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I come now to Part 10 of the Bill, which relates specifically to Wales. Clause 195, which appeared belatedly during Committee in the other place, is a framework
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Clause 196 enables Welsh Ministers by order to give effect in Wales to a series of provisions in this Bill that relate to England only, as things stand. There is a precautionary flavour about some of the provisions in Clause 196. However, all in all this is a formidable package of primary and secondary legislative powers for Welsh Ministers. I confess to being personally averse to framework clauses such as Clause 195 because they mean that this Parliament confers primary legislative powers without knowing precisely how they will be applied. All we know is the key subject matter. In this case, I understand, along with the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, that the National Assembly and its Ministers do not intend to follow the broad strategy of this Bill and have devised a planning strategy of their own based on the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. Part 6 of that Act is entirely devoted to Wales and contains some 18 clauses dealing with the Welsh spatial plan.
Assembly Ministers are clearly taking advantage of this Bill to consolidate and increase their primary legislative powerssometimes, it seems, just in case they are neededand to extend such powers to reviewing local authority plans and ensuring that such plans are produced to their satisfaction. They already have some similar powers under the 2004 Act and it is not clear why they need them under the Bill. Local authorities in this context include national park authorities. It may be that some will feel that the Assembly is taking local intervention in this instance a step too far, confirming yet again its strong centralising tendencies.
Finally, I note that Assembly Ministers are among the list of those who may charge the community infrastructure levy. We all look forward to seeing the regulations, which are required in Part 11, to spell out in detail how the levy is to be imposed and the proceeds applied. The more one reads Part 11, the more distant the levy becomes from the individual development to which it relates.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I shall speak about energy. I am a member of Sub-Committee B of the Select Committee on the European Union, which is conducting an inquiry into renewable energy. The views that I am expressing are personal and not the views of the committee, which has not yet published its report.
Onshore wind energy is the only credible means of attaining the Government's target of 15 per cent of our energy needs from renewable sources. I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool that this will have to be a minimum if we are to meet the views of the Climate Change Bill.
Most people support this government aim, but the most vocal opponents of the means of gathering and transmitting wind energy are proponents of renewables in theory. They oppose it on two points. They talk about the democratic deficit, and then about the environmental impact of the means of generation and transmission. The irony of these debates is that if you subscribe entirely to these two points of view you effectively rule out the timely exploitation of the most likely source of renewable energy and make ever stronger the case for nuclear energy and building more coal-fired power stations. You cannot have one thing if you rule out the other.
I turn to how the planning system may help the generation and transmission of wind energy. First, I suggest that the Minister revisits the size of generating stations, as set out in Clause 15 of the Bill. Fifty megawatts is a reasonable amount; it is a small amount if you are talking about a large coal-fired, gas-fired or nuclear station. However, it is far too large to deal with the wind turbines unless there is a large array of them, a matter referred to just now by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. I believe that this limit must be reduced urgently, or there must be some mechanism of grouping a lot of wind turbines together. As these become available, it should also be possible to fit more efficient turbines to the windmills without seeking fresh planning consent.
Secondly, we must resolve the issues surrounding transmission. There will have to be new means of transmission as the places best suited to wind generation are on remote coastal sites where the grid is at its weakest. The noble Lord, Lord Mogg, is the chairman of Ofgem. I believe that the duties of that body are to focus solely on the costs of the system to present-day users. These duties need to be refocused to ensure that electricity is generated from renewable sources and that the electricity is transmitted efficiently in the long term. In this respect, the duties of the national grid need attention so we can get away from the present first-come-first-served system of allocating connections which leave a number of completed wind-power turbines unconnected to the national grid. The system of connect and manage appears to be more appropriate. The sub-committee is presently of a mind to suggest that the Planning Bill, as it now stands, does not create a predictable planning environment for renewable generation.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, I support the objectives of the Bill. As has been said, our planning system for major projects seems to be designed to promote delay and uncertainty and to put off for years the making of firm decisions. Currently, the investigation or inquiry into each major project dwells not so much on the planning issues affecting the location but on the national policy issue of whether the project should be proceeding
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Under the current system, major energy projects involving gas storage, wind farms, power stations and transmission line upgrades have also been subject to delays running into years. Obviously, major infrastructure projects can be controversial. The Bill should not be a device for forcing through proposals that do not stand up to close scrutiny. It is just as important that a decision not to proceed with major infrastructure proposals should be made without inordinate delay as it is that decisions should be made without excessive delay to proceed with major projects that stack up and are in the national interest but may not be welcomed by everybody.
No planning system will ever be universally regarded as perfect, since the perfect system gives the answer that you want. However, we can provide for a procedure that is open and easily understood, provides accountability, allows all relevant voices to be heard, distinguishes between the setting of the policy and the making of the decision on the planning application and allows the planning decision to be made in a reasonable time by independent experts in a more inquisitorial, rather than adversarial, setting. We do not have that now. I also suspect that those who think that an independent planning commission would rubber-stamp any major project put in front of it are in for a surprise. As it is, many seem to feel that the current quasi-judicial decisions of Ministersaccountable to the courts, not Parliament, in this fieldon major projects have an air of inevitability.
We are faced with a need to make decisions on a number of major energy infrastructure projects in the near-to-medium future to address the impact of climate change and changes in the cost and availability of existing sources of energy. The present situation in the housing market does not alter the fact that a significant number of new homes are needed to meet demand, not least for first-time buyers wanting affordable homes. We need a planning system capable of generating sensible and balanced decisions on major projects to meet that demand, without undue delay, within the framework of national policy, while paying proper regard to environmental considerations. Major infrastructure investment will be needed in transport, air, sea and rail. Our railway system is operating at or near capacity on many key routes, affecting the ability to cater for further growth in both passenger and freight transport. Consideration must be given to new high-speed rail lines, underground and light rail links in our major conurbations, as well as to further increasing capacity on existing lines.
We need a planning system that enables decisions on projects that may prove controversial, at least for those adjacent to them, to be made within a reasonable time. The inquiry must relate to local impacts and not end up with a reopening of the debate on the national issue of whether we should be expanding our railway network. That debate will have taken place in the
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Delay in making decisions on major infrastructure schemeswhether to proceed or not with a particular projectcosts money, prolongs uncertainty and simply puts off decisions that cannot be ducked for ever to a later date, to the detriment of the national interest. The Bill seeks to address the defects in the present system and, in so doing, to provide a clearer and more prominent role for Ministers and Parliament in setting policy on the national need for infrastructure. It provides a duty on promoters and developers to consult the community as they work up potential applications, including an environmental assessment. It provides for decisions on individual project applications within the framework of the national policy to be made by independent experts within clear deadlines in a less adversarial setting than at present, with those who register an interest having a right to be heard.
Our planning system can at times be slow, too expensive and too bureaucratic. We must never see a repeat of the painful process of approval for terminal 5 at Heathrow.[Official Report, Commons, 8/11/07; col. 276.]
Lord Cobbold: My Lords, I declare an interest as a landowner in the green belt in Hertfordshire. I welcome the principal objective of the Bill to make more efficient the planning and implementation of nationally significant infrastructure projects. However, I cannot but wonder whether it would be possible to achieve the objective with a Bill of fewer than 189 pages.
What is not needed is a massive increase in bureaucracy in an area that is already complicated enough. In this context, a part of the Bill that I found confusing was Clause 59(2), in which the chair of the Infrastructure Planning Commission must decide whether an application is to be handled by a panel or by a single commissioner. However, before making the decision, under subsection (4) the chair must consult the other commissioners who are members of the council. This is the first mention of the word council. You have to go to paragraph 6 of Schedule 1 on page 142 to discover what the council is. It is not clear even then exactly what the respective roles are of the commission, the council and the panels.
Another difficult issue is whether, having issued a national policy statement, the Secretary of State can really escape responsibility for the underlying projects. Because of their national importance, the projects concerned are bound to attract political controversy in spite of a published national policy statement.
The Bill is not limited in its coverage only to infrastructure projects of national importance. Part 9 deals with proposed changes to existing planning regimes. I propose a modest change to green-belt regulations that is not in the Bill. While I fully accept the basic objectives of green-belt policy as set out in PPG2,
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Part 11 introduces a proposal for a community infrastructure levy, which is designed to ensure that costs incurred in providing infrastructure to support the development of an area can be funded wholly or partly by owners or developers of land whose value has increased due to permission for development. These functions are covered by Section 106 agreements, the need for which is recognised by landowners and developers. However, to retain Section 106 agreements, as is proposed, at the same time as introducing the CIL sounds excessive and dangerously reminiscent of the dreaded development land tax, which dried up the supply of development land in the 1970s.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, the Bill represents a serious attempt to grapple with a very important problem. We urgently need a better planning process for major national infrastructure. The Bill imaginatively seeks to reconcile the requirements of clarity of policy, full analysis of particular proposals, opportunity for all affected to be heard, democratic accountability and good quality decision, and all that in a reasonable timescale.
I should like to consider three issues in connection with the Infrastructure Planning Commission. The first is accountability, with which the House of Commons has already wrestled. The system the Government propose represents an advance in democratic accountability on the system that it will replace. The national policy statements will be subjected to public debate and to parliamentary scrutiny and dialogue between Parliament and the Secretary of State. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, noted that they would be unamendable, and she was concerned about that. However, I understand that the Government intend that national policy statements should be submitted in draft to Parliament, so to that extent we will have the opportunity to influence their eventual form and content.
My noble friend Lady Andrews rehearsed all the many occasions built into the legislation upon which there will be consultation, local authority engagement, parliamentary scrutiny and opportunity for objectors to be heard, but we are still left with the vexed question of who finally should make these decisions. The Government propose that it should be the IPC within the framework of democratically mandated national policy statements, extensive consultation and engagement with local government, and parliamentary oversight.
I remain uncomfortable at the thought that such major planning decisions that affect so many peoples lives so importantly should be made by an appointed body. Planning is about reconciling conflicting interests, particularly, as my noble friend mentioned, where it is proposed that the local interest should be subordinated to the national interest. All of that is an intensely political affair. I recognise that the IPC will be the successor to the planning inspector, who is not accountable to Parliament. I recognise that under the present system the Secretary of State, in taking decisions, does not act as a freewheeling politician, but in a quasi-judicial capacity in which she is considerably constrained, and that Parliament cannot reject or amend the decisions that she takes in that capacity.
My noble friend the Minister also drew attention to the important reality that the Government will often be the promoters of development proposals. It does not seem right that the Government, as applicants, should make judgments in their own interests. I note that where no national policy statement is yet designated, the Secretary of State will take the decision, and when the Government take the view that there are security interests or other special considerations about which we are to be told, the Secretary of State can take over from the IPC the responsibility for taking the decision. Therefore, the Government do not see a decisive objection in principle to Ministers taking these decisions. However, it is not obvious that Ministers should take them.
If that is the case, then should Parliament take these decisions? Again, the answer to that is not obvious. Certainly, this House should not do so; our role is to scrutinise and advise, but not to decide. We may well disagree with the House of Commons in our judgment on a proposed NPS, and in the end it is our practice to defer to the elected Chamber. But should the House of Commons decide? We are told that some 45 major infrastructure decisions will be taken each year. I note that that figure has crept sharply upwards from the number adumbrated in the planning White Paper at paragraph 5.57, which anticipated 10 major infrastructure decisions a year and a number of others. The White Paper suggested that in a heavy year, there might be a peak of 25. We need to keep a watch on this process of creep and ensure that only the decisions that really ought to be made through this process are subjected to it.
Whether 10, 25 or, more likely, 45, decisions are to be made each year, they would represent a massive workload for the House of Commons. The parliamentary timetable means that that workload could not be undertaken in any worthwhile depth by the whole House or by a single Select Committee. If these decisions were to be taken by ad hoc committees of the House of Commons, I would suggest that the distinction between government and Parliament is sometimes rather less than it may appear, because the majority of appointments to those committees will be at the Governments disposal. Of course, whatever the cajolery and dragooning of party Whips, MPs are of course free and, doubtless, robust, and parliamentary decisions are democratic.
There is no evident solution to this conundrum and I hope that we shall think hard during the passage of the Bill. If we are unable to come up with a better idea, then maybe when there is a review in a couple of yearsI agree with those who have suggested that it should be rather later than thatwe can come back to the problem.
My second area of concern about the proposed arrangements for the IPC and this whole process relates to design, about which my noble friend Lady Whitaker spoke so thoughtfully. I remind the House that I am an honorary fellow of the RIBA, which will make proposals to amend the Bill in respect of design. It seems to me essential that high-quality design should be factored into these applications and decisions, and, to the extent that they are, it will assist their acceptability by the public. We are talking of major infrastructureby definition, conspicuousand of course it should be well designed, and the Government should favour that, as they do. They say in planning policy statement 1:
However, we cannot take it for granted that there will be good design within this process. There are many conflicting pressures. We agreed recently in our consideration of the Housing and Regeneration Bill that an explicit additional duty should be laid on the Homes and Communities Agency to contribute to the achievement of good design in England. I am comforted that in her speech to CABE on 25 March the Secretary of State, Hazel Blears, said that it is,
How, then, should it be done? As the Minister suggested, the best opportunity will be to incorporate this requirement within the national policy statements. We should consider laying a duty on the Government, in formulating the national policy statements, to promote good design. There is already a duty on the Government to promote sustainabilitythat is an aspect of good designand I do not see why that duty should not be drawn more widely. Similarly, the IPC should have a general duty to promote good design, as we laid on the Homes and Communities Agency. I certainly hope that Ministers will be concerned to appoint as members of the IPC some people who are expert and committed to good design. One way or another, we should reinforce through all means available to governmentthrough targets, guidance, reporting requirements and evaluation proceduresthe drive for good design.
In the Bill, extraordinary powers are accorded to the IPC: to apply, modify or exclude provisions in primary legislation and, if I have not misunderstood, to set aside the listed building planning consent, conservation area consent and scheduled monument consent regimes. As the Minister said, the remit in respect of heritage should be set by the national policy statements. There should be a duty on the Government in preparing national policy statements to have regard to heritage.
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