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Infrastructure is the central part of the built environment, and Britain has a great tradition of good design. To me, the Victorian engineering tradition produced the most interesting and innovative architecture of the 19th centuryconsider the work of Brunel. One needs only to look at the beautiful bridges that cross the Thames, or the train stations such as St Pancras and Paddington.
As we have heard, good design does not have to cost more, but it certainly adds long-term value. Today, Fosters breathtaking Millau bridge over the River Tarn in the Massif Central has revitalised the area and become a tourist attraction. His Beijing airport not only functions brilliantly but has lifted the spirit of many millions of travellers who passed through there during the Olympics. Let me correct one small point in the speech of my noble friend Lord Howarth. It was Ior, rather, my practicewho did Madrid. It was a delightful experience, which had much to do with the client. Although we have many contemporary architects in Britain, unfortunately nearly all the well designed infrastructure work is done abroad. This is a shameful waste of talent.
If today we consider the Hellenic period the mother of all western culture and design, then we should follow their example and put design at the very heart of our nations culture. The best infrastructure, buildings and public spaces are critical for our culture.
I have listened with great interest to the debate. I agree entirely with the principle behind the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, but what they are saying relates more to the planning system as a whole than to the particular part of the Bill. It is much more relevant for housing, but that does not appear in the national policy statement. Clause 14, which deals with nationally significant infrastructure projects, refers to,
It is not so much a question of design as of functionality, as the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said, and location. Harbour facilities and the alteration of a railway interchange offer huge scope for design, but for a lot of what we are discussing I do not believe that much can be done in the way of design.
Like location, functionality is key because big infrastructure projects have to work well. You can do only so much with a wind turbine. A wind turbine is a wind turbine is a wind turbine, but it is a question of where you put it. Yes, we need them and the design can be altered to a limited extent, but how they are put into the countryside can make all the difference in the world. An example was given at the meeting yesterday that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and I attended. A structure was put on top of a cliff when it could have quite easily been moved down into a wood and screened. Whatever you call itdesign or locationthat is my concern.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I have nothing to add to what I said on Monday in support of good design, particularly in this field. I also express the hope that the Minister can offer her noble friends sufficient encouragement in order to satisfy them, otherwise we may have to go over all this yet again.
Baroness Andrews: In view of the debate we have just had I would hesitate to encourage this Committee in any respect at all. It has been a splendid debateI would expect none other from your Lordshipswhich has been ably led by my noble friends. The courtesy of my noble friend Lord Howarths speech has been commended around the Committee, and we heard many other excellent speeches. Although it has felt like a Second Reading debate on designI take the point made by the noble Earl, Lord CaithnessI think that we needed to have such a debate at this stage because there are so many issues about what we are trying to do in terms of national infrastructure and in the amendments themselves.
I do not want to make a Second Reading speech, but I should say that I do not need to be persuaded about the values or the virtues of good design and the link between beauty, vitality and utility. I do need to be persuaded about how we can make the present system work better and guarantee that our magnificent infrastructure projects, which range from power stations to beautiful roads, can be as aesthetically pleasing as they are functional through good design that is long lasting. People should look back and admire these projects just as we look back at some of the wonderful mid-Victorian architecture reflected in power stations with their crenellations and towers. The Victorians did that kind of building well.
As this House is so respected in these areas, I think that we ought to be careful that we do not talk ourselves into a spiral of despair about the quality of design in this country. We have many very fine architects. My noble friend on the Front Bench and I have reflected on the half dozen transformations that have taken place in some of our great cities over the past decade, such as in Norwich, Leicester and Birmingham. In the summer I visited the Sage Centre in Gateshead. It is an absolutely magnificent building, and there are many others like it. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, was right to say that what we need is a cultural change. We know that, and when we look to change our legislation we must be aware of what has the most impact and the greatest effect. What is going to inspire better leadership and greater confidence in decisions taken on the ground?
We have been talking about the planning system, but I shall return to the amendments before us and pick up on the issues that they raise. I think that my department is ambitious for beauty and that we have a particular role to play in ensuring that the planning system delivers of its best. I say again that I have listened carefully to what has been said across the Committee in this debate and I shall reflect on it, but I must address some of the issues in the amendments themselves. I shall start by putting a question: does our planning system at the moment actually deliver of its best in the current planning policy statements? My noble friend Lord Howarth has challenged me to explain why there should not be an explicit statement in the Bill. While he may have anticipated my answers, it does not mean that they are going to be wrong, even if noble Lords have already heard some of them. The point is that planning policy statements are not optional; they are the law and have to be followed. We heard yesterday, for example, that PPS22 was sometimes not followedI am not sure that I would agree with the noble Baroness in question on what she saidbut the position is very carefully and clearly set out in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. Our planning policy guidance is there for a purpose, and PPS1, which is the overarching planning policy statement, makes specific reference to design and sustainability as paramount requirements that should be followed.
Amendments Nos. 28 and 30 would prevent the Secretary of State designating a statement as a national policy statement unless it took full account of the importance of design quality. That would also extend the sustainable development objective in Clause 10. But we should not underestimate or diminish the value of what is in the planning system at the moment because, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, so much more can be achieved by changing cultures and by gearing up our skills and the confidence of elected officials and officers at local government level.
We have an extremely good and robust planning system, but another kind of argument is being put forward. Differences between the new regime and the TCPA mean that we have to be careful about how and where we emphasise design in this context and what in reality it will mean. National policy statements will vary greatly depending on the type of infrastructure to which they refer. It is difficult to have a blanket interpretation of design. Although there are bound to
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Amendment No. 86 attaches design to sustainability. Clause 10 requires that, when drawing up NPSs, Ministers do so with the objective of contributing to achievable, sustainable development. As for the link between design and sustainability, there are potential dangers in identifying design separately. It has taken us quite a while to get people to understand that design is essential to sustainabilityas, indeed, it isbut an equal difficulty is that if we put design on the face of the Bill we will be open to pressure from a range of other arguments to include, for example, habitats, flood risks and the needs of people with disabilities. We need to think carefully before we take such a step.
Amendment No. 35, which relates to appraisal of design, would raise the same kind of problem. It would not be helpful to require a separate appraisal of design quality. As I have said, separating out design and sustainability would diminish a powerful platform. I do not want design to be another box to be ticked; we need something more serious than that. But I reassure the noble Lord that the process of sustainability will have to take account of design. The effects on the natural and built environment, on landscape, on population and on cultural, architectural and archaeological heritage will be assessed at a strategic level as part of the appraisal of sustainability and fully integrated into the whole process. It will then be tested in public consultation and by parliamentary scrutiny.
I turn now to Amendments Nos. 173, 174 and 180, which relate to the pre-application provisions, and the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Best. The amendments, admirably, aim to add to the pre-application process a specific provision on design. Amendment No. 213 would require that the application could be accepted only if the applicant had full regard for high-quality design. The amendments seek to add a requirement that applications must demonstrate a full regard for good design.
I return to the mantra that I started to develop on Monday. The key to everything we want to achieve in terms of sound decisions by the IPC is to ensure that the national policy statement clearly sets out policy on the type of infrastructure in question so that that can be the foundation on which decisions are clearly taken. I suggest, therefore, that under Clause 58 local authorities also have a clear responsibility for design. They will be invited to submit a local impact report once an application has been accepted. It will give details of the impact of the development on the local area. They can raise design issues powerfully there.
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There might also be some unintended consequences in the amendments. Clause 53 requires the commission to decide within 28 days whether an application can be accepted. To be acceptable the application must comply with the requirements in Clause 36(3), but the amendments would create a duty that is subject to highly subjective judgment and which could make it difficult for commissioners to decide whether the timescale had been met.
Finally in this group, Amendment No. 180 would give the Secretary of State the power to make regulations that contained model provisions. Again, I argue that this is too specific an imposition on the Secretary of State. In either case, the commission must certainly have regard to model provisions, whatever the topic they are concerned with.
I can deal with Part 6 fairly swiftly because we had this debate on Monday. I must say, noble Lords have been ingenious in finding spaces to put the design amendments in throughout the course of the Bill. Amendments Nos. 249 and 250 would require the chair of the IPC to appoint at least one commissioner with experience in capacity and design. In the debate on Monday I think we all agreed across the Committee that what we were looking for in the commission was not a series of specific specialisms but a collective combination of judgments, talents, expertise, wisdom and competences that would enable the panels, when they were so constituted, to bring a broad but acute sense of what was needed to make a proper judgment in a particular case. Among other things, that will include an ability to judge risk and value design. As we heard last night, this meeting has been referred to an excellent description of that.
In Part 7, Amendment No. 359 seeks to require the IPC to place requirements on development consent orders. I have said a bit about this. Many matters that fall under the design and heritage ambitssuch as effects on the natural and built environment, on landscape and so onwill be picked up by the appraisal of sustainability but considered at a strategic level, which is the best way to address them. The precise terms of the amendment are not very helpful; they potentially leave the IPC having to impose requirements even where the application was already at a standard that does not justify them.
I turn to the town and country planning elements and Amendment No. 429, which seeks to insert a new clause on design. There are two main elements: the first puts in place a statutory design duty while the second establishes statutory design review panels. The first element amends Section 39 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 so that those exercising development plan functions at regional and local level must, in addition to the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development, also pursue the objective of achieving high quality design in the built environment.
I will not rehearse the power of planning policy statements in this respect. Suffice it to say, without sounding at all complacent, that we have seen the benefits of stronger planning policy in the steady improvement of design in public space and housing in this country. Yes, there is far too much that is poor and is simply not good enough, but it does not do much service to those who are working hard to raise standards across the country if all we talk about is their failure. We need to be careful about marginalising design.
The priority for action in this area is not further statutory provision, and I am not sure who is actually calling for it. Rather, it is to make our existing system work better. I return to what the noble Lords, Lord Brooke and Lord Jenkin, said: we need to build awareness so that design issues are considered earlier. We need to secure and develop the skills and access to skills so that local authorities can be more confident about recognising and developing good design, and there is a need to promote leadership. We are entirely committed to doing that, and we have done so not least by investing in planning advisory schemes which help people acquire greater confidence about what constitutes good design.
The second element would amend the Town and Country Planning Act so that a statutory design review panel would be available for every region. There is much in the amendment that we can support. In particular, we recognise that local planning authorities with too small a development workload to justify dedicated resources, or those dealing with regional and sub-regional levels, may find it helpful to call on independent design advice in the form of a design review panel. Six regions already have those in place, supported by CABE and the RDAs. It would not be right to put design review panels on a statutory basis. We are considering the results of a wide-ranging consultation on the future arrangements for single regional strategies. What we come forward with will need to fit together with our resources, and that will include design.
The amendment also suggests a role for regional design panels which would focus on commenting on schemes already at the application stage. That would be too late. CABE advisers design issues should be brought into play earlier. We currently have another review in progress, Killian/Pretty, which is an independent review of the planning applications process that is looking at end-to-end problems in our planning systems. We must be careful about introducing more delay to the process. There are already six regional-level non-statutory design review panels. We are exploring with CABE how far those are meeting need and whether any further support is needed. I hope that my noble friends will draw some reassurance from that.
I turn finally to Amendments Nos. 440 and 441, which seek to amend the community infrastructure levy clauses in Part 11. The principal amendment, Amendment No. 441, would provide the power for the CIL regulations to specify criteria for the design of infrastructure to which CIL revenue is applied. CIL is a mechanism for raising additional funds for infrastructure necessary to support growth. It does not grant consent for the infrastructure to which CIL revenue is applied
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Lord Lucas: That was an elegant speech from the Minister, but she said no to every single request made in the amendments. I agree with her on many of them: it was nice to see them in that context, but they had no purchase on the way in which the Bill would operate. I cannot see how one can put design into the national planning statements in a way that makes sense. Amendment No. 429 is extraneous to the Billit addresses other planning matters. Although I support its merits, it is not really to do with this Bill.
I hope that the proposers of the amendments will choose to take this matter forward. That happened in 2004 and, in the end, the Government were persuaded. It takes the Governments own Back-Benchers to take an active role to make that happen, so it is very much in the hands of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. I hope that they will do it and focus down. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, lighted on Amendment No. 359 as having some merit. I do not have his experience in that area, but his comments were worth listening to.
I come back to Amendment No. 17, which the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, tabled on Monday. That is the pressure point in the Bill, where we can insert design and have it make a difference. Whatever decisions the noble Lords reach, I hope that it is to bring something back on Report and to be prepared to put it to a vote.
Baroness Whitaker: I am immensely grateful for the strong support for this group of amendments all round the Committee, from such a wealth of distinguished proponents. My noble friend Lord Howarth made it overwhelmingly and eloquently clear why we need explicit obligations about design in the Bill and how advantageous this would be. The noble Lord, Lord Best, held up some grim prospects if we did not get them. I reassure the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that location and functionality are essential to good design, not separate.
It would be invidious to hold matters up by giving full vent to my admiration for what everyone said, but our debate was signally honoured by the unanswerable contribution of our foremost architect, my noble friend Lord Rogers of Riverside. My noble friend the Minister was pretty good, too. I appreciate her support for the concept behind our amendments, but I hope that she forgives me if I say that there is a need to do more work on realising that concept. I hope that we see that at Report. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: In speaking to Amendments Nos. 33 and 59 in this group, and as this is my first intervention on the subject of the national policy statements, I shall start by reiterating what I said at Second Reading. This section on the national policy statements is, in my view, the most important part of the Bill; it is what will make the Bill work in speeding up nationally important infrastructure projects.
Forward and framework planning is a process whereby we agree democratically how we want to see our cities, towns, villages and countryside develop in future. The process of planning frameworks is largely decided at local level, with local development frameworks and local plans, and so on, albeit in recent years with stronger and stronger input, guidelines and policy statements emanating from the departmental centre. These departmental guidelines are not totally democratically accountable. In fact, the Minister, who is not in her place, might consider in reference to the previous debate that what noble Lords are trying to do with design is to give it more democratic impetus, rather than merely having departmental statements, which, although they are converted into law, are not fully democratically accountable.
I strongly approve of the desire to speed up major infrastructure projects, provided that we have the right democratic balance. The national policy statements provide that balance, but we have to ensure that not only do we utilise the full democratic processand we are coming to that subject perhaps later this evening, or at some future datebut we are seen to be as open as possible. The Executive and department should not be seen to be manipulating the process in their enthusiasm to meet targets or implement other policies of their own. Thus, while I am sure that the Secretary of State and his or her department might be capable of carrying out a sustainability appraisalalthough sustainable development, too, often means too many different things to different peopleit is crucial that any such appraisal is seen to be arrived at independently by experts so that the public and all the politicians have a clear, independent view of the issues before the policy statement comes before Parliament. The Bill is right to put such emphasis on sustainability, both here and elsewhere. The Minister emphasised that at, I think, 10.15 last Monday night.
A planning process that does not, at least, attempt to balance the often conflicting agendas of the economic, social and environmental would not be worth very much. It must be done properly and be seen to be done properly without bias. Therefore, it would be much better for the Secretary of State to commission the Sustainable Development Commission with all its expertise to carry out the sustainability proposals. I beg to move.
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