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In brief, Section 23 of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908 places a duty on local authorities, except inner London boroughs, to provide sufficient allotments where they consider there is a demand for them in their area. The planning system, through PPG17 on planning for open space, sport and recreation and planning policy statement 3, provides the framework for protection and provision that I have been talking about. In particular, PPG17 advises local authorities to make provision for all types of public open space and expects local authorities to undertake robust assessments of local needs and audits. That suggests to me that a local authority, under PPG17, is in a position to make some very positive choices about the potential of its brownfield land or anything that may be available that is convertible to allotments. Robust assessment might create an opportunity for assessing what a local authority means by sufficiency. I cannot answer the question here, because it is a local diagnosis. PPS3 is a positive response to and recognition of the fact that we need more open space. In those definitions, there is room for allotments as well.
Furthermore, we should recognise that allotments are by no means always lost to housing. A significant proportion goes to other forms of green spacethe noble Baroness mentioned oneand sometimes to upgraded green spaces. Frankly, one cannot afford to be too sentimental about allotments. Some of them are in a pretty awful condition and have reached the point of being an eyesore rather than of being of use to a community. That is not to say that I advocate their being used for anything else, but they should be used for what they are intended. Sometimes, upgraded green space gives children and hard-pressed families more access to space. One has to make proper judgments about them.
The noble Baroness was right that we are looking at greatly increased demand and, therefore, not at a central solution. The HCA is for the reasons given by my noble friend Lady Ford not the right agency to undertake provision, although I would be very surprised if in some of the regeneration packages put together by English Partnerships allotment space had not been allocated. In some of the growth areaswhere we look at provision, for example, of community forestsspace for allotments will certainly be designed into the master plans. I hope that the noble Baroness is reassured that we are serious in our intent, that we are using more appropriate levers and that we will keep the situation under close scrutiny.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I thank my noble friend Lord Greaves for his helpful amendment. I do not disagree with any noble Lord that allotments should be managed locally. The comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, were helpful, because provision and management are separate. For that reason, I was interested also in the experience of the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, who spoke about the thought that goes into planning. That reflects the Allotments Act 1925, which states:
Every local authority ... preparing a town-planning scheme in pursuance of the Town Planning Act, 1925, shall, in preparing such scheme, consider what provision ought to be included therein for the reservation of land for allotments.
I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, asked me what I considered a sufficient number, because there is a gap in the legislation. It would be usual for the Government to come up with guidance about that. I have cited many numbers today, but that is the only one to which I may want to return on Report. The noble Lord mentioned waiting lists. I am not aware of any local authority prioritising people with young children or people who have just retired; I think that it is Bugginss turn. When you put your name down, you wait. If you are not dead by the time you rise to the top of the list, you get an allotment.
( ) In carrying out its functions, the HCA shall have regard to the desirability of conserving designated landscape (including Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and National Parks), open spaces, village greens, common land and allotments, and shall ensure that its plans and activities fully respect the purposes and objectives of AONB and National Park designations.
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak far more briefly to this amendment. This is a probing amendment to check how the HCA will relate to specially designated landscapes, which obviously have different planning requirements. I should declare that I am a vice-president of the Council for National Parks and I also have the interesting designation of AONB champion for our North Devon AONB. The amendment raises questions
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Lord Howarth of Newport: I endorse the spirit of the amendment. The noble Baroness is to be congratulated on hitting on an extremely important issue. It has become almost a commonplace to observe that the design of the spaces between buildings is as important as the buildings themselves. That is a principle of broader application than the application in this amendment, which relates to areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks, but we should be grateful to the noble Baroness for reminding the Committee of the importance of design and conservation in natural spaces and in spaces between buildings. That is very much in the spirit of what the Committee has already endorsed in considering other aspects of design. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will be able to reflect carefully on the very important issue raised in the amendment.
In a sense, this deals with a special case as regards planning issues and the relationship between the HCA and local development plans and so on, which we shall come on to when we talk about designated areas. However, it goes wider than that because it refers to the HCA in all its activities and not just as a planning authority in some places.
The green belt has been one of our most successful planning tools since the inception of the modern-day planning system. It helps to safeguard the countryside and precious open spaces near large urban populations; it protects an areas character and identity by preventing settlements from coalescing; and it curtails urban sprawl and encourages regeneration. Although there has recently been much more debate about how efficient green belts are and about how permanent they should be, all those things remain fundamentally true. It is vital that the HCA fully recognises those benefits and that it has a high regard for green-belt objectives and purposes.
As we know, the green belt is threatened in many parts of the country. Over 1,100 hectares of green belt have been lost each year since 1997 and at least 45,240 homes, equivalent to a city the size of BathI am not sure why Bath is given as the examplehave been built on green-belt land since 1997. Londons green belt has been subject to review in 18 locations. Until fairly recently, when people talked about the green belt, they were referring to London, but green belts have appeared in the rest of the country over the past 25 years.
To protect the green belt, it is necessary to put in place measures to avoid abuse of powers and address potential conflicts of interestfor example, between the HCAs roles as developer, landowner and planning authority, and in its role as a provider and facilitator of social housing. Of course, these conflicts are not new. Local authorities manage, and in most cases have good systems for dealing with, these kinds of
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Baroness Whitaker: I support both amendments on similar arguments to those of my noble friend Lord Howarth, that these green spaces are an essential part of the well-being which homes need to produce. Just as it should be the responsibility of the Homes and Communities Agency to ensure good design in order that homes should induce well-being, so it should have a complementary responsibility to maintain green spaces for the same purpose.
On AONBs, an issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, there is nothing in the Bill that lessens the current levels of protection that these special kinds of land enjoy. I am grateful to my noble friends for pointing out the ways in which they are special and precious to us. Any development in which the HCA is involved will be subject to the planning system. It is highly unlikely that it would want to develop land in an AONB, national park or even on open spaces, village greens, common land or allotments. In the very unlikely event that it did, it would have to secure planning permission in the normal way. It has to fully respect the protection afforded to those types of land.
As the noble Baroness knows, there are very strong protections around our national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Our planning statement PPS7 states that they have the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty. The conservation of the natural beauty of the landscape and countryside should therefore be given great weight in planning priorities and development control decisions in these areas. The conservation of wildlife and the cultural heritage are important considerations. They are a specific purpose for national parks, where they should be given a great weight in planning policies and development control decisions. That is completely unchanged and uncompromised by the Bill. Indeed, as well as reflecting these priorities, local development documents and regional spatial strategies should also support suitably located and designed development. The HCA could be involved in helping to deliver that. The Bill does not give it any right to override those existing protections. As I have said, major developments should not take place unless there are exceptional circumstances.
PPS7 also states that because of the serious nature of the effect that major developments may have on these areas of natural beauty, and taking account of
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However, the noble Baroness raised an issue that I would like to take away. As constructed, the amendment relates to the Commons Act, which provides for better protection of common land and village greens by streamlining the consensus system for works and fencing on commons. It ensures that existing statutory protections are applied consistently, including reinforcing existing protections against abuse, encroachment and/or unauthorised development. That would apply equally to any development involving the HCA.
The noble Baroness has prompted me to consider whether we may need to look again at the provisions in this proposed legislation where the HCA seeks to develop special land in relation to the provisions of the Commons Act 2006. We obviously need to be absolutely certain that we have got this right and I am going to look again at those provisions to make sure that the protections are maintained.
Turning to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, again there is no question that the creation of the HCA and its powers somehow threatens the green belt. I am absolutely delighted to be able to make clear, once again, that the green belt gives important protection to the countryside. The housing Green Paper and the planning White Paper reinforced the Governments commitment to the key principles of the green belt, and we have no plans to change our policy on it. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, it has helped to check the sprawl of large built-up areas and helps to protect the countryside. I remember seeing a map showing the implications for the south-east had the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 not been in force to create such protections. There has been an overall increase in green-belt land since 1997 by 64,000 acres. Progress was monitored in the period 2003-07. Excluding the 47,300 hectares designated as national park in 2005, the total green belt increased across England by 11,400 hectares.
The point is about whether the HCA is involved. There is a general presumption against inappropriate development except in very special circumstances. The involvement of the HCA would certainly not constitute a very special circumstance. It will have no role in reviewing green-belt boundaries. I must make it clear too that such boundaries are a matter for local planning authorities and regional planning authorities. They can be changed only in exceptional circumstances and after public consultation through the development plan process. Nothing in the Bill will alter that. I hope on that basis that the noble Baroness will feel that she can safely withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I thank the Minister for that reply, and for looking again at the Commons Act. We certainly appreciated what a difficult Act it was when it was going through,
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The noble Baroness said: This short probing amendment seeks to examine whether the Minister thinks that the Government have got it right. As I read the Bill, they can do what they like with rights of way. When the government agency decides that a right of way should be extinguished, diverted or whatever, it would have a special privilege of dealing with that as it wants, rather than following the more public and democratic path that everybody else has to follow. Obviously developments sometimes require that rights of way are diverted or even extinguished, but that very often is a cheap and easy way in which to deal with the situation, and not always the most constructivecertainly not for the people who live on the far side of a development and want to access places through the development when the inclusion, although more difficult in design terms, could have been achieved. Rights of way very often suffer. On looking back, cities and towns were designed with small rights of way included as a means of access. Now that we are beginning to appreciate that the car will not, and should not, rule access issues, footpaths will again come into their own.
The amendment seeks to probe the Government on why the Secretary of State should have this special power, rather than going through the normal process, as everyone else does, which has been devised over years and is inclusive. Does the Minister feel that footpaths have sufficient recognition in what should be a low-carbon approach to ways of connecting people with places that they need to access? I beg to move.
Lord Greaves: My Amendments Nos. 63 and 64 are in the group. I shall speak first to Amendment No. 64, which is more straightforward and is about the power set out in paragraph 9 to curtail the decision-making process. It states:
thinks the grounds of the objection are fully understoodI am paraphrasingand that he is satisfied that there is sufficient information available.
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So already we have a situation that is not quite as transparent or fair, perhaps, as it normally is. Equally, I understand that at the moment an objection to a proposal to extinguish a right of way invariably goes to a public inquiry. The provision says that under these circumstances it will not invariably go to a public inquiry, but the Secretary of State may decide that a public inquiry is not required and it will just be done anyhow. That is a lessening of the rights of objectors compared with the normal circumstances. I would like to understand why, if I have understood it correctly, the Government think that that is necessary or desirable.
Amendment No. 63 is substantially more complicated in that it seeks to remove most of Part 2 of Schedule 3 and replace it with a provision that the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 should apply. I think that we are talking about two things here. My noble friend Lady Miller talked about footpaths and that kind of low-level right of way, which are very important, but if we are talking about major comprehensive developments that substantially change the character of existing localitiesfor example, building a new townclearly the whole pattern of all kinds of highways, from roads to footpaths and everything in between, will be substantially changed. As I understand it, the existing legislation is similar to what is set out in Part 2 of Schedule 3, but is it the same?
Legislation to allow this has existed since the New Towns Act 1946. There can be no argument that if major developments which completely remove the existing road and footpath pattern and create a new one are going to take place, substantial legal changes have to take place as well. The question whether the development is desirable is a different, planning issue, but if it is decided to proceed, new road patterns will often need to replace former highway networks. Nevertheless, new legislation should not be allowed to follow existing precedents blindly without it being considered whether they are fittest for the intended purpose. Just because something has existed for the past 50 or 60 years does not mean that it is the right way to proceed now, particularly as local authority structures have changed.
In all cases, the primary Acts which operate at the moment and allow radical revision of highway networks are supplemented by regulations that set out the detailed procedures for extinguishing or diverting existing roads, footpaths and bridleways. They all provide for named national and regional voluntary bodies to be notified of applications for ordersin the case of footpaths and bridleways, for exampleas well as requiring advertisement. Will the Government confirm that, if Schedule 3 were to be passed, detailed regulations would set out the procedures, and that the
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