The first primary indicator for the economy is employment, and a record number of people are now in work. The figures from my constituency point to the fact that the number of unemployed claimants for last month fell to 1,785, down 487 from a year ago. The shadow Chancellor tried to suggest that youth unemployment had somehow increased. He wants to be Chancellor. He wants to be the person in charge of the

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numbers, but he fails to mention that the figures include full-time students. I am pleased to say that the number of students at Bournemouth university, the Arts University Bournemouth and Bournemouth and Poole college have increased. They are included and he should know that.

Neil Carmichael: The same is true in my constituency. We have falling unemployment and we are looking for more people with engineering skills. Does my hon. Friend agree that the real success of this Government is the way in which they have stimulated the real economy?

Mr Ellwood: Absolutely. I concur with my hon. Friend, and that is one reason why more money has gone into apprenticeships as well.

My second point concerns GDP growth. A year ago, the OBR predicted growth for 2013 at just 0.6%. In fact, it came in at three times that level, and the forecast for next year has changed from 1.8% to 2.4%.

Thirdly, inflation now sits at 1.9%, well within the range set by the Bank of England. Fourthly, thanks to our low interest rates, the cost of borrowing by individuals, banks and the Government is low. But, of course, low interest rates are not so welcome to savers, hence this important announcement to end compulsory annuities, making it cheaper and simpler for pensioners to draw down their savings.

Christopher Pincher: My hon. Friend mentions that inflation is low. Is it not the case that wage inflation this year is likely to be higher than inflation, which means that finally we will see an end to the wages crunch?

Mr Ellwood: Again, my hon. Friend makes a valid point.

Finally, I come to the deficit, and how much the Government must borrow to balance the books. The OBR predicts that the deficit will continue to fall. We should remind the Opposition that when they took office in 1997, they inherited a sound economy. Up to 2002, the Labour Government made a surplus. Then the wheels came off, one by one. By 2004, the deficit was up to £33 billion, by 2008-09, it had increased to £69 billion, and in their final year of office, they had to borrow £156 billion to balance the books. Thankfully, a change in Government brought in a new economic strategy and our deficit has reduced to £108 billion this year, which will drop to £95 billion next year. If we stick to this economic plan, we will balance the books by 2018.

Of course, productivity, exports and savings figures are not what they should be, and the Budget addresses that. Time is limited and I cannot go into the details, but I welcome greater incentives.

Richard Graham: Does my hon. Friend agree that the remarks from the shadow Chancellor earlier, and indeed some of his colleagues, about the long-term unemployment situation, are important, but only as a proportion of the total unemployment rate in our constituencies, which has come down sharply in most cases since the last election? Those who are long-term unemployed were often not very well educated under the previous Government.

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Mr Ellwood: Again, my hon. Friend makes a valid point, which is why we now see record numbers of people coming in to work.

I welcome greater incentives to save, with the ISA limit increase, the abolition of the 10p rate and the introduction of the new pensioner bond. The personal income tax allowance rise to £10,500 is also welcome, as are the larger and cheaper loans for companies seeking to export. Coming from Dorset, I of course welcome the freeze on cider duty, and I also welcome additional funds for apprenticeships, pothole and flood repairs, and regional theatres and airports.

Today’s Budget builds on the Government’s objective of securing the recovery and building a resilient economy. The job is not yet done, but the big question looming is whether we want to continue with a proven economic plan that is seeing Britain stand head and shoulders above any country in Europe, or risk returning to No. 10 the very team, the very people, who were responsible for the scale of the economic crisis in the first place.

4.39 pm

Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): What is clear from the debate we have had today and the Budget statement we heard yesterday is that this Government are hopelessly out of touch. There was no mention from Government Members, either yesterday or today, of the central fact that after four years of this Government ordinary working people are £1,600 a year worse off.

The Chancellor said yesterday that his Budget was for doers, makers and savers. Well, it might help some doers, some makers and some savers, but one would not want to bet the house on it. That is because of the Government’s record. In 2010 he said that he would eliminate the deficit by 2015, but we now know that he does not plan to do that until 2018. The Government have borrowed £190 billion more than they originally planned to. Indeed, they borrowed more in three years than the previous Labour Government borrowed in 13 years.

In 2011 the Chancellor announced his Budget for growth, but we saw his growth forecasts revised down. In 2012 he said that he would tackle tax avoidance to raise billions of pounds, but the UK-Swiss tax deal raised only a fraction of the money the Government promised. The truth is that he is way out on his own forecasts of where he said we would be when he came to power. He has failed on the terms he set for himself, and ordinary people are paying the price.

The Chancellor would have us believe that his Budget will improve the lives of ordinary working people at some point in the not-too-distant future, but I am afraid that it is a future that is just out of reach—it is not now. There is nothing in the Budget that will help the ordinary person in the ordinary family in the here and now. In the here and now, wages are down for the ordinary working person, bills are up and the economy will not return to pre-crisis levels until 2017.

Sure, for a doer earning £150,000 or more, or a banker taking a big bonus, this is a Budget and this is a Government for them. The Chancellor has already given a huge tax cut to people earning over £150,000, and bankers’ bonuses are rising. People earning over £1 million have received a tax cut worth, on average, £100,000. But

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what about the rest of the doers? The average wage in this country is £26,500. There are no meaningful measures in the Budget to help them. What is gained by the increase in the personal allowance has already been more than wiped out by the cost of living crisis affecting millions of people across our country. The truth is that this Chancellor has given with one hand but taken away far more with the other. There is nothing in the Budget for the millions of hard-working doers up and down our country.

As for the makers, there was some welcome news in the Budget, but I am afraid that it is a case of far too little, far too late. On both energy and business investment, the Chancellor was simply putting right the mistakes that he made in his 2010 Budget, especially the cut in capital allowances, a fact that he conveniently forgot to mention yesterday. In 2010 he hit businesses that wanted to invest. It is good that he is starting to put that right, but it is very late in the day and a lot of damage has already been done to the economy.

On exports, again there were some welcome steps, but revised export forecasts show that the Chancellor is set to miss his 2020 target. In fact, the Budget suggests that he will not even get halfway. Again, his own record does not give us a great deal of hope. The Government’s export enterprise finance guarantee scheme helped just five firms before it folded, and the export refinancing facility was still not operational over a year after it was first announced. That is not a record to be proud of.

On science and research—this relates to the discoverers and inventors that the makers of this country rely on—once again we saw the Government’s characteristic approach: a little bit here and a little bit there, but nothing in the co-ordinated and planned way that this country’s science community is crying out for. There is no long-term science framework, as was delivered by the previous Labour Government, and as will be delivered again by the next Labour Government in 2015. Everybody knows that this country’s science, research and innovation base, which punches well above its weight on the global scale, needs a long-term plan for certainty and to build the critical mass from which great innovation occurs, but this Government have once again failed to deliver it.

As for savers, we will have to look at the detailed proposals, but the Budget itself shows that the forecast savings ratio has been revised down for every year from 2013 to 2018. So much for a Budget to encourage saving! This afternoon, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has told us that the changes are based on “highly uncertain assumptions” and could create people who lose out. What of the millions of people in this country, in the here and now, who cannot save because of the cost of living crisis? Saving will be a luxury for the hundreds of thousands of people relying on food banks to survive and the tens of thousands of people who are being pushed into debt by the bedroom tax.

In this debate we have heard many examples of the effects of the Government’s failure in powerful contributions from my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) and my hon. Friends the Members for Westminster North (Ms Buck), for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson), for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop), for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey), for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), for Luton South (Gavin Shuker), for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), for Makerfield

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(Yvonne Fovargue), for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck), for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), and for Croydon North (Mr Reed). Every single Labour Member spoke of what the Government should have addressed in their Budget yesterday. This Budget is yet another missed opportunity to deal with the cost of living crisis.

Christopher Pincher: If the hon. Lady is concerned about the cost of living crisis, as we all should be, why did her party support an amendment to the Energy Bill in the other place that would have added £150 to energy bills? How would that help with the cost of living crisis?

Shabana Mahmood: The truth is that we have called for a freeze on energy bills, which are going up under this Government. Perhaps the Government might understand the cost of living crisis better if they had more women on their Front Bench. I notice that once again this afternoon there is not a single female Member on the Government Front Bench.

The cost of living crisis has meant that child care costs have spiralled by 30% since 2010. Energy bills are up by almost £300 since the election, with consumers having no way of knowing whether the bills are fair, owing to weak competition and poor regulation. Rent is using up more and more of people’s incomes, with rent arrears becoming the fastest growing debt, and food prices have risen by over 4% year on year, putting a huge squeeze on family finances. The Government know that this is not about choosing between bringing the deficit down and dealing with the very serious cost of living crisis. That is simply a false choice that they choose to hide behind, because this Budget could have addressed these things.

Labour Members have put forward a number of fully costed proposals that would deal with the cost of living crisis and get help to families here and now. On child care, we would use a levy on banks to provide 25 hours of free child care a week, worth £1,500, for working parents with three and four-year-olds. The Government’s proposals, which will not even kick in until after the election, will give most benefit to the highest earners, who tend to have the highest child care costs. On housing, we have committed to getting 200,000 homes a year built by 2020, whereas this Government have refused to take the action that is needed and are presiding over the lowest levels of house building in peacetime since the 1920s.

On energy, as I said to the hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), we would freeze energy bills until 2017, and, importantly, reform the energy market to stop consumers being ripped off. We would cut taxes for 24 million working people on middle and low incomes with a lower, 10p starting rate of income tax. We would put young people back to work with a job for the long-term young unemployed that they had to take, paid for by a tax on bankers bonuses. We would balance the books in a fairer way by reversing the £3 billion tax cut for people earning £150,000 a year, which this Government sought to prioritise ahead of any action to help hard-working families in our country.

Yesterday the Chancellor had an opportunity to help people who are struggling in the here and now, and he refused to take it. This Government’s so-called long-term economic plan has failed on its own terms, and people

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on middle and lower incomes are paying the price. People know that this is not about how the pound looks but how many they have in their pockets. Today they have fewer than they did in 2010, and in 2015 they will have fewer than they had in 2010. It is the same old story—you are worse off under the Tories.

4.49 pm

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Sajid Javid): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood). This is the first time I have had an opportunity to speak in this House since learning of the sad death of the right hon. Tony Benn. With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to pay a short tribute to him. As a young boy growing up in Bristol, even though I did not necessarily agree with much of what he said, I admired him as a man of principle, passion and compassion. I extend my condolences to his family and friends.

I begin by thanking hon. Members from both sides of the Chamber for their contributions this afternoon. It has been good to hear some Labour Members actually offering opinions on the Budget’s measures, given their leader’s failure to do so yesterday. In 15 minutes at the Dispatch Box he more or less failed to acknowledge that the Budget even happened.

We should not be surprised. Not a single Labour Member seems to acknowledge the facts when they left office. They left the country with its biggest post-war recession, the largest budget deficit in the G20 and the largest banking bail-out in the world. Their policies destroyed the living standards of millions.

Shabana Mahmood: The Financial Secretary is talking about facts, so will he confirm one fact that his colleague the Chief Secretary to the Treasury failed to confirm yesterday, which is that working people are £1,600 a year worse off under this Government and that they will be worse off in 2015 than they were in 2010?

Sajid Javid: What I will confirm is that people in this country have been hurt because of the great recession that took place as a result of the Labour party’s policies. It was the biggest decline in our GDP in more than 100 years.

I am sure Labour Members will acknowledge that the best way to get our country back up on its feet and to improve the living standards of everyone in the UK is to have a growing economy that creates jobs. That is exactly what yesterday’s Budget continued to do. It is part of our long-term economic plan to give economic security to families across Britain and, through our increase to the personal allowance, to put more money back in the pockets of hard-working people.

Yesterday’s Budget sent a very clear message to all those businesses that are driving our economic recovery that, if they want to invest in new machinery, then, through our extension and expansion of the annual investment allowance, which will give 99% of businesses a 100% allowance, this Government will support them; if they want to manufacture but are concerned about the cost of energy, then, by capping the carbon price support rate, this Government will support them; if

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they want to export to emerging markets, then, with higher lending at lower interest rates, this Government will support them; and, crucially, if they want to employ, then, not just through our employment allowance, which comes into force next month, but through our extension of the apprenticeship grant for employers—which my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) has referred to—this Government will support them. Those are measures that will help businesses to invest, manufacture, export and employ. As such, I hope that everyone in this Chamber will support them.

Mr Stewart Jackson: On the subject of fairness, which I am sure my hon. Friend is alluding to, is he as pleased as I am that it is the Conservative party in a coalition Government that is tackling tax avoidance by reforming stamp duty in relation to shell companies with residential property? The Labour party did nothing about that in 13 years and it also increased pensions by 75p and cut expenditure.

Sajid Javid: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is under this Conservative-led Government that the rich are paying a higher proportion of tax than in each year the previous Government were in office.

Yesterday’s Budget also provided targeted support for some of those industries that are critical for our economy. It showed that we are supporting our construction sector by offering £500,000 to small house-building firms; that we are supporting our oil and gas sector by introducing a new allowance for ultra-high pressure, high-temperature fields, a measure that will increase investment and jobs; and that we are supporting our creative economy by introducing a theatre tax relief and extending our film tax credit, a measure that will build on the astronomical success of films such as “Gravity”. All those measures will put money and trust back into the hands of businesses, and give them the power to invest, expand and employ.

Yesterday’s Budget was all about trust—trust in the imagination and hard work of the British people to turn our economy around, and trust in the fiscal prudence of the British people to take their hard-earned pensions when they want, and to invest and spend them how they want.

Alex Cunningham Will the Minister give way?

Sajid Javid: I am afraid that I do not have time.

Most importantly, the Budget was about trust in British businesses, as was highlighted by my hon. Friends the Members for Dudley South (Chris Kelly), for Poole (Mr Syms), for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) and for Norwich North (Chloe Smith).

Alex Cunningham rose—

Sajid Javid: I will give way quickly.

Alex Cunningham: I am grateful to the Minister. The IFS has said today that the pension changes are based on “highly uncertain assumptions” that could lead to “market failure”. Would the Minister care to discuss that?

Sajid Javid: The pension changes will give people a choice that they have never had before: it is their pension, and it is their choice.

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Our businesses are not, as the Opposition would have us believe, the enemy; they are the reason why our economy is growing faster than any other advanced economy. They are the reason why more than 1.6 million jobs have been created in the private sector during the past four years. Many Opposition Members have spoken today about the importance of bringing down unemployment, on which they are absolutely right to focus. They might have some good ideas about how to do it, so I thought that I would look at the facts. I can report that unemployment went up during Labour’s last term and has fallen under this Government in the constituency of every Opposition Member who has spoken today. For example, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson), who is not in his place, unemployment went up 98% under Labour, and is down 29% under this Government. In the constituency of the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), it went up 96% under Labour, and is 17% down under this Government. Which Opposition Member saw the largest increase in unemployment? The right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) saw a record increase of 184% in unemployment in his constituency during Labour’s last term, when he was in office, but it is down 21% under this Government. As expected, Opposition Members know how to create problems, but they have no idea how to solve them.

This Government trust businesses and want to help them, and we want to help the savers, the doers and the makers. This Budget does all those things, and I commend it to the House.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.— (Mr Gyimah.)

Debate to be resumed Monday 24 March.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): If the shouting across the Chamber can stop—perhaps Ministers would like to go outside to do that—we can move on to the Adjournment.

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Hinkley Point C (Infrastructure Projects)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Gyimah.)

5 pm

Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): I want to thank Mr Speaker for granting this opportunity to debate the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, which, as I am sure hon. Members will have noticed, is somewhat remote from my Romsey and Southampton North constituency. In fact, it is more than 90 miles away. However, such a major infrastructure project, which will generate electricity and distribute it around the network, will have an impact on Romsey and Southampton North. Despite the distance, a group of residents in my constituency have valid concerns that Hinkley Point C has the potential to have a knock-on impact on the village of Nursling and, specifically, on a small group of residents who live near the local electricity substation.

Let me start by saying that I fully support the building of the new reactor at Hinkley Point and that I support an energy policy that is both affordable and diverse. The new power station is essential to keep the lights on. Along with developments in renewable energy, it will ensure that the UK’s energy needs are provided for. This is not, therefore, a speech that is anti-nuclear or anti-Hinkley Point. Neither is it a speech about energy policy.

This afternoon, I wish to give voice to my constituents’ concerns regarding the further development of an electricity substation that was built in the late 1960s and is now a potential part of National Grid’s planned infrastructure to deal with Hinkley Point when it comes online. Thus far, the planning process has denied my constituents that voice.

The Nursling substation is located in an extremely rural setting and occupies roughly a third of a 5-hectare field, the remainder of which has remained untouched since the substation was built. Outline planning permission was granted in 1963 and reserved matters were agreed in 1968. To call it a field is to do it an injustice. It is an important local amenity that enjoys a public right of way and is used by dog walkers and nature lovers from the local area. My constituents accurately call the field

“a piece of open countryside of rural character, which supports a diversity of wildlife”.

Although planning regulations might not regard it as such, that is, in my opinion, an exceptionally accurate description.

Close by sit a number of residential properties. There are two grade II listed buildings and two sites of special scientific interest, including the world-renowned River Test. There is no doubt that the field is a haven for wildlife. It includes a pond, which, along with the surrounding hedgerows, trees and grassland, provides a home for at least 12 species that are considered to be ‘protected’ under several pieces of UK and European legislation. There are slow worms, dormice, adders, water voles and the rare Cetti’s warbler, as well as other important birds and reptiles.

The field has been important in managing the recent floods, which have had a severe impact on my constituency. Recently, parts of it were under a metre of water. That is a subject of some importance, given that my constituency

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has been described by the Environment Agency as one of the most flood-prone areas of Hampshire. Therefore, it is perhaps not the best place to build a substation of this magnitude. Under the plans proposed by National Grid, the substation would approximately treble in size to accommodate two enormous quad boosters to deal with the electricity provided by Hinkley Point C.

My constituents maintain—and I share their concern—that, quite apart from the short-term nuisance that would be associated with the development, in the long term, the scheme has the potential to have a seriously negative impact on the surrounding area, the natural habitat and the amenity of the local residents. The footprint of the new substation will mean that the public right of way would be lost. This haven for wildlife would be concreted over to allow a dramatic increase in the size of the substation.

I share the concern of my constituents that, although the planning process underpinning the development of the actual power station at Hinkley Point has been absolutely transparent, the process for the development of what the Planning Act 2008 calls “associated developments” has not been quite so see-through in the case of Nursling.

It is apparent that the permission to develop the site, which is allowing National Grid to have an impact on the lives of local residents, remove a significant local amenity and destroy an important habitat, has been granted without those who have the most to lose having the right to be adequately consulted. That might come as a surprise to many who believe that we live in age of localism, in which those who will be most affected have the most say. However, because National Grid owns the field and has planning permissions dating back to its acquisition in the 1960s, the local planning authority has been obliged to issue a certificate of lawful permitted development because it has no choice. The residents can do nothing about it because they have no voice.

My constituents, who have produced an impressive dossier of information and data, assert that the development of the substation has avoided statutory and regulatory consent, and that the local planning authority has acted unlawfully in allowing it to go ahead. They have suggested that the decision should be judicially reviewed, on the basis that it should have been called in by the Secretary of State under the new powers granted to his office in the national planning policy framework. I will not comment on that assertion, but in an age of localism, I do not believe that a planning permission of the 1960s that was never extended over the full site should deny local residents an opportunity to register their objections, not least because the certificate of lawful permitted development means that National Grid is not obliged to do anything to ameliorate the negative impact that its development could have.

It is clear that Hinkley Point C is a development that will benefit the whole country, including my constituents. However, that of itself does not justify denying them a voice when it comes to related or secondary infrastructure projects that could have a negative impact on them.

The project was granted permission by the Secretary of State in March 2013, following a six-month consultation process that was headed up by the Planning Inspectorate and involved a panel of examining officers. There is

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nothing to suggest that there was anything untoward in the process by which the Secretary of State reached his decision and upon which he issued his consent order. Nor am I suggesting that the local planning authority has acted in anything other than a perfectly correct manner—I will leave others to decide whether that is the case. What is clear, however, is that for right or wrong, there has been not been an opportunity for the people of Nursling to be consulted about the impact of the additional infrastructure that is needed to distribute the power generated by Hinkley Point C, and that is unjustified.

The planning guidance associated with the 2008 Act, which was drafted specifically to deal with large infrastructure projects such Hinkley Point C, clearly lists electricity substations as the type of “associated development” for which planning permission may be granted. Indeed, the guidance states that it is

“designed to help those who intend to make an application for development consent under the Planning Act to determine how the provisions of the Planning Act in respect of associated development apply to their proposals.”

But there we have the nub of the problem—there is no application. That means that there is no opportunity for the local community to be consulted.

The field is subject to a certificate of lawful development granted in 1963, based on an outline planning permission, by an authority that no longer has planning powers. Because of that 1963 planning permission and the subsequent permitted development, the site is not part of the consultation on Hinkley Point C. In planning terms the expansion already exists, so it does not have to be part of the infrastructure consultation. It is a classic Catch-22 situation for my constituents—because there is nothing that can be done to prevent the substation from being built, there is no mechanism by which my constituents can express their view. How can it be right that a major infrastructure project affecting my constituents can go ahead without the need for National Grid to obtain any approvals for that part of it from any local or national Government Department and without any need to consult the residents affected? Does that example demonstrate that the Government need to review procedures for major infrastructure developments to ensure that the public have the right to be consulted in such cases?

I wish to raise several points with my hon. Friend the Minister this afternoon and ask him to consider some actions to prevent such a situation from happening again. First, should there be some sort of time limit for the completion of development for which full planning permission has been granted? In the field that I have mentioned, because the original substation was built in the 1960s and the entire field was included in the outline planning permission, the development is considered to have been started and concluded, but actually most of the site is untouched. A statute of limitation would mean that further development on the field could be subject to a fresh planning application.

Secondly, how is it that in a six-month planning consultation there was no possibility of this associated development being considered or consulted on? National Grid states that proposals of this type “normally” require permission from the Secretary of State, so why should planning permission dating back around 50 years allow this development to proceed without any of the usual requirements that something of this scale and

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magnitude would normally need? Indeed, I am not sure that the report by the panel of examining inspectors even considered that part of the development. National Grid simply did not include the development at Nursling in its application because it considered, in planning terms, that it already exists when it patently does not.

My constituents ask why the local planning authority was not obliged to screen the development, or to request a screening opinion from the Secretary of State to ascertain whether there was need for an environmental impact assessment. That is a relevant question because the land was deemed to be operational, despite the fact that it had never been used as such, which meant that an EIA was not required. That is a bizarre state of affairs. How can a rural field, full of wildlife, including protected species, within 200 yards of the protected site of special scientific interest of the River Test and untouched by development, be regarded in some way as “operational” land?

My constituents believe that the site should not have been granted a certificate of lawful permitted development, particularly given that in the borough local plan, that field had been designated as countryside for years. Needless to say, they are deeply concerned about potential risks to their health from this development, and complain that they have been give no information about how it will affect them. They feel unconsulted and ignored, denied at every turn the chance to have their voice heard. I thank Mr Speaker for this opportunity to air the concerns of my constituents, and the Minister for any response he may be able to give.

5.11 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Brandon Lewis): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) on securing this debate, on raising an issue that her constituents are concerned about, and on describing her efforts to resolve the situation and get some clarity. This debate has raised important issues about the planning process and how it goes ahead with community engagement. I am pleased to have the chance to respond.

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing to my attention this complex planning case in her constituency, because it gives us the chance to consider some of the issues behind it. We are always interested to hear about local experiences of the planning system, and suggestions for how the system could be improved in the future. Her comments are now on the record, as are her suggestions for ways to ensure that situations that create the kinds of problems her constituents feel they are going through cannot occur. I hope that she appreciates that I cannot comment on specific cases because of the Secretary of State’s role in the planning process, but I am more than happy to speak in general terms about the issues she raises.

Let me make it clear that the planning system—which we have greatly improved since we took office—is designed to help secure the delivery of sustainable development. A number of different processes are in place to help to secure that outcome and ensure effective engagement with local people and their accountable councils in a proportionate way. Without commenting on the specific details of this case, as I understand it, the application for a lawful development certificate was with regard to

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the scope of permitted development, and not to the scope of any earlier planning permission. Therefore it might be helpful if I explain the mechanisms that I think are relevant and, in particular, the scope of statutory undertakers to undertake development without the need for planning permission—commonly referred to as permitted development. I shall also consider the purpose of lawful development certificates, and the process that is followed when an application for a certificate is made.

National permitted development rights allow certain building works and changes of use to be carried out without an application. I stress, however, that those rights are typically subject to a number of conditions and limitations that control impact and protect local amenities. For example, there could be limits on the height and size of buildings. In some cases, based on the scale of existing structures, there are a number of protected geographical areas, including areas of outstanding natural beauty, and national parks, where certain permitted development rights are not available, or size limits are reduced.

I should add that even if a planning application is not needed, other consents, such as operating licences, may be required under other regimes. These rights are set out in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, as amended. Members may be particularly interested in part 17 of schedule 2 to the order—I know it is something they will all want to be reading when they get back home tonight. Part 17 permits a range of types of development by bodies such as statutory undertakers, carrying out their functions under statutory powers. For example, under class G of part 17, certain development is permitted for the generation, transmission or supply of electricity. However, in common with most other parts of the permitted development order, there are a range of restrictions on these rights. For example, some of the rights do not apply in a national park, an area of outstanding national beauty or a site of special scientific interest. There are a number of restrictions in relation to the height and volume of the different types of structures that can be erected, and, in some cases, electricity undertakers must seek prior approval of the design and external appearance of certain proposed buildings. These rights provide important flexibilities for statutory undertakers to undertake development quickly and effectively, given the vital role they play in delivering national infrastructure.

It is important to note that although there is no legal requirement on all statutory undertakers to carry out a public consultation for development under permitted development rights, we have it made clear in our planning guidance, which is now available online in a usable and accessible way, that public consultation may be beneficial if development is expected to have a particularly significant impact. In such instances, consultation could be initiated by either the local planning authority or the statutory undertaker. Any consultation should allow adequate time to consider representations and, if necessary, amend proposals. In some cases, where it is not clear whether proposals can be considered permitted development, it is possible to apply for a lawful development certificate for a legally binding decision from the local planning authority. This is often used if there is any ambiguity over whether the proposal is within the scope of permitted development set out in the general permitted development order I mentioned a few moments ago.

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Local planning authorities can seek information from the public on applications for lawful development certificates, if they feel that it would help them reach a decision on whether a development meets these legal requirements. I stress that the purpose of lawful development certificates is to confirm what is lawfully permitted already, having regard to existing extant planning permissions and the scope for permitted development. They cannot be used to secure planning permission for a new form of development. In considering whether the proposal was permitted development, the local planning authority would have had regard to the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011. Permitted development rights cannot be exercised without the local planning authority’s approval in a European site designated under the habitats or wild birds directive.

Clearly, where a proposal is not permitted development, a planning application, as we would expect, is required to be made for permission to carry out development. Such applications would be dealt with in the normal way by the local planning authority, including by providing the opportunity for interested parties to make their views heard. If planning permission is granted, development must take place in accordance with the permission, approved plans and any planning conditions attached to the permission. The development must be commenced within a specified time limit, or the planning permission will lapse.

If a developer subsequently seeks to modify or extend a development that has planning permission, they would need to speak to the local planning authority. Any proposed material change to the approved development, even a minor one, would require the submission of a planning application, which would of course again be subject to public consultation. If a developer constructs

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something different from the planning permission, including going beyond what is allowed by permitted development rights, the unauthorised development may be subject to enforcement action.

Finally, I would also like to turn briefly to the matter of Hinkley Point C in Somerset. Following extensive community engagement, the proposed nuclear power plant obtained development consent through the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime in March last year. I can confirm that the expansion of the Nursling substation did not form part of the development consent order for Hinkley Point C and it was not an associated development. There are changes in electricity generation in the south-west generally, including at Hinkley Point C, which may require changes at Nursling. As I understand it, however, the Hinkley Point C connector project, which is at pre-application stage, does not include proposals at Nursling substation.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to a debate about these important matters. Let me again thank my hon. Friend for her contribution, and for the ideas that she has advanced. I hope that we have been able to make clear, in the national planning policy framework and in our new suite of planning guidance, that development —whatever it is, and whatever it ought to be—should receive the scrutiny that it deserves, and that the public locally want to see. However, we must also ensure that the planning process does not impose unnecessary burdens that could prevent development from proceeding. We believe that we have provided a framework that strikes the right balance between protecting public amenities and controlling local impact, and allowing the development that our country needs in order to prosper in the 21st century.

Question put and agreed to.

5.20 pm

House adjourned.