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Whatever Motion we pass will go to the Government. They will react to it and will produce an answer. That should be followed by further debate if we wish, at which point Parliament will have had its say and the national policy statement will be there. That process will expose the whole planning structure for these major infrastructure projects to real democratic accountability at the beginning, which is an enormous advance.
As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has said, we should use the CIL for dealing with the lack of detail. We really cannot consider it as it is at the moment. There are so many ways in which we need to understand how it will work and how we can pin down its interaction with other local structures. I very much enjoyed the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and I will not add to them. Where you need infrastructure to go with a particular development, which can be secured under Section 106 at the moment, it is not clear how that can be secured under the CIL arrangements. We have a lot of detailed thinking to do and we need detail in the Bill to be able to do it.
Lord Judd: My Lords, I always find that the reflections of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, bring real quality to important deliberations of the sort in which we are engaged tonight. I am glad to declare an interest as president of the Friends of the Lake District, which represents CPRE in Cumbria, and as a vice-president of the Campaign for National Parks. There is a great deal to welcome in this Bill. A more strategic approach to planning, rather than a piecemeal tactical system with all its dangers of nimbyism, could prove immensely valuable. I therefore make my observations in a positive context.
We all want the United Kingdom to be a decent, civilised, thriving, sustainable and, crucially, qualitatively good place to live and to leave to our grandchildren. A strong, sustainable economy is essential to underpin it, but this is obviously complicated by the new realities of climate change and the challenges surrounding energy and power. That is well illustrated as we move towards a new generation of nuclear energy by the imperative that we should do so only having resolved what we do with nuclear waste. To fail convincingly to have resolved this first could prove selfish and irresponsible towards future generations.
To be a good place to live, our culture, history and heritage, together with the wonderful natural inheritance of the aesthetic and scenic glories of the countryside, must at all costs be preserved and enhanced. They are essential to our psychological and physical well-being as a nation. They are our lungs and are indispensable to our spiritual fulfilment. As we gear up economically for survival, we must learn from the Industrial Revolution. With hindsight we can all see that the ruthless rape of some of our finest and loveliest assets was not necessary.
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Exactly how will the Bill guarantee that the vital national importance of aesthetic considerationsbeauty, wildlife habitats and the wider well-being created by space, regeneration and recreation of the communitywill be not just protected but enhanced? Where will real accountability lie? How will the Bill safeguard a commitment to the historic environment and ensure that the essential relevant inputs of scholarship and expertise are available to the Infrastructure Planning Commission? How will commitments to social justice, equity, and environmental quality and culture that have been so much at the heart of the town and country planning system since 1947 be sustained and underwritten? How will we ensure that all development is genuinely sustainable and that it has not just been put through a green wash exercise? How will the legitimate anxieties about the dangers inherent in combining the investigative, advisory and decision-making powers of the IPC be met? How will the IPC itself be made effectively accountable? Will national policy statements carry more weight than the existing planning policy statements, and if so, why?
We must remember that the present system deals with sustainable development, housing, rural areas and biodiversity, ensuring that environmental issues are treated on an equal footing with economic considerations. Will that continue to be meaningfully the case in the future; and if not, why not? Is there an intention to regard, for example, the aviation White Paper as in effect a national policy statement? Would this allow both for the consideration of alternatives and for the strategic assessment regulations fully to be taken into account? If an NPS is to designate sites, will civil rights remain inviolatethe right to be heard and the right to cross-examine? Do not issues like these make a full planning inquiry process still essential?
Currently, regional planning powers are held by regional assemblies. As we have just heard, it is now being proposed to transfer them to the regional development agencies. How does this improve democratic accountability? Arguably, Clause 171 will have a greater impact on day-to-day planning than any other aspect of the Bill, but could not this change in effect weight planning towards economic development without giving proper consideration to the potentially high cost of other social priorities? How can this be avoided? If ever there was a sphere of government in which the strength of the outcomes is dependent upon a broadly based consensus on the objectives and the methods in place to achieve them, planning is a prime example. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend, whose concern for the qualitative dimensions of society I know personally to be second to none, will be able to reassure us on these matters during the proceedings on the Bill.
Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her courtesy in opening this Second Reading debate on the Planning Bill. It concentrates on large infrastructure projects and is an England and Wales Bill. I want to point that out because I am a spokesperson on Welsh affairs.
Obviously, there is a need to expedite some projects within defined time limits. Projects such as TGV-type rail electrification schemes are likely to be more acceptable than nuclear power stationsthat stands out by a milebut huge questions of accountability arise from the Bill, especially in relation to areas directly affected by infrastructure projects.
I have carried out research on the Infrastructure Planning Commission. First, I was told that there would be eight commissioners and only one from Wales; then I discovered that, on the planning consideration of infrastructure projects, there would be between three and five and that they would be accountable to Ministers and Parliament and report to the Secretary of State. However, it is indicated on page 31 of the Planning Bill impact assessment that there will be 35 IPC commissioners and 75 people in the secretariat. The sums are given, and it will cost quite a bit of money. The IPC will be a quango and will need democratic control big time.
On page 7 of the Bill, Part 3 indicates the fields of nationally significant infrastructure projects in which it will operate. These include energy, transport, water, waste water and waste. It then gives categories of significant infrastructures such as electricity generation, electric lines, liquid natural gas, airports, harbours, railways, reservoirs and hazardous waste.
Let us consider the national planning statements from a Welsh perspective. The main point in a briefing by the Welsh Assembly Government is that the Planning Bill is devolution-neutral, but there is, first, a Wales spatial plan, a national plan for Wales, to which local planning authorities22 unitary authoritiesand three national parks must have regard; secondly, there are local development plans, LDPs, for single-tier local government; and, thirdly, there are development plans for unitary authorities. These are all in place. The LDPs, for example, contain a community involvement scheme and timetable for its preparation, adoption and consultation.
There is a statement in the Welsh Assembly Government briefingI do not have time to read it outwhich spells out the process for reform of these matters over a number of years. The question is whether, to misuse the title, the Infrastructure Planning Comintern is going to run roughshod over this process. I do not knowit may well do sobut the Welsh Assembly will surely need transition time to change many of the principles of planning that it has worked out over the past 10 years. It will take some time. In the House of Commons, an amendment was tabled to give the Welsh Assembly transition time. It was disposed of in two minutes.
The Welsh Assembly Government and the National Assembly policy is to maximise electricity production from renewable resources. What will happen in Wales if the Infrastructure Planning Commission wants to
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I declare an interest as a trustee of the CPRW, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. We in that organisation want to ensure a democratic and fair process that delivers sustainable development. The Planning Bill fails to acknowledge the speed of its processes on what it professes to espouse: environmental protection, climate change and quality of life. It tends to be short-termist and focused on immediate economic considerations and thus may threaten to undermine commitments for sustainable development. How can the Government justify that? The transfer of decision-making powers to the IPC from directly elected representatives in the devolved Assembly and the local authorities is a dangerous principle. Perhaps the Minister would care to comment on that.
If I had more time, I could comment on the impact of the Planning Bill on agriculture and land, but much has been said already on community infrastructure levies. I know that the farming unions in particular are concerned about that. There is also no reference to the importance of good design on infrastructure projects in the Bill, and the RIBA is concerned.
The conclusion that I come to is that the Bill threatens to undermine democratic accountability by, in some parts, overriding the power of the Secretary of State and the Welsh Assembly Government and their Ministers. The principle of expediting large, and few, infrastructure projects is a good one, but is the IPC the best vehicle to progress that objective? It is top-down and authoritarian, and that needs to be looked at in some detail. Will the Bill ensure sustainable development? Probably only in parts and without sufficient checks and balances. If we are to ensure accountability and environmental sustainability while achieving some constructive objectives, the Bill will have to be further amended.
The Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham: My Lords, there is much that is good in the Bill, as well as some provisions that need challenging. I wish to focus specifically today on Part 11, Clauses 198 to 209 on the community infrastructure levy and its likely impact on charities in general but the churches in particular, which has been referred to several times already. First, though, I had better declare a non-pecuniary interest as a former professional planner as a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute. I serve on the Council of Planning Aid and chair the Churches Legislation Advisory Service.
Noble Lords will recall that we have been here before. Last time, the proposed levy was called the planning gain supplement. Little has changed since
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At the moment, as we know, the system for linking planning gain to local authority infrastructure needs is a Section 106 agreement under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. It is not mandatory and it is rarely applied to small-scale projects. It looks, however, as if the effects of CIL will be differentalthough we do not know that for certain because we have not yet seen the fine data of what is proposed, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, referred to earlier.
The churches and charities generally are very disturbed by the proposal. Unless an exemption is made for charities, CIL will impose a completely new financial burden on them that they will find difficult to bear. The crux of the problem is this: if a commercial developer gets planning permission to build houses for sale, the CIL charge can be passed on to the ultimate purchasers if and when the houses are sold. Charities, however, do not normally develop land for salethey develop for their own purposes such as laboratories, offices or perhaps, in the case of a university, student accommodation; develop for some purpose such as social housing for rent; or aim to sell part of the site to finance the rest of the development. But there is frequently no sale at the end of the development process from which to pay CIL.
The Governments position on the voluntary sector was set out in the other place by the Minister, John Healey, during the Commons Committee stage on 31 January. He explained that the principle of CIL is that there will be no general exemptions in line with the current Section 106. He said that the current system is,
This is not simply idle speculation; I can cite a couple of concrete examples. There is a case where the parish facilities are too small for a growing church and where the parsonage is financially unviable for the 21st century. The church has a large hall attached; it also owns a two-storey hall, let as a nursery during the week. A scheme is being developed to provide extended facilities for the growth of the church and work among young people, a new parsonage, and sufficient housing to enable the scheme to become financially viable. The challenge is to provide enough homes to raise sufficient funding to be carried over to fund the construction of improved and extended parish facilities. The scheme is
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My second example concerns collaboration with the local authority over the relocation of a library which seeks to meet the need for a community centre, a health centre and pharmacy, a new building for worship and a new parsonage. The proposed scheme also includes 13 new homes. The challenge is to raise sufficient funds from the sale of the land to build the new place of worship and to replace the parsonage that has to be demolished to enable the new homes to be built. Parts of the scheme will be local authority/health authority-funded, so the effect of CIL will be neutral, but so far as the churchs resources are concerned, CIL would render it unviable. That would deprive the community of 13 new homes and a community centre.
For some charities and projects, there are no affordable levels. With the exception of VAT, charities do not pay tax. The reason is that successive Governments of all political persuasions have taken the view that charities, by definition, operate for the public benefit. That is enshrined in the Charities Act 2006. In addition, charities provide facilities that are part of the local infrastructure. Charity trustees do not start building projects as some kind of personal legacy; they do it to advance the objects of the charity.
As a result of CIL, facilities that would have been built for the benefit of the public will not be built. Is that really what Her Majesty's Government want to happen? How does it fit with their avowed desire to involve the voluntary sector more fully in service provision?
Finally, the detail of CIL is to be set out in regulations, which we have not seen. As we all know, when they are finally laid, they will be unamendable. I led a delegation from several charitable umbrella bodies to meet officials working on the Bill. We had a useful session and I hope that progress can be made, but we would still prefer to see an exemption for charities in the Bill. At the very least, we want a firm assurance from the Minister that something will be done in the regulations.
A flourishing voluntary sector helps build social capital and social cohesion. If CIL is imposed on charities, the loss will be to society at large. Schools and houses will not be built, the development of community facilities such as village halls will be hindered, and organisations that are already short of funds to care for important parts of the built heritage will have even less money for maintenance. Where is the public good in that?
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I, too, am interested particularly in the Welsh dimensions of the Bill. They are of general interest, not simply because of the complex interaction of the Bill with the planning
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I hope that the Minister will be able to indicate when we may expect to see those statements, which are clearly important if the Bill is to attain its objective of abbreviating the time taken by planning consent procedures. Like my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding, I regret that, although they are to be laid before Parliament, they do not seem to require parliamentary approval.
In this context, I am concerned particularly about the replacement of the Wylfa nuclear power station on my native Anglesey. The RTZ aluminium works at Holyhead and other plants in the north-west depend on its power supply. One fears that there will be a hiatus of some years between the end of the existing power station, which becomes obsolescent in 2010, and the start of its replacement. If the Minister can give some assurance on that energy-gap issue, I shall be very grateful.
Looking at the clauses relating to nationally significant infrastructure projects, I note the differences in treatment of some of them because of the differing powers and functions of the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. I know that my noble friend Lady Carnegy will refer to Scotland in Committee. Of the 15 different kinds of project listed in Clause 14, and subject to the succeeding Sections 15 to 29, there are some where the Assembly may have functions and others where it has none. It has no power or influence, for example, on onshore generating stations of more than 50 megawatts or offshore stations of more than 100 megawatts. This issue has already caused concern in mid-Wales, where there is a cluster of wind turbine generating stations, and in the resort towns on the north Wales coast, where a 750 megawatt offshore generating station is proposed. If the Assembly has no locus in granting consent to such developments, it is surely essential that Parliament approves the policy statement relating to them.
The projects in England which come within the scope of the Bill and which are within the Welsh Assemblys planning powers in Wales are quite numerous. They include LNG facilities, gas reception facilities, highways and airport developments, transfers of water resources and so on. I am not sure that these Welsh exclusions from the procedure envisaged in the Bill are necessarily advantageous to Walesor to England for that matter. Most of our strategic highways, for example, run from east to west over the border to and from England: the M4 in the south and the A55 in the north. The Severn rises in Wales before it crosses the border, and Birmingham and Liverpool obtain their water mainly from Wales. If there were to be highway or water developments in England which required complementary development in Wales but could not be subject to the same planning procedure, it might be problematic. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.
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