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Why should any investor come to Britain in an environment where we can guarantee only indefinite delays, circular processes, general obscurity about where the debate will be held and an inability to take the decision without going back to the Minister, who is sometimes the slowest part of the process? I say that not because I am dilatory or, I am certain, because the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, was. In all integrity, one has to revisit the evidence and look again at the issues. We are trying to create a safe environment for the investment that we need, both to address the challenge of climate

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change in terms of moving to a low-carbon economy and to create the infrastructure that we need to keep the lights on.

My noble friend referred to the Yorkshire upgrade. It took six and a half years, I should say, not just six. The figures show that delays to what we are trying to do with wind farms are equally serious. On average it takes 20 months to secure development consents for a large onshore wind farm. By November 2007 there were 23 onshore wind projects in England and Wales, with a combined capacity of over 500 megawatts, that had already been under consideration for more than two years. We cannot afford these delays. Delay brings uncertainty, not simply for the promoter but for the blighted community that is living with the cost of not knowing what is going to happen. More than anything else, given the pressures on resources and the timeframes we are working in, we need greater certainty and clarity throughout the planning system so that it provides a fair, transparent, credible and robust independent framework.

I do not want to rehearse the reasons for delay—I did that at Second Reading—but, critically, there are the following four things. First, we have delays, difficulties and uncertainties because we have a body of national planning policy that is too voluminous, complex and unwieldy for those who use it, compounded by as many as eight separate consent regimes. That is precisely why the Bill simplifies the consent process.

Secondly, the confusion between policy and planning means that each public inquiry becomes highly congested and contested by debate on the policy of the national infrastructure, often at the expense of detailed consideration of local impacts and implications. If you were to look at the process for the Heathrow application, for example, you would find that in relation to the days that were spent debating national policy, the local impacts were barely debated. That is often typical of the balance of effort that goes into a public inquiry. That is why the Bill separates the policy, which will be set out in the national policy statements, from the planning process framed by the IPC, and why we have now provided not one but three stages for people to have their say.

Thirdly, there is a lack of incentives and opportunities for developers to bring forward good, thoughtful applications early so that the implications can be explained and be challenged by local communities. That is why we have created a new, transparent, fairer application process.

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Fourthly, we have two stages of decision where an inspector’s report is followed by a ministerial decision, and more than one Minister is often involved. As I have said, major delays can occur at that stage. It is interesting, for instance, that the inquiry regarding Bathside Bay took 26 weeks while the ministerial decision took 52 weeks.

All the changes in the Bill will mean that the process will be more transparent, fairer and faster. The process will be made better and, I could say, more trustworthy—although that does not reflect at all on the extraordinary expertise and integrity of the present planning inspectors, who are extraordinary people

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and do an excellent job. We need to have a more transparent system, and we need to have a clear relationship between policy-making and planning.

That goes to the heart of the debate, because so much of the Opposition’s argument is about retaining that in some form as it offers a form of ministerial accountability, which is seen to be indispensable. I believe, and a lot of noble Lords around the House who have spoken agree, that this concern is misplaced. It is a misreading of ministerial accountability; Ministers are not accountable for their decisions to Parliament as they are in other areas of decision-making.

However, my case for an independent IPC rests not simply on that point. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, spoke about it being a fiction. I am not sure I entirely agree with him—“fiction” is a strong word—but I believe the Minister is conflicted by the present system in such a way that it obscures and hampers a proper national debate. The noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, referred to this when he talked about the judge and jury.

With regard to what the public think the Minister is doing if they think the Minister is involved, confusion arises in particular when Ministers take decisions on schemes where the Government have a specific policy interest. Ministers must be independent—they cannot be prey to political lobbying—and, because the role is quasi-judicial, when deciding planning applications they have to base decisions on the evidence presented and published policy. They have to avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest. If they are likely to be involved in taking decisions, they are sometimes heavily circumscribed in their ability to promote the national interest—to promote or encourage projects even if they consider them to be vital in the national interest. They cannot discuss projects with representatives of communities. They cannot engage with stakeholders or get involved with resolving problems or brokering compromises. When noble Lords consider that we are talking here about nationally significant projects that help to meet national objectives, they will understand how Ministers feel about being constrained and not being able to promote them.

We therefore have a situation at the moment that is the worst of all worlds. Ministers occupy a role that is inhibited by the fact that they are at the same time the policy-setters, the promoters and the decision-makers.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: I have listened to the Minister with great care, and it is extremely interesting. She will remember the Caythorpe gas storage project, which I discussed with her on more than one occasion. In that, there was a ministerial Statement—by Alistair Darling, as it happens, when he was Secretary of State at the then DTI—that more gas storage was imperative if we were going to get the security we needed. That was, in a sense, a ministerial policy statement. It was reduced to one sentence in the 12-page letter of decision from the noble Baroness’s department. Why have these so-called policy statements from the past had so little weight when Ministers take decisions? It was there—why could her department not say yes?

Baroness Andrews: The noble Lord has made an excellent case for national policy statements, which

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will frame the decision. As he will know—and this will apply to future decisions, although I cannot comment on an individual case—the issues are always to do with matters such as safety and geological security. Those are the locational issues—the site issues—which the planning inspectors must address. They know that we need more gas storage but in this place one has to look at exactly what the consequences would be.

The whole rationale behind the Bill is that there must be a way of balancing economic, environmental and social objectives that is properly considered by Ministers at the beginning of the process through the production of, consultation on and parliamentary scrutiny of national policy statements. We have created in the Bill an IPC, not because we do not think that Ministers should be involved in the process of deciding where critical infrastructure should go—far from it—but because we think that Ministers are making decisions on major infrastructure projects in the wrong place, at the wrong time and in the wrong way. We now propose that, rather than having a final appearance of a quasi-judicial sort, which is very limited, Ministers should set out infrastructure policy in a series of national policy statements which will be open to public debate and influence as well as an intensive form of parliamentary scrutiny.

As I said on Second Reading, I do not think that this will be a comfortable position for Ministers. For the first time, these decisions will be transparent and able to be challenged. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that the plans would become out of date, which is true. But they will be plans for the long term which deal with our forecasted capacity of what we need and, should they become out of date, the Minister will review them. There is proper provision for both stability and review in the system. The plans will in some instances be locationally specific, as the Secretary of State has already made clear. There will be a debate on those specific locations as they are set out in criteria in the relevant national policy statements. There will be a full public debate, in which local authorities will be able to be fully involved. The Minister will be seen to be fully accountable in those specific NPSs.

The NPSs set out the broad framework and will integrate all other relevant policies, including planning policies. They will be the subject of an appraisal of sustainability; they will be the framework in which the decisions of the IPC will be made and the criteria against which its decisions will be tested.

We come now to some of the detail about how the IPC will work. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for saying that we are looking for a different sort of expert and a different sort of experience. I must take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Reay. These people will not be representatives; they will not be agents of interests. These 35 commissioners—the number has been assessed according to our assumptions about the workload provided by the 45 projects—will be independent experts across a wide range of competences. Some may come from planning backgrounds and some may come from the public sector in terms of project management. They will come from the range that we need to make the decisions sound and the testing of evidence substantial.

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We are assuming that most projects will be considered and decided by a panel of three to five commissioners, with less complex cases, such as uncontroversial works to the strategic road network, for example, decided by a single commissioner. But the decisions will be made in those cases by a council of at least five commissioners; no single commissioner will take the final decision. There will be timetables for completing examinations and taking decisions.

On the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, our best guess is still that the number of major projects will be about 45 a year. There may be some variation regarding the balance of projects but we still think that that is a sound estimate. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, asked about costings. We expect the one-off costs of the IPC to be £5 million; we expect the cost of running it to be £9.3 million each year; and we expect an average cost of £300 million per year—£4.8 billion by 2030—because there will be such a significant fall in the time taken by the process. Those costs are in the RIA.

The IPC will be able to take into account any other matters that it considers important and relevant, but it will be independent. It will be able to reject any application if it thinks that the local impact will result in the adverse effects outweighing the benefits. It will have to set out reasons for reaching its decisions. It will be focused on local impacts and will look at the more technical issues concerning specific sites and schemes in the sort of detail that generally I believe our planning inquiries have not been able to do so far.

Noble Lords have referred to the commission as unaccountable. The fact that it is unelected does not mean that it is unaccountable. It will operate within the clear constraints set by Parliament; it will only ever determine applications within the very clear policy statements set out in the NPS. The commission will be appointed by and need to report on its performance to the Secretary of State. The most senior appointments will be subject to pre-appointment hearings by a Select Committee. In fact, they will be among the first public appointments to be subjected to this process. The commission will have to set out in full the reasons for its decisions. It can be challenged in the courts if it is thought to have acted unreasonably. As the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, said, we are not advocating anything completely new. He listed some sound analogies in relation to the relative role of Ministers.

I hope that noble Lords will take away their amendments and think again about some of the issues that have been raised in this debate. I should like to address the amendments specifically and some of the issues that have arisen.

Amendment No. 1 would require the IPC to be a recommending rather than a decision-making body. I have set out at some length why we think that the IPC needs to be a decision maker in a much tougher and more challenging world in relation to infrastructure. If it were only a recommending body, much of the logic and the advantages, as well as the savings in time, would be lost. We would lose transparency and efficiency. I cannot accept the proposal that it should be a recommending body. I have serious doubts about whether it should make its recommendations to Parliament.

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Where Parliament and the House fit in is a serious issue, which we will come back to when debating later amendments. I refer the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, to Clause 9, which provides for resolutions of this House to be taken into account by the Government. I am sure that we will come back to that at a later stage. I do not see, as other noble Lords have said, how Parliament can cope with this. How would it review the evidence, for example, as my noble friend Lord Woolmer asked? This would take Parliament into another area of policy, and planning policy at that. There are major issues, which we would need to consider very carefully before we went along with that proposal.

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Amendment No. 2 relates to mission creep. The Bill clearly states that the IPC can deal only with applications for development consent for nationally significant infrastructure projects. They are defined in Clauses 14 to 29, which set out the specific thresholds. The Bill allows us to change those, but only with the approval of Parliament. That strikes the right balance between flexibility and safeguards.

Amendment No. 3 relates to confirmation. I have a problem with the language. As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, Ministers could not simply rubber-stamp a decision. The integrity of the process would lie in a Minister’s ability to review, which would inevitably mean reviewing evidence and the way in which judgments were made. That would be bound to add a significant delay of at least six months while parties waited for the Minister to decide whether to confirm the decision. Worse still, it would add another layer of uncertainty for promoters. A community might be waiting for a new reservoir for water security, for instance, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned. The IPC would examine the case and reach a decision. There would then be another stage to go through.

If Ministers were to take the final decisions on applications, however described, there would also be an incentive for them to reopen the political debate. We would have gone almost full circle. It would raise serious doubts about the extent to which national need could be excluded from those inquiries and decisions, as well as the greater risk of sequential challenges, first to the IPC’s decision and then to that of the Minister, which would undermine transparency. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said, the point of establishing the IPC, which is an expert group of people who will make their decisions in public, with written and oral evidence tested out and new stages for floor hearings, is to provide a huge advantage to the local community and to give it access that it has not previously had.

Amendment No. 4 suggests that the IPC should be put back on virtually the same basis as the Planning Inspectorate. I think that I have argued sufficiently why we need a new system. The Planning Inspectorate is not independent; it is an arm of government. It provides a superb service, but it does not do what we would want the IPC to do. I recommend that noble Lords read the evidence given by the Planning Inspectorate when the Bill started its process through the House of Lords.

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Establishing an independent commission is vital. It is essential to improving speed, efficiency and transparency; it is essential to meeting the scale and the urgency of the task that we face; it is essential to ensuring open, high-quality decisions; and it is essential to the transparency of the system. I hope that, on the basis of that argument, noble Lords will not press their amendments. I apologise for speaking at such length, but these issues run through the course of the Bill.

Baroness Hamwee: I will not press my amendment. I know that the Minister did not expect that I would do so at this stage. However, will she say a little more about the scope for the IPC to refuse an application? Faced with a national policy statement that says that we must have whatever it might be, the IPC will not look at comparative applications. It will have one application in front of it, but I suppose that it will receive evidence about possibilities elsewhere—I do not know; I am struggling to understand quite how the system will operate. The Minister stressed that the IPC can say, “No, this application causes so many problems that it can’t be agreed”. However, it might be told in the national policy statement that, for example, a reservoir—there must be a limited number of places where a reservoir can be built—is required. Will she say a little more about how the IPC can say no? Can it say no if all the possible sites have been explored in some way or another? We may come back to this issue when discussing national policy statements, but it is central to the role of the IPC as well. I am sorry that I have not expressed it well, but that is because I do not understand it very well.

Baroness Andrews: This goes to the heart of the role of the IPC and why it has to be independent. The IPC can reject an application even if it is in accordance with the NPS, because the local adverse impact outweighs the potential benefits. It is not a million miles away from what planning inspectors do at the moment, when they look closely at local impacts and benefits. We have processes in planning—for example, sequential tests—which will apply to the application processes as well, so the commission will not invent a completely new system. It will be able to reject local applications also if it is clear that there has been a breach of EU or domestic law.

I cannot enlighten the noble Baroness greatly. Applications will be considered case by case. There will not be very many of the big cases with which we are concerned. Each one will probably bring some local benefit; other people may see an adverse effect. However, we will have to wait until those applications start coming in. The great task of the 35 expert commissioners, who will have a range of expertise, not least in testing evidence, will be to give people the confidence to express their fears in a session with them. We will return to these issues later in the Bill, when we talk about the processes of the IPC, but, for the moment, I cannot go further than what I have said.

Baroness Hamwee: We may be faced with a national policy statement that says that something is imperative. I find it hard to see that the IPC will be able to say in

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such a case that the local impact will be too great, because that argument will have been had and a conclusion reached in producing the national policy statement.

Baroness Andrews: It is more likely that the language of the NPS—I do not have any examples that I can put before the Committee—will address capacity issues and describe what we need as a country. Some of the NPSs will be able to say where we need the schemes. They will be able also to set out criteria for the impacts that the IPC should look for. If there were a location-specific NPS, it would mean that the strategic suitability of the site had been established in principle. The strategic suitability would not then be re-examined by the IPC. The IPC would focus on the impact. In a location-specific NPS, much of the local debate will be had in the context of the NPS, so local anxieties, fears and aspirations will be able to be debated at that level as well.

Lord Lucas: I have great sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said. It raises the crucial question of how the whole structure will work. Where the NPS is location-specific, we know exactly what will happen. Where it is not, I ask how we will get away from the problem that has bedevilled planning inquiries: the necessity to solve the whole national problem within the inquiry before one can determine what its results should be.

Let us suppose that we had a national policy statement that said that we should derive 5 per cent of our energy from wind. Let us suppose that it went a bit further and said that that would imply 5,000 turbines that, allowing for other things, ought to occupy half of the 10,000 best sites in the UK. If the IPC is faced with an application to put 24 turbines on a hill somewhere, how on earth is it to know whether this is one of the 10,000 best sites in the UK? How is it to know how that division is made between the best sites that get turbines and the best sites that do not?

Unless we have solved those problems in putting the national policy statement together, we will leave the IPC in exactly the same position as we leave inspectors now and the difficulties and delays will remain. We have to sort out, in considering this Bill, how national policy statements will absorb all the politics, without leaving large chunks around to obstruct the process of the IPC later.

Baroness Andrews: I agree with that; it is a very sound point. The noble Baroness asked whether the NPSs would consider different locations. With location-specific NPSs, Ministers have been bound to give consideration to alternative sites before deciding which one is strategically suitable. The politics of the discussion will be at the NPS level, for all the reasons that are logical and proper.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I must first apologise to the Committee. I should have repeated a declaration of interest that I made at Second Reading—that I am a farmer and landowner in Essex, so it is just conceivable that something might march my way. I am not aware that the part of Essex where I live is likely ever to be

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affected by anything that is likely to be a consideration for the IPC or, indeed, a national policy statement. But one lives and learns.

This has been a very good debate and a very useful one, because the issue is very much at the heart of the Bill. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, felt that I did not do the matter sufficient justice. I thought that, having spoken for 12 minutes, that was long enough to introduce a small group of amendments at the beginning of a Bill. If I had spoken for the 35 minutes that it would have taken me adequately to do justice to this subject, much of what has been said since would have been very repetitious. So I think that that was reasonable.

The question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, right at the end of the debate goes to the nub of the problem that the commissioners will face. It is slightly awkward, but I have an awful feeling that in the end, if they have to make these judgments, they will have to become politicians. In that case, I sympathise with them, because their lives will not be easy. If we can write national policy statements with sufficient clarity and identity that judgment is not required, it will be a wholly remarkable thing.

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