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Under Clause 44, it is right that owners and occupiers of land must be consulted by applicants, but it must be of concern that the minimum 28 days is deemed sufficient. The suggestion that 42 days should be a minimum requirement would be fairer. I realise that the mention of 28 days and 42 days is provocative, but I have the right Bill.
The deadline of only 14 days on Clause 50(5) for owners and occupiers of land to respond to applicants inquiries is too short. Similarly, a period of 28 days in which to make representations to the ICP under Clause 54(5) is also too short. Large-scale projects will inevitably be complex and affected persons must be given adequate time to protect their interests.
As a general principle, it must be right that only the minimum of land necessary to the development is taken. Clause 90 creates a new right for affected persons to insist on a compulsory acquisition hearing, and must be applauded in that regard.
Clause 183 proposes to amend planning law so that the existing permitted development rights could be withdrawn by a local planning authority without the Secretary of States consent, and, subject to giving 12 months notice, could result in no compensation being payable. Many rural businesses rely on the use of permitted development rights to carry out modest scale development essential to the running of their businesses. The current requirements act as appropriate safeguards against the use of such directions except where there are compelling circumstances. The removal of these safeguards would allow more widespread interference with small-scale business decisions.
Clause 198 proposes that the aim of the new community infrastructure levyCILthat replaces the planning gain supplement is to ensure that the cost incurred in providing infrastructure to support development will be funded by owners and developers of land, the value of which will increase due to the permission for development.
Clause 200(5) provides that the CIL may be payable even where the value of land has not increased. In such circumstances, the levy may make some small-scale rural developments unviable. There are many circumstances where a farming business invests in an agricultural development which makes no contribution to its profitability and little difference to the value of the farm, but which is desirable for the business, or even necessary to comply with environmental animal welfare or food safety requirements. As a fundamental principle, should not the CIL be levied in proportion to the likely impact of a development on infrastructure? This would result in a fair and more appropriate levy. The number of common occurrences would be minimal. First, replacement of like-for-like agricultural buildings and structures; secondly, temporary permission for temporary agricultural dwellings such as mobile homes, where permission is often renewed despite the fact that there is no impact on local infrastructure; and, thirdly, rural development that has a low impact on infrastructure, such as the improvement and reuse of redundant farm buildings. Lastly, small developments that take into account environmental technologies that promote carbon neutrality. There is a strong case that these developments should be exempt and that a de minimis threshold be set.
The CIL structure will be determined by regulations. It appears that charging authorities will be able to set their own rates, resulting in potentially huge variations in charges for similar developments from area to area.
These guidance regulations have yet to be published, yet they are crucial and fundamental to the successful operation of the new proposals. Many noble Lords have commented that there is time to draft these regulations during the Recess and bring them forward to informed debate and to enable this House to understand better the intentions in the Bill and to build in the necessary safeguards.
I agree with the Minister that the present regime is not fit for purpose. The Government have broadly got their approach correct to reform this tortuous process, and many noble Lords have highlighted future benefits. In my own area of Cheshire, many infrastructure improvements, such as a new station for Crewe and a second Mersey crossing, are now being proposed. I welcome seeing them progress under the proposed new system in the Bill.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, it my duty to start to bring the debate to an end on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. I declare an interest as a member of a planning authority. I am actively involved in planning; indeed, I have just worked out that I have spent a third of my life as a member of a planning committee of one sort or another. I do not know what that says, but it is true.
I do not agree with the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who, like all sensible Members of the House, has already gone home at this late hour. He thought that this was the worst Second Reading that he had ever attended. The arrangements for holding it have not been satisfactory for whatever reason; everybody accepts that. However, our debate has been quite outstanding in quality and has revealed a range of expertise and knowledge around the House that promises a fascinating, valuable and, in terms of the planning system, not very streamlined Committee stage. If everyone who has put forward points this evening brings them back in Committee, it may take some time. I hope that they will, because a great deal of the Bill needs to be gone over in detail.
I support the contribution with which my noble friend Lady Hamwee opened the Liberal Democrat contributions today and those of my other colleagues, most of which I agreed with. I agreed in particular with the contributions of my noble friends Lady Miller, on the environmental issues, and Lord Goodhart, on CIL, which must clearly be bottomed out more satisfactorily in Committee. I agreed with what my noble friend Lord Livsey said about Wales, which, again, must be bottomed out.
Many other contributions from around the House provided me with a great deal of interest and intellectual stimulationperhaps that is because noble Lords know more about these things than I do. I am thinking particularly of the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, for his local government experience, and the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, who is still with us at this late hour, made a series of extremely interesting points, mostnot allof which I agreed with. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham made an interesting contribution about charities and local churches; that issue, too, among many others, must be bottomed out in Committee.
Before he got on to nuclear power, what the noble Lord, Lord Reay, said about the planning system, was interesting. The planning system in this country has been a huge success over the past 60 years. We should never forget that. Think what the country would now be like without it. That is not to say that it does not need reform. His other important point was that a lot of planning is about the reconciliation of conflicting interests. Some noble Lords seem to think that we need to reform the planning system so that they can get through what they want more quickly. Perhaps that is a legitimate point of view, but the reconciliation of conflicting interests is important. That is why accountability, involvement of people and democracy must be at the heart of the system.
Some themes will recur in Committee. Probably the best exposition of accountability was given by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, who made an extremely interesting speech, particularly about the relationship between the Infrastructure Planning Commission and national policy statements and between Parliament and the rest of the planning system. That will be at the heart of a great deal that we shall discuss.
Related to that issue is the democratic legitimacy that my noble friend Lady Hamwee talked about and
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One noble Lord made the point that, whatever decisions the IPC makes, the Government will not be able to escape their consequences. These decisions are quasi-judicial and highly political. If people do not like them, they will blame the Government, because that is what the Government are for: the Government are there to take the rap for the decisions that they make and to take responsibility for them, whether they are good or bad. There is no way in which that can be avoided.
In her extremely useful and typically thorough introductory speech, the Minister said that this process was quasi-judicial and political and that the two went together. In my own much more modest capacity, I have been involved during the past few weeks with the planning application for a new supermarket. The final decision was closely balanced. We made the decision to grant the application finally, although right until the end we thought that we would not do so. The decision had to be made in a quasi-judicial capacity, with us sitting as a planning committee. However, as a politician I am accountable to all the people in the town concerned, who may be in favour of the application, who may be against it or who may just want to know more about it. You cannot avoid that. These decisions are quasi-judicial and political and the two are totally intertwined. It is no use pretending that that is not the case.
Another major theme is economic development versus environmental sustainability, which my noble friend Lady Miller mentioned. However, it is not necessarily economic development versus environmental sustainability; it is economic development vis-Ã -vis environmental sustainability. If we get it right, it is a win-win; if we get it wrong, it is a lose-lose. There is a real feeling that the Bill is biased. We shall look at that in Committee.
The relationship between the IPC and national policy statements is crucial. What is the role of the IPC? What will be left for it to decide if, in the Ministers words, planning decisions can appropriately be left to an independent body bound by that policy or, in other words, the national policy statement? The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, summed it up well when he said that the role of the IPC is to assess proposals conformity with the plans. However, that is not how planning decisions work. If that is what will happen and if that is all that the IPC will doseeing whether an application for a major infrastructure development is in conformity with the NPSit will not have a very hard job.
Planning decisions are much more complicated than that. Given the plan-led system that we have, there is a presumption that an application will be approved if it is in conformity with the development plan unless there are other material considerations that people think dictate otherwise. That is where the balance comes in. There are lots of material considerations in addition to the development plan. We are interested in
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That leads on to another major issue: general public consent. In a practical sense, if everything that goes to the IPC is passed, because there are national policy statements, and people will put in applications only if they are pretty sure that they conform with those statements, the system will soon fall into substantial disrepute, because people will think that it is just a fix. All the consultation that the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, and others talked about will be meaningless, because people will have their say but to no effect. They will simply be told, Thats what you think, but the national policy statement says this, and that must override everything. This is the kind of issue that we will want to discuss in Committee. The problem is that, if people are dissatisfied with the system and it is in disrepute, they will go to judicial review and the courts and the system will be clogged up. Alternatively, they will take direct or political action and remove the people who were responsible for all this.
Is the present planning system fit for purpose? Our view is that, on balance, as far as big infrastructure projects are concernednot the restthe answer is no. Does it need reform? I think that everyone accepts that it does. Is the planning system the only problem that we have? No. Is it our main problem? That is arguable, but in some large infrastructure applications it is almost certainly not. The main problem is a lack of political will at whatever level, a lack of funds for investment or the lack of a long-term strategy. Some of us would say that we ought to get on with building high-speed railway lines, for example, but the planning system is not the reason why that is not happening.
Is the IPC the answer to the problem? This is where we start to have doubts. Yes, we will agree with noble Lords who have said that reform is needed, but is this particular reform the right one or, if it is more or less the right one, have we got the details right? Are there other answers? Some of us very much take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, that if we think that there are alternative answers, we have to come up with some. We have the summer to get our heads together.
Finally, some of us remember the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. Time and again, when that Bill was going through Parliament, the Government said that its purpose was to make the planning system more streamlined, less bureaucratic, more efficient and more democratic. There is a widespread view that the Act has made the system less streamlined, more bureaucratic, certainly not more efficient, certainly not quicker and certainly not more democratic. There may be differences of opinion about that, but that view is certainly widespread on the ground among people who are trying to carry out the provisions. That is a warning. Just because people say that this legislation will improve things does not mean that it will do so. Just because there is a need for reform does not mean that the reform put forward is the right one. There is a great deal of work to be done in Committee. This is a
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I begin by thanking the many noble Lords who have contributed their considerable expertise. This debate truly displays your Lordships House at its very best. The debate has been wide-ranging and I do not propose to regurgitate all the arguments that we have heard. I wish to concentrate on some of the main issues.
The Bill is designed to speed up the planning process. This principle has the full support of this side of the House. However, as we have heard from many noble Lords, the Bill as it stands is in danger of trampling over another important principledemocracy. I have no doubt that much time will be spent in Committee trying to achieve the right balance between speeding up decisions and democratic accountability. We should strive to achieve both.
I should like to start by referring to the national policy statements. We welcome their introduction, as, I believe, do all sections of this House. On the front page of Mondays FT was an article on the CBI and this Bill. It said:
If only. As the Bill stands, the draft national policy statement will go out to public consultation and will then be subject to parliamentary consultation but not approval. The final decision is to be taken by the Secretary of State. What would happen if the Secretary of States decision was contrary to the findings or conclusions of the public and parliamentary consultations? No doubt there would be judicial reviews and lengthy court proceedings. I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Caithness will win his bet with the noble Lord, Lord ONeill, that there will not be any policy statements in place to review in two years time because of judicial reviews and legal proceedings. It will be interesting; time will tell. However, another issue is whether a review in two years is the right answer. Should one be carried out every two years?
The Governments position seems to be that policy should be made by the Executivethe Secretary of Stateand not Parliament. They wish to keep the role of the Executive separate from the legislature. There is an argument, put forward by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding, that, once the national policy statement has been approved by the Secretary of State, it should be subject to the approval of both Houses. He argues that this would give it credibility and weight. We agree with him on that. Otherwise, a parliamentary consultation would simply be a get-out clause when things went wrong, with the Government saying, Oh, but we consulted Parliament. That would just be going through the motions without going through the process.
We should not forget that some policy statements will be site-specificthose relating to nuclear and airport runwaysbut that seems to skip many of the important steps in the planning process. A policy statement that says where a development will take place is effectively already granting planning permission.
I now turn to the Infrastructure Planning Commission, the IPC. The Bill creates an unelected, undemocratic and unsackable body that will approve developments without any semblance of democratic accountability. That is something that we are seeking to change. My noble friend Lord Reay had reservations about the setting up of an IPC at all, finding it less democratic than the present inspectorate system. My noble friend Lord Lucas also asked what value the IPC was adding to the existing system.
Arguments have been put forward by my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith that the current proposals will set up a regime that is undemocratic and perhaps even unlawful in terms of compliance with the UKs European and international obligations under the various directives and conventions. That could well lead to lengthy legal challenges by interested parties as the only way of establishing a right to be heard properly. This, of course, would frustrate the very purpose of the Bill, which is to speed up the planning process, and that would be a pity. We believe that some sort of democratic accountability needs to be present in this decision-making process.
I now turn to the community infrastructure levy. Many of your Lordships have raised concerns and questions about how the levy will work. I do not propose to go over all the arguments; they were well put by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and expanded on admirably by my noble friends Lord Lucas and Lord Inglewood. Does the Minister propose to repeal the Planning-gain Supplement (Preparations) Act 2007? CIL would make it obsolete. Or, as my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith asked, are the Government planning to use the planning gain supplement at some stage in the future? Will the levy apply to charities and other non-profit-making organisations, such as housing associations? We do not want to rob Peter to pay Paul. Will the levy be retained by the local authorities concerned so that it can be spent to the benefit of the community directly affected by the new infrastructures or will some of it go the regional bodiesunelected and undemocratic bodies which are not popular with the electorateto be spent on projects remote from the communities directly affected by the new infrastructure? This will cause serious concern across the country, and as my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes pointed out, this subject is already causing concern with London Councils.
I turn to another topic that has already been addressed in today's debate: climate change. In her opening remarks, the Minister mentioned meeting the challenges of climate change, but the Bill creates no obligation on the Secretary of State or the IPC to consider climate change in their decision-making, and we are told that climate change is the single most important issue facing the world. Yet these infrastructure projects are likely to have major impacts on climate change issues. In the Bill there is a requirement to contribute to the
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A number of issues have been brought to the attention of the House by your Lordships which, although important, I will not be able to address adequately at this stage. However, it is important that we do not lose sight of many of the complex implications of the Bill. As my noble friend Lord Roberts has mentioned, Wales is a significant source of various types of energy and the Bill is unclear in some instances on the relationship between the Government and the Welsh Assembly. Scotland seems to be conspicuous by its absence in the Bill.
I could go on, but I will not. This evenings debate has been excellent and I am sure that the many issues raised will be discussed in greater detail in Committee. All sides of the House welcome the main thrust of the Bill, which is to speed up the planning process, but it must not be at the expense of democratic accountability. We will need to find the right balance.
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