responsibility will remain with the regional assembly.
The question of assuming or bestowing planning powers on a regional development agency would change the nature and the location of the regional planning body by changing who or what it is. Under the new clause, the regional planning body is and will remain the regional assembly. In other words, responsibility for planning will remain with the regional planning body, which is the regional assembly. Responsibility for the regional spatial strategy, even though some contributory functions may be delegated to the RDA, will remain with the regional planning body, which is the regional assembly. Responsibility for submitting the regional spatial strategy to the Secretary of State for final approval will remain with the regional planning body, which is the regional assembly.
The new clause will promote a relatively modest change. I hope that it will be regarded by members of the Committee as a pragmatic one. Essentially, it will give RDAs the scope to play a part in the planning activities and functions of their region. They will be able to benefit the region in a way that they cannot at the moment because they are not allowed to do so. For instance, they might be able to employ officers related to functions that are not currently within their statute. That is what the new clause is designed to do. It is not a Trojan horse that will somehow subvert the proper process of consultation which we will go through before making significant and separate subsequent legislation. I hope that that explanation gives the cleanliness that the right hon. Gentleman talked about. On that basis, I hope that hon. Members accept the new clause.
John Healey rose—
Mr. Curry: The answer seems to be coming from behind the Minister.
4.30 pm
John Healey: I am looking solely and straight at the right hon. Gentleman. The answer is that it may well be. If it were sensible to transfer that sort of function and personnel, there is currently a barrier to doing so. The new clause is designed to remove that.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
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