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In our generation, we are facing the great challenge of building differently for our social infrastructure and communities, which must withstand climate extremes. It is not just a question of mitigation and how we build differently and protect our communities, but of, through eco-towns, pioneering ways to enhance biodiversity, our habitats and our ability to improve, not just withstand, climate change and what has happened to our environment. These are not satellite commuter towns.

I appreciate the responses coming from different parts of the country to the challenge of having an eco-town identified. The invitation went out; we had 57 responses; and we made a judgment on which of those 57 were sustainable. The majority were rejected because they did not show evidence of innovation and sustainability. We are still at a very early stage. These are potential sites; we have to look at each of them to

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see whether they will deliver for the local community—not just whether they will show exemplary opportunity from which the country as a whole can learn but whether they will suit the needs of the local community. They must be something that the local community owns, is involved with and is committed to.

The noble Lord will know that we are now consulting on the 15 potential sites—it is sites, not schemes, that we are looking at. That consultation is proceeding alongside an extensive sustainability appraisal and an attempt to draw out a policy statement that will be a planning document to determine whether the criteria that we want for eco-towns will be fully met. If they are not met at the final stage, the planning application will not be sustainable. It will have to meet the material consideration of the planning document, along with everything else, including the development plan.

If a current development plan is not there because the LDF is not ready, the old plan will guide our judgment, as will the regional spatial strategies. The whole point about eco-towns is that they are part of the planning process; they are not extra to or alongside it. I heard what that the noble Lord said about how people feel that they have not been consulted in that instance; I hope that they have. Consultation is of the essence of our planning system and we prepare for it in every way. Consultation is built into all the different stages. It can take different forms. Bidders should be offering their plans in detail to the local community to be scrutinised, challenged and interrogated and local authorities should be doing their job of informing local people about the choice in front of them.

That is the beginning of the process; nothing is a fait accompli. When those decisions are eventually made—I have no idea how many there will be; there could be five; none of us has any idea at this stage—there will be opportunities throughout the process for local people to have their say.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: I look forward to that process, but is the noble Baroness saying that she does not yet know whether eco-towns will be built at all? When the policy paper was issued, there was no consultation about whether there should be eco-towns, but simply some sort of consultation about what they should be. The decision appeared to have been taken that there would be five and then 10 eco-towns. Is the position still that there will be 10 eco-towns? Secondly, the noble Baroness said that local authorities and local people must be involved, but the consultation process ends on 30 June. Two local authorities have stated their position, reflecting the wishes of the people in their community. Does that count for anything in the Minister’s thinking?

Baroness Andrews: I will check the first point. On the other point, of course local involvement counts. All the responses that we get from local authorities will be taken seriously. They are an important part of the debate, an important signifier, and will be taken into account. On the question of whether there will be eco-towns, we have said that there will be five by 2016 and up to 10 by 2010. That is where the policy sits.

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The point that I want to make is central to the debate as a whole. We need to go back to the principle that planning has always been an accommodation of local and national interests. We have in the HCA an opportunity for the first time to give local authorities a single point of contact—a single conversation. That means that throughout the process we listen very carefully to what people are saying. It cannot be otherwise.

Back gardens are an equally sensitive issue. Simply, I cannot improve very much on what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said. We have a special regard for all aspects of green space. PPS 17, which I am sure we will talk about, deals with planning for open spaces, sport and recreation, and sets out guidance and the expectation that local planning authorities will protect all open spaces that communities need.

In PPS 3, on planning for housing, we have for the first time put a new emphasis on the importance of green spaces alongside the importance of access to gardens and housing developments. Nothing has changed for many years in the powers of local authorities to protect gardens. The classification of gardens as brownfield sites goes back to the 1990s. Local authorities have exactly the same powers that they have always had to draw up policies that protect gardens.

PPS 3 gives local planning authorities even greater flexibility on the kind of housing that they wish to see in their areas. It strengthens the tools that local authorities already had under previous policy to turn down inappropriate developments on former residential or garden land. That means that local authorities can set strong and specific local policies that protect gardens in particular areas. For the first time, they can set brownfield targets that apply only to back gardens. They can separate them from other forms of brownfield sites such as derelict land, and can identify the need for gardens and other green spaces in plans for new developments.

I do not dispute that there is a lot of pressure on local authorities these days, but any local authority worth its salt can draw up a specific policy for the protection of gardens, which many have done. There is nothing to stop them doing so. If we were to reclassify them, we would have to take issue with the whole notion of curtilage. I will not weary the Committee with why that is a problem. I am prepared to write a very long letter about the history of curtilage—the relationship between land and buildings—but all I can say is that if you try to reclassify it, you might end up with never being able to extend your house to build a granny annexe. It would cause a lot of problems for people who wanted to make responsible and appropriate changes. I take the point that local authorities must be challenged, if necessary, to take care of these sorts of issues.

I shall deal with flood assessments and Amendment No. 77 at the same time. I have unusually harsh words for the amendment, which is a mixture of the unnecessary and the confusing. It is unnecessary because English Partnerships already performs this task and will continue to do so. The National Land Use Database aims to provide an inventory of the

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national stock of vacant and/or derelict land and buildings. Its objective is to provide a consistent and comprehensive up-to-date record of previously developed land and buildings in England that are available for development. I am glad to say that we already have this in hand.

The amendment confuses the brownfield argument. Previously developed land is of course a priority for housing in PPS 3. We have exceeded our national targets. We had a target of the 60 per cent development of brownfield land, and we are now reaching 75 per cent, which is very good. That does not, however, mean using brownfield land at all costs. Developments may be more sustainable in greenfield sites. For example, if a hypothetical application comes in for a care home on a greenfield site at the edge of a market town, where the residents can walk to the local shops, bus station or whatever, there is an argument that that is a more sustainable and appropriate site than building a home on a brownfield site with no access to shops, services and community. So you cannot be categorical and say “brownfield better; greenfield worse” every time. That is the problem of categorising brownfield in this way.

6.15 pm

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: Of the Minister’s 75 per cent, what is the current gardens figure?

Baroness Andrews: I do not know. We have been asked this question. Because we do not require a return to be made within that definition, I do not have that information. I will take advice about that and, if I can give any sort of ball-park figure, I will come back to the Committee with it.

Flooding is an important issue and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, powerfully raised the issue of its impact. We put forward up to £180 million to try to help with some of those tragic situations; that is vital. The point about PPS 25 is that it gives us, for the first time, a hierarchy of risk, which we identify in terms of where we can build with modification. How do we assess the nature of the risk and what do we have to do? As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has said, you cannot not build on flood areas in this country; you must assess the risk. That is where the Environment Agency comes in. PPS 25 gives us a much more accurate tool than we have ever had before.

In addition, the Environment Agency crucially works closely with local authorities, which must do the flood assessment with it; that cannot be the job of the HCA. I take the noble Lord’s point, however, that we must make a proper response to the Pitt report.

I am conscious of time. In conclusion, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that density is an issue. It exacerbates all the issues we are talking about. However, the challenge is to build for higher densities and include space; think of the Italian piazzas or Kensington crescent. We can do that with intelligence.

I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, about MoD land. It is not as he says at all. We must get good value for our own public land, which is

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making a big contribution to how much, where and how we can build. I am sorry that the noble Lord is not in his place, but to put it as he did, in terms of a degree of exploitation, was unnecessary and inaccurate. I hope that, after that long debate, the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Earl Cathcart: That was a very long and useful debate. On the first amendment on eco-towns, no doubt the Minister read in the press about the noble Lord, Lord Rogers of Riverside—who was chairman of the Government’s urban taskforce or something—talking about eco-towns a couple of days ago:

He went on to say that the Government should concentrate on the regeneration of towns and cities, rather than developing greenfield sites. He then cited the US Green Building Council, which apparently demonstrated that building more accommodation in a dense urban centre was far more efficient than an eco-home on a greenfield location. He went on to say that there is a need to increase the density around public transport, not creating a new town where you must then create a new transport system. Urban areas already have transport systems and infrastructure in place. By building your eco-communities in an urban setting, you are making use of the facilities and the infrastructure that are already there. I will come back to infrastructure in a moment.

There is an odd argument here. When food prices are going up and we are talking about world food shortages, why are we building on agricultural land? Some of the building will be on MoD land, but why are we building on agricultural land? We should not be doing that. We need our agricultural land to produce food. It cannot be a green, sustainable answer to concrete over our most productive arable land in order to create communities. We live in an increasingly wasteful, throw-away society. Some 750,000 or 1 million homes are empty. Why are we not concentrating on those? What will be the unit cost per house in an eco-town? It will probably be £80,000 or so. What is the cost per unit of getting an empty home back into use? It is probably a quarter of that figure. Given that the Government have a finite amount of money available over the next three years, I argue that their money would be much better spent in ways other than building eco-towns. I think that the sum of £8 billion was mentioned the other day with regard to the money that the Government will allocate to providing affordable housing. At £80,000 a shot, that is 100,000 new homes over the three-year period. If that finite amount of money were allocated to getting empty homes back into use at, say, £20,000 a shot, you immediately have not 100,000 but 400,000 homes in use. That might be a better way to use that money. There are other ways of dealing with this.

I was heartened by the response on gardens. I shall read what the Minister said and perhaps take that back to my council and get it to toughen its stance in that regard. I was also heartened to hear that English

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Partnerships is already pursuing this policy as regards brownfield sites. The amendment seeks to ensure that the policy is carried over into the HCA.

As regards flooding, I am trying to get the Department for Communities and Local Government to discuss the Pitt report with Defra to see what laws or rules and regulations need changing or amending. PPS 25 may need toughening up. Certainly, some of the existing rules and regulations will need to be amended. It is no good Defra doing this on its own without talking to the Minister’s department. The amendment seeks to get everyone to talk to one another to get the right answer. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 51B, as an amendment to Amendment No. 51, not moved.]

Clause 8 [Powers to deal with land etc.]:

[Amendment No. 52 not moved.]

Clause 8 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 53 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 53A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 53, not moved.]

Clause 9 [Acquisition of land]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 53B:

The noble Baroness said: It seems that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has drawn the short straw, but I think that this will be a short exchange. Amendment No. 53B seeks to make clear what I understand to be the case from a number of comments already made by the Minister; namely, that compulsory powers are not to be granted in a general fashion, but only for specific cases. If that is so, this is one occasion where that assurance should see its way quite explicitly into the Bill. The use of compulsory powers is a serious matter, and having read this clause a number of times, I can see that it could be read as meaning only on a case-by-case basis, but it could also be read as meaning the grant of powers—I do not know if this is an appropriate use of the phrase—in extenso; rather more than case by case in any event.

Amendment No. 54A, which is grouped, is an amendment to the schedule that deals with compulsory acquisition and is a somewhat narrower point. In what will be new Section 8 of the 1965 Act, substitute Clause (2)(b)(i) and (ii) states that there is,

if it consists,


where the land is,

My amendment seeks to understand the difference between “seriously affecting” and “material detriment”. The object of the potential powers is obviously different between sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii), but is the level of potential impact different, or is the difference only what is inherent in the different objects—or perhaps

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subjects? I hope that I am not being too telegraphic here because I am trying to be as quick as possible. It strikes me that the language used is different, but I am not sure what is meant by those differences. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: We resist these amendments, but for good reasons which I shall explain carefully. The first amendment relates to the exercise of the HCA’s compulsory purchase powers. Clause 9(2) sets out that:

The amendment moved by the noble Baroness seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State’s authorisation can be given only for specific cases. I hope that I can reassure her that the amendment is not required. Compulsory purchase orders can only be applied to land specified in the order. Individual CPOs must be submitted to the Secretary of State for confirmation, and I can assure the Committee that nothing in the Bill will change that. The Secretary of State will not be able to give the HCA a general consent to make CPOs as and when it pleases; they would relate very specifically.

Amendment No. 54A concerns the compulsory purchase of land belonging to a house. The law as it stands, which I am sure the noble Baroness understands better than me, addresses the situation in which a local authority wishes to compulsorily purchase only part of or a piece of land, perhaps consisting of a park or garden attached to a house, while the owner is able and willing to sell the whole of the relevant land, including the house. According to the current legislation, if the local authority is to be required to purchase all the land, the Lands Tribunal needs to be satisfied that the land cannot be purchased,

The same provision, including the “seriously affecting” test, is made for the HCA in Schedule 2, so we plan to carry over what is currently there.

6.30 pm

I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was after something rather different from what we initially understood she was seeking to achieve from the amendment. As I understand it, the noble Baroness wanted to secure the difference between “material detriment” and “seriously affecting”. That is a very technical point about appropriate levels of compensation. I would like to take that issue away and examine it so that we can put in writing for her something that explains exactly how we see that technical point and how we judge that difference. I do not want to put something on the record today that is not helpful. I think she is trying to be helpful in seeking clarification with her amendment.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: Before the noble Baroness responds, I have a question on which the Minister is entirely entitled to plead the fifth

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amendment, in American terms. I do not know where the Government have got to with their intentions to change the rating system, so that if someone has a good view they are going to pay higher rates than they did before. I am curious about what happens—this is relevant to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness—if, as a consequence to something that happens to a neighbour or whatever, you lose that good view. Do your rates then go down?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I have a feeling that this is a debate that has raged many times in your Lordships’ House in many permutations in the context of local government finance. We have moved on from rates, we have had the poll tax and now we are in the council tax era, although we still have business rates. I am going to plead the fifth amendment on this one. I owe the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, an explanation on his earlier question; I think it was on design issues and planning. If he will let me, I will put the two points together in correspondence. If I recall—the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was there, I think—we accepted an amendment to an earlier Planning Bill where we tried to incorporate design issues into planning issues. That may even have been prompted partly by the noble Baroness, which might in part answer the noble Lord’s earlier question.

Baroness Hamwee: I do not think that I will get into the subject of views. I am grateful for the Minister’s offer. I made a note that on this amendment I wanted to probe the distinction between,

and “material detriment” to the land, and I sent it to his office, because I hoped that that would make it clear what I was after. I am conscious that officials trying to understand amendments that have been put down must have to go through all sorts of mental hoops. I would rather reduce those and be clear. If there is any other mechanism that the Government can suggest for those of us who are raising points that are nearer the technical and political end, I would be very happy to use that mechanism. It is a waste of everyone’s time, and it must sometimes be a waste of officials’ energy.

When the Minister writes, I would be grateful if he would give me the reference with regard to the need for the order to be specific about the land, which was the answer to his first point.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I shall try to ensure that we do exactly that.

Baroness Hamwee: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Greaves moved Amendment No. 54:

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