There is always a risk of potential duplication, which is why Britain and the other strong supporters of NATO should always stand up firmly and say that we do not

17 Dec 2012 : Column 585

want costly bureaucracies and new headquarters that are all about flags and politics. Obviously, however, we want other European countries to step up to the plate with greater capacity, so that in areas such as the horn of Africa or Kosovo we are able to get the effect that we need on the ground.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): One of the many problems arising from our membership of the European Union is that UK businesses are burdened with rules and regulations from Brussels that hinder their ability to compete in the global race that my right hon. Friend rightly says we are in. To follow on from the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), paragraph 18 of the Council conclusions refers to reducing the regulatory burdens from Brussels. Realistically, however, what cuts in red tape does my right hon. Friend expect to be proposed when the matter is next brought before the Council in March next year?

The Prime Minister: What I hope for is that we will put pressure on the Commission between now and March to come up with a serious list of European directives and regulations that can be radically amended or cut. We are doing that in the UK through the regulatory changes being led by the Government—we have identified about 3,000 regulations to get rid of—and we want the same process to take place in Brussels. I mentioned paragraph 18 earlier. It says:

“The European Council welcomes the proposals by the Commission to reduce regulatory burdens and scrap regulations that are no longer of use”.

I do not think that the word “scrap” has ever appeared in European Council conclusions before and I am rather proud to be the person who put it there.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): Was my right hon. Friend able to raise with his fellow leaders the question of the fulfilment of the pledges they made to international development in 2005?

The Prime Minister: We did not discuss international development at this Council, because it was largely about the eurozone, but we did discuss briefly the effect of European aid, particularly in Syria, where Britain is playing a key role, as is the EU, with its aid budget, which is making sure that we ease the scale of the humanitarian crisis, and that is good and important work.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): Better tantric than premature—we have all seen where that got the Leader of the Opposition on Leveson. We are waiting breathlessly for my right hon. Friend’s speech in mid-January. Will he include in it a statement on the impact on employment in this country of an influx of Bulgarian and Romanian workers?

The Prime Minister: Given my hon. Friend’s medical background, I think that I will leave all such remarks to her and not make them myself. She makes an important point about the end of transitional controls. Obviously, I will look at that issue carefully.

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Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that a banking union should never be able to ride roughshod over those outside the eurozone?

The Prime Minister: I do agree with my hon. Friend. A banking union is necessary for the countries of the single currency. As I have said, we have a single currency in the pound and there is a banking union between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The countries with the single currency need a banking union, but it should not ride roughshod over others. That is why it is important not only that we are outside the banking union, but that we have secured the voting rules so that the “outs” have a say over things that could affect them.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): In response to an earlier question, my right hon. Friend said that he believes it will take a considerable time for the eurozone countries to negotiate full fiscal union. Given the acuteness of the eurozone crisis, does he really believe that they will have the luxury of having the time that they need?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend asks a good question. Because of the success of the European Central Bank in calming the markets, there is perhaps less pressure on the eurozone countries to take the steps that many analysts believe they need to take. The reason why I think it will take time is that these are difficult issues for sovereign countries. As I have said, one issue that was discussed only in outline form at the Council was the idea of contracts between Governments and the European Commission. I do not know how such contracts will go down in other European countries, but I suspect that they would go down rather badly if we proposed them here. These are difficult issues that it will take time to discuss. We need to think about that as we calibrate our response.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Anders Borg, the Swedish Finance Minister, said that when the financial transaction tax was introduced in Sweden,

“between 90%-99% of traders in bonds, equities and derivatives moved out of Stockholm to London”.

What steps has the Prime Minister taken to ensure that we do not find that such a tax is imposed in the UK, which is what the Labour party wants, and that our traders do not all go to New York and Zurich?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Anders Borg is an excellent Finance Minister. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and I work very closely with him. I believe that if a financial transactions tax is not introduced simultaneously around the world, the transactions will just go to the lowest-cost destinations. That is why it is totally self-defeating. The European Commission’s own piece of work on such a tax showed that it would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and millions of pounds of revenue, not just in the UK, which has a large financial services industry, but in the rest of Europe.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Prior to the entry of a large number of eastern European countries to the EU a few years ago, the previous Government

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made the hideously inaccurate forecast that just 13,000 eastern Europeans a year would come to our shores. The total is now 1.5 million and rising. Next Christmas, the transitional controls for Bulgaria and Romania will cease, but the Home Office has refused to make an estimate—on the principle of once bitten, twice shy—of how many people will come to our shores. Have the Bulgarian or Romanian Governments apprised the Prime Minister of their estimates of how many of their citizens may be coming our way?

The Prime Minister: To answer my hon. Friend directly, I have not asked those Governments for an estimate. He is right to say that the transitional controls are coming off and that the previous forecasts were wrong. I will discuss this important issue with the Home Secretary in the months ahead.

Mr Speaker: I thank the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and all 58 Back Benchers who questioned the Prime Minister.

17 Dec 2012 : Column 588

Points of Order

4.43 pm

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last Thursday, the Secretary of State for Wales attended an event at Airbus in my constituency. He did not have the good grace to advise me of it. I know that he has one of the busiest jobs in government, but do you agree that he should advise Members when he goes on such visits?

Mr Speaker: Yes. Visits on official business are subject to the requirement of advance disclosure to the Member whose constituency is affected. The busyness of a Minister is not a material factor. Often, these very busy, senior and respected Ministers have a significant number of people available to help them. We will leave it there for today.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab) rose—

Mr Speaker: The day would not be complete without a point of order from the hon. Gentleman.

Chris Bryant: Well, I have not had one for quite a while, Mr Speaker. You may have noticed that on occasion Ministers make speeches outside the House. We have no notice of them until we read about them in The Telegraph, but sometimes they are important developments of new policy. We now know for a certain fact that the Prime Minister will make a speech on Europe in the new year, and I think it will probably have some policy in it. Would it not be a good idea if that speech were made in the House rather than anywhere else?

Mr Speaker: I think the new year will bring new challenges, and it would be wise to embark on them then, but not now. In the hallowed words of the late Lord Whitelaw, “I generally find that it is better to cross bridges only when I get to them.” [Laughter.]

Chris Bryant: How will they put that in Hansard?

Mr Speaker: I don’t know, and I cannot very well ask Lord Whitelaw, I am afraid, but we will have to make do for today.

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Growth and Infrastructure Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Order of 5 November 2012 (Growth and Infrastructure Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:

1. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Order shall be omitted.

2. Proceedings on consideration shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.

3. The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at today’s sitting at the times specified in the second column of the Table.


ProceedingsTime for conclusion of proceedings

New Clauses other than new Clauses standing in the name of a Minister of the Crown; amendments to Clause 1; amendments to Schedule 1; amendments to Clauses 2 to 5.

5.45 pm.

Amendments to Clause 6; amendments to Schedule 2; amendments to Clauses 7 to 9; amendments to Schedule 3; amendments to Clauses 10 to 12.

7.00 pm.

Amendments to Clause 25; amendments to Clauses 13 and 14; amendments to Schedule 4; amendments to Clauses 15 to 17; new Clauses standing in the name of a Minister of the Crown and related to Clause 18; amendments to Clauses 18 to 23; new Clauses standing in the name of a Minister of the Crown and related to Clause 24; amendments to Clause 24; amendments to Clauses 26 to 30; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on consideration.

9.00 pm.

4. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at today’s sitting at 10.00 pm. —(Michael Fallon.)

4.46 pm

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): The House will see that we have a large number of amendments and a very short time in which to debate them, and I do not want to eat into that time any further by saying any more at the moment or opposing the programme motion.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Excellent.

Mr Speaker: Somebody says “Excellent”. [Interruption.] Oh, it was the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). We are grateful to him for his views.

Question put and agreed to.

17 Dec 2012 : Column 590

Growth and Infrastructure Bill

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee

New Clause 5

Purpose of planning

‘In Part 2 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 insert—

“13A The Purpose of Planning

(1) The purpose of the planning system is to positively promote the long term spatial organisation of land in order to achieve sustainable development.

(2) In the Planning Act 2008, sustainable development means managing the use, development and protection of land and natural resources in a way, or at a rate, which enables people and communities to provide for their legitimate social, economic and cultural wellbeing while sustaining the potential of future generations to meet their own needs by respecting environmental limits.

(3) In achieving sustainable development, planning should—

(a) positively identify suitable land for development in line with the economic, social and environmental objectives so as to improve the quality of life, wellbeing and health of people and communities;

(b) contribute to sustainable economic development;

(c) protect and enhance the natural and historic environment and quality of existing communities and the countryside;

(d) ensure long term sustainable patterns of resource use;

(e) positively promote civic beauty through high quality and inclusive design; and

(f) ensure the planning system is open, transparent, participative and accountable.”.’.—(Roberta Blackman-Woods.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.47 pm

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 6—Local powers to establish permitted development rights—

‘(1) Section 57 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (3) after second “order”, insert “issued by the local planning authority”.

(3) After subsection (3) insert—

“(3A) Where a local planning authority proposes to make an order under this section it shall first prepare—

(a) a draft of the order; and

(b) a statement of its reasons for making the order.

(3B) The statement of reasons shall contain—

(a) a description of the development which the order would permit; and

(b) a plan or statement identifying the land to which the order would relate.

(3C) Where a local planning authority has prepared a draft local development order, it shall consult, in accordance with regulations, persons whose interests it considers would be affected by the order.”.’.

New clause 7—Town and Country Planning Act 1990 pre-application case oversight—

‘Section 74 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (Directions etc. as to method of dealing with applications) is amended by the addition of the following paragraph at the end of subsection (1).

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“(g) for requiring the local planning authority, in relation to a proposed application for planning permission for development of a type prescribed by the order, to oversee (including by the giving of advice and opinions) the preparations and consultation being made and carried out by the applicant in relation to the proposed application, requiring the applicant and any other person specified by the order to participate in the oversight arrangements made by the local planning authority, including by attendance at pre-application hearings conducted by or on behalf of the authority, and requiring the payment of fees by the applicant for the oversight arrangements for a maximum period to be set out in regulations.”.’.

New clause 8—Pre-application stage of major infrastructure regime—

‘Section 51 of the Planning Act 2008 (Advice for potential applicants and others) is amended by the addition at the end of the following subsection—

“(5) Regulations under subsection (3) may also make provision for the oversight (including the giving of advice and opinions) by a person appointed by the Secretary of State of the preparations being made by an applicant in relation to a proposed application and the applicant’s compliance with the provisions of this Part and those having effect under it, and in doing so the regulations may require the applicant and any other person to participate in the oversight arrangements made by the person appointed by the Secretary of State, including by attendance at case management conferences, and the payment of fees by the applicant and for a maximum period to be set out in regulations.”.’.

New clause 9—Consents under Electricity Act 1989: powers of the Welsh Ministers—

‘(1) The Electricity Act 1989 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 36C insert—

“36D Consents under section 36 relating to generating stations in Wales

In relation to generating stations in Wales, sections 36 to 36C and Schedule 8 (so far as it relates to sections 36 to 36C) have effect as if references to the Secretary of State were references to the Welsh Ministers.”.’.

New clause 11—Infrastructure requirement—

‘(1) Section 39 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (sustainable development) is amended as follows.

(2) After subsection (2) insert—

“(2A) The person or body must exercise the function with the objective of identifying that there is, or will be, sufficient infrastructure to support new development that is proposed in a development plan document, or in a subsequent revision to a development plan document.”.

(3) In subsection (3) omit “subsection (2)” and insert “subsections (2) and (2A)”.

(4) After subsection (3) insert—

“(4) In this section ‘infrastructure’ has the same meaning as in section 216 of the Planning Act 2008.”.’.

New clause 12—Cumulative effects of development consents on climate change—

‘(1) The Planning Act 2008 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 13 (legal challenges relating to national policy statements) insert—

“13A Cumulative effects

(1) The Secretary of State shall publish on 6 April each year a report setting out the cumulative effect of development consents granted under this Act on the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.

(2) A statement designated under section 5 must contain a statement to the effect that it is the Secretary of State’s view that the requirement of subsection (1) is ratified.”.’.

(3) In section 105 (decisions in cases where no national policy statement has effect), after subsection (2)(b), insert—

17 Dec 2012 : Column 592

“(ba) the cumulative effect of development consents on the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change set out in the report published by the Secretary of State under section 13A;”.

(4) In section 105, at the end add—

“(3) For the purposes of subsection (2)(ba), the reference to the report published by the Secretary of State under section 13A means the last report published under that section.”.’.

Amendment 42, page 1, line 2, leave out clause 1.

Government amendment 5.

Amendment 43, page 36, line 2, leave out schedule 1.

Amendment 49, in clause 8, page 10, line 31, leave out

‘economic growth in the United Kingdom’

and insert

‘sustainable development and economic growth in the United Kingdom through the Government’s broadband programme.’.

Government amendment 6.

Government new clause 3—Variation and replacement of pre-Planning Act 2008 consents.

Government amendments 7 to 21, 33 and 34.

Roberta Blackman-Woods: The Minister will know that some time was spent in Committee debating the true purpose of clause 1 and its inherent anti-localist, centralising agenda. We sought to test whether the Government had intended to produce a clause that would enable major planning discussions and decisions in designated authorities to be taken by the Secretary of State—usually by the Planning Inspectorate on his behalf—thus significantly reducing the influence that local people have on planning decisions affecting their area. Astonishingly, that did seem to be their intention. Their love affair with localism seems to have been short-lived.

A second major issue in Committee was the nature of the designation itself, whether the criteria to be used were fair and whether the Government should be going down the route of designation at all. If their purpose is really to improve decision making in local authorities, that does not appear to be the appropriate or sensible route.

We were somewhat hampered by the fact that the consultation document relating to the designation of failing planning authorities appeared only a very short time—in fact, less than an hour—before the Committee commenced discussion of clause 1. Since then, we have had the opportunity to consider the document in more detail. Unfortunately, the consultation document does not make happy reading, and I feel that I need to urge local authorities and others to respond to it by 17 January.

An authority’s track record of speed is to be measured over a two-year period, based on the percentage of major applications determined within statutory limits, and quality is to be measured by the percentage of decisions on major applications that are overturned on appeal.Both criteria have their problems, but overall the approach seems to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut. As we know, application of the first will draw in only a handful of authorities—even then, we are not sure how many—and the second none at all.

The Minister knows there is no evidence base for the measures in the clause, and they could put additional pressures on local authorities to agree to applications that, on balance, they might have refused. We know that is the case because of what happened in Committee.

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The Minister was given alternative criteria for designation that were much more in line with the localist agenda, such as being designated for failure to make decisions in line with the local plan. Unsurprisingly, he refused to accept the amendment.

As we heard in Committee, however, it is much worse than that. The Government are consulting on criteria, but the clause allows the Secretary of State to alter them, seemingly on a whim. The Minister was vague in Committee on whether changes would occur only after a period of consultation, and I hope he will be able to give us more clarification today. The power-grabbing tendencies of the Secretary of State, as endorsed by the clause, were also a continual theme of our deliberations. At no stage have improvements been made, despite the Minister being given numerous opportunities to do so through our amendments, and that should be regretted.

I ask the House to excuse me, as I have a terrible cold.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady’s flow to pick her up on a minute, but nevertheless important, point for those of us who love the English language. She will no doubt respond that this is purely a drafting error, but new clause 5 states:

“The purpose of the planning system is to positively promote the long term”.

In other words, there is a split infinitive written into her new clause. Does she approve of that, or would she like to change it on reflection?

Roberta Blackman-Woods: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, not least because he has enabled me to have a coughing fit. I hope he agrees that the matters before us are much more serious than a split infinitive.

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): On a more serious matter, new clause 5 states that planning should create sustainable development, and that “sustaining” means

“the potential of future generations to meet their own needs by respecting environmental limits.”

Does the hon. Lady think there is a limit to how many people England can accommodate, and does she think her Government exceeded that limit?

Roberta Blackman-Woods: The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting intervention, but I will not be distracted and will talk about that issue, because we have a serious matter in front of us—the measures contained in clause 1.

As I was saying, despite the Minister being given a number of opportunities to improve the clause in Committee, alas he did not take any of them on board. That was a pity, because our amendments sought to make the designation system more transparent and more accountable than just relying on the thoughts of the Secretary of State. As we know from Communities and Local Government questions earlier, those thoughts can at times be a bit alarming. He was telling us today that green is brown and brown is green, and he has often told us that down is up and up is down, so I am not at all sure where the Secretary of State’s thoughts

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on the clause would lead us. We are saying that we need to define what requiring local authorities “to do things” could possibly mean. I will not rehearse our long and interesting discussion in Committee about what that could mean, but it is truly extraordinary that we are being asked to adopt legislation allowing the Secretary of State “to do things” that are as yet ill-defined.

I raise those points to demonstrate the need for amendments 42 and 43, which would remove clause 1 and schedule 1 respectively. The Opposition consider this an extremely important matter, and, if possible, unless the Minister provides reassurances that have not yet been forthcoming, we will, at the appropriate point, seek to divide the House on amendment 42. We are totally against local authorities being designated as failing in the way he suggests and we do not believe that it will improve the performance of local planning authorities. Instead, it is very likely to lead to inappropriate development, as the Town and Country Planning Association said so powerfully in its evidence. It also pointed out—he needs to take this on board—that it could lead to a breakdown in trust in the planning system. As the consultation paper looks to be seeking to rubber-stamp the criteria put forward for designation and as the Government have made no effort to improve the clause to make designation and its operation more democratic, we had no alternative but to table an amendment to remove this thoroughly bad clause.

New clause 5 would provide an alternative approach to planning that we think the planning Minister needs to adopt as soon as possible. It would include in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 a definition of the purpose of planning. As hon. Members have pointed out, it is important to change the whole debate about planning. Instead of being presented simply as a brake on growth or somehow preventing growth, we want planning to be used to develop sustainable communities. The new clause would set out the need for planning policy to

“positively identify suitable land for development in line with the economic, social and environmental objectives so as to improve the quality of life, wellbeing and health of people and communities”.

Mr Redwood: I would be grateful if the hon. Lady could explain who would judge civic beauty, which I understand is an important criterion in her proposed system.

Roberta Blackman-Woods: The right hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. It might be helpful if we discussed how to judge what is beautiful in civic terms. I will happily engage with the Minister on how we might set up such a system. We could have citizens’ panels and they could get advice from relevant bodies around the country. If the Minister were to adopt the new clause and discuss with us how the measures in it could be delivered, it would be a helpful and constructive way forward, so I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention.

As I was saying, we think that the system should look at

“the quality of life, wellbeing and health of people and communities... contribute to sustainable economic development…protect and enhance the natural and historic environment and quality of existing communities and the countryside…ensure long term sustainable patterns of resource use”

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and, as I said and as the right hon. Gentleman just highlighted, it should

“positively promote civic beauty through high quality and inclusive design; and…ensure the planning system is open, transparent, participative and accountable.”

None of that, however, has been taken on board by the Minister. In fact, in their rush and desperation to be seen to be doing something to produce growth, the Government have forgotten the real purpose of planning. Planning is a tool for people to shape places positively and for communities to ensure that they have homes for their children and developments that are beneficial to them and the economy. The Government seem determined to characterise planning solely as an obstacle to growth—clearly an attempt to disguise the fact that their policies are the real brake on growth and what we should be resisting.

5 pm

New clause 6 deals with the separate issue of changes to permitted development rights. It is an extremely important measure so I will spend a couple of minutes going through its purpose. Let me take the House back to the written statement by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on 6 September 2012. It was one of the panic measures brought forth on that day to suggest that the Government were doing something to address the need for growth, and the Minister has referred to the statement on numerous occasions.

The Secretary of State said:

“We will consult shortly on changes to increase existing permitted development rights for extensions to homes and business premises in non-protected areas for a three-year period.”—[Official Report, 6 September 2012; Vol. 549, c. 34WS.]

The Minister will know that the policy has met with widespread derision, not least from his own Back Benchers who are extremely worried about suddenly having permitted development—and the extensions and conservatories that go alongside it—extended from 4 metres to 8 metres for detached properties, and from 3 metres to 6 metres for semi-detached or terraced properties. As we know, that policy applies also to business premises.

Conservative Back Benchers are concerned about those huge extensions. I know that, because while wandering along the corridors they have told me that they agree with the Labour party’s stance on the issue, and that they are pleased I am asking the Government for a greater explanation of why these measures are being proposed. Does the Minister really intend to press ahead with these ideas given the huge outrage they have led to across a range of local authorities, including—significantly—the Local Government Association? I will come to some of the points made by the LGA in a minute or two.

In his written statement, the Secretary of State said that he would bring forward a consultation document, which he has done. That allows me to say that this interesting Bill has, I think, been accompanied by more consultation documents than any other in history; we are up to four—or is it five? I am nervous about mentioning consultation documents when the Minister is about to reply, because I usually find that yet another one will just have been announced. With that caveat, however, I will plough on.

The consultation document states that the policy is to allow people to build conservatories and the like while respecting the amenity of neighbours. Once again I ask

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the Minister how that will be achieved without a planning system to negotiate between the two neighbours involved. The Minister will know that on a number of occasions councils have had to step in and use their planning powers to ask that extensions be removed, because people have gone ahead and built them without planning permission. That has greatly upset the neighbours by intruding on their amenity and the reasonable use of their property. My point is that the planning system had to step in and sort out the problem, but the Minister is giving people up and down the country a licence to build completely inappropriate extensions that will have to be sorted out by a planning authority at a future date. New clause 6 therefore seeks to give local authorities the power to decide whether to extend permitted development rights and whether the proposal should go ahead at all. The Opposition believe that the new clause is important. It is in keeping with localism, which the Minister says he supports, and we therefore cannot see any reason he would not accept it.

That is also the view of the LGA, which the last time I checked, which was not that long ago, was under Conservative control—[Interruption.] I am prompted by my right hon. and hon. Friends to say that it is under Conservative control for the time being. The LGA has noted that local authorities should be allowed to set their own permitted development rights. The LGA states:

“The current system allows central government to set out permitted development rights and provides local authorities limited”


“to amend this.”

It would like the current system to be reviewed. It says that allowing permitted development rights to be set at local authority level would allow for the consideration of individual local issues and could lead to a boost in development overall, and that the new clause would be a truly localist measure, further empowering democratically elected representatives. I could not agree more. If the Minister is not prepared to pay attention to the Opposition, I hope he might at least pay attention to his Conservative local authorities, which clearly ask that he acts on localism and gives them the power to decide whether to extend permitted development rights.

Lastly, amendment 49 deals with a completely different issue—as I said a number of times in Committee, the Bill is a rag-bag of measures that the Government have proposed in the hope that they suggest that they are doing something about growth, so it necessitates jumping from one issue to another. We have concerns that clause 8 will make it easier for telecommunications equipment to receive planning consent even in areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks. The intention is for the measure to apply only to broadband cabinets and related infrastructure. The Opposition fully support steps to increase access to broadband, but there is a lack of clarity in clause 8, which relates not specifically to broadband but covers all telecommunications equipment. Amendment 49 would ensure that the clause is restricted to broadband, and to broadband that is developed sustainably. It would leave out

“economic growth in the United Kingdom”

and insert

“sustainable development and economic growth in the United Kingdom through the Government’s broadband programme.”

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Given the Government’s commitment to sustainable development and their stated intent to limit the clause’s application to broadband equipment, I hope the Minister supports such an amendment.

The promotion of broadband is vital. The amendment does not seek to prevent the roll-out of broadband, and particular the roll-out in rural areas, but simply seeks to limit the scope and potential damage that could be inflicted on such beautiful areas by the clause. If the Minister accepts the amendment, he would reassure the many campaign groups that are justifiably concerned about the lack of clarity in the clause and about how it could cover a huge amount of communications equipment. Indeed, the Communications Act 2003 describes a

“wide range of electronic communications services”,

and it is that that gives us and a number of campaigning groups concern about clause 8 as drafted.

Mr Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Will the hon. Lady tell the House what preliminary view she has taken of new clause 11, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), and whether she is broadly sympathetic to it? I realise that she has not yet had a chance to hear my right hon. Friend’s arguments, but is she open to the proposals in the new clause?

Roberta Blackman-Woods: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and I will deal with that point in just a moment.

I was talking about the wide range of infrastructure that could be allowed to develop in areas of outstanding natural beauty, in our national parks and in conservation areas, if clause 8 were not amended. Many Members on both sides of the House would be gravely concerned if broadband masts, wires and cabinets—let alone any other communications equipment—were suddenly allowed to spring up all over our national parks, and the Government have not yet given sufficient reassurance on the issue. We have no idea how local authorities would be able to oppose inappropriate siting of overhead cables or broadband cabinets if they had to make economic development their overriding criterion. I have made it clear that we are not against the roll-out of broadband; we just think that the clause is incorrectly worded at present.

The Minister claimed in Committee that it was not possible to specify broadband in the Bill owing to European legislation. I asked him at the time to point to the precise area of European legislation that prevents the Government from specifying it in that way, but I am still waiting for that clarification. I hope that he will be able to answer the question today.

Some groups, including the Campaign to Protect Rural England, have called for clause 8 to be deleted in its entirety, not least because it would set a worrying precedent in legislation. It seems to propose the scrapping of the special and rightful protection that is offered to our national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, and to allow telecoms companies to install cabinets and masts in a free-for-all without securing permission from the relevant local authority. That would be unacceptable, and I hope that the Minister will take on board our concerns and those of the many organisations that have written to us about the proposal. I hope that he will give us an idea of how he intends to limit the

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impact of the clause on those beautiful areas, because we do not believe that it strikes the right balance at the moment.

The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt) asked me about new clause 11. I have looked at the proposal in some detail, and it makes a number of interesting points, but we feel that they are already dealt with in the planning system. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman might like to have a word with the Minister responsible for planning about how he will ensure that the national planning policy framework addresses the issue of planning policy shaping communities. I would say that our new clause 5 does a better job, because asking for such a positive view of planning and using it to shape our communities would mean that, in addition to looking at the need for new housing, we would look at the need for schools, jobs, a proper roads network for public transport, and so forth. It therefore seems to me that our new clause 5 positively supports new clause 11. I shall leave my comments there for the moment.

5.15 pm

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): I rise to speak to new clause 11, which is in my name and supported by 16 right hon. and hon. Government Members, including Liberal Democrat Members, several former Ministers and senior Members of Parliament, who share my concern about the adequacy of local infrastructure to support new development. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames), who feels strongly about this issue, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) have asked me to give their apologies for being unable to be here: they have expressed their concern about the issue and have supported my new clause. Since I tabled the new clause late on Thursday evening, a number of other Members have indicated that they would like to support it.

The starting position is one I wish to make completely clear, and I believe it is shared by my right hon. and hon. Friends: new housing is necessary. The Minister with responsibility for planning, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) is absolutely right to remind the House and the public of the necessity to ensure that there is housing provision, particularly for young people who are unable to get their foot on the housing ladder at the moment, and to get house building going again.

There is no desire on my part to challenge that argument, but the principle enshrined in the Localism Act 2011, to which I believe all Members subscribe, is that development should be sustainable. That means by definition—I share the Government’s definition—that the enjoyment given to the current generation should not make life worse for successive generations. Many of my constituents, and parish and district councils in particular have expressed concern that the local infrastructure is insufficient to support the additional development that has already been undertaken.

I mentioned on Second Reading that the drainage in my constituency is so inadequate that after heavy rainfall households face the problem of sewage rising in their gardens or running in the streets, and people have to ensure that their loos do not back up. That is an intolerable situation for residents in my constituency.

17 Dec 2012 : Column 599

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman have a view about building on floodplains, which has been a big issue over the past few weeks given all the flooding?

Nick Herbert: The hon. Gentleman certainly raises a related issue. It is essentially part of the same principle, which is whether the development that takes place is or is not sustainable. There is obviously a great deal of concern about building on floodplains as well. Even where building takes place and it is not on a floodplain, it is essential to ensure that there is sufficient local infrastructure to support that development. It is not just a question of adequate local drainage, as it is also a question of ensuring that there are sufficient local school places and that the road network is sufficient to support the additional population. In villages throughout my constituency, we have found that that infrastructure has not been provided despite the additional development, and it is feared that further development would exacerbate the problems.

Mr Gray: Is my hon. Friend aware of the Ridgeway Farm development in Purton, in my constituency, where it was agreed this week that 700 houses would be built in an area where there are no schools, where the roads are tiny country lanes and there is no access, where the hospital is jam-full, and where the local villages have been flooded in the last couple of weeks? It is an entirely unsustainable development, but the inspector in Bristol has allowed it to proceed.

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend has given a very good example of the local concern that is generated when there is inadequate infrastructure to support development.

Where is the mechanism requiring planning authorities to ensure that the necessary local infrastructure is in place when development is permitted? I repeat that the purpose of the new clause is not to prevent necessary housing from being built, but to ensure that it is built at sustainable levels and in the right places. We have to ask why, if the mechanism is adequate now, the circumstances that I have described have already arisen. There is clear evidence that the existing mechanisms are inadequate.

We are moving from a system whereby the gain from development was captured under section 106 agreements to a system involving a community infrastructure levy which, I understand, is intended to ensure that investment can be made in local infrastructure. My constituents will want to hear from the Government how that new system will work, and to be assured that when new housing is proposed under the development plans that local authorities are now undertaking, there will be a mechanism to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is provided along with it.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): As local authorities—a good example being my local authority in Winchester—develop their new local plans, which they are directed to do under the Localism Act 2011, they are getting perilously close to the numbers in the south-east regional spatial strategy, which my right hon. Friend and I share, or almost shared. I wonder whether anxiety about that situation underlies the new clause.

17 Dec 2012 : Column 600

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend is exactly right. It is a related issue. Although regional spatial strategies are being abolished—which is overdue but nevertheless welcome—there is a widespread fear among local authorities that planning inspectors will overturn their own assessments of the level of need in local areas, and that they will be unable to balance what could, in many areas, be a near-infinite level of demand with their ability to provide housing.

Mr Redwood: My right hon. Friend has made an interesting point about need and demand. The Government have stated clearly that they will cut net inward migration from a quarter of a million a year to a few tens of thousands. Presumably councils should take into account the sharp deceleration in the need for new households.

Nick Herbert: That raises the question of the process whereby councils are now assessing need, and the potential confusion between need and demand. I think that communities will feel cheated if, having been promised the abolition of the top-down housing target that was set by the last Government—effectively by means of the regional spatial strategies—they see it returning through the back door in the shape of a planning inspector, and if local authorities find that they have no choice but to provide a level of housing that they consider to be unsustainable.

Mr Blunt: Let me make it clear to my right hon. Friend, and to the Minister, that that is precisely what is happening to Reigate and Banstead borough council. Its draft plan has been kicked back by the inspector to “show again”, because it simply does not meet what he believes to be the required development objectives in the green belt. The council is being invited to review the green belt in its area, which is meant to be sacrosanct. It is not just in the case of ordinary developments that localism is being overturned.

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend makes his point powerfully. The principle of localism is enshrined in the very name of the legislation recently mentioned and was set out in the coalition agreement. Under that principle, local communities should now have the power—on an objective assessment, I agree—to gauge the level of need. They are best placed to determine whether there is sufficient local infrastructure and what the environmental damage would be, and balance that against the economic needs of their area. They are best placed to determine the right level of housing in their area.

Rebecca Harris (Castle Point) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that often what statutory consultees such as the utility companies and the Highways Agency assure people is sustainable for the local infrastructure does not tie up with the reality of people’s everyday existence on the ground?

Nick Herbert: I agree, and one problem is that some of the agencies charged with giving a statutory response to draft development plans do not properly engage with those plans or give an assessment of the impact on roads, schools, drainage and water supply and so forth which accurately grapples with the increase in demand. There is not a properly joined-up process.

17 Dec 2012 : Column 601

I suspect that the Minister will point me to the new national planning policy framework, which says that local planning authorities should work with other authorities and providers to

“assess the quality and capacity of infrastructure…and its ability to meet forecast demands”.

The provision does not, however, quite say that local authorities should ensure that local infrastructure is sufficient to match demand, but that is what the new clause says. It places a statutory duty on planning authorities to identify the demand on infrastructure caused by a new development. That is a stronger duty than under the national policy framework.

I recognise that there is little time left, and I am anxious to hear the Minister’s reply, but I want to impress upon him that since I tabled the new clause just a few days ago many Members of this House, as well as many members of the public and councillors, have expressed concern about the issue. There is widespread concern about it. There is insufficient provision in existing legislation to ensure local infrastructure is provided when necessary development is put in place.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. As Members know, our discussion of this group of amendments is timed to conclude at 5.45 pm, and I want to give the Minister at least 10 minutes to respond. The next speaker will be Mr Jonathan Edwards. I ask him to sit down by 5.35 pm.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): I will cut my speech in half in order to give my colleague, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), a chance to speak to her new clause in this group.

I and my party believe that the natural resources of Wales should be harnessed for the benefit of the people of Wales. I am very concerned that any future exploitation of the ground for its mineral wealth, particularly through fracking, would see its riches and the money it generates leaving Wales, without its people benefiting from any of that potential.

The people and communities of Wales still bear the scars of the coal rush, which fired the British state and its empire yet there was an abject failure to leave any of the fruits of its riches in a legacy of prosperity. My new clause 9 was written with that in mind. It will address an anomaly in the devolution system across the British state, as the powers in question are already devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland. If my new clause is accepted by the Government or passed following a Division, Welsh Ministers will have responsibility for all energy-generating planning applications in my country, instead of there being the current arbitrary and insulting 50 MW limit.

Wales is in the bizarre situation of being an energy-rich country in both mineral and renewable resources yet having one of the highest rates of fuel poverty in the UK. According to the Welsh Government, we have the potential to produce double the electricity we require for our needs. According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change here in London, we are a net exporter

17 Dec 2012 : Column 602

of electricity, yet energy prices in Wales are among the highest. Earlier this year, I presented a simple and reasonable Bill to Parliament to ensure that energy planning policy was devolved to the Welsh Government so that they could plan their energy projects coherently. It sought to put Wales on an equal footing with Scotland and Northern Ireland, and it was open to other MPs to amend it and make their own suggestions. It was an opportunity for the Labour party to introduce proposals from its manifesto, on which the Welsh Government were elected last year, but the vast majority of their MPs in London were strangely keen that Wales should not have those powers.

My Bill had cross-party support, but despite a few notable and honourable exceptions it was voted down. Labour MPs from Wales voted with the Tories. To be fair to the Lib Dems, most of their MPs voted to support the Bill and I look forward to their support later this evening.

5.30 pm

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman therefore consider Labour’s position on the devolution of projects providing up to 100 MW, which would include the vast majority of wave and tidal power schemes and many others, to be good and sensible, not least because it recognises that larger UK national infrastructure schemes, such as a Severn barrage scheme, were it ever to happen, are of interest to England and Wales?

Jonathan Edwards: I am grateful for that intervention and I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the world of Twitter —he was tweeting in Welsh over the weekend and I was very pleased to see it. I shall come on to Labour’s current policy later in my speech.

As I introduced my Bill, I said that the people of Wales were extremely protective of their natural resources. Naturally, as a result of the vote there was a public outcry in Wales, with Labour accused of betrayal. Subsequently, the First Minister made a public statement that the Labour party, despite the voting record of its MPs, supported total control over energy planning policy. His Government then published an energy policy document that highlighted how the sector was key to the future of the Welsh economy. I could not agree more, which is why I have introduced my new clause this evening.

I hope that, if pushed to a vote, the Lib Dems will maintain their principled position. If Labour MPs sit on their hands or join the Tories in the Lobby, the credibility of Carwyn Jones will be shot to pieces. The shadow Secretary of State for Wales has said today in the Western Mail, in response to my new clause, that Labour in Westminster supports the devolution of planning for energy projects only up to a limit of 100 MW. That shows a complete lack of coherence between Labour in London and Labour in Cardiff. It flies in the face of and contradicts the wishes of the First Minister, who said in March that he did

“not see why 100 MW should be the limit in the future.”

In addition, in June this year, John Griffiths, the Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development, stated that

“the Welsh Government…wishes to have further devolution of power over energy”

and “do not limit” themselves at 100 MW.

17 Dec 2012 : Column 603

During a recent “Sharp End” interview, the First Minister adopted Plaid Cymru’s position and said that he wanted full control over energy planning policy. If energy policy is the key to the future of the Welsh economy for jobs and growth—I am certain that it is—why should a 100 MW limit be set? Total control over energy planning policy would allow the Welsh nation best to decide its energy future and would be essential in driving growth in our economy.

From a good governance point of view, there needs to be consistency in planning policy. Having two different authorities responsible for policy is a disincentive for investment, leads to a lack of coherence in energy and economic strategy and is awfully complicated for my constituents. I have two technical advice note 8, or TAN 8, areas in my constituency, which are designated zones towards which the Welsh Government direct onshore wind development. The projects under 50 MW are determined by the local planning authority and those above are determined by Ministers here in Whitehall. Local people experience a huge difference when dealing with both authorities. With the LPA, they have direct access to planning officers and local councillors, whereas not a single official or Minister has even bothered to come to north Carmarthenshire to discuss with them the Brechfa Forest West development, which has just landed on the Secretary of State’s desk in London. The arrangements lead to a huge democratic deficit and my surgeries are constantly filled with angry and disillusioned people. My new clause would help to deal with that.

I have tabled a modest and reasonable amendment that would enable the people of Wales better to plan our energy infrastructure over 50 MW on a par with Scotland. It will also help the Welsh Government play their part in helping the UK Government to achieve the aims of this Bill, leading to greater policy coherence and unleashing the economic potential of Wales’s energy resources. If Ministers refuse to accept the new clause, I am minded to press it to a Division.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Nick Boles): I apologise to the House and to Members who tabled new clauses and amendments and have not had a chance to speak. I hope that the House will understand if I focus on amendments that are new on Report, rather than those tabled in the Bill Committee, where we had a full discussion, although I will of course return to clause 1 and the justification for it at the end of my brief remarks.

I shall start by addressing new clause 11, proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and a range of right hon. and hon. Friends. The Government and I share completely my right hon. Friend’s emphasis on the vital importance of infrastructure to support new development. Indeed, one of our main criticisms of the record of the previous Government was their complete failure to ensure that it was put in place. Ironically at a time when money, both public and private, was more available than ever before, infrastructure was simply not provided for.

Mr Blunt: The effect of the new clause tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), to which I put my name, is “must,” rather than “should,” which is the position I believe the Minister is about to defend, and “must” speaks to the arguments he has just made.

17 Dec 2012 : Column 604

Nick Boles: My hon. Friend anticipates the meat of the argument I want to make, but perhaps I could return to my point. It was in response to the failure of the previous planning regime to provide the infrastructure to support development and make local authorities and local communities feel empowered to shape their communities and their future that this Government produced the national planning policy framework and the Bill that became the Localism Act 2011. It is important to understand that while the national planning policy framework is indeed only policy, it is an incredibly carefully constructed and negotiated balance of measures. Taking one measure out of the framework and putting it into primary legislation, when no other part of it would be there, would be to up-end the balance, and would give primacy to one—very important—element at the expense of other important elements of the framework.

Mr Redwood: As the Minister may know, the borough unitary I mainly represent—Wokingham—has a local plan. It has identified land for 12,500 houses, which is a massive increase in development and well beyond the number many of my constituents would like. The authority has been prepared to argue the plan through; it wants to concentrate the development to get money for the infrastructure mainly from private sources, but the Minister decided to grant permission somewhere else, completely undermining the negotiations the authority wants to hold with the private sector. How does that help to get infrastructure?

Nick Boles: My right hon. Friend accuses me of things I have not done, but I am happy to take responsibility for all decisions of the Government, whether quasi- judicial or otherwise.

Perhaps I could return to the argument, because it is important. My right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs made the very good argument that over the past 10 to 30 years local authorities have not been in a position adequately to provide the infrastructure improvements required to support housing and other kinds of economic development. I should like to try to persuade him that it is not because the provision is not in primary legislation as a duty—as a must, rather than a should—that the failure has arisen; it is because there have not been dedicated sources of revenue to support infrastructure. It is not that local authorities are out there saying, “We want to build 5,000 houses and not build any more roads and primary schools and not put in better sewers.” It has not happened because they have not had dedicated revenue streams to do it.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con) rose

Nick Boles: Perhaps I could finish; I do not have much time.

The Government have put in place a huge range of specifically targeted measures to ensure that a funding stream is in place. That is why we supported the previous Government’s innovation of the community infrastructure levy, which is due to deliver £1 billion a year of infrastructure funding directly to local authorities; they will have to provide a list of infrastructure improvements so that developers know that they are making a contribution to specific matters, whether roads, drainage, schools or other things. We have also allocated £730 million to local enterprise partnerships.

17 Dec 2012 : Column 605

Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Nick Boles: I have very little time and I need to get on to clause 1. I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way right now.

The autumn statement a few weeks ago included another round of £350 million for the regional growth fund and a new local infrastructure fund worth up to £470 million. I hope my right hon. Friend and my other right hon. and hon. Friends will understand that it is not primary legislation that will ensure that local authorities plan properly, as they should, for infrastructure; it is money. Part of the way to get that money is to plan positively for development, because that development will bring the community infrastructure levy and the new homes bonus.

Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con): I had the good fortune to be born in the Thames valley and I represent a constituency in the Thames valley. In my lifetime I have watched tens of thousands of homes being built and many industrial estates and business parks. The M4 motorway has never been widened and the hospital has never been built to serve the community that has grown so much. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the levy to which he refers goes towards a new motorway and a new hospital? My region desperately needs them.

Nick Boles: It will be for my hon. Friend’s local authority to specify the infrastructure. Those are good examples. The money could go towards a hospital, a school, drains or whatever is required. He is right that that has not been available previously.

Finally, on new clause 11, I make this promise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs. We are currently looking at all the planning guidance that is provided to local authorities about how they should go about interpreting the national planning policy framework and putting that into their local plans. Although I do not want to up-end the careful balance of local plans by putting this in primary legislation, I will look at making sure that the guidance that is provided in a much reduced set of planning guidance is very clear about the need to plan positively and specifically for infrastructure that is required to support the development and to ensure that it is brought on stream in good time for that development.

I turn to the general arguments about clause 1. The hon. Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) and I have debated this at some length over the past few months. It has been my sole objective since the autumn to provide satisfaction to her, so it is a matter of great regret that I seem to have failed in this mission. I will try one last time on clause 1 to persuade her that her fears can be allayed and she, too, can embrace this extremely restrained proposal.

We hope that vanishingly few local authorities will be caught by the measure, but just as we accept that some schools fail and require intervention, and that Ofsted is the right judge of whether they are failing, and some hospitals fail and the Care Quality Commission is the right judge of whether they are failing, we believe it is our responsibility as Government to identify where some—very few—local planning authorities are failing to discharge their responsibilities to local people. That is why we are introducing the clause.

17 Dec 2012 : Column 606

Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): Has the Minister considered giving notice and support to such authorities, before moving to designation?

Nick Boles: I have good news for my hon. Friend. I had discussions with the Local Government Association just a few days ago. Because of the proposal on which we are consulting, which is that it should be two years of data about the timeliness of decisions on major applications, it will become clear, probably publicly but certainly to my officials and to officials in the Local Government Association, which authorities are heading into the danger zone, even after probably only six months’ data.

I have had discussions with the Local Government Association, with full support from the Department and my officials putting an arm round those authorities that are beginning to get into the danger zone and helping ensure that they get out before the axe falls—before the designation becomes real. It is my genuine hope that no local authority gets caught by the provision, because no local authority consistently fails to discharge its responsibilities.

Mr Betts: Has the Minister now solved the problem with the keeping of statistics on planning performance agreements, which could twist what a local authority does? Will he take that into account and do it retrospectively?

Nick Boles: The statistics currently capture planning performance agreements that are agreed before an application is submitted, but not those that are agreed after. We will be altering that to ensure that the data are more accurate. Where we cannot do that, what we can do, which I think is just as good, is take submissions from local authorities on why the data might not present a fair picture of their performance, and we will of course take fully into account the fact that the data might not be absolutely conclusive for those submissions in year one.

Finally, new clause 12, tabled by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), is incredibly well intentioned, but we believe that the national planning policy framework and the local plans already contain all the emphasis on sustainability, environmental quality and protection of rights and heritage for future generations—

5.45 pm

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the clause be read a Second time.

Question negatived.

The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).

Amendment proposed: 42, page 1, line 2, leave out clause 1.—(Roberta Blackman-Woods.)

Question put, Thatthe amendment be made.

17 Dec 2012 : Column 607

The House divided:

Ayes 216, Noes 294.

Division No. 121]


5.45 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creasy, Stella

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hopkins, Kelvin

Horwood, Martin

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh David

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, John

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Lindsay

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wood, Mike

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Susan Elan Jones


Chris Ruane


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, rh Danny

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clegg, rh Mr Nick

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davis, rh Mr David

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Farron, Tim

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Greening, rh Justine

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Mowat, David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Percy, Andrew

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, rh Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Simpson, David

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, rh Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Watkinson, Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Mark Hunter


Joseph Johnson

Clause 1

Option to make planning application directly to Secretary of State

Question accordingly negatived.

17 Dec 2012 : Column 608

17 Dec 2012 : Column 609

17 Dec 2012 : Column 610

Amendment made: 5, in clause 1, page 2, line 37, after ‘authority’, insert ‘or hazardous substances authority’.—(Nick Boles.)

Clause 6

Modification or discharge of affordable housing requirements

6.2 pm

Mr Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): I beg to move amendment 3, page 6, line 4, after ‘(1)’, insert ‘Subject to subsection (1A),’.

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Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 4, line 5, at end insert—

‘(1A) This section does not apply to any planning obligation relating to development—

(a) in a National Park,

(b) in an area designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty,

(c) in an area designated as a rural area pursuant to section 157 of the Housing Act 1985, or

(d) for which planning permission was granted by a neighbourhood development order.’.

Amendment 45, line 18, leave out ‘means’ and insert ‘is assessed by the local authority to be the foremost reason.’.

Amendment 44, line 24, at end insert—

‘(3A) The Secretary of State shall make an order by Statutory Instrument setting out the criteria by which viability is to be assessed.

(3B) An order shall not be made under subsection (3A) unless he has consulted those persons or organisations he considers to be appropriate and a draft of the Order has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, both Houses of Parliament.’.

Amendment 46, line 40, at end insert ‘or,

(e) request that the requirement is to be met in part, or in full, by central government funding allocated for the delivery of affordable homes.’.

Amendment 47, page 7, line 8, at end insert—

‘(7A) Where the local authority has reasonable grounds to believe that the value of the land, on which planning consent with a planning obligation that contains an affordable housing requirement is placed, has risen and the original obligation has not been reasonably met at the end of one year they may—

(a) determine that the requirement is to have effect subject to modifications,

(b) determine that the requirement is to be replaced with a different affordable housing requirement, or

(c) determine that the requirement will be subject to review within a given time period.’.

Amendment 48, line 31, after ‘market’, insert

‘but not including requirements for land on the site to be reserved and transferred at nil cost to a local planning authority or registered provider of social housing.’.

Mr Raynsford: I draw attention at the outset to my interests as declared in the register.

It is widely agreed, I think, that clause 6 is unsatisfactory. It is clearly based on conjecture and prejudice, rather than evidence. It was put together in a hurry, without adequate thought about its likely consequences, and there is a wide view that it is likely to have damaging impacts, not least on the provision of affordable housing. Ideally, the clause should be withdrawn. However, if the Government persist in promoting it, it is at the very least essential that it be amended to prevent some seriously damaging impacts on well-established mechanisms for the delivery of affordable housing. The purpose of amendments 3 and 4, which have been tabled in my name, is to prevent the destruction of a mechanism that has been in place for 25 years or more and that has secured a great deal of affordable housing, particularly in rural areas.

The other amendments in this group have been tabled in the names of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and my hon. Friends the Members for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods)

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and for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) on the Opposition Front Bench. They seek further amendments to the clause in order to offset some of its unfortunate consequences. I will not speak to those amendments; I will simply speak to amendments 3 and 4.

The issues were debated in Committee and were raised as a consequence of the evidence presented to us by Dr Nigel Stone of the English National Park Authorities Association. What was clear during the evidence sessions was the overwhelming weight of expert opinion against clause 6. Planning experts from the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Town and Country Planning Association and the Planning Officers Society joined representatives from local government, politicians and officers in condemning the clause as inappropriate and damaging. In his telling evidence, Dr Stone said that, as drafted, the clause could fatally damage the policy of rural exceptions, which has worked, as I have said, for more than 20 years and allowed the provision of affordable housing in a substantial number of areas where commercial housing development would not usually be acceptable.

The policy is called the exceptions policy because, exceptionally, it allows affordable housing—which may be social housing for rent, but could equally be low-cost home ownership—on the clear understanding that that housing will, in perpetuity, be kept available for the needs for which it was produced and that it will never be converted into market housing. The reason for that is obvious to everyone who cares about national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and rural areas where the beauty of the landscape would be seriously compromised by indiscriminate, speculative development. Such areas need people to work to help the local economy and desperately want to keep existing rural communities alive with opportunities for long-term residents to continue to live in the villages in which they were born and brought up.

Mr Redwood: Does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that the Minister’s intention is very simple and sensible? He does not want a commercial development of homes to be prevented by an affordable housing target that is not realistic for that development. Surely it is better to have some housing than none.

Mr Raynsford: If the right hon. Gentleman will bear with me, he will realise that, actually, the consequence of what the Minister is trying to do would be to destroy a policy that dates back to the days of the Conservative Government of the 1980s—I believe that the right hon. Gentleman was strongly supportive of them—who allowed it to come into being in order to ensure that it was possible to create affordable housing to meet needs in areas where there would usually be outright opposition to market housing. The reason for that outright opposition is that such developments would seriously compromise the character of an area. The rural areas in question do not want a mass of indiscriminate private sector development, but they do recognise the need for some homes for people who need to live and work in those communities. That was the basis of the policy, which was a product of his party’s Government. It was supported by my party, has remained in operation for more than 20 years and has secured a good supply of affordable housing to meet special needs. I would have thought that he would have welcomed it.

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Mr Redwood: That was then and now is now. Then, we had working banks, a growing economy and people were able to invest and carry the costs. That is not true today, thanks to what the right hon. Gentleman’s party did in government.

Mr Raynsford: I am sorry to have to remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is his Government who have been in office for the past two and half years, over which time the economy, at the very best, has been grinding along on the bottom as the result of his party’s mismanagement of it. I do not, however, intend to go down that route. I want to return to a policy that has received widespread support from Members of all parties, including some of his hon. Friends, who have specifically welcomed my amendment. I hope that after he has listened more to my argument, he will recognise that there is logic to the amendment.

The exceptions policy has evolved to meet special needs without opening the floodgates to more indiscriminate development, which would have otherwise happened because the areas concerned are often highly attractive and desirable areas where there would be considerable financial return from building commercial housing.

Hastoe Housing Association is probably the specialist body in this field and its chief executive, Sue Chalkley, joined me and a number of other experts to talk to the Minister about the issue. I am extremely grateful to him for making time available to hear our case and hope he was persuaded by it. Hastoe describes its role as

“a rural specialist housing association”

that has

“developed affordable homes for local people in more than 200 villages across the south of England. Most of these schemes are on Rural Exception Sites.”

Its briefing goes on to explain how the process works:

“The Parish Council approaches us for assistance because they have identified that local people need affordable housing. We arrange a housing needs survey to evidence the need. We then walk around the village, with the Parish Council and planners, to identify site options.

The sites are very often just outside the village envelope and are usually, but not always, farm land. They are ‘exception sites’”,

as defined by the national planning policy framework. The briefing continues:

“We agree the preferred site with the Parish Council and planners and discussions are held with the landowner about purchase.”

The following is the crucial part:

“The price for an ‘exception’ site is an enhanced agricultural value, averaging £8,000 per plot.

Tenures can be affordable rent or shared ownership. Shared owners cannot buy more than 80% of the equity, so the homes remain affordable for future, generally local, purchasers.

The NPPF allows a small number of market sale homes on exception sites to help the financial viability of schemes where grant subsidy is limited.

The S106 agreement provides landowners and communities with confidence about the future use of the land; that it will always be prioritised for local people and always retained as affordable housing.

The delivery of new homes on exception sites requires willing landowners and willing communities. There are often only one or two landowners in rural communities and, without their co-operation, no homes will be built. We need their co-operation.”

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Sue Chalkley stresses that the process gives confidence to all parties that such homes will for ever be kept available for the need for which they were developed, and will not simply become market housing by the back door. The section 106 agreement is crucial to that process. Without it, landowners are inevitably reluctant to provide land, because they can see the risk that sites that they sell substantially below open market value—I have quoted the figure of £8,000 for enhanced agricultural value—might produce a windfall gain to some future occupier who is fortunate enough to find that the property is saleable on the open market. That is the first problem.

The second problem is that communities that have agreed to an element of affordable housing on the basis that it is for people in need would be horrified if the policy could be subverted and the properties could become available as open market homes, rather than be used for the specific needs for which they were approved. Landowners and communities would have a crisis of confidence in the policy if clause 6 was passed unamended.

In Committee, I gave the Minister one example of how the policy could be subverted, but I have now highlighted a number of other ways. The first example that I quoted was an individual working in forestry in a national park being helped by a national park authority to get permission for an individual, self-built home for his needs. If that individual received consent for an exceptions home, but it subsequently became unviable because the builders’ prices had gone up or because he could not get a loan from the bank because of the mortgage difficulties that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) mentioned, he could say that it was no longer viable to proceed with the development as agreed. Under the provisions of clause 6, he would be entitled to ask the planning authority—in this case it would be the national park authority—to reconsider the section 106 agreement because it was no longer viable to proceed with building the home.

The legislation gives no let out. It does not allow the planning authority to consider the wider social impacts or the needs of the community. It simply requires it to look at financial viability. If the argument is a sound one—and in the scenario that I have quoted it is—the planning authority will ultimately have to say that the person has a strong case. However, it might decide to refuse the request because if it agreed, it would subvert the exceptions policy and destroy the confidence of local people in it, meaning that landowners would no longer provide land for such developments and local communities would no longer agree to them.

Then, of course, the next ghastly consequence of the clause bites, because at that point the decision is referred to the Planning Inspectorate, which has a remit to consider only viability. It does not have a remit to consider whether a development is desirable, whether it would subvert the exceptions policy, or whether it would result in inappropriate development in a national park or area of outstanding natural beauty. It is required to look only at viability. If it does so on the terms that I have described, it will inevitably find that the section 106 agreement has to be amended or set aside because it prevents viability.

At the moment when the first of those decisions is taken, the rural exceptions policy is dead, because shockwaves will go around the country rapidly and word will get around that this policy that has worked for 25 years; that has helped to secure housing in loads of areas for people in need; that has kept communities

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together; and that has given employment opportunities to people who need to work on a relatively low wage in such areas is no longer viable because people can no longer be confident that a section 106 agreement will bite and will remain in force. That is the terrible consequence of the Bill.

6.15 pm

Amendment 4 is very modest. The Minister knows that its purpose is very limited. It is restricted to excepting four circumstances from the general impact of clause 6. It would exclude developments in national parks, in areas of outstanding natural beauty and in rural areas where the exceptions policy applies, as defined by section 157 of the Housing Act 1985. As a result of my discussion with the Minister, I have added a fourth circumstance: developments approved subject to neighbourhood development orders. In the course of our conversation, it became clear that some communities that are considering neighbourhood plans may well give consent to a development on the basis that it is affordable and would not want that to be subverted by the viability test in clause 6.

My amendments are tightly defined and would safeguard a policy that has been hugely successful and that is subscribed to by parties across the House. If they are accepted, there will be a huge sigh of relief in many rural communities that are rightly concerned that the Bill will subvert something that is of value to them and to people in housing need. I hope that the Minister is persuaded by the evidence that he heard from the people I brought to see him and by the logic of the amendments, and will feel free to support them tonight.

Mr Redwood: The Government are right to be concerned about the poor volume of house building that they inherited and that has continued for the past two and a bit years. It is right that they need to facilitate more development of more or less any kind. It will, by definition, be affordable because people will now build houses only if they can see a purchaser or tenant with reasonable security.

I have difficulty with the amendments proposed by the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford). He and I would probably agree that we need more affordable housing of all kinds in this country. The biggest shortage is probably in affordable housing for sale. A large number of people would like to own their own home. It is one of the tragedies of the current situation that people in their 20s and quite a lot of people in their 30s are no longer able to obtain a large enough mortgage to afford the prices of homes in many parts of the country. We therefore have a new generation of people who do not have the access to home ownership that previous generations have enjoyed and taken advantage of.

That has come about because of a mighty land and property price bubble, generated primarily by the mortgage excesses of the previous decade and, to a lesser extent, by the capitalisation of the subsidies that the Government tipped into the housing sector to try to keep pace with the inflationary bubble that the banking and monetary policy was creating. We are using public money to chase a bubble, which makes it very difficult to get affordable housing to people. The public money then does not go around as far as it should, because land and property prices are so high.

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How are we going to break into that conundrum? The Government are trying many things. They are trying to get a freer flow of mortgage money and cash to people at cheap prices, so that they can afford more. They are also working on the supply side to try to puncture the land bubble at a sensible rate, so that all homes become more affordable.

The danger with concentrating on so-called affordable homes for rent in the public sector is that, as the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich says, there is a big lottery element to it. If one was born in the right village or has lived in the right village for long enough, one might qualify for such property, but if one has moved around too much or has lived in a different village, there is no such opportunity. The lottery element is one problem with what the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting.

The right hon. Gentleman said that affordable homes would always be available, but of course they will not, because they will mainly be lived in by the people who first get them. Those people might decide to live in them for 20, 30, 40 or 50 years, so they will not be available to anybody else because they will be providing family accommodation to those people. We might say that that is fine, because that is the purpose of such homes, but they cannot both fulfil the intended role for the family who are lucky enough to get them and be available to a family that does not have them.

That leads to a distributional problem, because if somebody who takes on a heavily subsidised affordable rented house becomes very successful, we rightly do not tell them that they have to leave. That means that someone quite rich and successful can be living in a heavily subsidised house, which does not seem fair. It is better to move to a system of subsidising people rather than properties, by giving them income support and the means to achieve what they need—a house to buy, a flat to rent or whatever. It is subsidising property that has got us into all these awful arguments, and it is sending the wrong signals and drying up the market in all sorts of ways. There are not enough affordable properties, and an awful lot of developers are being put off.

I hope that the Minister will build on the ideas that are currently in circulation to allow some development to take place, and that he will not allow previous plans from better financial times to prevent that development. I hope he will consider the two important points that I have made—that it is surely better to subsidise people in need than particular homes, which can lead to the maldistribution of results both geographically and by individual; and that it is surely better to work on the land market, because it must be our ultimate aim to have a land market at prices that people can afford. Thanks to the mortgage and subsidy boom of the previous decade we are a long way from that, with the result that many of our constituents cannot access the housing that they need and would like.

Roberta Blackman-Woods: I wish to speak to amendments 45 to 48. Clause 6 greatly exercised us in Committee because of the threat that it presents to the future supply of affordable housing delivered through the application of section 106 agreements. No evidence has been provided in Committee or elsewhere of the necessity of the clause or of why section 106 agreements, as they relate to affordable housing, should be singled

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out for such treatment. Ministers and other Government Members seemed blasé about what the clause could mean for the development of housing, and particularly about the need to create communities that are both balanced and mixed.

I want to make it clear from the outset that we dislike clause 6 very much indeed, and that in tabling our amendments we have sought to curtail its worst excesses. The Minister was not able to provide an evidence base for it, a point noted by many witnesses, such as the National Housing Federation, which stated that

“no evidence has been provided to suggest that Section 106 generally, and its affordable housing component specifically, are routinely stalling developments.”

The Minister has not explained why the clause is necessary given that local authorities are already renegotiating section 106 agreements. The Local Government Association has emphasised that point, and as I have already pointed out to the Minister, the LGA is currently—I stress that word to my hon. Friends—under the control of the Conservative party. It stated that it believed the whole of clause 6 to be

“unnecessary because councils are already responding to changed economic circumstances by renegotiating Section 106…agreements voluntarily.”

Case studies exist from a range of councils, including Cheshire West and Chester, Exeter and Haringey. Given the relatively short time available I will not go into them in much detail, but it is worth pointing out that Cheshire West and Chester council has already renegotiated the section 106 agreement for Winnington urban village, and that Exeter city council has done the same for a series of new developments. There are a lot of examples of that across the country, and I am happy to pass the information on to the Minister if necessary.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): Does the hon. Lady accept that there is a problem with the current system? My local authority is run by the Labour party and has done a deal with the biggest developer on the estate near the Elephant and Castle, reducing the agreed planning percentage of affordable housing from 35% to 25%. When I asked, on behalf of those I represent, to see the paperwork justifying the viability of that, the council and the developer said no.

Roberta Blackman-Woods: The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, and I hope that he will persuade Ministers to accept our amendment 44, on how viability is measured. It would require more precise guidance to be given to local authorities of whatever political shade so that they know how they should assess viability. Voluntary agreements, which usually mean negotiating section 106 requirements downwards, are occurring across the country, so we and local councils need a better understanding of what is meant by viability in that context.

We know from the evidence provided by the LGA that on average councils are willing to accept a level of affordable housing about a third lower than the amount set in their local plan. We also know that all but 2% of councils have said that they would be willing to renegotiate section 106 agreements. There is therefore a big question about the need to include clause 6 at all.

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It may help the House to understand the full nature of what is wrong with the clause if I briefly go through each amendment and its purpose. Amendment 45 would require a local authority to establish first of all that it is the application of a section 106 housing agreement that is making a development unviable. As we pointed out in Committee, such an amendment would place a sensible requirement on local authorities to establish that it is the section 106 agreement for affordable housing that means that a development cannot go ahead as planned. It would also allow other types of obligation, such as highways contributions, to be put forward to the local authority for renegotiation as part of current section 106 arrangements. Developers can already ask a local authority for a renegotiation of section 106 agreements, so we simply cannot understand why the Government would not want to accept such a basic, common-sense amendment.

The LGA has continued to press that point, stating that it does not understand why the clause addresses only affordable housing when section 106 agreements also fund other forms of infrastructure. It has asked why social housing is deemed dispensable, especially since the current lack of funding has had a particular impact on the delivery of affordable housing, which is greatly needed.

After the May 2010 election, the Government cut the budget for new affordable homes by 60%. Labour invested £8.4 billion in the three years between 2008 and 2011, whereas the current Government will invest just over half of that amount in the four years between 2011 and 2015. At the same time, funding for existing affordable homes has fallen. As a consequence, shockingly, 37% of affordable homes do not meet the decent homes standard. I say to Ministers in passing that when we discussed the matter in Committee, no mention was made of the huge amount of money that went into upholding that standard under the previous Government. Of course, that kept a number of affordable houses in occupation.

We know that private rents are soaring. They hit a record high over the summer and are even higher at the moment. The number of homelessness acceptances is increasing, and over the past year rough sleeping has risen by about 23%. Affordable housing is therefore more necessary than ever, which is why the clause is so dangerous.

The Minister should note that the Local Government Association supports amendment 44. It asks the Minister to set out in regulations the criteria by which viability is to be assessed, and to consult relevant organisations before doing so—the issue raised by the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes). The LGA states that the clause encourages have-a-go behaviour for developers, because it offers no reason for them not to try to seek a reduction in their affordable housing obligations from the Planning Inspectorate. The LGA has said that the clause could delay house building and economic recovery as developers wait for the new regime to be put in place, while placing additional resources centrally with the inspectorate, rather than properly resourcing local planning authorities.

6.30 pm

Amendment 44 proposes that the Secretary of State sets out in regulations, on which there has been consultation, the criteria for assessing economic viability. The determination of economic viability and the ability

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of developers to use non-viability as a means of renegotiating section 106 agreements for affordable housing is central to the clause, yet at no stage has the Secretary of State thought it necessary or reasonable to set out clearly to the members of the Committee, the House, relevant organisations and agencies or developers how viability is to be determined. That is simply not acceptable; greater transparency is necessary. Indeed, on this amendment the National Organisation of Residents Associations asked the Minister what I think is a fair question: who decides what is an appropriate profit margin and how will it be assessed? The association made the relevant point that it could be a moving feast.

In Committee, the Minister said:

“Of course it is important that local authorities understand how viability will be measured and what criteria will be used. The guidance will be published in due course.”––[Official Report, Growth and Infrastructure Public Bill Committee, 27 November 2012; c. 295.]

More guidance! I thought the Government said that they were seeking to reduce guidance, yet we find, again and again during consideration of the Bill, that not only do we have consultation papers coming out of our ears, but we will have a lot more guidance to deal with too. We need to know when the guidance will be published and whether the Minister is discussing the matter with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which, I understand, has already produced some draft guidance.

Amendment 46 would require the Government to use the £300 million they say they have allocated for affordable housing—I am concerned it may have been allocated a number of times already—to be used to pay developers to make sites viable. Labour Members are desperately concerned that the removal of affordable housing from development sites will lead to a lack of balance and a lack of mix in our communities. That is why we think it is better for the Government’s money to be used for mixed schemes, which are already planned and deliverable, rather than to stop them and put the money somewhere else. We feel strongly about this and at the appropriate time will press the amendment to a Division.

What the Minister said in Committee is interesting, because he seemed to acknowledge my point about the need to develop balanced communities:

“One reason why we all want to retain the rather clumsy 106 system is that there does not seem to be another way of achieving mixed communities whereby new developments of private housing also include affordable housing. We are genuinely trying to make this work.”––[Official Report, Growth and Infrastructure Public Bill Committee, 27 November 2012; c. 289.]

It therefore seems strange that, having acknowledged the problem in Committee, the Government have come forward with no proposals to address it on Report. The Town and Country Planning Association highlighted the issue, drawing attention to the fact that

“The effect of the reforms to Section 106 agreements will be to reduce the quantum of land for affordable housing and risks increased social polarisation on particular sites.”

How will the Minister ensure that mixed sites will continue if a developer asks for the section l06 agreements on affordable housing to be removed?

Amendment 47 was also the subject of some discussion in Committee, not least because the structure of clause 6 allows only for a situation in which land values are falling. The amendment addresses the situation where development has been stalled for more than one year

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and land value has risen. It allows for the local authority to determine a new requirement, modify a requirement, or agree to review it after a given period.

The Government do not seem to have contemplated a situation in which land values are rising. As the Bill is supposed to contain measures that support growth, that is extremely worrying. Clearly, the Government have no more faith in the ability of the Bill to deliver growth than we do. The amendment would allow for the renegotiation of section 106 agreements for housing to be made where land values have increased and development on a renegotiated agreement downwards has not been delivered within one year. The Minister considered the one-year period to be too short. Perhaps he will be able to tell the House today what sort of time frame he would consider.

Amendment 48 is extremely important. If a developer sought to persuade the Secretary of State that a development was not viable because of the application of a section 106 agreement for affordable housing and that it should therefore be removed, the amendment would ensure that the land remains protected for use by social landlords, or by the local authority if possible. That would protect the development of mixed communities and ensure that social landlords are not denied building opportunities through of the absence of land—a point made to the Minister by a number of housing associations. The Minister said that for social housing landlords

“land is often the thing they find hardest to come by, particularly land in a larger development, which is necessary to create a mixed community.”––[Official Report, Growth and Infrastructure Public Bill Committee, 27 November 2012; c. 306.]

He also said that more guidance will be published. I finish on this point and ask him again: when will this new guidance be published?

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Just before I call the next speaker, I want to remind the House that the knife falls at 7 o’clock. The Minister has not spoken yet and it will be necessary to hear him speak.

Simon Hughes: I will be brief. I want to make a couple of comments on clause 6 and affordable housing, and to follow on from the comments made by the hon. Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) on her amendments.

I have concerns about the protection of affordable housing, both as it is traditionally defined—social rents, council rents or target rents—and as it may be defined now or in the future, which is at a higher percentage of market rents. I have raised this personally with the Minister—he has been very helpful—and the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr Foster). I would be grateful if the Minister addresses three questions.

First, how can I be assured that my constituents, local councillors and I, as the MP, will be able to see any deal that is done between our local council and the developer, and be able to ensure that the argument about viability is justified? To be blunt, I do not often believe developers when they say, “The figures don’t stack up.” I have reasons for not believing them. On the south bank, for example, developers got out of an

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obligation with the local authority on the basis that the figures did not stack up, but, when the properties were sold, the sale price was much higher than the likely sale price they put down. Clearly, then, their profit was greater and they could have afforded to build many more affordable homes. How can my hon. Friend the Minister assure me that we can know publicly what is economically viable?

Secondly, how can we guarantee input into the discussions about the guidance, about which the Minister has spoken and written to me, to ensure that it is effective? Bills are often outline structures implemented by secondary legislation and guidance, so I would like reassurance about the effectiveness of guidance in ensuring viability—accurately defined—and transparency and a common way of assessing it that applies all over England. It is no good having a viability argument in Southwark that is different from one in the north-east; we need a common formula that developers and councils have to follow.

My final question relates to a point made, perfectly properly, by the hon. Lady. How can we provide for the deliverability of affordable housing to go up and down? If the market drops, I could understand developers saying, “We can’t deliver,” although they would need to explain their case publicly. But if, as with the case on the south bank, the market goes up and the money to be made by the developer is greater, the community, represented by the local authority, needs to be able to say, “We want some money back. We want an additional affordable housing component.”

I hope that the Minister will put on the record some of what he has written and spoken to me about and what I have discussed with the Under-Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bath. I also hope he can reassure us that in the remaining work on the Bill—before it becomes law and in subsequent secondary legislation and guidance—the House can have an input into what is drafted and confidence that we will not lose affordable housing because developers that can afford to deliver on that simply say that they cannot.

Mr Betts: I want to raise a number of points on which I hope the Minister can provide the reassurance that, in previous debates in the Chamber and before the Communities and Local Government Committee, he has not provided.

First, where is the evidence of a problem? The Homes and Communities Agency wrote to me to say that it had had no difficulties with section 106 agreements holding up any of its schemes. The volume house builders, to which I presume the Minister talks—I have been at meetings with them—say that the problem is not the section 106 agreements or the planning system, but getting customers who have access to finance and the confidence to spend it walking through their doors wanting to buy their homes.

The part of the industry most in difficulty comprises the small builders; the volume house builders and larger companies have simply reduced how much they are building. The small builders build on small sites which, by their very nature, do not have section 106 agreements attached to them, yet it is those schemes that have largely stopped across the country, again because of a

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lack of customers and the fact that banks, by and large, have withdrawn finance from that section of the industry. In that area, there has been almost no growth at all; in fact, the industry is now at a standstill. Once again, that is not due to section 106 agreements.

Mr Redwood: The hon. Gentleman is right that the main problem is the lack of effective demand because of the banking and mortgage collapse, but does he not see that, because of that, there is little or no profit in these prospective developments and that that is why they cannot afford the 106 agreement-type levels common before the bust?

6.45 pm

Mr Betts: I put to the right hon. Gentleman a point that has already been made very effectively: why, then, are the Government targeting only the social and affordable housing element of section 106 agreements? What about the rest of the obligations on developers? Do they not cause a problem too? In an earlier debate—I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was present—when challenged by his colleagues behind him about the need to ensure proper infrastructure, the Minister talked about the need for the community infrastructure levy to provide the resources to ensure that that infrastructure was provided. If developers have a problem with viability, why is he championing the community infrastructure levy and 106 agreements that are currently providing infrastructure for non-housing elements while targeting the housing element of 106 agreements? Why is that necessary? Again, we have had no answer from him.

On the housing element, I want to return to a point that we discussed in the Select Committee the other day and which my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) just made very strongly. I refer to the crucial issue of mixed housing developments. I would have thought that there would be cross-Chamber support for the idea of mixed housing developments. We do not want people in owner-occupied houses in one place and a smaller number of rented homes completely segregated on a different site. We need mixed schemes where everyone, irrespective of their tenure, can live together side by side. I thought that was the Government’s policy.

We had an interesting discussion about that in the Select Committee. We asked the Minister why, if £300 million was to be made available to provide additional rented homes in order to compensate for the ones lost under section 106 agreements, those properties could not be built on the same sites as the schemes in question in order to increase their viability. As I understand it, that is precisely what my hon. Friend’s amendment 46 would do, so will the Minister respond favourably to it? It would simply put into the Bill the idea that he seemed to welcome in the Select Committee the other day. I look forward to his response.

I turn to amendment 44, which was also tabled by my hon. Friend. The right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) made the point about viability and whether we can trust developers when they say that a scheme is not viable. By what criteria will they and the Secretary of State be judged if a scheme is changed and fewer affordable houses are built? The Minister must accept that 106 agreements are not often backroom deals made in isolation between

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council officials and developers; they are often out there and scrutinised not merely by councillors, but by the public affected by them.

Communities want to know what will be built in their areas and whether rented homes will be available for people who cannot afford to buy. They will be very suspicious if, without such criteria in the Bill, the Secretary of State seems to be doing a deal behind the scenes—whether or not it is called the Planning Inspectorate—which results in the withdrawal of the affordable homes that they thought were being built, and to which they and their families would have access, and different amounts of affordable housing, if any, being agreed for the site. That is why it is important that the Minister states upfront the criteria that will be used to change the affordable housing component that communities will assume will be negotiated for their areas.

Finally, the lack of rigorous time scales in the proposals is worrying. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham mentioned the possibility of revisiting the issue after one year and reinstating higher levels of affordable housing for any scheme. That is a really important point, because the worry that some people have about the proposal is that developers will simply say that schemes are not viable; renegotiate them so that less affordable housing has to be provided; and sit on the land and wait till times become more propitious—when they can sell the houses for more, sell more houses and provide fewer for rent. In the meantime nothing will happen. In other words, instead of a stimulus to growth, the proposals could defer development and increase the profitability of the schemes so that fewer affordable or rented houses are produced. The Minister needs to address that worry and include some proper time periods, as my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham has suggested.

Nick Boles: Everybody is keen for me to explain things and reassure them, but they have not given me a great amount of time in which to do so. I hope you will understand, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I canter through my remarks pretty quickly.

I am a simple soul and do not have a lot of truck with ideology. I want to build more houses now, and I want the absolute certainty that they will go up, rather than a vague, tenuous hope of even more houses at a possible future date. Our discussions in Committee and this evening have persuaded me even more of the merit of this clause, and I am redoubled in my enthusiasm.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Nick Boles: I am sorry, but I will not give way because many hon. Members have asked me for explanations and assurances. I am entirely convinced of the merit of this clause, but in Committee I heard good arguments from Members across the House about ways in which the legislation might be applied that would not produce more houses soon, or could threaten that possibility. I will address two of those arguments, which I hope will offer some reassurance to many hon. Members.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) and the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford) raised the issue of rural exception sites. I understand that the likelihood of more land being brought forward in the future to supply

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affordable housing in key rural exception sites might diminish if the clause were to be applied to those genuinely exceptional schemes. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich for organising a meeting with the housing association and the national park authority, and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove for attending it. I have been persuaded by the principle of their argument, but the precise way that the right hon. Gentleman’s amendment takes account of the issue is not necessarily right and I hope I can persuade him not to press the amendment to a vote. I am currently looking at proposals that will be brought forward in the other place to achieve a carve-out for rural exception sites from this provision.

I have also been persuaded by some of the arguments about developers achieving a more favourable affordable housing agreement and then sitting on it. That is why, unprompted, the Government have clarified that any affordable housing agreement renegotiated by the Planning Inspectorate will survive for three years but return to its previous level at the end of that period. If the developer has not built out on the basis of the new, lower, affordable housing agreement, the agreement will return to the previous higher level and they will have to continue to build it out at that level.

Simon Hughes: Will the Planning Inspectorate system ensure that anybody can see the figures as well as the facts?

Nick Boles: I was coming to that. Currently, I am glad to say, the Planning Inspectorate is required to consider in its decision only evidence that is published or available publicly. It is not allowed to take into account anything that it is given on an entirely confidential basis. We intend to apply that principle to its decisions on viability under this clause, and through guidance we will urge local authorities as strongly as possible to adopt the same policy. Currently there is not quite the same expectation, but being a proper localist I am not in the business of compelling local authorities to do such things. However, I reassure my right hon. Friend that we will be nudging them hard.

The further financial support announced at the same time as measures in the Bill—£300 million of subsidy and a further £10 billion of guarantees—was also raised. As I explained in Committee—it is important to repeat it in the House—the subsidy is awarded to particular providers of affordable housing, not particular schemes, and Members across the House will want provision of that subsidy and its allocation to different providers to be based on value for money. We all want more, rather than fewer, houses for the amount of money available. We cannot allocate money to solve the problem of a particular site, because that would not meet the value-for-money test, as some sites will represent worse value for money than others. It is, therefore, right to retain the discretion to give the subsidy where value for money is greatest, but there is nothing to prevent providers who have sites that are affected by such renegotiation from coming forward with proposals for that subsidy and guarantee. If they can make the case that a site represents a good place to invest the Government’s money, there is every chance they will secure some of that subsidy.