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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I have an amendment within this short group, which provides what I hope is the spectacular and usual British comprise. Instead of "three years", we have moved to "four". There has been great concern about the matter, although not for the smaller scale application. We are not talking about the length of time taken over planning permission for a small-scale development, although, having said that, a long period in that regard can sometimes sterilise what happens to a property. We are talking about the larger developments. There has been great concern
I note the Minister's amendment, but it will help only in an extreme case, when judicial review has been implemented. It does not really take us very far. The applications in question, relating to something more than a small domestic extension, probably amount to about 20 per cent of any local authority's applications.
The Minister says all the time that the whole purpose of the Bill is to speed up the planning process. However, it represents a serious slowing down of the process if a developer who gets to the end of the three years for a development of 50 or 200 houses on a brownfield site and is not quite ready has to put in a whole new planning application. If at the outset he is told that he can have a longer time if necessary, the issue may be resolved. But if he comes up to the end of the three-year period and is not ready to go and has to put in a new application, timescales will move forward in any event.
It is also true that when an application for renewal is considered, it is not exactly a fresh application or a fresh field. I have recently had this experience as a member of a planning authority. A material consideration for the planning committee is whether or not approval was given. It is a different hearing from a hearing in consideration of a fresh application. All that can take extra time.
Four years is certainly not three years and certainly not five years, but it would represent a half-way house. It would give more time for major developers to bring their plans to fruition and, perhaps, ensure that it was not necessary for them to put in a new application because they might complete the process within that time.
I hope that this amendment is helpful, in the context of a vexed situation over the length of planning permissionsvexed for the local authority and for any developer trying to assemble a site and introduce something that is not entirely straightforward or run of the mill.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am disappointed that the Government should have chosen not to accept the amendments on this matter. It seems to me that the Barker review demonstrated quite clearly that there is no evil that needs dealing with and that by and large sites are built out as soon as they reasonably may be given all the problems of putting them together and the commercial considerations surrounding the site, and that there is no delay that needs dealing with. All the Government are doing is, I think, creating potential for chaos in a small number of cases and inconveniencing many. It saddens me that the Government should have come back on this but unless my noble friend or the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, jumps up and calls us to a Division, I suspect that I shall have to put up with it.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, the noble Lord should not be so sad as he sounds. Anyone would think that the Government had not moved on the matter. The other place has put amendments before your Lordships' House, to which it seeks your Lordships' agreement, that show considerable movement. The statement by the Minister also shows movement. It is quite clear that if a development is perceived to need a period of four years or five years, it will get it. The relevant issues are debated beforehand so there is a degree of certainty there.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made a fair point about the agencies and the other bodies. They are a law unto themselves but they are statutory bodiesthat is why they are a law unto themselves. I hope that I can answer her question in that regard. If when considering the duration of time needed for a planning permission a local planning authority thinks that the time needed to assemble the finance and the land and to consult other bodies is relevant, that matter will be a material consideration to which the authority must have regard. In other words, the "other bodies" will cover the agencies plus other relevant bodies in addition to those that the noble Baroness mentioned. A matter can be considered a material consideration. I think that is the central question that the noble Baroness asked me.
I believe that we have a good compromise. The flexible three-year period is almost like flexible retirement. One thing is certainit is not a rigid three-year period. That was made absolutely clear in the statement made following the points raised in the other place. The three-year period is flexible. It is a default three-year period as opposed to a five-year period; we want to speed up the process. The flexible three-year period should not give developers any problems whatever. Even at this final stage of the Bill the Government have tried to compromise, as we ever seek to do when listening to reasonable arguments. We have a compromise here. I repeat that the three-year period is flexible, not rigid. If it started out as a rigid three-year period, I apologise. There was always a degree of flexibility there, but I do not suppose that we highlighted that as we should have done.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, it is clearly important that the Government are making the position clear to the planning and development community, if I can call it that. Issuing new guidance is important but it does not change things. I do not want to sound too scratchy as I welcome what the Government are doing, but I do not think that the Minister can quite claim that they have moved in the way that he suggested. The Government are clarifying the 1990 Act. Welcome as that clarification will be, we know that concerns remain. I would not like to deprive the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, of the opportunity to express his view because I should like to express mine. I should like finally to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.