The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): The hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) seemed to spend rather more time talking about my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister than the Bill during her rather lengthy winding-up speech, and Members-certainly colleagues on the Government Benches-will have noticed that she had trouble keeping a straight face while making her speech. From that, we can detect just how much she really believed what she was saying while going through the motions of delivering her remarks.
We have had a good debate on this important Bill. There were 19 Back-Bench speakers and I will try to refer to their contributions as I go through the arguments. I should just say at the outset that today I sent a copy of the Government's response to the memorandum from the Clerk of the House of Commons to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee and placed another copy in the Library of the House, and I should also have sent a copy to the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) on behalf of the Opposition. I have apologised to him privately, and I would like to do so on the Floor of the House too. It was an inadvertent omission, not a deliberate discourtesy.
The issue of the time available for debating the Bill arose in a number of speeches from both sides of the House. As is clear from the programme motion, we have allowed two days of debate in Committee of the whole House, so every Member will get the opportunity to debate these important constitutional measures, and a further day on Report and Third Reading for a Bill that contains five clauses and one schedule, albeit they address very important principles.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is present. In answering an urgent question earlier today, he made the point that in the first Session of a new Parliament it is simply not possible to do as much pre-legislative scrutiny as one would hope to be able to do later in a Parliament. However, we are not racing off at pace, and I encourage the Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), to
continue its deliberations as I feel that there will be time for the Government and the House to learn from its deliberations before we move into Committee.
Mr Harper: Yes, the Leader of the House made the point and I do not think it is different from what I have just said. These are important measures and the Government want to get on with political and constitutional reform. That is why we are moving ahead with these measures, but they will be debated on the Floor of the House and all colleagues will have the opportunity to debate them.
Mr Allen: Is not one of the advantages of having a five-year or four-year fixed-term Parliament the ability to plan the legislative timetable, and will the Minister therefore reassure Members of all parties that in future all Bills will be subject to a 12-week pre-legislative scrutiny process? [ Interruption .]
The Bill's key principle is that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is giving up the power to seek the Dissolution of the House. Previous Prime Ministers have exercised that power for their own party advantage. That principle of having fixed-term Parliaments was welcomed by the Chairman of the Select Committee and by the right hon. Member for Blackburn, who speaks for the Opposition; indeed it was in his party's manifesto.
At this point, I should just add to the comments of the Deputy Prime Minister last week and the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood today. I will miss the contributions from the Front Bench of the right hon. Member for Blackburn. He and I have sparred in this Chamber a number of times, and I have always listened carefully to the guidance he has given me on how to deal with the House. I hope Members feel I have learned something from him. I leave it up to others to decide whether what I have learned is, as the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) said, low cunning or whether I have some way to go in that regard. I should say that I thought the right hon. Gentleman dealt very well with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell) about what happened in 1950 and how that could perfectly well have been dealt with by our Bill. The expert way in which the right hon. Gentleman did that showed that he is secretly quite supportive of the Bill.
Mr Tom Harris:
Does the Minister understand that it is rather difficult for the House to accept that from the Conservative party's point of view this Bill represents a point of principle, given that every single Conservative
Member of Parliament was elected on the promise that in this Parliament the replacement of the Prime Minister would result in a general election within six months? That surely says more about the Prime Minister's confidence in the support of his Back Benchers than it does about his confidence in the principle of constitutional reform.
Mr Harper: As my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing) said, in the last Parliament, when Conservative Members had the opportunity to discuss this matter, we did not vote against it. It is a very clear principle in the coalition agreement to have a fixed-term Parliament. All Members on the Opposition Benches-or at least in the main Opposition party-were elected on that principle. I am sure that they will support the Bill if there is a Division this evening.
The proposals this morning from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on the way we want to change the Sessions of this place to fit in with this Bill can, I am confident, be debated in Committee. We debated them a little earlier today and I think that the fact that the Chair allowed that debate to take place shows that they are in order and that we will be able to debate them in Committee.
On the subject of the date and combination of the elections, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister made it clear that the Government draw a distinction between the coincidence of the referendum next year and parliamentary or Assembly elections-a combination that we think is perfectly justifiable when there is a simple yes-no decision-and the coincidence of elections to different Parliaments or Assemblies. He accepted that such elections were more complex and made it very clear that the Government will engage and continue to engage with devolved Administrations.
Mr Harper: Let me just make the point about Scotland and then I will give way. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, for example, has written to the leaders of each of the groups in the Scottish Parliament, the Presiding Officer, Opposition spokesmen in this House and the Chairman of the Select Committee and intends to continue that dialogue. Indeed, I will meet him to discuss this matter further. We take these issues seriously and are not just paying lip service to them.
Pete Wishart: I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. He will have heard the strong representations in today's debate about the combination of both elections. We must hear a little more from the Minister about the specific proposals to ensure that there is no clash in the election dates. What is in his mind about how we can untie and unlock the two elections?
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can have it both ways. If I were to come out with specific proposals before we have discussed them in detail with representatives from the devolved Administrations and from those Assemblies and Parliaments, he would
rightly criticise me for being high-handed. The Deputy Prime Minister has made it very clear that we want to solve this problem.
On the issue of not having consulted people in advance, however, I think it is right that, unlike what happened under the previous Government, proposals brought forward by the Government should be announced to this House first before they are discussed with others. That explains why we did not hold those discussions with others first.
On the issue of confidence and the mechanism for motions of confidence, a number of colleagues on both sides of the House seem to be a little confused about the present position. This Bill does not change the position in any way. The right hon. Member for Knowsley and my hon. Friends the Members for Epping Forest and for Christchurch (Mr Chope) all appeared to confuse to some extent our proposals on confidence and on Dissolution. It is very clear that, on confidence, we are not changing the position at all. The Government must have a simple majority in this House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) worried about a change of Government without an election. That can happen now, so that is not a change. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr Shepherd) said that there was an automatic right for an election following the loss of a confidence vote. There is no such automatic right-that is a matter of judgment for Her Majesty the Queen.
"Turning to the specific points raised by the memorandum: it contains a fundamental misunderstanding about the effect of the Bill on the rules and principles",
and so on. Will he clarify something for me? On the jurisdiction of the courts, will he be good enough to spell out, as do the Parliament Acts, that none of the documents or procedures under the Bill should or could be questioned in any court of law? Will he bring forward an amendment to make sure that we get absolute symmetry between this Bill and article 9 of the Bill of Rights?
Mr Harper: My hon. Friend makes some very good points, but I do not think I will be able to do them justice in the four and a bit minutes remaining to me. I have placed in the Library a memorandum responding to the Clerk's points, which Members can look at. We will deal with these issues-I am confident that my hon. Friend will raise them-in Committee.
Mr George Howarth: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I think he will find, if he checks the record, that it was the Deputy Prime Minister and not I who got confused about Dissolution arrangements and votes of no confidence.
There are a few speeches that I particularly want to mention. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) made an excellent,
almost noteless, maiden speech in which he brought the House welcome news about the former Deputy Speaker, Sir Michael Lord, and his improving health. I am sure that all Members will join me in welcoming that excellent news. My hon. Friend gave us a tour of his constituency and focused on the national health service, his professional experience and his campaigning work. He raised an issue that is close to my heart, which I have to deal with-improving broadband in rural constituencies.
I shall pick up only one of the points raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox)-that of a euro treaty and a Prime Minister who might wish to dissolve Parliament to put it before the people. We had such a circumstance in the last Parliament, but that Government not only did not consult the people through a referendum, but rammed the measure through the House. That is not an example that this Government plan to follow.
We have had a very good debate with excellent speakers. The central principle is that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has become the first Prime Minister in British history to relinquish his power to seek an election at a time of his own choice. A quote about this issue that I particularly liked compared the advantage that an incumbent Government have in calling the election when they choose with that of an athlete arriving at the track in their running shoes and being allowed to fire the starting pistol. The Prime Minister is taking off his running shoes and putting away his starting pistol, and I have detected a general sense of welcome in the House for that principle-from the Select Committee Chairman, the right hon. Member for Blackburn and many other Members.
I recognise that many important issues have been raised-some of detail and some of more significance-and I look forward to further scrutiny from the Select Committee. Indeed, I have an appointment this Thursday to be grilled by its members on both of our constitutional Bills. I look forward to that, as I am sure do they, and I also look forward to the Bill's Committee stage in the House when we can deal in more detail with the concerns that have been raised today. Any Member will then be able to raise their concerns on the Floor of the House so that we can have an excellent debate and deal with them so that the House can gain powers being given away by the Executive. That example was not set by the previous Government and I am proud to be introducing it. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.
That the following provisions shall apply to the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Committee of the whole House.
Proceedings in Committee
2. Proceedings in Committee of the whole House shall be completed in two days.
3. The proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 4; the Schedule; Clause 5; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill.
4. The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on the second day.
5. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to the proceedings on the Bill in Committee of the whole House.
Consideration and Third Reading
6. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
7. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
8. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on consideration and Third Reading.
9. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed .-(Angela Watkinson.)
That, at the sitting on Wednesday 13 October, notwithstanding Standing Order No. 20 (Time for taking private business) the Private Business set down by the Chairman of Ways and Means may be entered upon at any hour, and may then be proceeded with, though opposed, for three hours, after which the Speaker shall interrupt the business.- (Angela Watkinson.)
That Hazel Blears, Sir Menzies Campbell, Mr Mark Field, Paul Goggins, Mr George Howarth, Dr Julian Lewis and Sir Malcolm Rifkind be recommended to the Prime Minister for appointment to the Intelligence and Security Committee under section 10 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994.- (Angela Watkinson , on behalf of the Committee of Selection. )
Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for this opportunity to present to the House of Commons this petition from the people of Bromsgrove, signed by more than 1,600 of my constituents. [Interruption.]
Mr Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I want to hear about the petition on behalf of the people of Bromsgrove, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants the House to listen courteously. Members leaving should please do so quickly and quietly.
The Petition of the people of Bromsgrove,
Declares that the petitioners, whilst recognising the current pressure on public finances, believe that the cost to the public purse of a new railway station in Bromsgrove would be more than offset by the resulting economic and environmental benefits for
both Bromsgrove and the wider region; and notes that there is uncertainty about the availability of government funding for this project.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Transport to confirm that government funding for this vital infrastructural upgrade will go ahead.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): This petition is one that I and many other hon. Members support, including my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who is in her place. The Dartford crossing has been a scar on the face of Dartford for too long.
The Petition of residents of North Kent,
Declares that the petitioners believe that the Dartford Crossing should not be sold or privatised.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to ensure that the Dartford Crossing remains in public ownership.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise in the short time available this evening the issue of planning regulations for urban supermarkets and convenience stores. There has been quite a lot of interest in these issues, both in this House and outside, so let me start by saying what I hope this debate will not be about. First, it is not about making a general attack on the growth of supermarkets and their power in this country, which I am sure is a matter of fascination but would probably take us beyond the time available. Nor is this debate about saying that we have too many supermarkets, although my constituency might have more than any other. According to The Daily Telegraph, in January 2007 Bicester was called "Tesco Town" because it had six outlets, yet one street alone in my constituency-Fulham road-has more than 10 branches of Tesco.
Nor is this debate about the important role that small shops and a diversified retail base can have. I support, for example, the Evening Standard campaign on that issue, although it should also be recognised that there are parts of the world, such as Fulham, that suffer from not having a high street with the chain stores that one might expect. I am also careful not to prescribe too much Government interference in this area. I take the view that, after all, there would not be 10 Tescos on Fulham road in my constituency if there was no customer demand for them. Tesco and the other supermarkets are, after all, successful private sector enterprises that study and understand their customers effectively.
This debate is about empowering local authorities to defend residents who face the immediate consequences of an urban supermarket or convenience store setting up nearby, next door or, at worst, below them. There is currently no planning classification for supermarkets or similar outlets: they are classified as A1, like any other retail shop. Many urban local supermarkets-if not the great majority-have been set up on the premises of other retail outlets, for which they do not require planning permission. Furthermore, planning permission is not generally required for converting many other premises into urban supermarkets. I shall illustrate that phenomenon in due course, but it can include conversion from pubs, cafés, banks or building societies, estate agents' offices, and so on. Pretty much any customer-focused premises can be converted into a supermarket. Such changes are generally viewed as permitted development in the planning system.
The problem is one that I have been aware of for the past 12 years, since being elected for the first time as a councillor in the urban area of Hammersmith and Fulham. As it happens, 1998 was the same year that the very first Sainsbury's Local supermarket was established, on Fulham Palace road, in what was part of my constituency before this year's boundary changes. It was a first, and that model of urban supermarket has now been rolled out by Sainsbury's, Tesco and others, with huge success. It has met customer demand in urban areas-not least from the likes of me, as I do not have a car. Before this debate, Sainsbury's provided me with figures which show that, since that first Sainsbury's
Local opened on Fulham Palace road, a further 334 Sainsbury's Local convenience stores have opened in the UK. No one doubts that it has been a huge success.
A number of voices have been raised to try to change or tighten the planning rules. For example, as recently as July 2010, the London Assembly published its report, "Cornered shops: London's small shops and the planning system", which recommended dividing the A1 class into supermarkets on the one hand, and-broadly speaking-all other retail units on the other. The Assembly felt that that would allow local authorities to control the proliferation of supermarkets.
My objective is rather different. It is not arbitrarily to restrict the number of such outlets, but to allow local authorities to ensure that the new store either has no negative impact on nearby residents or at least reduces it. In other words, the planning system, through local authorities, would nudge the supermarket companies into changing their behaviour, becoming better neighbours, and reducing noise and other environmental impacts. To put it more simply, they would be able to get their change of use if they installed noise abatement measures, especially in relation to refrigeration units, if they restricted delivery times to after 7 am or 8 am, if they ensured that no alcohol was served after 10 pm, and so on.
Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. When he gives that gentle nudge to the supermarkets, will he bear in mind the fact that, in the run-up to Christmas, they often install floodlit marquees containing refrigerated units? They do not worry about local authority planning regulations because the marquees are removed after 28 days, when Christmas has passed, and that is how long it would take to do anything about them. Supermarkets do this regularly, and it causes great annoyance and disturbance to local residents.
Greg Hands: I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, and I am sure that the Minister will wish to respond to her point. It sounds as though such temporary structures would require planning permission, but I am not intimately familiar with that. We do not have a lot of space to erect temporary marquees in Chelsea and Fulham, but they sound as though they should be covered by existing regulations.
My objective is to ensure that the planning system works for local people, particularly those finding themselves living near, next to or above a supermarket. I do not want local authorities to micro-manage retail frontages, flying in the face of customer demand, but I do want supermarkets to try to become better neighbours. Let me illustrate that with four examples from my constituency.
The first involves a success story. In 1998, I worked closely with residents on Parsons Green lane who had bought flats in a new development called The Square, which was above proposed retail premises. I was told later that the residents had been informed, during the process of buying their flats, that there was to be an antiques store below them. As one might expect, however, given that the development was opposite Parsons Green tube station-some would say that it was almost inevitable-it turned out not to be an antiques store but a branch of Budgens. Working closely with the council, however, we managed to get restrictions put in place, and Budgens effectively floated the ceiling-I believe that that is the terminology-by putting in new acoustic
protection for the benefit of the residents above. That was possible only because it was a new build and the local authority was able, because it had to grant full planning permission, to impose such a restriction, with which the supermarket had to comply.
That was a rare success, however, and I am afraid to say that other residents have had much less happy experiences in recent years. Let me first detail the case of the Salisbury Tavern on Sherbrooke road in Fulham. To my certain knowledge, it had been a public house for decades. It became a rather successful gastro-pub in about 2001, but in recent years the population of Fulham has changed. It has aged a little and become more family-oriented, and many of the gastro-pubs have been closing. So, after many decades, the Salisbury Tavern closed down. Tesco appeared from nowhere, and before anyone really had time to react, it was approved in April 2010 to convert the premises.
Permitted development rules allowed a change of use from class A4 to class A1. Some small planning permissions were needed, for illuminated signage, the installation of an ATM and an air-conditioning unit. However, we should note that, as far as I could tell, they were not needed for the inevitable refrigeration units that were going to be installed or for the restrictions on opening hours, delivery times and so forth. When it comes to things that really impact on neighbours, the council had few, if any, powers in this case. The local community around Dawes road hope that Tesco will be a good neighbour, but there does not appear to be anything pushing it in that direction.
The third example takes us back to Fulham road. It is not the opening of the 11th Tesco there; permission has been sought to convert in order to create another Sainsbury's Local. The three existing retail units-an A3, A2 and an A1 class-are to be converted to create one single A1 premises, a Sainsbury's Local. The council tells me that that constitutes permitted development and does not require planning permission. There are some smaller ancillary applications related to the installation of an ATM, some illuminated signage and some machine plant, for example. I shall probably object to them, but I am not hopeful of any real success because the grounds on which I would like to object are unlikely to be taken into account. If the new Sainsbury's at the North End road is anything to go by, it will have a dramatic impact on its neighbours above, alongside and in the immediate vicinity.
Finally, I want to illustrate this phenomenon with reference to the misery that the Heap family has faced on North End road over the past five or six years. The Heaps are tenants of the Notting Hill housing trust, and I know them to be quiet, clean-living, working people who take great pride in their home. They are not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. Until 2004 or 2005, the retail premises below them had for a considerable period been used as a bed shop. We all know that such retail outlets have been going out of fashion, as people tend to buy at Ikea or purchase on the internet. Almost inevitably, the bed shop in the centre of Fulham closed down and Sainsbury came along and opened a Sainsbury's Local. I could be wrong, but I do not believe that any planning permission was needed, except for the ancillary features such as the ATM and some signage. No planning application was necessary for the considerable refrigeration units put in or for the new goods lift, which makes a lot of noise at rather inconvenient hours of the day.
This should begin to illustrate why I believe supermarkets are different from other retail or A1 uses. Refrigeration units can and do have huge impacts in terms of noise, especially in Victorian buildings. The same goes for industrial lifts, delivery palettes, daily early morning deliveries, again with refrigeration-in this case, the units in the lorries. The impact on the Heaps' quality of life has been devastating. Unlike in the Budgens example I cited earlier, Sainsbury was not obliged to do anything to design in noise abatement at the converted premises.
Throughout, Sainsbury has treated the Heaps, the Notting Hill housing trust and me with a mixture of foot dragging and obfuscation. In my eight years as the Heaps' local councillor and then my five and a half years as their MP, I have had perhaps half a dozen site meetings with Sainsbury-quite a lot for an individual item of MP casework. Every time, small, incremental improvements are promised by Sainsbury, but only some are delivered and they are often reversed, as with the installation of acoustical flooring. Staff are told to be more respectful, but it rarely lasts. Senior management occasionally respond to e-mails from me, but almost never to those from the Heaps. I have called the office of Justin King himself on a number of occasions, chasing up responses, as has Notting Hill-but it has similarly had no real response. To be fair, Sainsbury is now promising what appear to be better improvements, but only as a result of my securing this debate tonight. Miraculously, it appears to have sprung into action and answered many of my requests over the summer.
To conclude, the Minister will know better than me what overall approach our new coalition Government are taking towards supermarkets, in respect of planning and of competition matters, which I have not dwelled on tonight. Certainly, the below-cost selling of alcohol is attracting attention. I think that the time has come to try to effect a new classification in the planning rules for supermarkets or to allow tighter local authority controls over changes in classification so that additional resident-friendly conditions might be able to be applied. In that sense, I might agree with the London Assembly, although I think we are approaching the problem from rather different angles.
I appreciate that this throws up some issues of definition-for example, what actually constitutes a supermarket or a convenience store, which is obviously vital when planning regulations are being designed. The key definition for me might include the use of large-scale refrigeration. By requiring supermarkets to get planning permission, we empower local authorities-and thereby local communities-to secure improvements and environmental changes that will improve lives in the immediate vicinity.
I start as someone who is not naturally hostile to expanding private enterprises, such as supermarkets, which are seeking to meet customer demand. However, urban convenience stores, and Sainsbury's in particular, need to do much better in their communities. I urge the Minister to take another look at the matter, and I look forward to his response.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill):
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea
and Fulham (Greg Hands) on securing this debate about planning regulations on urban supermarkets and convenience stores, which is a concerning area of policy for many of his constituents. The debate seems quite well attended compared with some I have seen in the past.
The debate has raised important issues around balancing sustainable development with community needs, so I am pleased to be able to respond. My hon. Friend is particularly concerned about problems that might arise in the planning process, where planning permission is not required to change the use of a building. First, however, it would be helpful if I set those issues in context.
To achieve the aim of balanced and sustainable communities, we need homes, jobs, leisure facilities and places to shop in locations where they can be accessed by all. That is why we focus new development and activities in the cities, towns and villages in which we live. However, we understand the tensions that occasionally arise from locating different types of development and land uses next to one another. That is why it is important to have a planning system that balances the need to allow businesses to grow with protections for the community from the negative impacts of some development. The planning process seeks to ensure that our communities get the right type of development, located in the right locations, to maximise benefits for all, and to prevent, as far as possible, negative impacts.
Where proposed developments are likely to cause problems for neighbours, local planning authorities already have powers to attach planning conditions to permissions. Those conditions are aimed at preventing the problems from ever occurring. For example, a local planning authority may impose a condition that can specify time limits within which deliveries to a shop may take place, to avoid traffic congestion or noise sensitivity issues in the vicinity of the development.
Of course, local planning authorities can also use planning conditions to restrict certain uses to particular sites. Where a local planning authority thinks that problems may occur, it can restrict planning permission for a shop to non-food A1 use class only. That could be used, for example, to prevent a hairdresser's becoming a convenience store. By using those powers properly, local planning authorities can prevent the types of conflict that my hon. Friend has mentioned, particularly in residential and more sensitive areas. Similarly, planning permission is still required if a change of use of a building needed significant structural alterations: for example, if the change of use required changing the street frontage of a shop. Those are all important safeguards of the interests of local residents.
Having set that context, let me move on to the specific subject of this evening's debate-the problems that can arise when planning permission is not needed, because the use class order allows one type of shop to be converted into another type without planning permission. Let me explain the background to the use classes order, because its purpose is often misunderstood. The order was introduced to remove unnecessary planning applications from the planning system, and, therefore, to speed up the system. The use classes order groups together uses that have similar land-use impacts and characteristics into classes. Changes of use within a class are not considered to be development and therefore do not
require planning permission. Relevant to this discussion is the A1 use class, which includes a range of different shopping types including corner shops, supermarkets, retail warehouses and post offices. Of course, I accept that two developments, even if categorised in the same use class, may not have exactly the same operating characteristics. Shops, for example, can have different opening or delivery times.
As my hon. Friend pointed out, the planning system grants further flexibility by allowing some changes of use between classes without the need for planning applications. That applies when the impact of the proposed use is considered to be less than that of the existing use. Obviously it did not happen in this instance, but it is an important aspect of the system. Hot food takeaways, pubs, restaurants and financial services such as banks can all convert to shops without requiring planning applications if the impact on neighbours is regarded as being less than that of the existing use. The key difference in this instance is that local authorities have the power to remove that freedom of movement and require planning permission if there is local concern about such a development.
I take the concerns of my hon. Friend's constituents seriously, and I recognise that at times there will be tensions between businesses and their neighbours. However, we must not forget that the planning system cannot deal with all community tensions. The system is often criticised for being slow and bureaucratic. It can create a significant amount of work for local planning authorities; it can also act as a disincentive to development, thus stifling economic and physical regeneration. That can frustrate the legitimate development that we all need. Planning controls should be introduced only when there is a strong case for doing so.
Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): In a case in my constituency, the fact that there was no need for a change-of-use permission removed the trigger mechanism that sometimes acts as an early warning in the planning system. A shop that has invested several hundred thousand pounds is three doors from what is about to become a local branch of a chain of supermarkets. Will the Minister comment, or at least reflect, on the fact that the ease with which change of use was allowed, enabling a pub to become a Sainsbury's Local, removed the trigger mechanism that might have informed other local shops, as well as residential neighbours, of what was in the pipeline?
Robert Neill: I will reflect on that, and explain the ways in which we propose to deal with such issues in a moment. The example given by my hon. Friend highlights the balance that must be struck between competition and trading opportunities between different operators in the same area on the one hand, and legitimate planning considerations on the other. Sometimes there appears to be an overlap between the two in the minds of the general public, which is not so easy to translate into planning law.
Let me return to the issue of the impacts of changes of activity that do not require permission. In general, we would expect businesses to operate responsibly, and to be sensitive to the communities within which they operate. When neighbours raise legitimate concerns about development, it is in the interests of businesses-
particularly those with a strong community presence, such as supermarket chains-to take them seriously and respond positively.
Local authorities also have wider responsibilities and powers to investigate complaints about problems such as noise. Authorities must take "all reasonable steps" to investigate any complaint in relation to noise. I have no doubt that the local authority cited by my hon. Friend is diligent and well aware of those powers. Authorities are expected to raise the issue with the person or organisation causing the nuisance, giving the details of the complaint and asking for steps to be taken to reduce the noise. If the local authority believes a statutory nuisance is occurring, or is likely to occur or recur, it must take action.
That is where we are at the moment and we do not want to dismiss my hon. Friend's concerns. There may always be individual cases where the balance between avoiding bureaucratic overload by requiring permission for a simple change of use and guarding against unacceptable impacts gives rise to unintended consequences. With more and different types of retail activity and means of dealing with storage, for example, one must be alert to changing circumstances that may not have been anticipated when the regulations were drafted. I have a lot of sympathy for this situation and, as I have indicated, I would hope that the local authorities use powers against nuisance if that is the appropriate route.
The point raised by the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) relates rather more to the case of the operation of the rules in relation to temporary permission rather than use classes, but it is a legitimate area of concern. I do not doubt that.
Rosie Cooper: The Local Government Association and local authorities know that supermarkets will breach their planning consent for six or seven weeks each year coming up to Christmas. By the time authorities act, the supermarkets have taken things down and it does not matter. They are flouting the rules and getting away with it. The LGA is looking to us to try to do something about it.
Robert Neill: I understand that, which is why I am about to set out the way in which we will address these concerns. We are keeping the use classes order under review, but at present we feel that the balance that it strikes is about right. However, there are specific issues that need to be examined. We are determined to do more to help local planning authorities and communities shape the places in which people live.
Much of the coalition's work since May has therefore focused on overseeing a fundamental shift of power away from Westminster to councils and communities. We believe that, generally, planning should be a local matter, with planning decisions being made at local level wherever possible. We will ensure that national planning policies support local decision making. In the past, national planning objectives have been set out through a series of planning policy guidance notes, and more recently planning policy statements. These cover a broad range of policy themes and are piecemeal in nature. This is why we said in the coalition agreement that we will publish and present to Parliament a simple and consolidated national planning framework covering all forms of development. This simple and consolidated
framework will set out not only what the Government's economic and environmental priorities are, but how they relate to each other. Such a framework would also set out, in general terms but in sufficient detail to provide clarity, what was expected, both of the planning system and in terms of delivering national priorities.
We will make an announcement-in short order, I hope-as to how we propose to take forward the national planning framework and the implications for specific areas of policy. That is an appropriate vehicle to look at the operation of the PPSs and PPGs. In pulling together a more holistic approach with the national framework, I suggest that that is the appropriate vehicle by which
the Government can address what may have been anomalies or circumstances that have arisen since the previous use classes orders were drawn up and to see if what we have now remains appropriate for the future. There may be ways in which we can better achieve a fair and proportionate response to the legitimate needs of development on the one hand and the equally legitimate concerns of the neighbours of those who carry out economic activity on the other. The coalition's proposals for that framework provide a good opportunity for us to address sensibly precisely the issues raised in this debate.