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The current public inquiry system, adapted with those planning statements, will work well and experts can be drawn into the inspectorate to conduct these major infrastructure project inquiries. I am not convinced that the argument for an Infrastructure Planning Commission has been made. The existing system, with the appropriate work having been carried out, with national policy statements adopted through Parliament, is perfectly capable of delivering a swift, considered and democratic conclusion with considerable public participation. Inquiries are inevitably held locallythat is very importantwhich gives local individuals and organisations every opportunity to speak, to cross-examine and to have their say. Planning has to be consistent, but it has to be democratically accountable.
Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, this is a far-reaching and radical Bill, a worthy successor to the great Town and Country Planning Act 1947. That Act reconciled industrial reconstruction after the Blitz with keeping Britain a pleasant place to live. This Bill will reconcile our economic development and its infrastructure requirements with our environmental responsibilities, as well as improve the planning system for all development. I welcome the clarity, speed and fairness of the process it proposes. When I was in the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, I took part in interminable planning processes for new power stations.
She added that it was commonly accepted that good design brought benefit in terms of the functionality of development and that the costs of poor design were high. There is, as yet, no explicit obligation on Ministers to pay the same kind of attention to design as to sustainability. But we could expand Clause 10(2) to impose one. Of course, the planning policy statements already in existence contain plenty of powerful guidance on design. But is guidance enough?
How will this excellent guidance be implemented by local authorities, apart from the infrastructure commission, and who will be doing the implementing? Developers have persuasive arguments of many kinds. And after most of the developers have gained permission and have built, they will move on. But the people in the planning authorities who make the decisions will continue to live with their responsibility for the area and the development within it. Their interests are already different.
The planners will need several kinds of skill. They will need to be able to assess what the developers arguments are worth in terms of enduring value to the locality. They will need to know how to muster comprehensive local opinion. Above all, they will need to be able to identify what is a good design, functional, sustainable and attractive to the people who will use it. And, finally, if the developer appeals against their decision, they will need to be confident that the appeals system has the capacity to back decisions which are based on good design.
The problem is that while the Governments design guidance is very good, we do not have that assured reservoir of design capacity everywhere in the deciding part of the planning equation to put it into practice. A survey early this month by the Audit Commission headlined the current shortage of qualified planning staff, which could lead to a national shortfall of 46 per cent in five years. Another earlier one by the Local Government Association identified design as the professional skill most lacking, with 52 per cent of planning authorities saying that they themselves were deficient in design skills. And the Institution of Highways and Transportation found that 85 per cent of its members had received no formal urban design training. Nor had a majority of transport planners, regeneration and traffic management officers. Perhaps that is why we have so many towns and cities which are fit for the motor car but not so good for people, for families and for children. How can we arrive at the architect-planner who has such a benign influence in the developments of many of our European counterparts, such as Germany, Holland, or Sweden? Should we not have a common curriculum for planning skills, with design and negotiating skills as core components? And should we not be encouraging more young people to take up planning as a career?
Nor do we have a system of monitoring the quality of planning authority decisions in respect of design. It would not be difficult to see how they measured up to CABE's Building for Life criteria, the nationally accepted standard for design.
So, I ask my noble friend, what can be done to spread the culture of good design, in the big infrastructure projects as in the places where people are going to live? How can the community infrastructure levy contribute to this purpose? I hope open and green space is included within the term community infrastructure. Perhaps the regulations referred to at Clause 202(4) can make this explicit. And I hope that the community infrastructure levy and Section 106 of the current legislation are not intended to override PPS1 and PPS3.
On the infrastructure commission itself, and its council, can we be assured that there will be expertise in design quality, sustainable development and inclusion and community involvement? All are essential to good design. What will the design remit of the new institutions be, in their acceptance of applications, in their appointment of panel members, in the single commissioner procedure, or in the content of development consent orders?
How can the system of design review panels and design champions be expanded? If a culture of better design cannot be achieved as the Bill takes root, we shall be missing an opportunity which will not come
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Lord Cameron of Dillington: My Lords, I should first declare an interest as a farmer, landowner, businessman, and chair of the Charities Property Association. Secondly, I am supportive of the main purposes of the Bill. It does, however, still have some weaknesses.
The desire to speed up major infrastructure projects can only be beneficial. Everyone will have their own favourite example of poor past performances, but the one which has always struck me is the Channel Tunnel rail link because we have a direct comparison with France. The tunnel was opened for service in 1994 and France had its high-speed link ready a few months later. We, on the other hand, took a further 13 years to open ours. The world now moves incredibly fast and apart from keeping up commercially we also have to provide the solutions to problems faster. If we have to wait 13 years or more to deal with every aspect of climate change, we will always be one step behind and the world will overheat before we have even got going. However, we must ensure that, wherever possible, we balance our desire to get things done with the right checks so that the interests of communities and individuals are not trampled on.
The proposed national policy statements are the crux. As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, they are more important than the IPC. We are talking about national projects, so it is right that Parliament should decide on the overall policy, but this is a new concept and these are going to be hugely influential statements. Whatever the processes gone through for previous documentsPPGs and even White Papersthey were not examined by Parliament or the public in the knowledge that they were going to rule the decisions of the IPC on a range of essentially bad-neighbour projects. Thus, all NPSs must start from scratch after the Bill is passed. It would be underhand for it to be otherwise.
Similarly, NPSs must be approved and confirmed by both Houses of Parliament. They are important documents that will affect so many lives for good and bad. Thus, any NPS must not only be democratic, but must be seen to be democratic; only full parliamentary scrutiny will do. Apart from anything else, it would seem a waste if the expertise available in this House was not used effectively. I suggest that a national policy statement scrutiny committee is set up in this House with powers to co-opt the necessary expertise as and when required.
I would also prefer that these NPS are tested for sustainability, and all that that involves, by the Sustainable Development Commission rather than the Minister, as currently proposed. In all of this, noble Lords will detect an underlying concern that these very important documents, which will affect so many lives and will override the local democratic planning process, must be seen to be consistently tested by outside bodies. It is important that they cannot be driven by an Executive with an agenda unchecked by democratic processes. After the scant regard to proper scrutiny that this Bill suffered in the other place, there is a degree of mistrust about all this, and so we need to be particularly careful about the procedures involved here.
Concerning the IPC and its process, there are just two issues I would like to touch on. The first concerns the pre-application consultation process. Much is made of this, but I am not sure that consultation carried out by an applicant and then reported on by that same applicant is worth very much. It could so easily be a sham, and if it is not a sham would the public have confidence in it? They would say that anyway is the phrase that comes to mind.
What incentive is there to resolve the issues? Clause 48 is not yet strong enough. Applicants should have to spell out not only all the replies they got, but also what they did in every case to resolve the issues, what means of mediation were utilised or ultimately why they were unable to resolve the problem. It would be better still if the consultation was carried out by an independent, publicly accountable body practised in open and transparent processes, but we will come to that in Committee.
The second issue concerning the IPC is whether the ultimate decision on a project should be taken by the IPC or a Minister. Many who raise the subject favour a Minister, but I am not so sure. At least the IPC decision-making process will be done in public, with all representations, written or oral, open to public scrutiny and commentat least, we are assured they will be. I am not sure that that applies to ministerial decisions. They have a reputation for being taken behind closed doors with the suspicion that the Minister might have been got at, that he had already made up his mind, or even that he might be looking for a big project to implement on his watch in order to boost his own standing. There is certainly a strong suspicion that decisions on these bad-neighbour projects are strongly politically motivated and depend on how the Government of the day are viewed in a particular constituency. For instance, is a bad neighbour project more or less likely to end up in a marginal constituency? Whatever the rights or wrongs of these suspicions, I do not believe that the planning system should be seen to be politically motivated. At least the IPC decisions will be taken firmly on the basis of the soon to be fully democratically scrutinised national policy statements. This underlines my previous point about these statements actually being properly scrutinised and voted on in both Houses.
I know that the beginning and end of the Bill has attracted most attention, and tonight is no exception, but it is probably the middle bits that will affect, and perhaps even damage, the existing planning system the
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In any case, the IPC is already taking pressure off the planning inspectorate, so I do not think that that change is either good or necessary. Also in Part 9, I do not believe that RDAs are the right bodies to take over or even to lead the strategic regional planning system. They are unelected; they are focused on the economy, rather than the social or environmental aspects of the area; furthermore, from conversations that I have had, I am not sure that they want that dubious honour. That one needs to be banged on the head sooner rather than later.
Turning to the community infrastructure levy, many answers are yet to be provided. Cynics might say that it was guillotined in the other place because the Government do not have any answers yet. My great worry here is that the £500 million per annum that the levy is supposed to raise will thus not be available to put into housing and commercial development. I am, of course, especially concerned with affordable rural housing and rural commercial development, which is so desperately needed in some areas and, at the same time, so marginal in return on investment. I hope that the levy will not push such investment over the edge.
Having said that, here are a fewI stress, only a fewof the questions that have been going through my mind. What obligation is there on the local authority to spend the money on infrastructure; and is there a time limit by which it has to be spent? What if the match funding does not appear from the LEA, the health trust or the Environment Agency? Is the money returned? Will the levy apply to developments built under permitted development rightsfor example, a farm building which, in 99 per cent of cases puts no extra strain on the infrastructure? Will it apply if the development is required by new regulations or lawagain, taking a farming example, a larger slurry store because the farmer finds himself in a nitrate-vulnerable zone? Will the levy apply in cases of replacement buildingsis renewal and regeneration now to be taxed?
If the development itself is contributing to the infrastructurea key workers house, a community building or a development for charitable purposesdoes it still get charged? As others have said, all charities should be exempt from the levy in the same way that they are exempt from other taxes. I should say now that I shall be tabling an amendment to that effect in Committee.
Another question: how will the levy work in tandem with the Section 106 agreements to ensure adequate provision of affordable housing? Another cynical question is: what is to stop the Treasury deducting money from the rate support grant elsewhere in the local authority's budget in a sly form of mission creep?
Those are just some of my questions; I assure all your Lordships that my first draft had many more. I do not see how we can properly debate the levy until we get the answers. I hope that we will have some before we reach Committee in the autumn and that we can put the answers into the Bill. I look forward to getting to grips with the detail of this otherwise most necessary Bill.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am happy to follow that very wise speechperhaps I say that because I agree with so much of it. I especially agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, about the attractions of the first part of the Bill and the approach being adopted by the Government. The national policy statements will put the political aspects of major infrastructure development where they belong, which is up front, in Parliament, to be debated and dealt with properly before we get into any of the more complicated and local procedures.
I will come back to how I think that Parliament will deal with them afterwards, because that is where I want to get into the detail. It is high time that we had a structure to draw out the politics and for Parliament to face up to the decisions that it is making about what should happen out in the country rather than have this endless fudge and people having to go through endless hoops merely to achieve what Parliament and the Government have already decided, to our immense economic disadvantage. I welcome that.
I also welcome the proposals for developer consultation. I am involved with, although not in any way paid by, a company that specialises in that area. A tremendously helpful development in the past decade or so has been that developers are becoming much more open with communities about what they want to do and much more open to their suggestions as to how what they want to do can be improved from a local point of view. This does not put a chop on the project; the IPC will not say, Right, this has been done and therefore we can take the developers views on what the consultation has achieved as part of our input. This is about waking up, informing and involving local communities so that, when we get to the planning inquiry or IPC stage, the process runs much more efficiently.
In Committee, I will look with interest at how the Government justify the IPC. Why, given the other two parts of the structure, do we need to move to an IPC rather than use the existing planning structures, or a variant on them, with which we are all familiar? Given that we have taken so much of the politics out of the process, what does the IPC as a structure add that could not have been added by amending the planning inquiry regulations? Is there really no function for a Minister at the end of the process? It is a political comfort, as the Liberals and others have said, to know at the end of the day that a Minister, not an official, is looking at this.
The Government are right to say that ministerial involvement has become much more formal. I remember the decisions that my right honourable friend John Gummer took in his tenure as Environment Minister and the personal steer that he could give to development.
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I like most of all the proposals for discussing national policy statements in Parliament. The Bill and what has been said about how it will work focus very much on the Commons. As I understand it, the process will be that after the publication of an NPS, the relevant Select Committees in the Commons will get together, decide who will hold an inquiry and run a 12-week inquiry that takes evidence from witnesses. It will then have a period to digest the evidence before it produces a report. The proposal at the moment is that, when that report is produced, the House of Lords will decide whether it wants to debate it. That will not do.
We have a lot to contribute in these areas. In areas such as nuclear power stations and airports, in which a lot of technicality is involved, we have expertise and experience to bring to the process that are not obviously present in the Commons. When it comes particularly to national policy statements, for example on wind turbines, that are not location-specific but leave open the whole question of where these things should be located, and in which the process through which the IPC has to go is specified by a series of restrictionsa series of guidelines which the IPC will have to followthere would be a great function for your Lordships House in considering whether those guidelines are practical and sufficient and will produce something that actually works in practice, to take the politics out of it, and whether they have been properly drawn. We should not get involved in deciding whether something should go in a particular place. Place is very much a matter for the Commons; practicality and principle are things that we should consider.
We have a reasonable procedure in this House for negotiating with the Commons and for making sure that where we hold parallel inquiries we do not do too much of the same thing. I do not think that the Lords should be afraid of saying that it wants a role from the beginning whereby, as soon as a national policy statement is published, it can consider whether it wishes to hold its own inquiry on the same timescale and basis as the Commons. Because we are sensible people and do not like wasting public money, I am sure that we will not do it when we have nothing to add. I hope that having to wait on the Commons, its opinions and its limitations, will not appeal to many people in this House.
The process after that is interesting. It will require us to be quite innovative in our structures. The proposal is that there will be a Motion that can be amended, which this House will discuss. We will have a process whereby people may want put down quite a lot of amendments to a Motion to say that they would prefer the Government to do this or that. We will need almost a Committee stage structure to deal with a Motion on the Floor of the House. I do not know how the Commons propose to deal with that, but it will
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