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This Government also want to see an unprecedented transfer of power and influence direct to local people; elected representatives who are not afraid of the views of local people but enriched and strengthened by them.[Official Report, Commons, 8/11/07; col. 262.]
Last night I went to a Colne Neighbourhood Action Group meeting, which is part of the local neighbourhood management system in the ward I try to represent. If I had gone in and said, Hello, I have come to be enriched and strengthened. How are you going to go about it?, the people attending may have thought that I was daft. Nevertheless, I understand the meaning of the words. During the first 20 minutes of the meeting we were shown a video put together by young teenagers on how they see the problems of their fellow young teenagers and older teenagers in the area, and quite a lot of older people were interviewed as well. I think that that is what the Government are talking about.
Last Friday, I attended a smaller meeting with community representatives, local organisations, residents and council officers to thrash out the priorities for spending our money on improving facilities and the environment. Together, these illustrate my first major point. Community involvement is a very good thing and all very well, but it needs resources to do it properly. To ask councils to do this at the same time as they have a revenue support settlement which is certainly below the level of real inflation for councils, while at the same time being asked to make 3 per cent cashable efficiency savings each year, which over three years adds up to more than 10 per cent of the budget, is very difficult. People will not be interested in being involved if discussing where to make cuts is all that happens. They might organise and campaign against those cuts, but I am not sure that that is the kind of community engagement the Government are thinking about.
It does not seem very long since we were discussing the 2004 planning Act in this House. The new planning system has led to more top-down decision-making and more micromanagement from above, as well as detailed planning and detailed micromanagement. If we and the Government are serious about getting local councils to get far more people involved in serious decision-making, the councils have to be free to make those decisions before they can be devolved. You cannot devolve powers to the community or residents if you no longer have those powers because the system is so top-down and so micromanaged.
I would love to talk about lots of things but my six minutes are now up and I am reminded that if we had a chairman in the House of Lords who controlled us, I would be passed a note saying Your time is up. Please sit down. I shall say one more thing on housing, which is a point I shall raise time and again. There will be 3 million new housing units in the next few years, which is great. Some of us would love to contribute to that. I could contribute a few hundred in my ward where we would love to have new housing to regenerate brownfield sites, old mill sites and derelict land, and have some really good community-based housing regeneration. During the next few years we will spend a lot of time struggling to get the Government to agree for us to do that because the top-down planning system in our area is telling us not how many new houses we have to build but that we cannot build any more at all. There is a contradiction at the heart of the system. In many places where new housing will help to regenerate communities we are not being allowed to build them. There will be lots of interesting discussion on these Bills and I look forward to them.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, I should like to take a local angle on the gracious Speech. The Isle of Wight, with its population of 130,000, the second lowest wage level in the country and more than 25 per cent of the population on benefits, belies somewhat the general perception given by the wealth of Cowes Week, the largest yachting event in the world.
But more important than these statisticsfamiliar or unfamiliarare the plans to become the first eco-island in Europe, as recently announced by the Isle of Wight Council. This would involve using more renewable energy such as tidal and wind power, recycled wasteincluding that from 5,500 cows to run buseswith cyclists and horses being given the same space as motorists. The islands target is to be carbon neutral within the decade. Sir Terry Farrell, who has developed the worlds largest eco-city in China, is involved. Although most waste at present goes to landfill sites, the council is now applying to be one of 25 European geoparks because of the islands unique geology, which I am told regularly sees bits of dinosaurs turning up on its beaches after storms. Of course, the island is very proud to be an exclusive haven for the red squirrel.
The chief executive of the council has high hopes for the creation of wealth and the island is becoming a major exporter of green energy from tidal power alone. In that regard, the Energy Bill needs to echo some of the words of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, at the beginning of this debate. It needs to be far more robust, as this kind of project will need careful nurturing, particularly as the south appears to have received what I am told is the worst settlement from government in 20 years.
That leads me to Portsmouth, which is full of its usual energy, determination and local pride, but where no less than £18 million has to be cut from the city budget. Rumours about changing the funding formula
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To take another example, the local strategic partnership in Portsmouth had a consultation with the local community that included many young people. They quickly articulated as the highest priorities the need to improve educational attainment and the need for affordable and accessible transport, which is becoming a chronic problem across the area. The promised freedoms to local authorities over transport lead some of us to think that it might be possible to resurrect the LRT system, involving both Gosport and Portsmouth. Toll roads and congestion charges are unlikely to do the trick on their own.
I want briefly to pay tribute to the work of the churches and the faith communities in their civic engagement in a whole number of ways, particularly the work of civic chaplaincy. I am thinking, for example, of the dean of Portsmouths relationship with the city council and that of the vicar of Newport and the archdeacon of the Isle of Wight with the Isle of Wight Council. The civic dimension forms an important feature of the consultation process when they are appointed in the first place.
In conclusion, I want to say how much promise the gracious Speech holds out for the future, and I hope very much that the balance of both central and localwe are arguably the most centrally controlled nation in Europewill be watched carefully and sensitively by all those involved as the new concordat between central and local government emerges.
My last word is a personal one. I have been ill and am recovering. My consultant has encouraged me to get out and about, which for me means coming here. But if it means that for the first time in eight years that I am not present at the end of tonights proceedings, I hope that noble Lords will forgive my crime.
Lord Giddens: My Lords, I should also like to discuss aspects of the Climate Change Bill, and begin by saying that I was heartened by two themes of the opening speeches. The first is that, in terms of its implications, the Climate Change Bill is the most far-reaching for this country and indeed for the rest of the world than any of the clutter of Bills under
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and I believe in that theorem. I think that there will be an efflorescence of technological innovation over the next 10 to 20 years in which this country should surely play its part. But any student of climate change will recognise that technological innovation will never be enough. We must look at lifestyle change and at the policies which could help us to produce far-reaching lifestyle change not only in our country but also in other countries around the world. It is this issue that I should like to talk about.
We know quite a bit about the conditions under which people can be persuaded to change their behaviour. One of the most famous examples of this comes from North Karelia in Finland. About 20 years ago, the local people consumed a fat-rich diet. There were high levels of heart attack, type 2 diabetes and other ailments that follow such a diet. Over a period of some 15 years, people were persuaded to change their lifestyle habits and diet. In relation to the words of the previous speaker, I should say that this was achieved almost wholly through a bottom-up endeavour. Groups all over the country took part in discussions to achieve this end, and it is recognised as one of the most successful examples of lifestyle change.
However, one can recognise that there are particular difficulties regarding the lifestyle changes necessary to meet the climate change targets being set by the Government. I shall briefly list three. The first is one that I am sure I should not mention in the House of Lords because people do not like long terms, but it is what economists call hyperbolic discountingwhich I thought might raise a laugh among your Lordships. It means that we all tend to discount the future in the face of the present. People prefer small rewards in the present to large rewards in the future, even if those future rewards are guaranteed. A good way of thinking about what future discounting means is this. Many noble Lords receive invitations to speak at conferences around the world. If you get an invitation to an event a year and a half ahead, you might say, That sounds like a good idea. Ill accept. But tomorrow always comes and you find yourself going to fulfil that obligation. Anyone who is invited to speak at a conference should always ask themselves, Would I go if it were being held tomorrow?. Unfortunately, the same principle applies to climate change. People find it very hard to
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Secondly, lifestyle change in respect of climate change is quite different from activities such as giving up smoking. Not smoking affects the individual who has been a smoker. In the case of climate change, all individuals are asked to change their behaviour to achieve a collective outcome. In political science, this famously produces a free-riding issue: everyone thinks that someone else should do it. It is so easy to say, I am going to go on driving my 4x4. Somebody else must make the change. I have heard people say that this country produces only 2 per cent of global emissions and therefore it is not our problem. That is a way of thinking which we have to overcome. Thirdly, there are many sceptics around, and they can support vested interests. For example, German car manufacturers are currently trying to stop the imposition of speed limits on the autobahnen in Germany.
What do we do about it? I would suggest three things. First, we need more study of the issues. Contrary to what has been said about Defra, I think that that department is in the lead here. Defra has some very interesting research materials which suggest that to change things, you must have a positive and energetic element, not just a negative one. Defra talks of the three Es, which roughly translate as explain, energise and empower. It could be argued that these things were not done with road congestion, and that is why the road congestion programme met its untimely end. Secondly, we must have more hypothecated taxes. The Treasury must be persuaded to drop its opposition to such taxes because otherwise people always say that these are stealth taxes. That was what was said about road congestion.
Thirdly, we should start here in this place. I do not know how many noble Lords read the piece in the newspapers about installing a giant windmill on top of the Houses of Parliament to power the whole building, but why do we not start with smaller changes? I am amazed at how many people leave the lights and the central heating on, or the air conditioning in the summer. People are parking vast, gas-guzzling cars outside the House of Lords. Surely we could have a range of changes that start here. Those who want to lead the country should do so not just by what they say, but by what they do.
Baroness Greengross: My Lords, I shall concentrate my remarks on planning and housing. For more years than I like to admit, I have read about initiatives to speed up the planning process. The pages of Hansard are littered with the good intentions of successive Governments and the pages of our newspapers are equally littered with complaints about how the system still does not work. Let me be clear: this is in no way to decry or to minimise the importance of this latest initiative by the Government. Like many others, I would welcome a responsible speeding-up of the planning process. It is commendable that the Government recognise the problems engendered by such delays.
Over that same period, and almost running in tandem, are the repeated commitments to giving communities and individuals a greater and more meaningful say in the determining of such applications. A fundamental problem has dogged all previous attempts at dealing with this, which is that no one has yet found a satisfactory way of reconciling the two. The simple fact is that a vast amount of the delay in determining an application is the direct result of trying to give communities the greatest say. If you allow objection, consider it properly, explore legal challenges and then explain the reasons for accepting or rejecting it, that is very time consuming. It is exactly that which all too often leads to charges of unreasonable delay in reaching a decision.
Yet to speed that up, to try to short cut local involvement, leads to the counter charges that the people have not been listened to properly. Unless the Government can face up to that dilemma and offer a workable and acceptable solution, they are merely going to perpetuate the situation where either developers complain of outrageous delay or communities and individuals complain of having been steamrollered. Were I the Government, I am certain that before advancing any legislation to speed up the process I would have satisfied myself that this perennial problem is capable of solution. It would be a great comfort to me and, I suspect, to many others in your Lordships House if the Ministers were able not only to reassure us that they, too, recognise the importance of this but to share with us how the Government have considered this point and how this time they intend to address it.
The idea of a single consent regime for nationally significant schemes sounds so reasonable as to require no debate until one lays down what is and what is not significant. Even if everyone agrees, the problem remains of how the local authoritywhich, in the end, is the local authorityhas its own proper say. Allowing that all that can be addressed, I find it difficult to distinguish such a procedure from the long-practised one of the Secretary of State calling in an application so that he can determine it himself. Is this really any advance on the old system of calling in?
Turning to a more specific project, I hope that when considering planning policy the Government will prioritise and take forward the underserved markets project, which was set up to promote greater retail investment in Englands 88 most deprived communities. This listed a number of actions in PPS 6 that local planning authorities must undertake to enhance consumer choice through a range of shopping, leisure and local services, promoting social inclusion, encouraging investment and enhancing the physical environment, which together can do a great deal to regenerate deprived areas of the country. This scheme was based on a United States scheme that transformed parts of the poorer south and Harlem in New York City. I do not know whether the Minister agrees, but it might make sense for the all-party group on responsible business practice or CSR, which I chair, to work with the Government on taking this initiative forward. I would love to do that.
Issues of demographic change are dear to my heart. We know that in this country people are reluctant to move from their homes and that many people, particularly older people, are underoccupying family homes that are larger than they need. We must encourage lifetime housing that adapts to peoples needs as they go through the life course. The Government need to make sure that the housing strategy gives access to housing advice, information, financial products and other support for people at different stages in their lives, both those who wish to move home and contribute to a dynamic market and those who want to stay where they are but need help to do so. I was very encouraged by the Ministers obvious commitment to this approach.
A specific point that is worrying, however, is that the Government have recently changed the public service agreement relating to decent homes standards, PSA 7. Whereas previously the commitment was made for 70 per cent of all homes in the private sector occupied by vulnerable people to meet the decent homes targets, this has now been dropped. Although a departmental target remains in its place, and indeed the PSA targets for decent homes for vulnerable people will remain for the social housing sector, we risk the issue of decent homes in the private sector being ignored by local authorities, which will be reluctant to allocate resources to programmes that do not need to keep performance indicators. As private housing is the majority tenure for all households, this is extremely important.
Finally, will the Government give a bankable assurance that they will give a strong steer to all the regions that their regional spatial strategy will recognise the fundamental importance of our demographically changing population in every supporting strategy to which it refers and include a specific overarching commitment to address this that is backed by meaningful statutory guidance?
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, energy and the environment will occupy a great deal of our time in the coming Session and, like others, I regret that they are not down to be debated together. I fear that that represents a lack of joined-up thinking within government.
I served on the Joint Committee on the Draft Climate Change Bill. The draft Bill was also examined by two committees of another place. The Government have already indicated that the Bill promised in the gracious Speech will contain a number of improvements. The work that the committees have done has been worth while, not only because of the changes already made but because both Houses will have before them a mass of useful material.
My objective in committee was to challenge the Governments assertion, now repeated in the gracious Speech, that the Bill would introduce a legally binding framework. The committee shared my scepticism about legal enforceability, an issue on which this House is well qualified to adjudicate. One positive
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Moving to consider energy issues, we will need to challenge the realism of the current EU and government commitment that 20 per cent of total energy must come from renewables by 2020. The object of the exercise should be the level of greenhouse gases, not the type of power generation. We will need a combination of solutions that will include nuclear if we are to secure both our environmental and security objectives.
I will concentrate the remainder of my remarks on the report by the Sustainable Development Commission on tidal power and a possible Severn barrage. I am surprised that in its appraisal of tidal stream technologies the SDC made no reference to the important announcement last March that the power company E.ON, in partnership with Lunar Energy, is to develop off the Welsh coast the first commercial-scale tidal stream energy plant anywhere in the world. The plans to build this plant have been submitted to BERR; it is to be sited in the strong tidal currents in St Davids Sound, off the coast of my former constituency, with the aim of being fully operational by 2011. If this project is a success, it will be a significant step forward.
Reading the SDC report on the barrage, with its long list of key issues not yet studied, let alone resolved, one finds surprising its positive conclusion that there is a strong case to be made for a sustainable Severn barrage. The report identifies a large number of unknowns, which,
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