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Amendment No. 9 is rather different and concerns making assistance available to local planning authorities. In Committee, much was made of the need to provide planning expertise in different situations and the quite correct point that local planning authorities are very short of planners. The amendment would make the HCA a centre of excellence which would be available to local planning authorities. I may have mentioned at the previous stage that something like this was developing in London when I was a Member of the London Assemblyno doubt it is still going onwith the planners engaged by the GLA assisting the London boroughs, where there was less expertise in dealing with large-scale, complex applications.
Amendments Nos.17, 18 and 19 go to the heart of the Governments proposals. In a Bill which, by and large, we on these Benches support, Clauses 13 and 14 are, frankly, offensive. They give the new agency powers that, admittedly, have been there in the background and used once by English Partnerships, the agency chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, but are now centre stage in the Governments proposals for the HCA. Planning is central to local government, and I stress both local and government. The HCA, however desirable its objectives, is not a democratically elected Government. The Minister has done her very best to assure us about how rarely the powers will be used, but the more she does so, the more the argument boils down in my mind to whether they are really needed at all.
The Government keep saying that the powers would be used only in special circumstances. If that is so, I cannot see a justification for a blanket order. My Amendments Nos. 17, 18 and 19 would limit the Secretary of States order-making powers to particular purposes and particular kinds of development. That does not mean only a single purpose or kind of development; I have not narrowed it down as much as that. If the situation that the Government anticipate might have to be dealt with is so special, it must be possible to analyse itafter all, one needs to analyse a problem before offering a solutionas well as to define and articulate it, and to put it in an order designed for the purpose.
Amendments Nos. 193 and 196 would apply the affirmative procedure to these orders, not the negative one. Given the significance of what was proposed at the start of our proceedings, I thought that this must have been an oversight, but it appears not. The Government should justify each order, hence those amendments.
Amendment No. 25, a requirement for a public local inquiry, was put down at much the same time as the Governments amendments were tabled. While I see the merit in building on old legislation that is still around, which could be useful, the Governments amendments cover rather similar ground so I will not speak any longer to that amendment.
Amendment No. 26 would take out the new agencys plan-making powers and leave it with development control powersthat is, powers to deal with planning applications. I find it hard to see why the HCA needs to be able to make plans. We have been told that there may be inconsistencies between plans for adjoining areas where a proposed development straddles a boundary, but the local development frameworks of both the planning authorities concerned, if that is the case, must comply with the regional spatial strategy. Could there be major inconsistencies? It seems unlikely. More to the point, how practicable is this? The local development document process is a long and complex one. Do the Government really envisage the new agency going through what we know local planning authorities have been struggling with since the 2007 Act imposed those provisions on themprovisions that may be rowed back when we see the Planning Bill?
Amendments Nos. 28, 29 and 30 to Clause 14 replicate my amendments to Clause 13, and Amendment No. 31 is consequential. Amendment No. 32 is a continuation of the argument; it would leave out paragraph (c) of Clause 14(6), which allows the Government to disapply any enactment in the case of the HCA. It is one thing, if the HCA has these new powers, for the Secretary of State to be able to modify enactments, as he can, or perhaps, using synonyms, to adjust or tweak them to fit the fact that the HCA, not a local planning authority, will be taking decisions, but in effect to rewrite planning legislation is quite another. Whatever assurances we are given about how this will just make sure that all the powers are in place, that is what Clause 14(6)(c) says. With regard to Amendment No. 33, so does Clause 14(8); that amendment is also consequential.
On the Governments amendments, I again thank the Minister for responding so positively to the amendments of my noble friend Lord Greaves on private streets. Not many of us achieve excising parts of a Bill, certainly not at this stage. I acknowledge what the Government are proposing by way of local involvement; it is very important and I can see that time has been spent designing the provisions. But as the Minister knows, I do not accept the basic proposition that the HCA should have such extensive planning powers.
I have two questions for the Minister on her amendments. Is the statement of local involvement made on the basis that the Planning Bill acknowledges that the 2004 Act has not worked very well and those provisions are being rewritten? Or is it an addition to the statement of community involvement in the 2004 Act, which is still on the statute book? Secondlyand this is a comment rather than a question; this will not come as a surprise to the Minister as we have discussed it privatelythe local authority may nominate a member of the committee, and that person may be a member or an officer of the local authority. Members of a planning committee are not there in a representative capacity. Any officer who is pitched into this situation by his local planning authority could not represent it and that, for him, might be a career-defining moment. I beg to move.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 4 and 15 in my name are also in this group. I find myself at something of a procedural disadvantage. Under Report stage rules, I have no right to sum up at the end of the debate on this group. That might mean that then I have some difficulty, depending on what the Minister has said. I make that observation now because it also will depend on what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has to say at the end.
The Homes and Communities Agency is not a body to which we object in principle. As the Minister has explained, it is an amalgamation of the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships. Of course, the nigger in the woodpile, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has already pointed out, is that it still incorporates what I call the hangover of the new towns legislation. If it were not for that, we would have little difficulty with the foundation of this agency. However, the historical hangover of those planning powers in this age of participation and consultation where everyone works together is a considerable anachronism and I do not like it.
Our two amendments were tabled with the express purpose of recognising at the start of the Bill that local planning authorities and local councils already have a major role to play in community development, reconstruction and the provision of social housing. I acknowledge the parts played by housing associations, ALMOs and so forth and acknowledge the funding arrangements that are made. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to the difficulties and complexities of the existing planning system and asked a perfectly reasonable question. If the Homes and Communities Agency has planning powers, will it be exempt from the effects of that system, or, more importantly and
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Our approach is to ensure that the Homes and Communities Agency works with local authorities and local planners and takes them on board as part of its committee structure so that local communities have direct involvement. The weakness of the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is that, without the direct involvement of local councils and planners, relationships on the ground may be fraught. The occasional examples of where that has happened in the past have not been encouraging.
I was somewhat interested when the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that the Homes and Communities Agency might become a source of planners for local authorities. I am afraid that I read the market rather the other way round. The Homes and Communities Agency is much more likely to take planners from local authorities than to act as a training ground for them. Of course, one has to acknowledge that pre-existing bodies will already have their own planning departments, but there is an eternal problem over the supply of planners. In my admittedly limited knowledge of planners, it is not that they would go from local authorities to the Homes and Communities Agency or vice versa, but that they would leave that sector altogetherand have done for the past few yearsfor the private sector. They become planning advisers or consultants and represent commercial interests in all sorts of ways because that is more profitable than working for either the Government or local authorities. Of course that particular pressure may disappear like a puff of dust in the wind. All noble Lords expect the housing market to return eventually, first, to stability and then to development. When that happens, the market for planning consultancy will increase. While I entirely accept that work needs to be done to ensure a greater supply of planners, the idea that the Homes and Communities Agency can lend them to local government is not likely to be realistic.
My two specific amendments require the Homes and Communities Agency to work through the planning system and co-operate with the relevant planning authorities and other agencies. I think that that is perfectly reasonable. The other amendment deals with Clause 13 and says that, following consultations with the local planning authorities and the Homes and Communities Agency, the Secretary of State may make the orders under Clause 13. Both amendments are directed at one specific point: to ensure that local authorities, not only in their planning capacity but, more importantly, in their much wider community capacity are directly involved from the start when there is any question of the Homes and Communities Agency being involved with planning powers.
I regard the retention of that power as an historical anachronism. I rather wish it was not there; I am wholly convinced that it is not necessary. The noble Baroness herself has said that it is intended to be used
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Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, he used a phrase about a woodpile. If your Lordships House were happy, I think it would perhaps be helpful if the wording of the phrase were revised.
Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, in welcoming my noble friends amendments, I would like to ask her two questions. Could I first say that I have considerable sympathy with Amendment No. 9, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to create more of a centre of excellence in planning and design skills? I look forward to my noble friend's comments on that proposal. In fact, my question bears on the same point. On my noble friend's Amendment No. 20, I would like to ask her whether the words,
include good designthe local planning authoritys responsibility to ensure that the design is up to standard. Does matters relevant to functions in subsection (4)(b) of the new clause of her Amendment No. 34 again refer to the importance of good, high quality design?
Viscount Eccles: My Lords, I support the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith. It is impossible to believe that social housing will appear in suitable quantity unless there is close co-operation. Any powers that put the HCA in the driving seat will therefore arouse resentment and will not be welcomed. During the passage of the Bill, I have not yet heard any evidence that anybody wants the HCA to, as they might express it, usurp the planning powers of any local authority. If you look at the market share of the HCA, its power rests on people knowing that it has money in its pocket; they go looking for that money to support an area of housing in which there is comparative market failure. However, that is only a relatively small proportion of the total housing market and of all matters that come before planning authorities.
If the Government set up an agency over which they have, by virtue of the Bills language, close control, and use it to do things which will not be welcome to local authorities, whichever way you look at it the proceedings will fail. The intent of the Bill will not be met. The pledges and promises about the number of
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Baroness Ford: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot support the noble Baronesss amendment nor those of the noble Lord, although I articulated some sympathy with their sentiments in Committee. I have two or three important points to make. In the valuable debate we had in Committee, we all understood how strongly views were held on planning powers. I say to the noble Viscount that some evidence suggests that these planning powers have been used entirely benignly and in a positive way over the past five years. It is useful to remember that we are not putting in the Bill the kind of culture, organisation and wide, sweeping powers that we saw in the New Towns Act 1946. We do the Ministers hard work and her amendments a disservice if we suggest that the HCAs planning powers would be used in that way.
I remind noble Lords of the example that I used in Committee, when I explained that English Partnerships has had these powers throughout its existence. We no longer look to the old model of new towns or other urban development corporations, where an organisation was set up entirely detached from local democracy and local authorities. Rather, we should look to delivery vehicles set up in the past five years, such as the Milton Keynes Partnershipwith a progressive, intelligent, local authoritywhich has been a joint venture between local authority members, English Partnership board members and members of the local community, who now comprise the local planning authority. That authority has an independent chair, a person with a strong Milton Keynes track record. Evidence for this can be found in the amount of high quality development infrastructure that has been delivered in Milton Keynes compared to the rather arid scene of 10 years earlier.
It is right to say that these powers will be used exceptionally. The Milton Keynes partnership committee was indeed an exception and was initiated after extensive consultation, not just with the local authority but with a range of stakeholders. Ministers were at pains to stress that, although the Milton Keynes partnership uses the planning powers of English Partnerships, it is by no means controlled or dominated by English Partnerships. That is the reality of the way in which we set up delivery vehicles in the 21st century. We do not look towards the development corporations that we had in the previous century. I am sure that my noble friend will underline that when she responds. The concessions that the Government have made in their amendments make it clear that this provision will be used only in exceptional circumstances, in an entirely benign way and with the full agreement and co-operation of the relevant local authority.
The advisory team on large applications comprises specialist planning practitioners and is a joint team consisting of members of the department and English Partnerships. It has worked closely with local authority colleagues across the country, where they have asked it to intervene to help them process large, complex
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Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who tabled these amendments. This has been an excellent debate, as it was in Committee. Although we consider that these amendments are not necessary, that does not mean that they are not important in prompting debate and enabling us to reconsider our response. I am also grateful for the contribution of my noble friend Lady Ford, who speaks with such clarity and authority; there is no substitute for practical experience. Although I shall do my best to persuade the House that we have responded to concerns with integrity and careI accept that there are deep concerns about this issuethe fact that my noble friend was able to explain the circumstances under which exceptional powers are used in partnership was extremely helpful to everyone. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, also commented on the matter.
What we want the HCA to achievethis is certainly true of the chief executive, Sir Bob Kerslakecould not be realised unless the entire organisation was completely committed to partnership with the agencies, especially local authorities, which will build the houses. The HCAs task is to ensure that all parts of the complex system for planning, regeneration and housebuilding work in harmony and to the best effect. That is what we want the HCA to achieve. Therefore, I completely concur with everything that noble Lords have said across this range of amendments about the need for partnership and a close working relationship. As Bob Kerslake says, the HCA will be the best and closest partner for local authorities. I hope that I will exemplify that in my response to these amendments.
I completely understand the intention behind Amendment No. 2, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. However, I cannot accept it because it would be too restrictive. Where the Secretary of State uses her powers to designate an area and confer planning functions on the HCA, the amendment would require it to exercise those functions by means of a committee. It specifies that the committee should meet in the local area within which any designated land lies. The noble Baroness spoke eloquently about the need to work closely with and listen to the local community, a matter that I shall return to when I discuss my amendments.
We believe that this amendment is too restrictive. The amendments that I will bring forward in respect of Clauses 13 and 14 provide that the HCA may set up a committee or sub-committee for the purpose of exercising planning functions, which would be a likely option. If it does so, it must inform every local authority for the designated area and invite them to suggest one or more candidates for membership of such a committee.
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The noble Baroness and I agree that it is important that the HCA, when acting as the local planning authority for a designated area, should be properly accountable to those living in and around that area. One way in which that might be achieved would be if the HCA exercised planning functions in meetings that were open to the public. When we come to the noble Baronesss amendment that deals with that point, in relation to Schedule 8, I will undertake to consider it. I am happy to help that amendment along. However, this amendment would restrict the ability of the HCA to exercise its functions as it sees fit.
Amendment No. 4, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, relates to working through the planning system. The noble Lord was eloquent in his concern and his conviction that the HCA will work only if it is within the planning system. He is right about that. We support everything that he says. In his attempt to ensure that the HCA works in partnership, he uses the term co-operating. The language does not matter so much as the intent and what is to be achieved. His amendment refers to co-operating with local authorities and any other body involved in any activities related to its objects. He argued that, without express provision that the HCA must work through the planning system, it could be used to circumvent the system and local opinion to drive through unwanted development that is not in accordance with the development plan. He also argued that, without a requirement in the Bill compelling the HCA to co-operate with local authorities and other groups already working towards the achievement of its objects, the agency will be a top-down leviathan with no knowledge of or sensitivity to local concerns.
I cannot agree. There are a number of ways of interpreting the difference between co-operation and partnership. Co-operation is a slightly lower test than partnership, but the effect would be the same. It is simply not the case that the Bill as drafted in any way enables the HCA to circumvent any part of the planning system. Even in the unlikely event that the Secretary of State designates an area and confers responsibility for preparing and maintaining all or part of the local development framework for the designated area on the HCA, that in no way exempts the HCA from having to go through the same process as any other local planning authority to amend the plans for the area, including consultation and examination in public. If it is involved with a development that requires planning permission, that must be applied for and obtained in the normal fashion. There are no short cuts for the HCA. I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that this is a major undertaking. These plans are complex to make and amend. They will not be undertaken lightly. Nothing in the Bill in any way exempts the agency from abiding by the laws of the land, including on the development and use of land.
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