Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Williamson of Horton: I support my noble friend Lord Cameron’s amendment. I intervene at this stage as we have a group of amendments here that are—shall we say?—lightly connected, and I have a feeling that in further discussion on the group noble

8 Oct 2008 : Column 272

Lords will be intervening on other amendments which deal with issues such as environmental assessment, the landscape convention, and so on.

I intervene on the specific point that arises on Amendment No. 33. We all agree, and the Government agree because it is in the text of the Bill, that there has to be an appraisal of the sustainability of the policy set out in the statement. That is already there. The question is: who should do that, and what should be our assessment of the reaction of the public and others to how that is undertaken? I share the view of my noble friend Lord Cameron that it would be better for confidence in the system if, as proposed in his amendment, the assessment of sustainability was carried out by the Sustainable Development Commission. It would command greater confidence and be fully effectively done. I therefore support that.

I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, about the environmental assessment of plans and programmes. In particular, I support Amendment No. 39 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Reay, which is that there must be an,

We all know, and I support it, that the effects of the Bill will be swifter and that there will be more agreement on a number of major projects consistent with the statements which have been agreed at the highest level. That is what we are going to achieve. It is a good thing, but we need to think carefully about some of the potential consequences for landscape and other factors in the environment to which the public and I attach a lot of importance, so I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Reay.

I make a brief apology to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, in that for the second time I have spoken in support of a suggestion that attention should be given, in particular in this case, to landscape when I know very well that we will come on later to Amendment No. 37 which comprehensively covers the case of the built environment, the heritage and landscape. Amendment No. 37 is a wonderful amendment, and we will come on to it. I have just given noble Lords a preliminary statement of my view on that. However, I had to intervene on this amendment because I also support Amendment No. 39 which refers to part of the same subject—that is, the effect on landscape of some of these potential projects.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Before we get further into the detail of this group of amendments, perhaps I may ask the Minister a question, which I intended to ask at Second Reading. However, because of the timing of the debate I was not able to stay and so I did not ask it. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I do so now.

What happens under the Bill when a proposed infrastructure project partly involves Scotland? Clause 225, the extent clause, states that Parts 1 to 8 in their entirety do not apply to Scotland, with one exception. Under subsection (3), oil or gas cross-country pipelines which have an end in England and an end in Scotland can be dealt with under the Bill, but no other project in Scotland can.

8 Oct 2008 : Column 273

What happens when—whether the Secretary of State or the commission is considering the matter—someone has to look at a new high-speed railway line, for example, from London to Glasgow, or a pipeline to carry Scotland's plentiful water south of the border, or a new line of giant pylons to interconnect electricity? Such things are possible.

The present minority Administration at Holyrood refuses to be involved in the Bill. It has the right to do that; planning is of course a devolved matter. However, as I understand it, the Scots Administration has no intention of legislating to hasten the notoriously low speed of the present planning processes in Scotland. It seems that any infrastructure project which straddles the border, which has an end on each side of the border, will be held up for as long as it takes for the planning progress to operate in Scotland, or it will have simply to be chopped off at the border. If it had to wait for the very slow existing planning process in Scotland, the purpose of the Bill will be negated.

I have not given the Minister notice of that question. I do not expect her to answer it now. Perhaps she will write to me about that as it is an important matter. Unless in some way it can be solved, there are rocks ahead. I hope the House will forgive me for raising the matter under this group of amendments.

Baroness Andrews: Until I have an opportunity to meet the noble Baroness, I say simply that the arrangements for Scotland are within the devolution settlement. If we could meet outside the Chamber, I will take her through the provisions as they affect the sort of issues she raises. We must get back to the amendments we are debating now.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I hope that my noble friend will find that a satisfactory conclusion. I have great sympathy for the Minister having a question on devolution bowled at her in the middle of a detailed group of amendments on the content of the Bill.

I have three amendments in the group. They are small. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, for supporting my Amendment No. 34. It requires an environmental assessment of a national policy scheme in accordance with EC directive 2001/42/EC, which requires that, particularly projects of this nature, are properly environmentally assessed. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to give me an assurance that that is and always has been the intention of the Government. I find it difficult to believe that that would not be the case. Of course we have to probe these things and it is very important to get them on the record. That is what these questions do.

The second amendment deals with flood risk, which is too often a neglected subject until it is too late and the water is coming up through the floorboards. However, I must say that I lived just outside a village. There was a certain section in the village where the first the villagers knew that the river was rising was when it came up through the floorboards. It had been doing it for about 300 years and nobody took any notice.

Baroness Hamwee: The fact that the debate on this group will be considerably shorter than that on the last group—and probably considerably shorter than

8 Oct 2008 : Column 274

the debates on the next two groups—does not mean that it is unimportant jam in the sandwich. I warmly support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. I struggled with how sustainability was dealt with in the Bill, partly because I was a little unwilling to accept that the Commons concessions had stolen our thunder on the issue. However, I realised that involving the Sustainability Development Commission is an obvious and sensible approach to ensuring that worthy thoughts have a mechanism to deal with the issue in a realistic and practical manner.

The Minister may be about to tell the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that at least some of his amendments are unnecessary. The thinking in them is obviously to be supported. I hope that she will say that my Amendments Nos. 38 and 54 are also unnecessary, but they have exercised me. They make essentially the same point. The second was sent to me by the Local Government Association, so perhaps has a better provenance than the homemade drafting of Amendment No. 38.

The issue is sustainability across matters, not just within the single statement, such as modes of transport. The obvious example is whether there should be an airport—the subject of national policy statement 1. Could the functions that the airport is designed to achieve not be achieved, at least in part, by a high-speed rail link—the subject of national policy statement 5? I have mentioned transport and renewable energy, for instance, as against traditional forms, particularly fossil fuels. I am sure that the issue goes wider, but these seemed crisp examples. I hope that the Minister can reassure me that when the NPSs are drafted, they will not be discrete statements which the IPC and local planning authorities will be forced to read without reference to much broader issues than those within them.

The Earl of Caithness: I read with interest the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. Although I thoroughly agree with the principle behind what he says, I cannot agree with the amendment. It is vital that the Secretary of State carries out an appraisal as well, but that should include the Sustainable Development Commission. I hope that we get the Sustainable Development Commission somewhere between the two.

I say to my noble friend Lady Carnegy, who went off at a tangent, that she should hang around for Amendments Nos. 144 and 145, which deal with railways going into Scotland. I am sure that the Minister will give her all the answers then.

I support my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith on Amendment No. 36 on flood risk. I raised the issue at Second Reading and I still find illogical that flooding is not considered a national infrastructure matter. We will yet again go through a period of considerable climate change; we have not experienced it so much in our lifetimes, but our ancestors certainly experienced wild fluctuations in the climate over time. How one can consider major infrastructure projects without looking at flood risk is almost incomprehensible. The Minister and I have crossed swords in previous debates about London development on the flood plain. This is exactly the same issue. One must look at the likelihood

8 Oct 2008 : Column 275

of flooding before siting a development. It is no good siting a development for the water to come up through the floorboards, as my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith said.

6.15 pm

Lord Reay: I speak to my Amendment No. 39 in this group. At Second Reading I declared my landowning interest in the north west of England as well as the south west. For the purposes of this amendment, and perhaps subsequent amendments, I add that a wind farm is being proposed within a few miles of my house on the north Lancashire border, and within a considerably shorter distance of part of the property.

My amendment would require the Secretary of State, before he designated a statement as a national policy statement, to carry out an appraisal to ensure that it was consistent with the terms of the European Landscape Convention. The European Landscape Convention was opened for signature by all members of the Council of Europe—not the European Union—in Florence in 2000. It came into force in this country in, I think, March 2007, although it may have been in 2004; I received contradictory briefing on that point, so perhaps the Minister will eventually enlighten us.

One of the preambles of the convention recognises,

In Article 5, each signatory undertakes, among other things,

The convention makes it clear that “landscape” includes marine landscape.

My amendment would oblige the Secretary of State to consider the landscape implications of the policy contained in any national policy statement. I am here particularly targeting the reckless destruction of some of the finest natural scenery in the country, brought about as a result of the Government’s drive to increase hugely the number of wind farms. Where I live, in the area of north Lancashire and Cumbria, the landscape is under great threat from multiple wind farm proposals. It is no exaggeration to say that the clusters of giant turbines—it is now standard for them to be 400 feet high—are in the process of industrialising a landscape that is one of the most beautiful in the country and loved by resident and visitor alike. These schemes are ferociously opposed locally and, I suggest, are wholly out of place because of the harm they do to a magnificent landscape. Therefore, following the terms of the European Landscape Convention, on those grounds alone they should be rejected. Of course, the same can be said about other parts of the country.

Clause 5(5)(d) sets out that a national policy statement may identify one or more locations as suitable, potentially suitable or unsuitable for a specified description of development. In other words, the Secretary of State could declare in a national policy statement that certain parts of the country were unsuitable for wind farm development because of the damage that would do to highly valued landscape. By including in the Bill a requirement that the Secretary of State should ensure that a national policy statement is consistent with the

8 Oct 2008 : Column 276

terms of the European Landscape Convention, we can at least make certain that the Secretary of State, where relevant, must consider the landscape aspect of a national policy statement before making his judgment.

The advantage of including a reference to the European Landscape Convention—rather than just referring to “landscape”, as the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, would do, although I thoroughly support that—is that it provides a reminder that the Government have signed up to a convention designed to increase the attention given to landscape when other policies are formulated.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: I support some of the amendments in the group but am rather dog-in-the-mangerish about others. I commend Amendments Nos. 38 and 54 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. National policy statements need to be aligned to ensure that they optimise economic, social and environmental objectives and need to be integrated across departmental policies rather than being stand-alone silos. Amendment No. 38 seeks to ensure that individual transport modalities and energy technologies are compared with other methods of energy generation and transportation to ensure that we choose the most sustainable solutions in those areas.

I also commend the amendment on strategic environmental assessment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. Strategic environmental assessment is an extremely good, well honed, recognised and rigorous tool that allows options to be considered rather than just a single solution and is the gold standard of environmental appraisal methodologies. The Bill states that environmental impact assessments should be carried out but not necessarily strategic environmental assessment. I believe that nearly all the proposals that will be submitted will fulfil the European legal criteria on SEA. The Government may disagree with that. If that is the case, I should like the Minister to commit that SEA methodology will be the standard methodology used for environmental impact assessment in this area because it is the recognised gold standard.

I regret that I have difficulty with two of these amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, as he is an excellent chap. However, I seem to disagree with everything that he says, and I disagree with him violently as regards the Sustainable Development Commission undertaking sustainability appraisals when making or amending national planning statements as opposed to the Secretary of State. I believe that the Secretary of State must take responsibility for that and not “off-shore” it to an unaccountable body such as the Sustainable Development Commission. That remark is not contentious, but I am critical about the commission’s track record. It is not an expert body; it buys in expertise in certain areas. It is a broadly representative body with many excellent skills, but it lacks expertise in sustainable development appraisal. “Tendentious” is the kindest adjective I can apply to some of its reports. For example, its report on the Severn barrage was a shoddy piece of work, and that is the kind of report which we would expect it to produce if the amendment were accepted. Therefore, I am very much against the Sustainable Development Commission taking over the sustainability appraisal

8 Oct 2008 : Column 277

role from the Secretary of State. It is rare for me to trust the Secretary of State more than anybody else, but, alas, I would do so if the Sustainable Development Commission were the alternative.

Lord Turnbull: I support the noble Baroness. If the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, were accepted, Clause 5(3) would read:

“Before designating a statement as a national policy statement for the purposes of this Act the Sustainable Development Commission must carry out an appraisal”.

In other words, the Sustainable Development Commission then designates the statement as national policy. The whole thing is completely incoherent. Ultimately, only the Secretary of State can designate something as a national policy statement. We can question how he does that and what advice he takes, but, as I say, the amendment is incoherent.

Lord Judd: This debate is incredibly important. The convention was referred to. I am one of those who maintains that part of the all too widespread cynicism about politics is due to people happily committing themselves to convention requirements, but conveniently brushing them to one side when it comes to the crunch. The fact that the convention says something must be done is not the point. The point is that it underwrites the principle that in a civilised, decent society the dimensions about which we are speaking are crucially important. Why do we want energy? We want it to sustain a society that is worth living in. What is a society worth living in? It is a society that values landscape, beauty and aesthetic considerations. If we undermine those, what on earth are we doing?

It seems to me that there has been rather a neurotic reaction to wind farms. I refer to the absurd argument that they do not produce very much electricity. Alternative energy comprises an aggregate of many generation methods producing modest amounts of energy. The important point concerns where these things are sited. A strategic approach is desperately lacking. One tactical skirmish after another takes place across the country.

I applaud the idea of a national policy statement to consider social implications. That would ensure that everything does not land up on the doorstep of the inarticulate and disadvantaged as opposed to the doorstep of the more privileged sections of the community who can look after themselves. I am concerned also about the aesthetic and other considerations about which we are speaking. It is no good just leaving this to luck. One could have a philistine Secretary of State. We are very fortunate as the present Secretary of State is no such thing, but that situation could arise. Therefore, one must ensure that these serious considerations are written into the Bill. If this is not the right way to do it, we should look to my noble friend for a convincing suggestion on how it can be done.

I leave the Committee with the following thought. We have read the literature and we have seen the way that the mills of the industrial revolution resulted in the rape of some of the most beautiful parts of our countryside. We can see how that could have been carried out more wisely, sensitively and rationally. We

8 Oct 2008 : Column 278

must learn from history and not do that all over again. Of course, we need wind power but we need wind farms to be sited sensibly. We must ensure that the principles that require the Secretary of State to take into account wider considerations than purely economic ones when considering energy generation are written into the Bill.

Baroness Andrews: This is another excellent debate dealing primarily with sustainability appraisals. I wish to discuss this large group as a whole. Members of the Committee have argued that the current provisions for sustainability appraisal are not sufficiently comprehensive and should be tightened in various ways. Therefore, I shall set out how the sustainability appraisal process will work and test the amendments against that. I hope I can offer reassurance on the points raised by the amendments.

Our sustainable development objectives are central to consideration of future infrastructure needs. In the energy and air transport White Papers one will see all that we need in terms of infrastructure, set in the context of sustainable development, in a clear and inescapable way.

6.30 pm

The Bill requires that, before designating a national policy statement, Ministers must carry out an appraisal of their sustainability. That process will also apply to revisions of national policy statements where the policy is materially altered. We must have a robust and credible assessment framework that will ensure that all statements comply with and properly factor in environmental, social and economic objectives.

Government departments are working together to develop a common framework for conducting appraisals of sustainability. The appraisal will draw on existing SEA methods but, for reasons that I will explain, it will be flexible, because NPSs will vary in their content and preparation processes. I can reassure the Committee and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, in particular that the appraisal procedure will be just as rigorous as an SEA under the directive. It will involve an iterative process of collecting information, testing evidence, defining realistic alternatives, identifying sustainability impacts and effects and developing mitigation measures. Above all, it will be fully integrated with the wider NPS preparation process, involving statutory consultees during key stages. Where necessary, the draft NPS will be revised in light of the appraisal of sustainability.

The difference is that the appraisal of sustainability will need to be broader and wider ranging. It has to capture not just environmental but economic and social impacts. This will ensure that we understand the impacts of NPSs holistically and that they help us to deliver our sustainable development objectives. The problem that I face with Amendment No. 34 is that it would constrain any appraisal to the terms of the SEA directive and remove the flexibility to deal with NPSs in their wider context.

The noble Baroness was right to say that in many cases the SEA directive and the implementing legislation will apply. Where this occurs, we will ensure that the

8 Oct 2008 : Column 279

appraisal will fully integrate all the obligations under the directive. But the SEA directive may not apply to some NPSs and it would not therefore be appropriate to specify in the Bill that they should always be formally subject to it. This should be decided on a case-by-case basis when more detail is available on the content of each NPS. It would be inappropriate to gold-plate the SEA directive in this way. There are plans and programmes to which it can be properly applied and we will ensure that, where that is the case, it will be fully integrated.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page