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On 15 January, the Minister talked about the HCA not riding roughshod over planning legislation but,

Whose framework would it be in this situation? If the HCA has the plan-making powers, it is the HCA’s local development framework, not the relevant local authority’s local development framework. I do not want to detain the Committee with an exposition of my views about how plan-making is central to the local government function, but it is. The Minister agrees and there are a lot of nods around the table.

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Therefore, I repeat: whose framework is this? I do not understand how it would operate if competing frameworks were developed by different organisations.

Amendment No. 73E talks about the HCA and the local authority acting concurrently. How that can happen is another puzzle for me. Amendment No. 73A provides that the Secretary of State can make an order only if no development plan is in force for the area. Amendment No. 73C, which relates to Clause 14, would require the HCA to comply with the development plan. Amendment No. 73B would leave out Clause 14(3)(b), which reads,

The purpose of the amendment is to probe what that means. It seems to mean that the Secretary of State, by order, can modify, and I assume that “modify” means “extend”. It would certainly change the functions which come from primary legislation with what I would regard as only the very flimsy protection of the parliamentary scrutiny of an order. I say “flimsy” because we all know that it is not possible to amend an order. Order-making procedures only allow for views to be stated, and it is very rare for there to be any change.

Amendment No. 73D is a matter of semantics but under Clause 14(4) an order can,

I do not understand why we cannot just say “apply” them. If one makes provision about them, then that is something wider than simple, straight application. Therefore, I seek some clarification.

The purpose of Amendment No. 73F is to say that if—and I hope that this is never the case—the HCA exercises functions as a local planning authority, the committee which exercises the functions must have a majority of members, not staff. I have taken that from the discussion that we had at an earlier sitting when the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, confirmed that English Partnerships has occasionally operated committees of which the majority, or even all, of the members have been staff.

Finally, Amendments Nos. 116B and 117A, although the procedure is flimsy, would turn the order from being subject to the negative procedure to one requiring an affirmative resolution. I have covered quite a lot of ground as quickly as I can. There are big matters of principle here, as well as a lot of detail. I hope that I have dealt with them adequately for this stage. I hope the Minister can satisfy me, but I would be very surprised if she did. We may well have to debate this issue at the next stage because it is fundamental. I beg to move.

6 pm

Baroness Ford: I shall try to respond to some of the thoughtful points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. When I left university I started my working life in the planning department of a local authority, so I have huge respect and great affection for local authority planners. I enjoyed working there and I hope that, in relation to my tenure at English Partnerships, people would always say that our organisation treated with democratic and professional

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respect those colleagues whom we encountered in local authorities. I shall try to address some of the fundamental points that have been raised, because they are important points of principle.

I begin with skills. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said earlier that the planning system has been well developed since 1947, and of course it has, but it is a fact that we have a tremendous shortage of experienced and competent planners right across England and an acute shortage in certain parts of the country. I was flabbergasted some five or six years ago when I visited two or three boroughs not far from here, where I found that the whole development control function comprised of one or two postgraduates from Australia or New Zealand who were on a gap year. That was it; that was the whole professional cadre in two or three large boroughs. To say that we were short of experienced planners would be to somewhat understate the case. When Iain Wright in another place said that he was trying to do something about capacity, he was not overstating the position. It is terribly important when we talk about very complex planning applications, or even straightforward development control, that the agency can help them if local authorities want that. I do not regard what the Minister in another place said as being glib or ill thought through. He very much reflected the seriousness of the current situation.

Equally, I do not believe that the solution suggested by the noble Baroness in terms of cross-boundary working is necessarily as straightforward as it might appear. Certainly in many parts of the country where the need is great for cross-boundary subregional, social and fixed infrastructure, it is very important that we achieve close working. Sometimes that was simply not possible because of the different political complexions and views of authorities, or sometimes turf politics. That was difficult and in some situations we held up meaningful good-quality development for a long time. I do not necessarily accept that local authorities just all get together. I hope that I am correct in saying that for the five Olympic boroughs the planning authority is the Olympic Delivery Authority and not the individual boroughs. The Olympic Delivery Authority is a statutory body.

Baroness Hamwee: Initially, it was a matter of the five boroughs working together. It is now, certainly, the ODA. Originally, there was a combination of the boroughs.

Baroness Ford: I thank the noble Baroness for that. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, is not in his place, because he might have confirmed that the ODA’s holding the ring has facilitated quick and sensible decisions around the Olympic park. However, those of us who are interested in the regeneration legacy of the Olympics are in despair at the way in which no one holding the ring for regeneration around the Olympic park seems to have held up progress and caused huge confusion. A statutory entity working closely with local authorities makes an enormous difference. If the ODA had not had that ability in legislation, it would not have been able to do that.

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Only once in the past six years has English Partnerships used or relied on its own designation powers. That was in partnership with the excellent Liberal council in Milton Keynes—I am not making a cheap point; that council has shown fabulous leadership on very difficult issues. For the area designated for new growth—certainly not for the whole of Milton Keynes—the powers were transferred from Milton Keynes council, with its full support, to a sub-committee of English Partnerships comprising three members of our board, one of whom was the accounting officer, three members from the local authority, four members from the local business community and one independent chair. It now sits as the planning authority for that growth area in Milton Keynes. We would not have been able to achieve the high-quality progress that has been made there, particularly in bringing in investment and putting in place the infrastructure that allows growth in Milton Keynes to be properly planned and of high quality, with all the facilities and services that characterise high growth, had we not been able to rely on those new-town planning powers for that area of designation.

It was never the intention of any Minister or Secretary of State with whom I was involved to rely on those powers, although siren voices would sometimes encourage them to do so. No Secretary of State with whom I was involved would countenance using planning powers in any other circumstance. The former Deputy Prime Minister was clear that only in Milton Keynes would that be done with the explicit consent and encouragement of the local authority. To have this provision in the Bill creates the conditions where, in a benign way, the agency can engage and create a different kind of planning capacity where it is needed for the reasons that I have suggested.

On the narrower but important point of the local development framework, the noble Baroness asked an important question about what happens when there are competing regimes. From my own experience, I anticipate the local development framework always taking precedence. Within that designated area, individual projects would have to be developed in absolute conformity with the local development framework, as is right and proper.

I rather suspect that I have not convinced the noble Baroness, but I wanted to give a few examples of where, in a benign way, the power has worked extremely well.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Amendment No. 70 is in this group. I shall come to it when I have risen to the fly so deftly flicked over my nose by the noble Baroness, who wondered why we were being fairly gentle with this part of the Bill. I should not have to remind the Committee that we spent an hour on the subject by way of an amendment right at the beginning of the Bill, where we tried to persuade the Government to insert at the beginning of Clause 2:

If that were included, much of the concern about this section would diminish, and I still think that that is an appropriate way to deal with the matter.

I turn to my Amendment No. 70, which, as the noble Baroness said, is quite gentle. If the Bill were in

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the form that I would like it to be in, this issue would not cause so much concern. This is a probing amendment, so what I say will go slightly wider than the subject of the amendment. It deals with Clause 13(5), which states that:

That is absolutely straightforward, but then, in what I consider to be peculiar wording, it goes on to say,

For the life of me, I cannot make sense of that bit of English. I am not aware that any person can be a planning authority but that seems to be implied by the way in which that paragraph is written. That little bit of flawed English language is quite important. I think that the paragraph should say, “any person other than the local authority who has an objection to the proposal”. The real purpose of my amendment is to ensure that, having consulted these people, the Secretary of State is obliged to publish the conclusions that he or she has come to as a result of the consultation. That may be intended but it is not written in the Bill.

I agree with what the noble Baroness said about the powers that are there, but my experience—although experience may not be the right word—goes back to the London Docklands Development Corporation, which I have already mentioned. There were five separate local authorities and wonderful people were involved but they were not prepared to co-operate and work together. Something had to be done because nothing was happening, and therefore the right conclusion was made. With the greatest deference to the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, I think that Milton Keynes is a slightly different example. Once the principle of a new town was accepted, there was a large degree of agreement, and the co-operative working which went on there achieved a very successful—“miraculous” may be going too far—operation.

[The Committee was suspended for a Division in the House from 6.12 to 6.22 pm.]

Lord Dixon-Smith: As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, I will pick up on one other thing that the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, said. She was talking about the appalling problem of planner availability. From my admittedly limited knowledge, anyone who is any good as a planner almost invariably switches to the private sector very quickly because the pay is better.

Perhaps the tragedy of the situation is that, when dealing with very big applications, local authorities have not become accustomed to using planning consultancies but have relied on their own resources. I accept that this is always difficult for local authorities, which, particularly in the planning field, prefer to have matters under their own control. However, if they are dealing with a complex negotiation over a major development for a large number of houses and the Section 106 situation is very complex, then perhaps getting outside advice, although it may be distasteful, is better than having inadequate advice. I merely make the point.

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I hope that the Minister agrees that what we are saying about subsection (5) is worth while. It would not alter the substance of the Bill but it would give people a lot of assurance if the provision were included in that part. They would know what was going on in her mind, despite the warning that was given last night by my noble friend Lord Brooke.

Viscount Eccles: If your market share is falling, you are likely to move to the area where the market share is increasing. Over the past 10 years—I am not taking into account the increase in the number of dwellings from about 20.5 million to 22 million—the private sector market share has risen from 78.7 to 82.5 per cent. That is slightly out of date, but it starts in 1997 and the latest figures include 2006. The local government and social sectors have fallen from 21.3 to 17.5 per cent of the total. That is a clear inducement for people who are involved in a related profession to make a move. To have a completely different set of planning authority powers within the two sectors is quite risky.

I remind the Committee of the Teesside Development Corporation—not quite Milton Keynes. The development corporation was made a planning department, although not by this Administration. It was successful in the sense that it was accepted, broadly speaking, by Stockton-on-Tees and Thornaby-on-Tees. I am sure the Minister knows the story of the Teesside Development Corporation. It was never accepted by Middlesbrough. I do not want to go into the rights and wrongs of whether it should have been accepted or whether Middlesbrough was right not to accept it. All I can say is that the local bad feeling, disruption and confusion that followed from the failed relationship between the corporation and Middlesbrough were something that you did not want to watch. Immediately after the present Administration came in, not only was the corporation coming to the end of its life because there was a sunset clause in the original legislation, but there was a serious row, an investigation and goodness knows what.

The more that we put back into the hands of the Secretary of State, the more likely it is that we will get disputes at local level and people will simply block each other. If everything could be benign, which I think was what the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, said, and if agreement could always be reached, that would be wonderful. I am afraid, however, that the history of some of these matters shows that when people locally understand the powers that the Bill confers upon the Secretary of State, they will find it difficult to remain benign.

Earl Cathcart: I have two points to make here, the first of which is perhaps a bit pernickety. Clause 13(1)(a) says,

I thought to myself, “Development of what?”. The presumption is that it is housing and related matters, but it raises the question of whether there are any other circumstances that the Minister can foresee under which the power could be exercised other than

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for the building of houses. Can another department use this part to get something built other than housing?

The second point is that the clause links back to yesterday’s debate on Amendment No. 51. When the Minister responded to the bit about eco-towns, she gave us some comfort. She said,

She then went on to say:

That was all excellent. Then the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, intervened and, at the end of his intervention, said:

Of course, he was referring to the site at Long Marston and the two district councils, Stratford-on-Avon and Wychavon, which voted unanimously against the planning approval for the eco-plan. His question was, “Does that count for anything?”. The Minister replied:

6.30 pm

I pricked up my ears when I heard that. I wondered whether under this clause—once we have gone through the democratic process, with the two authorities saying that they did not think it appropriate to have an eco-town on that particular site—that is where the matter would end. Presumably the developer can go to appeal—that would be one process—or, secondly, presumably the Secretary of State can designate that as an area for development. Is that not the case? I wanted clarification on that. I have picked up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that the decision of local authorities could be overridden by Clause 13.

Baroness Ford: I shall just make a few comments to follow on from the interesting point raised by the noble Viscount. He is absolutely right in the example that he gives, but I should like to suggest a couple of things. I explained that there was one example when the powers were used in Milton Keynes, but there were at least three other examples when Secretaries of State were encouraged by other people to oblige English Partnerships. There were three other new towns in England in which the record on affordable and social housing was absolutely abysmal. These authorities had failed signally to meet the targets that were agreed and various policy planning guidance.

It seems rather peculiar that, in almost every aspect of public service, if a local authority signally fails to meet its obligations, central government invariably

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does something about it and yet we do not do that in planning. I am not suggesting that we should be that aggressive about it but I find it quite puzzling that the Government have to account for their performance in providing housing for young families and people who cannot ordinarily afford market housing and yet local authorities do not seem to have to account for that. I would not want noble Lords to think that I was being naïve or starry-eyed in suggesting that this power might be used benignly; I was simply relating my own experience. In other circumstances in which Secretaries of State might have been entitled to take a more aggressive view, they simply declined out of respect for the local democratic process in cases in which that process was massively failing local communities.

Lord Greaves: One of the problems, of course, is that one person’s failure is another person’s alternative policy view. That dilemma comes to planning communities probably more than anything else.

Yesterday I tabled an amendment—from memory, I think it was Amendment No. 51D—but it was in the wrong place and so I ignored it. Essentially it was the same as my noble friend’s Amendment No. 73C, which seeks that the actions of the HCA should be within the development plan. I said the local development framework but, in practice, it is the whole development plan. This is a crucial issue which ties in with the suggestion that in areas where there have been designation orders the HCA should be not only the development control authority but also the plan-making authority. This is bound to lead to fears that the existing development plan will simply be swept aside and a new one put in place. This will clearly take some time but, nevertheless, it will be done by riding roughshod over all possible local democratic views. Most places will have different views anyway but, nevertheless, it will be riding roughshod over them.

The noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, referred to eco-towns. These are lurking as an ongoing issue while we are debating the Bill but they do not appear in it. However, it is not clear—perhaps the Minister will provide some elucidation—how far the Homes and Communities Agency is expected to take part in producing the five eco-towns and then the 10 eco-towns—or however many are produced—by 2020. Will the eco-towns be a central function and a central policy objective of the Homes and Communities Agency; or will it be involved in some of them and not in others; or will it not be involved in any of them? If the HCA is going to be the main driving organisation behind the eco-towns in all cases, it will result in a great increase in that area of activity on a par with the first and second waves of new towns. That is something that we have not seen recently.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ford, made some interesting comments. She mentioned Milton Keynes and praised the Liberal council there. She can praise Liberal councils as much as she likes—I do not mind—but the point about Milton Keynes is that the development there was carried out by agreement; it was not imposed. This is fundamental to the eco-towns argument. It is not clear how much of the new legislation in the Bill will be used for eco-towns,

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how much will be done through the forthcoming Planning Bill and the new Infrastructure Planning Commission, or whether it will be a combination of both. It would be interesting if, either now or at some point, the Minister could tell us exactly how the eco-towns are going to work. I have read the debates in the House of Commons and elsewhere about eco-towns: there is a great deal of discussion about whether they are a good or a bad thing but there is less discussion about how they will come about.

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