Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

This amendment lays a responsibility on our generation not to put at risk future generations in the way we use our resources. Anything that moves away from that balance is extremely regressive, out-of-date and out of tune with what most people want, and that includes the business community. My experience is that good business leaders know that economic growth and sustainability are not incompatible. Indeed, good planning plans for both because they are symbiotic. The argument that growth and sustainability are interdependent is no longer a minority interest or a minority argument. It is mainstream in what planning is trying to do and what the economic and business community is trying to do in terms of its own future. It does not make sense to invest in unsustainable development, and to collude with the notion that there might be a conflict between growth and sustainability is rather irresponsible at this point. If we move to dilute that, we move the clock back and deny credibility to those who do not believe that climate change is a reality, and we undermine effective planning.

However, I agree that the amendment is not perfect. Few amendments are. The text serves very well in terms of its principal definition. I am confident that the Minister is going to accept the amendment or, at least, that he will take it away for further consideration. I have to put on my hat as chair of English Heritage and declare an interest. I believe that the definition can be improved. I would like to see inserted a reference to sustainable development meeting the social, economic and cultural needs of the present. I believe that takes

7 July 2011 : Column 437

on board the entire well-being that is represented by our landscapes, our historic environment and all the things that make places work for people and make our country so special. I believe that definition of cultural will give depth to the purpose of planning, bring in the nature and wealth of our built environment and give it protection. I hope that Minister will be very pleased to accept the amendment when he replies.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am very pleased to support these amendments. They are some of the most important ones in the Bill because I get the impression that the Bill somehow dilutes the sustainability agenda and gives rather confusing messages, as we have heard. It is going to encourage more development, possibly in the green belt, if the Timesarticle can be believed. Then we have the nimby's charter which allows anybody to have a referendum if they want to stop big projects. At Second Reading, I said that if the Secretary of State wants to build his high-speed line to Birmingham, he will have 25 referendum votes against it all the way through the Chilterns. I do not know whether that is the way to build a sustainable railway.

The problem we have at the moment, which I hope these amendments could help dilute or even get rid of, is that over the years we seem to have built up a policy whereby we believe in sustainability unless it costs us more. Then we somehow find a way of saying, "We are going to have to do this even if it costs more" or "If it does not cost any more and is cheaper, it may use up a bit more CO2 but we cannot help it". For example, we have got the 80 per cent carbon reduction target, which this Government have confirmed. But I suspect that if there are problems with nuclear power stations-I hope that there will not be any but if there are-windmills or something else, the dear old coal-fired power stations will be fired up as no Government will allow the lights to go out if they can pollute the atmosphere with a bit more CO2. The same would happen with transport.

I have just been involved in investigating with Thames Water the tunnel that will collect all the drainage from London and go from somewhere in Hammersmith underneath the river towards Beckton. I discovered that Thames Water is planning to remove all the spoil by road, which I calculated would be about 500 trucks a day from central London. That is about 10 times what Crossrail was criticised for when it was moving spoil from one of its stations. I was told, "This is all very fine. If you want us to be more sustainable and not cause quite so much damage to the residents of London, it will cost someone £70 million more". I asked where the evidence was for this and was told that the regulator would not allow it. We are still in discussions but it is extraordinary that it can claim that this is a very sustainable solution. It might make the river cleaner, but we need to debate whether it is the right solution. The fallback situation was, "We will use road unless someone can pay us extra". To some extent, that reflects the national policy statement, to which we will come in future amendments, which basically says that you should use river or railway transport rather than road if it is economically viable. Of course, the figures can be adjusted to suit whatever you want.

7 July 2011 : Column 438

The important thing is that even for those big projects, the policies as set out in these amendments need to filter down, as other noble Lords have said, all the way through the planning system to even the smallest planning application and discussion. It seems to me that this is a good way of setting out the structure, about which we can debate many more things later. I join other noble Lords in asking the Minister when we will see this national planning policy framework. I would also ask-again, this will come up later-whether it will be statutory, voluntary or advisory.

On the basis that the House of Commons is required to approve and debate national policy statements, will the House of Commons and, I hope, the House of Lords, be asked to debate this one? There is quite a lot to talk about on this and a lot of questions to be answered. I join other noble Lords is asking this fundamental question. Do the Government accept the need for some comprehensive sustainability definition in the Bill?

5.30 pm

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I should like to add a few comments to those made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in moving his amendment. All those who have spoken are very conscious of the fact that planning in the future must surely be a balance between social, economic and environmental needs. Subsection (4) of Amendment 147FD in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, clearly defines that. However, I have a slight problem with what to include and not include in the list. It is always the same whenever there is a list. Certainly, I have no difficulty with,

That is something to which I hope the Minister will, when he responds, say, "Yes, this is something that we feel is extremely key". I have a slight difficulty as we go through paragraphs (a), (b), (c), (d) and (e) because it is quite difficult to strike a balance between them. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, might well feel, for example, that environmental limits should be given a higher priority than the economic side. I think that the two go together and you cannot define them separately. I have difficulty with paragraph (b). We would all like to see,

included but most of us know that the society we live in is not fair for all as it is. Therefore, I have concerns about putting that in the Bill.

Turning to paragraph (e), "using sound science responsibly", I would much rather have seen something such as "using our resources better". We have such wonderful new technologies available to us now. We can make better use of water and can use better means of energy-saving. In future, we shall see many more of those technologies coming on-stream.

I do not wish to be a killjoy on the amendment. I support the thrust behind it. However, as it stands, it raises certain questions. Lists have never been one of my great loves. One often puts things in that one should not, or leaves out things that ought to be

7 July 2011 : Column 439

included. However, I very much support the theme behind subsection (4), which I started by mentioning-social, economic and environmental needs.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I have put my name to these amendments and am happy to support them. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has set out the case in his usual exemplary manner. My noble friend Lady Andrews said that it was right that we should have a positive definition, which this is. She referred to the need possibly to expand it to include cultural needs. We have the opportunity to debate that in relation to other amendments in the not too distant future.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, challenged the definition and the listing of some of the principles. However, this is not a new definition, but one that has been around, and internationally accepted, for some time. Those principles were enshrined in the 2005 sustainability principles that were set out by the previous Government and have, I believe, been accepted all round. My noble friend Lord Berkeley referred to a fear of what has been accepted to date being diluted. The noble Baroness may also have strayed into that territory. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said that there was no conflict between business and the environment. The definition and proposition are neither anti-business nor anti-development.

There are imperatives for having this definition in the Bill. The planning proposals in the Bill represent a major upheaval for the current system. Amid all the change, it is important to anchor a focus in the purpose of planning. There is concern among some that, despite the rhetoric and the expressed ambition to be the greenest Government ever, that ambition is being sidelined. With a new governance framework involving neighbourhood planning, the achievement of sustainable development must be at the heart of the local decision-making process.

This issue is brought into sharper focus because there are apparently other versions of the draft national planning policy framework. Like other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, I ask when we shall see the official version, which will clearly help our deliberations through the myriad amendments on planning. There are concerns that the drafts vary from the previously adopted and accepted meaning enshrined in the 2005 UK sustainable development strategy. We have also seen, along the way, the demise of the Sustainable Development Commission on the basis that its funding will go towards mainstreaming sustainability.

We took it from earlier responses by the Minister, Lady Hanham, at Second Reading that we were in accord with the definition of sustainable development and the five principles set out in the amendment. I think it follows from that that we should be in accord with the "purpose of planning" definition, but perhaps the Minister will take this opportunity to reconfirm that on the record. Of course, we must await the final, official draft of the NPPF, but perhaps the Minister will also say whether he considers the current version of the NPPF to include an identical definition of sustainable development, the purpose of planning and the principles set down in this amendment. It is important

7 July 2011 : Column 440

for us to be clear whether our discussion with the Government-and a possible disagreement with the Government on this-is on the substance of the definition or the principles, or on the fact that it is in the Bill, in primary legislation.

These issues have been brought into focus by a number of matters which lead to concerns that attempts are under way to redefine sustainable development. For example, the draft presumption in favour of sustainable development-my noble friend Lady Andrews referred to this-has a definition that states:

Such statements give rise to fears that overwhelming weight might be given to the need to support economic recovery and to incentivise development that will facilitate this.

Of course tackling the deficit is an issue of huge importance, although-this is probably not the occasion for the debate-we believe that the Government's approach is dealing with it too far and too fast. However, economic growth is only one of many objectives that the planning system can and is meant to deliver. On sustainable development duties, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, there are existing duties under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and the Planning Act 2008 on local planning authorities and the Secretary of State to prepare planning policy with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development. However, in order to properly achieve sustainable development, the statutory duty, as the noble Lord said, should be more positive and proactive. That is why we support the amendment in this form.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, was not particularly enamoured of this form of amendment. He made reference to the default position of LDVs, where there is not a full suite of plans at local level in place. One issue that seems to be emerging is that, if the new NPPF is written in a high-level general way and is therefore not specific around special issues, and if LDVs are not in place, then the presumption and the default position could open up opportunities for development, which would not be the case if, in fact, that local development framework was in place. If I have misunderstood the noble Lord, I apologise, but I think that he almost equated sustainability with nimbyism. I do not believe that that is right.

As other noble Lords have said, this is an extremely important start to our deliberations on planning. It is fundamental, we believe, to get that definition clear, agreed and in the Bill, because that will help drive our deliberations on a whole raft of stuff, the tiers of planning, that flow from the Government's effectively new system.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, contrasted two definitions of sustainability-theirs and ours, as it were. May I say to my noble friend how much I prefer ours, which is in plain, understandable English? One can understand what its implications are for any particular project, while the definition in these amendments is largely phooey.

7 July 2011 : Column 441

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I will not enter into that controversy, but I will say that it is quite nostalgic to be discussing these issues. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Greaves and I have been arguing a case not entirely dissimilar from that of today in other Bills and in other situations-only the geography of the Chamber appears to have changed, whereas the arguments remain. However, in my contribution to this debate, I think that I can show that the argument has in many ways moved on, and I would like to think that the Government have also moved on. I have enjoyed listening to the debate because I am interested in the subject area and, as I am sure noble Lords will know, I share the concern that all developments should be sustainable. I also think that it is important that we try to make sure that a theme of sustainability runs through all this planning section of the Bill and, indeed, through the Bill as a whole.

The Government's commitment to sustainable development should not be in doubt. That point was made forcefully in the statement published in February by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment. We have recently indicated how we intend to introduce a presumption in favour of sustainable development in the forthcoming national planning policy framework. I agree with all noble Lords that it would make today's debate so much easier if we were all clutching a copy of that freshly minted document, which would inform our debate. However, I can reassure noble Lords that the document will be published not only "shortly" but "very shortly", in which case I feel that I can assure noble Lords that the document will be available before we discuss these matters on Report. The document will inform the debate, and I think that everyone senses that in the way that the arguments have gone.

On the subject of the national planning policy framework, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked whether the document would have statutory force and whether the House of Commons or House of Lords would have an opportunity to debate it. The national planning policy framework-which, as that is a difficult thing to say and we know what we mean, I think I will call the NPPF-will be an important material consideration in all planning decisions. The NPPF will flow throughout the whole planning system from top to bottom: plans will have to take it into account and individual decisions will need to be plan led. As has been said, the Minister for Planning has made a commitment that he will present the framework to Parliament. Obviously, it will be up to the usual channels to provide an opportunity for it to be debated.

As I say, the NPPF is an important document and we want that presumption in favour of sustainable development to be at the heart of the system. We have said that we see the three pillars of sustainability-namely, economic, social and environmental-as interconnected. The NPPF will be pro growth, but it wants that growth to be sustainable, and I am sure that all noble Lords would share that view. Therefore, we understand the genuine intentions driving these amendments, but perhaps I can explain why, in the Government's opinion and in the context of this Bill, they might well set the bar too high.

7 July 2011 : Column 442

For example, Amendment 147FC seems to expect any and every planning decision to be reached with the objective of furthering the achievement of sustainable development. However, we must bear in mind that planning decisions can require trade-offs. There must be freedom for decision-takers to make such choices according to the circumstances of the individual case. For example, what are the implications of applying the duty in Amendment 147FC to applications to carry out works to nationally important listed buildings? The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, would understand the implications of a rigid sustainability test for that task.

5.45 pm

Baroness Andrews: Since the Minister raises that point, my argument would be that the conservation of historic buildings is a central expression of sustainability. Sustainability in terms of our historic environment serves a wider purpose and does not back up the case that the Minister would want to make.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: The case that I was making, if I may repeat it, is that the materials used and the standards required may not necessarily be the most sustainable. One has that with listed-building provision already. There are limits to a rigid test of sustainability, which I was hoping to illustrate by using that example.

Lord Berkeley: Is the Minister suggesting that it would be better if one of my noble friend's buildings fell down? Or is he talking about using old-fashioned mortar instead of new cement? It seems a bit of a detail in the context of this debate.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Of course, my Lords, it is a detail; it is an illustration. All noble Lords have said that they felt that the context of this debate was the influencing of all planning decisions. This planning section of the Bill deals with just those issues, when it comes to local decisions being made in the context of sustainability. That is why it is important to understand the implications of the detail of the amendment and why-without my arguing with the general principle-there may be deficiencies in it as it has been presented by my noble friend and supported by a number of noble Lords.

Amendment 147FD is formulated slightly differently but in essence applies the same set of expectations on plans, most-but in this case not all-decisions under the planning Acts, and policy or guidance issued by the Secretary of State relating to planning functions. The amendment, like Amendments 147FC and 147FE, risks pushing to and beyond the limits of planning. I have no difficulty with the five principles of sustainable development promoted by the previous Government, but they risk loading on planning more than it can deliver. Would all five have to be met by any development proposal? How would, for example, someone extending their home demonstrate that they are promoting good governance?

Amendment 147FE focuses on the planning regime for major infrastructure-the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, referred to a project here in London. It proposes a

7 July 2011 : Column 443

number of changes to the existing legislation, including extending the sustainable development duty currently applicable to the preparation of national policy statements to all decisions on applications relating to major infrastructure. In this, it is consistent with Amendment 147FC and mirrors Amendment 147FD. It therefore has the same pitfalls.

For example, applying the sustainable development duty at the decision stage could introduce great uncertainty, because it would require the decision-maker to second-guess policy in the national policy statements, which will have been scrutinised and secured Parliamentary approval. By applying the sustainable development duty in the way proposed, the amendment could unintentionally undermine our efforts to deliver energy security.

I remind the Committee that we already have sustainable development duties applicable to the planning system. These are as follows. For major infrastructure, the duty applies to national policy statements for good reason. These national policy statements set out the policy framework for decisions on major infrastructure and integrate the Government's objectives for infrastructure capacity and development with its wider economic, environmental and social policy objectives, including climate change goals and targets, in order to deliver sustainable development. We also have a planning duty on sustainable development in the Town and Country Planning Act system. The duty applies to those preparing plans, which in turn bears on planning decisions.

The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, emphasised how important it was that we have a future debate on these subjects with the NPPF available to us. I am sure that it will inform such debates and will be greatly to our advantage. I have not seen any text on this document at present. However, we know that the current duties within the planning system work. They avoid the risks that these amendments pose to the Bill and I hope that my noble friend will feel free to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Taylor of Goss Moor: My Lords, I have listened carefully to what the Minister had to say but, although I welcome the Government's commitment to sustainable development, the longer he spoke the less I was convinced of the argument he was making.

I conducted a review of rural planning policy for the previous Government. The first chapter of the review was devoted to sustainable development because there are potential perverse consequences in the way in which it is interpreted by planners at the local level from time to time. Most typically they argue that the community is not sustainable because it lacks public transport and other facilities, or people have to travel into a town to do their shopping, and therefore no development should be allowed because it is unsustainable. This ignores the fact that no development will make the community less sustainable in the long term, and that change can improve the sustainability of a community even if it does not deliver perfection.

With his colleagues, the Minister has committed the Government to the principle that we should favour sustainable development-so much so that there will be a presumption in favour of such development in the absence of other policy. Yet the Minister argues now

7 July 2011 : Column 444

against these amendments on two grounds. The first argument is that the detail of the amendments is imperfect-and, indeed, most of the comments against have been around that. However, if we are to believe that we should incorporate policies that favour sustainable development as a default option, surely it is incumbent on us to have a clear idea-and, more importantly, that the Government have a clear idea-of what we mean by that. If the Government do not have a clear idea, the principle that we are in favour of sustainable development as a default option cannot possibly stand.

We may have our differences around this-I do not think it is that complex an issue-but if the Minister has doubts about these amendments, he and his government colleagues should come forward with what they believe is the right definition and establish it in the Bill so that we are clear what we are empowering to happen as the default option in planning.

The second argument against is that it will in due course be in the national planning policy framework. That is welcome. I am sure that it will elaborate the detail of it and, of course, those details over time will be able to shift within the framework. However, what is being proposed is not a mere detail but is central to the Bill. In the absence of policy, the Government want it as the default option that we will approve proposals that support sustainable development-yet they will not incorporate the fundamental answer of what that means into the Bill.

I am sympathetic to much of what the Bill is trying to do; I am a proponent of sustainable development. I have argued about the perverse consequences of the misapplication of this-the gold standard. The Minister referred to it in terms of heritage, but it can be reduced to absurdity whereby nothing is allowed because nothing ever meets perfection. It is precisely for those reasons that the Government in due course should come forward with their explanation and proposition in the Bill so that we understand what it is we are being asked to approve in this legislation.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I completely agree with the noble Lord. I think that was a very eloquent exposition of the Government's dilemma. The Minister addressed the amendment's frailties in its language and definition, but perhaps the Government could be persuaded to agree in principle that there should be a definition of sustainability in the Bill, which we could debate. It could build on the NPPF definition of the presumption in favour of sustainability, which is not adequate, but it would be a good start for a debate. There is an opportunity now, which may not occur again, to have something which recognises-as so much else is recognised in climate change legislation, for example-that this is a very serious issue for the economic future of the country.

Lord Berkeley: Can I just add to those comments? The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, introduced some very interesting comments about how this might be taken forward, as did my noble friend Lady Andrews. The Minister mentioned the national policy statements. I welcome the fact that the national planning policy document is to be published very soon and that it might be debated in both Houses. What is the relationship

7 July 2011 : Column 445

between that document and the national policy statements, if and when and as they are developed? Furthermore, with any planning application that falls below the cut-off level for NPSs, the policy still has to take into account the relevant parts of the NPSs. Is that going to stay? What is the relationship between these two documents and the hierarchy? My noble friend suggested putting a basic definition of sustainability in the Bill. Maybe the Minister could put in the more detailed bits of these amendments in the NPPF and then we would see it all together.

Lord Lucas: I very much support what my noble friend Lord Taylor of Goss Moor said. It is terribly important for the neighbourhood planning parts of this Bill that sustainability should be able to be interpreted at that level. At the moment in Hampshire it is part of the local policy that there should be no development in the countryside. If that is allowed under the new system, it will completely wipe out all neighbourhood planning in Hampshire. The argument is that development should take place in towns, where it is more sustainable, but if one applied that nationwide we would choose the wettest, least attractive part of the country and put all development there. It must be possible to focus down on a neighbourhood and look at what is sustainable for that neighbourhood.

Lord Greaves: Can I ask the noble Lord to decouple the words "wettest" and "least attractive"? Some of the wettest parts of the country, such as the Lake District and the Pennines, are some of the most attractive.

Lord Lucas: I am sorry if I coupled those words in the wrong way. I meant that it had to be both. It has to be the wettest because clearly we do not want to put a lot of houses where there is a water shortage. Having decided where it is wet enough, you then choose the least attractive place. I am sure that we can all have arguments about where it should be, but clearly it is not Kent or Norfolk.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Perhaps I can start with the whole business of neighbourhood planning, because in some ways this is a bottom-up Bill and neighbourhood planning is perhaps the first building block of a new way in which to look at the planning process. I agree that sustainability must be an integral part of neighbourhood planning-and, indeed, neighbourhood plans will need to be prepared in conformity with a strategic policy in local plans, which in turn need to be set with the objective of contributing to the objective of sustainability. That is already built into the Bill, as it stands.


Perhaps I might look at the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about the national infrastructure projects and their relationship with the NPPF. The national infrastructure projects, which derived from the Planning Act 2008, require decision-makers to take decisions in accordance with the relevant national policy statement. The NPPF is capable of being an

7 July 2011 : Column 446

important and relevant consideration in these decisions but this amendment conflicts with the intention of the 2008 Act. We are working closely with lead departments to ensure that NPSs work in concert with the NPPF, which is a national framework for the whole planning process.

I hope I can explain that the Bill is only part of the Government's presentation of policy on this issue. The NPPF will put sustainable development at its heart and the Bill provides the mechanisms for its delivery. I hope I have been able to reassure noble Lords that it would be much easier to do so when they have had a chance to see the NPPF. In the mean time, I have taken notice of the elements of this debate and the enthusiasm for a more precise definition in the Bill. We will no doubt return to this, not only in subsequent debates today but on Report.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I thank everybody who has taken part in this interesting debate, not least my noble friend the Minister, who answered a lot of the points. He spoke with customary care in the words that he used and we will read them with interest, to try and work out if any sort of Kremlinology is to be found in them. We will probably find that there is not, but it is nevertheless worth trying. He said that this amendment conflicts with the Planning Act 2008. I do not think it conflicts with it; it is trying to amend it by shifting its balance and emphasis. That is not a conflict but trying to improve it. However, he is absolutely right that we will return to these debates before we finish with this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, made some very interesting comments. He mentioned a default position that applications should be accepted. That always used to be the case. It was when the town and country planning system was introduced after the war, and it was until about 20 to 25 years ago-I am not sure exactly when it was changed-when Parliament made an overt decision that the system should become plan-based. It might have been a 1990 Act; I do not know. There is a difference because you start with the assumption either that an application is passed unless there are good reasons not to; or that the provisions in the local plan will prevail so that if an application is in accord with that plan it will be passed but, if it is not in accord with it, it will not-subject to other considerations.

I am not clear where the Government are going on this because, on the one hand, we have statements suggesting that what the noble Lord has said will be the new policy and, on the other, we hear Ministers say that the plan in future will be sovereign. That was said in the House of Commons, and by Ministers in briefings that we have had. We understand that it might perhaps be even more sovereign than it has been. You cannot have both those. This is one of the fundamental differences that we have to resolve. It is one of the fundamental discontinuities as regards what individual members of the Government are saying, and what some of the same people are saying at different times.

This is a new planning Bill; we should be under no illusions about that. Part 5 of the Bill is a planning Bill on its own and could have been presented to us as a planning Bill on its own. Personally, I wish it had been

7 July 2011 : Column 447

as we could have given it better consideration. It is turning the planning system upside down, or making very fundamental changes to it in exactly the same way that the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 did. It will fundamentally change the way the planning system works from top to bottom. I am not saying that what it is proposing is not a good thing; I am saying that that is the situation. We have to ensure, if only to apply the workability criterion of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, that at least the thing will not cause chaos when it leaves here.

The same difficulty in understanding what is proposed applies to neighbourhood plans as opposed to the rather top-down, pro-growth agenda which was pushed by the Chancellor in his Budget speech and in documents issued after that. On the other hand, promises seem to be being made to people that, in future, neighbourhood planning really will be neighbourhood planning and decisions will be made at the very local level. I have heard the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, wax lyrical in these debates about how the new neighbourhood planning system will release growth. It may well do so but it will not do so everywhere. There is absolutely no doubt that in some places it will result-if the neighbourhood level is going to be predominant-in the nimbys winning, because if you have local democracy and make decisions at local level, some go one way, some go the other way, but they certainly do not go the way that you want. This all stems from the original Conservative document, Open Source Planning, which came out over a year ago. That was a very interesting document but it was based on the premise that everybody would have a local neighbourhood plan and the district plans-the local authority plans-would be a sort of jigsaw made up of each of the local plans stuck together. That was a bit idealistic as you have only to think of two adjoining places having completely different policies to realise that that does not work, but that is what the document said. My interpretation of what we have now is that the philosophy underlying OpenSource Planning has gone through the mill of the civil servants, who have turned it into something a bit more practical-or is it a bit more practical? That is what we have to find out.

It is delightful to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, arguing the case that I was arguing when I was sitting where she is sitting. I am still arguing it over this side. It would be interesting to go back to those debates and see what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor-the Minister-said then. However, we understand how this works and Governments have to take a corporate view. If the noble Baroness is a repentant sinner, we should remember that there is more joy in heaven at one sinner who repents than there is with everybody else, so she can bask in that glory for a moment.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, talked about HS2. That is a classic case. As I said when I was moving the amendment, this does not mean that every single decision has to have exactly the same balance. The important thing is that you have the framework that sets out the balance and you make the judgments on each individual decision-each project, planning application or plan at whatever level-in the light of that overall framework. Clearly, there are trade-offs

7 July 2011 : Column 448

and compromises-that is life. I passionately support HS2. However, on the basis of its effect on a small narrow strip of the Chilterns, you could say that it is environmentally damaging-how damaging you can argue about. If, on the other hand, you look at it from the point of view on the other side of the environmental dimension-climate change-you would probably agree that investing in new railways rather than new roads is a good thing. You have to balance those judgments, but that does not alter the fact that you need an overall framework that balances the different elements.

I accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said about cultural factors. However, a scheme in Nelson involved building a new school as a regeneration project in a different and unique conservation area, which was an old industrial area with lots of old houses. We had a long battle with the noble Baroness-or at least with her organisation-and other heritage groups about how many of the derelict empty terraced houses we could knock down. I am very pleased to say that the issue has been resolved, planning permission for the new school was approved last week, and the scheme will go ahead. However, as to the compromises and trade-offs between the different viewpoints on the scheme, we were very irritated-a mild word to express how we felt-at the behaviour of the heritage organisations. Perhaps they were right and in the end we may get the best solution because it will be balanced and do what everyone wants it to do.

I have said enough. There should be a statutory framework for this matter. I am not suggesting that these amendments are absolutely perfect, but I nevertheless strongly believe that something within this general framework should be in the Bill; it must be the purpose of the planning system; and it must apply, if not to everything, then at the very least to all the plan-making activities within the planning system. I hope that when we reach Report we might have something that has been agreed with the Government and that we can all support-who knows? If that is the case, as with everything else, none of us will think it is perfect but we will accept it as a trade-off and compromise. I hope that the Government will look at this in that way. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 147FC withdrawn.

Amendments 147FD to 147FF not moved.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I was not sure that we had formally debated Amendment 147FF, which is in a separate group-although I think the noble Lord spoke to it.

Lord Greaves: The noble Lord is in the position that I was in on Tuesday of having an old list. In the interests of getting some brownie points with the business managers and the Whips, I grouped it with the other amendments.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: Perhaps I had the 11 am, rather than the 11.10, list this morning.

7 July 2011 : Column 449

Amendment 147FFA

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

147FFA: Before Clause 94, insert the following new Clause-

"National Planning Policy Framework

(1) The Secretary of State must issue, designate and update a National Planning Policy Framework, to establish policies to achieve sustainable development.

(2) Such policies should relate to mitigation of, and adaption to, climate change.

(3) Before designating a document as the National Planning Policy Framework for the purposes of this Act or before amending any such document, the Secretary of State must carry out an appraisal of the sustainability of the policy set out in the document or the amendment to it.

(4) A document may be designated as the National Planning Policy Framework for the purposes of this Act only if consultation, publicity and parliamentary requirements set out by the Secretary of State, have been complied with.

(5) The requirements in subsection (4) above apply to any amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework."

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, this amendment relates to the national planning policy framework, which we have just discussed and will doubtless feature in each day of our considerations. The amendment requires the Secretary of State to,

that must set out,

and focus on mitigation of climate change. Before designating a document as an NPPF, the amendment requires there to be an appraisal of sustainability and for the proposal to be the subject of consultation, dissemination and an appropriate parliamentary process. It is not, at this stage, specific about what that process might actually be.

I contend that the amendment goes very much with the grain of government and with what the Minister said earlier. The coalition agreement stated:

"We will publish and present to Parliament a simple and consolidated national planning ... framework covering all forms of development and setting out national economic, environmental and social priorities".

If the commitment can be enshrined in the coalition agreement, why can it not be in the Bill? This does not call for the NPPF itself to be part of the Bill, just the requirement to produce one. We could have asked for-and we may do so on Report-an obligation to review and update on a regular basis.

On 13 September 2010, the CLG Select Committee inquiry into the work of the department asked the Minister how the NPPF is to be produced. He said:

"We are committed to bringing together and simplifying a set of planning documents that has become like the tax code, it has grown over time and we want to step back and distil it to its essential principles. In so doing, and I do not want to pre-empt the announcement we will make, but I do not want that to be done in the way that these things have been done before, behind closed doors, drafted by people in secret and then just a puff of white smoke emerges and there it is. I want this to be collaborative. There are lots of people who have a great interest in the financial planning framework. Whether town planners, whether people in local government, whether environmental groups and I want them to participate in that re-drafting in a way that I do not think has been extended to them before. That is the direction that we are going, but obviously I need to make a formal announcement to the House in due course".

7 July 2011 : Column 450

He was asked:

"Will Parliament be able to contribute?".

He said yes. When pressed again about whether it was the committee or Parliament, either or both, the Minister, Greg Clark, said, "Both".

It is unfortunate that we have to discuss the issue without the benefit of the official draft, in circumstances where what purports to be an unofficial draft seems to be in wide circulation, already commented on by various organisations and the press. The Minister has told us when an official version will be available-very shortly, was the expression that I believe he used.

As we made clear previously, it is very difficult to debate some planning issues effectively without that. There has already been pre-consultation and a draft of the NPPF produced by the practitioners' group, and there is now to be a full public consultation, so the Government are delivering on aspects of the promises that they made last September, but perhaps the Minister can confirm how they will complete that promise and what will be the role of Parliament, particularly the role of the House of Lords, as well as the House of Commons. The role of Parliament is crucial, given the fundamental significance of the NPPF, as the Minister himself outlined. It represents, according to Mr Clark, part of a radical overhaul of planning policy cutting out thousands of unnecessary central instructions.

A role for Parliament would be especially important if there is anything in some of the fears expressed by certain groups on the basis of the unofficial draft. They say, on the one hand, that the NPPF is written at a high level without much detail. It is therefore difficult to gauge compliance of local plans with the NPPF. Where many local planning authorities have yet to adopt local plans, the bulk of planning applications will be assessed against the NPPF. They characterise that as a potential planning free-for-all. It remains to be seen whether that is the case, but it remains imperative that Parliament has a say in the outcome. I beg to move.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, my Amendment 166VZC is grouped, and I of course support my noble friend Lord McKenzie's amendment. My amendment is designed to be a helpful contribution to Ministers. As we have not seen the NPPF, it is a suggestion of what it might contain.

I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group. There is not much about rail freight in here, but there might be a bit. The key point is in subsection (2) of the amendment, which tries to set out in more detail how the activities and development of other parts of local authorities, regional authorities, the Government and other people could be made more sustainable if they took into account the cost of environmental issues such as transport. The obvious example is when, two years ago, a lot of law courts were closed in different parts of the country, which meant that people had to travel for long distances and sometimes even stay overnight or pay for taxis because there was no public transport. Of course, the assessment of the benefits of closing law courts did not include anything to do with transport, and one could make the same comment about the closure of hospitals.

7 July 2011 : Column 451

Therefore, the amendment is intended to try to link planning with transport and to look at the sustainable elements involved.

Transport routes are fundamental in the location of warehouses and distribution sites so as to reduce distances travelled and traffic congestion on busy roads. I have included something about former railway lines. I know that the Government are not yet interested in reopening former railway lines, and I can understand why in the present situation, but a lot of people will be looking at this. I know that it is planned to locate High Speed 2 on some disused railway lines, but there are many other lines in this country which could be used not for railways as such but for cycle ways and other transport routes to get people off congested roads. However, it is very difficult to reinstate corridors for those types of purposes if bits of the land are sold off. Reinstatement costs an enormous amount.

I mention in paragraph (d) under my proposed new Clause 2 in the amendment the need for travel to be minimised and, in paragraph (e), sustainable transport modes for the movement of people and freight. However, it is also useful to talk about, as I do in paragraph (f), public transport, pedestrians, cyclists and disabled people. I believe that in future all these things will have a much greater impact if we are to meet the famous 80 per cent reduction in carbon. That is the Government's target and I think we all support it but achieving it is going to be pretty challenging. Lastly, paragraph (g) would remove the need to travel so far and would maximise sustainable modes of transport. I do not know whether those points will be in the final version of the NPPF but, if they are not, perhaps the Minister could consider making a few last-minute amendments and including them.

We have talked about the parliamentary requirements, and there is obviously a need for consultation.

Proposed new Clause 5 in the amendment makes yet another attempt at achieving sustainable development. I do not think that I need to go through it with your Lordships now because noble Lords will all have read the NPPF and we all have ideas about what it should contain. However, it certainly demonstrates to me the need to have something like this in the Bill and to have more detail somewhere in the NPPF, as I have tried to do in the amendment.

Lord Reay: My Lords, there was considerable discussion in the debate on the previous group of amendments about the national planning policy framework, although there was no mention of it in any of the amendments in that group. We come to it for the first time with these amendments.

I agree with those noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, who said that it is unfortunate that we do not already have the NPPF-the document that is, as I understand it, in 50 or 60 pages going to replace 2,000 pages of PPSs, PPGs and other planning documents that stretch back over 50 years or more. Of course, it will have a very large impact on how the Bill works in practice. I hope that we will have it very shortly, as the Minister said, and debate it.

However, I do not believe that this is the right place to debate the NPPF or to go further and pre-empt it, as the amendment in the name of the noble Lord,

7 July 2011 : Column 452

Lord Berkeley, seeks to do here in particular, with four pages of text setting out suggested contents for the NPPF. Being an amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, it concentrates on transport and is highly prescriptive in that field. It talks about giving priority to bicycles and pedestrians, installing electric charging points and so forth. I shall not say what I think about any of those details because I simply do not think that this is a suitable moment to debate them. However, what I most certainly do not agree with is a reference in the first amendment of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, to climate change policies. I do not believe that either the NPPF or this Bill should be used to give impetus to the Government's renewable policies. I shall have more to say about that on a later group of amendments. I hope that the noble Lords who put their names to this amendment have said what they want to say and that they will be able to withdraw their amendments and not reintroduce it.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, we shall come, although not tonight, to clauses in the Bill dealing with national policy statements. Many noble Lords here are veterans of the debates about how national policy statements should or, in many cases, should not be dealt with. Perhaps it is not fair to say, "should not be dealt with", but perhaps I should say, "should have been dealt with in a more extensive and iterative fashion".

I use this opportunity to say to the Minister that I hope that by the time we get to Clause 114, on national policy statements, he may be in a better position to explain to the Committee how the national planning policy framework will be dealt with in procedural terms. I cannot gaze into a crystal ball, but I do not think it takes much imagination to guess that we shall debate the role of this House, as this House could make such a contribution to the planning policy framework and to the policy statements. I am sure we shall debate those things. As well as making that plea, I put down a marker for what I have said might be a more iterative and more measured process and certainly for the House to have an opportunity to make more of a contribution than it was able to do on the current arrangements under the Planning Act 2008.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I would like to add a couple of points. Following on what my noble friend Lady Hamwee has just said, anyone who has taken part in the discussions on the national policy statements in this House probably realises that it has not been a very satisfactory process. When we talked about them under the 2008 Bill, there was a question about whether this House would be involved in discussing them at all. A campaign was led by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, for this House to have a role in scrutinising them. That was successful to a degree, but the powers that be restricted what was to happen to the absolute minimum. The level of scrutiny which national policy statements have had in this House has consisted of a session in the Moses Room, when there was a debate with a speakers list, and then the matter came back to the Chamber. In theory, amendments could be moved when it returned to the Chamber, but I cannot remember any. Apparently, there were some. Did we vote on any? The noble Lord will know better than me.

7 July 2011 : Column 453

Lord Jenkin of Roding: In the House, we had some very good debates and amendments that were debated. When the Government published their revised national policy statements, they took every single amendment and most of the comments that had been made and responded to them. Apart from the issue of approval, which of course is new in this Bill, and is confined to another place-the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has a lot of amendments down on that-I would have thought that the way in which the Government have handled the national policy statements has been exemplary.

6.30 pm

Lord Greaves: I stand reprimanded by the noble Lord. All this excitement obviously took place in a period when I could not be in the House. I still think what I thought at the time-that the best way to scrutinise detailed documents such as this is to have a Select Committee-type scrutiny process. If that could be combined with the exciting dénouement debate in the House that the noble Lord spoke about, that would perhaps be the best solution.

This will be a very important, overriding and high-level document. I am starting to use American management jargon: next I shall start talking about deep-diving into the detail and that sort of rubbish, but never mind. One of the great things about these Committees is that we veer from talking about high-level things to debating how they will affect a particular group of allotments or whatever.

My second point is a question to the Government. What is the timetable-perhaps I have missed this-for the phasing out of planning policy statements and the phasing in of the NPPF? Local authorities are in some sort of limbo as regards planning policy statements and planning policy guidance. They still employ people to make sure that their local development documents are in accord with them, but they are not sure to what extent they are wasting their time, or whether it is useful work as guidance for what they are doing. At what stage will there be a changeover? Will the planning policy statement suddenly cease to have any validity when the new system comes in? When that happens, what will local planning authorities do with the work they are doing? Will they have to start again from scratch if they are half way through developing their core strategy in order to make sure that it accords with the new national policy planning framework, as opposed to all the documents that they have been working on until now? Many local planning authorities are in limbo. They are not sure what is going to happen and could do with advice on what to do.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, this has been a useful debate, which has reinforced our previous debate and put the NPPF at the heart of it. In its absence, we can but note its significance and importance in relation to the Bill. I will start by reassuring the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, that the Government plan a full public consultation on the document-it will not be just for Parliament to debate the matter-and will follow established best practice for consultations. We have already sought a variety of consultations in formulating the NPPF, including with community groups.

7 July 2011 : Column 454

Bearing in mind the interest of noble Lords in this matter, I will ask that as soon as it is published copies will be made available to all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. I appreciate that there may be an interval before we in the House are able to debate this. That is a matter for the House authorities, not for the Government. However, it is an important part of the discussion of this document.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, there is a great appetite to see the document. However, on the matter of timing, I note that the noble Lord said that the consultation will accord with best practice. Will that include taking account of the August holiday period, given that publication is likely to be just as that starts?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I assure my noble friend Lady Hamwee that this is at the heart of what we are trying to achieve.

The Government are not seeking to railway-I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and I immediately think of railways-railroad this through. They want it to be a proper discussion document because it is going to be at the heart of the planning process. Indeed, community involvement is going to be vital in the planning system at the local level where plans are created and decisions are taken. Community engagement is embedded at the heart of the planning process through tools, such as the statement of community involvement, to ensure that local people are involved in the shaping of their area.

There is no need formally in legislation to forge a link between the framework and sustainable development because the latter has long been the basis for all planning policy, as I said in the previous debate. It will be a core principle of the new framework. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked about where plans are not up to date. The NPPF will be able to provide a clear basis for determining applications. It will be up to decision-makers to decide the weight to give to the plan and the NPPF in each case.

I understand the desire to put a presumption in favour of sustainable development on a statutory footing as it should be central to the way the reform of planning policy works, but in making it central to the NPPF, as we propose, we believe we can do that without creating conflicts with existing legislation, as this amendment would do. For example, we could not, as proposed here, require in law all individual proposals to be approved wherever possible and still have a plan-led system.

Turning to the proposals put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, the transport planning policy has been set out within the national policy. This is the best place to spell out how the impact of new development should be considered through the planning system. Legally, decision-makers must have regard to national policy where it is material to their decision, and transport issues are one of the material considerations routinely taken into account. Importantly, policy is more flexible and more capable of responding swiftly to changes in circumstances than legislation. Therefore, I do not think it is appropriate to make changes to transport policy through legislative means, particularly when

7 July 2011 : Column 455

the Government are due to publish the NPPF, which will include transport policy. If changes are required to transport policy, they should be carefully considered as part of that consultation and, if appropriate, taken forward through the NPPF.

Moving to the next issue, the proposal that the NPPF should be able to trump all other plans where there is an inconsistency fundamentally changes the way the plan-led system is designed to operate. At local level, this is unnecessary and deeply centralising. Section 19(2) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 means that local plans should be prepared having regard to national policy, which will include the new NPPF. The Planning Act 2008 requires decisions on major infrastructure projects to be taken in accordance with any relevant national policy statement. There is a national need for a new infrastructure, and it is essential for growth. That is why the Government are establishing what is needed and how planning decisions should be taken for those national-level schemes that will have impacts and benefits beyond the local area. Each infrastructure sector is different, which is why we are urgently pressing ahead with sector-specific national policy statements rather than a single national policy statement to cover all sectors.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: Can the Minister confirm what has always been my understanding that the national policy statements will continue to exist and operate under the 2008 Act alongside the new national planning framework? It is not, as I understood the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, to suggest, that one is going to sweep away the other.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My noble friend Lord Jenkin is absolutely right. I am happy to confirm that and I thank him for his helpful intervention to clarify that point. Of course, the two run in parallel and the design is that they should be in harmony.

Lord Berkeley: That is good news and what I understood myself. Will the Minister give any indication of when the missing national policy statements might see the light of day? They keep being delayed and delayed. Some are published in draft form but it would be nice to see them and eventually debate them.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Like the train, one might say that they will be along in due course, but I do not have the timetable to hand. I am left rather, as is the noble Lord, waiting on the platform. They are on their way. I think that the most urgent document we want to see is the NPPF. I am sure that is where we all stand on this issue.

Lord Berkeley: But we do not stand on the platform for a year.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I have a note here to say that we are working with the lead departments to ensure that the national policy statements and the NPPF work in concert. We see them as being in harmony with each other. I have a note which might be useful to my noble friend Lord Greaves. He asked

7 July 2011 : Column 456

for the timetable of phasing out PPSs. The current suite of policy and guidance will remain in place until the NPPF is finalised but we will notify the arrangements in that respect. I would imagine that the NPPF will influence planners immediately after it is published.

Perhaps I may say to my noble friend Lady Hamwee that the consultation period will continue way beyond the summer, as I implied in my opening statement.

Baroness Andrews: This may be the only time we get a chance to discuss the NPPF. I understand that guidance on the NPPF is being prepared. It will be very important because the NPPF is a reduction of principle and it is vital that local authorities in particular understand exactly what they are meant to do. The production of guidance alongside the NPPF is critical. Will we be able to see the guidance as well when the NPPF is published and will there be an opportunity for the House to have a look at that at some point? That will be very important.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I cannot give an answer to the noble Baroness at this moment but I can assure her that when the copy of the NPPF is sent, I will accompany it with a letter giving the arrangements for the guidance to go with it. I hope that that will help the noble Baroness. In the mean time, I hope that this has been a useful debate. It has rather reinforced the debate we had earlier and I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his reply and for the contributions from other noble Lords. I am not a veteran of past debates and discussions around planning and I am not sure yet whether that is a disadvantage or an advantage. Perhaps I should assess the matter at the end of proceedings.

The noble Lord, Lord Reay, is right. There is no point in debating the document if we do not have it-so the sooner we get it, the better. I would not agree with him on climate change but it looks as though that will be a subject for debate as our deliberations proceed. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, this is a very important document. I am a little unclear from the Minister whether he supports the principle that there should be in the Bill an obligation to produce an NPPF and some parliamentary process attached to that. I am not asking for the content of it but whether he supports the principle. I may have missed it when the Minister was responding, but I am not sure that he dealt with that point. I understand that, as a parliamentary process, a Select Committee might be a more productive route than a few days on the Floor of this House, although that can be good fun as well. I should be interested in the Minister's view on that.

I apologise to my noble friend Lord Berkeley. I had not realised that his amendment had been grouped with this one. As the Minister said, it is, perhaps, more prescriptive. My understanding was that national policy statements sit alongside the NPPF, and I think that is what the Minister has confirmed. I am happy to withdraw the amendment but before I do so, can the Minister say what the problem is with having a requirement

7 July 2011 : Column 457

in the Bill to produce an NPPF? That requirement is not there. What is it that obliges a Government to keep it up to date?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: The noble Lord is quite right: there is no reference to the NPPF in the Bill. The Government have no intention at this stage to include it in the Bill, but we will listen to any argument that the noble Lord puts forward and consider the matter. However, it is not the Government's intention to produce an amendment to put a reference to the NPPF in the Bill.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: Will the Minister just say why? I know it is not there at the moment and that he will not accept this amendment, but why do the Government not wish to put that in the Bill?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am answering the question directly. I think the noble Lord wants to know what the Government's position is. The rationale behind it, I expect-I am only deducing this-is that the Government want flexibility in the mechanisms that they use in national policy frameworks in future and in any replacement device that they might consider necessary. Not enshrining the NPPF in primary legislation makes it easier to change the arrangements. None the less, there is determination at the moment to use the NPPF as the main device. I have some advice on this matter which may help. The law already requires a local planning authority, when making plans, to have regard to policies and guidance issued by the Secretary of State. As we know, the NPPF is a replacement for that guidance and advice. Therefore, this applies to the NPPF. The NPPF's authority derives not from this Bill but from the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act and the Town and Country Planning Act. In the absence of an NPPF, the Secretary of State would still be obliged to issue guidance under those Acts. That is where the NPPF fits into the equation.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, again, I am grateful to the Minister for that response. As I understand it, he is saying that local planning authorities must have regard to what the Secretary of State issues. The missing link is what requires the Secretary of State to produce the framework. This is an issue to which I should like to return. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 147FFA withdrawn.

Amendment 147FG

Moved by Lord Best

147FG: Clause 94, page 71, line 40, at end insert-

"(3A) Subsection (3) shall not apply to those policies in an approved regional strategy that have been specifically referred to as part of the policy content of a Local Development Framework submitted under section 20(1) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (independent examination) in advance of the coming into force of this section.

(3B) Subsection (3A) shall apply until whichever is the earlier of-

7 July 2011 : Column 458

(a) at the end of the period of three years starting with the date on which regional strategies are revoked under subsection (3) above,

(b) the day when in relation to a policy covered by subsection (3A), a new policy which expressly replaces it is adopted or approved."

Lord Best: My Lords, Amendment 147FG relates to Clause 94 and the abolition of regional strategies. I fully accept that regional spatial strategies are to be abolished and the Government will not want to extend their life. However, there is a danger of a hiatus before the issues currently covered by the regional spatial strategies can be properly incorporated into new local development plans by the relevant local planning authorities.

Quite apart from the many cases where no local development framework has been completed, there are the situations where a local development framework has been properly finalised, but refers specifically to items in a regional spatial strategy which will now disappear, or where the local development framework is silent on an issue because it is addressed by a regional spatial strategy and those preparing their local development framework were encouraged to exclude matters already set out in a regional spatial strategy, particularly relating to environmental aspects of the plan. The local development framework has gone through its planning inquiry exercise with evidence in public and endorsement by the planning inspectorate. If it wishes to change its contents now to take on board those items which the abolition of the regional spatial strategy means are no longer in place, it has to go through a partial review, through the whole consultative process all over again. With cuts in staffing levels, not least in growth areas, through the loss of the previous planning and housing delivery grant for extra staff and IT, getting into a new local development plan exercise will be expensive and problematic.

My amendment to Clause 94, Amendment 147FG, would mean the retention of those items in regional spatial strategies which local development frameworks relied upon, but which will evaporate with the abolition of the old regional spatial strategies. This transitional measure would stay in place for up to three years, giving local authorities the chance to produce a new local development plan that can take into account the fact that the RSS no longer exists. I have resisted suggestions that I table an amendment that would retain regional spatial strategies until such time as all the new local development plans are prepared and approved. Indeed, it will be necessary for local development plans to embrace the new national planning policy framework's content in due course and this will include the definition of sustainable development, which will thereby be incorporated into local development plans. However, all this is some months away. Nevertheless, I do not think that hanging on to the regional spatial strategy would be acceptable to the Government. Instead, I am hoping that the Minister likes this way of approaching the transitional problems that particularly face the 40 per cent of local authorities that have been efficient enough to produce their local development framework. The amendment would let them avoid having to go through the LDF process all over again

7 July 2011 : Column 459

simply because some words in the regional spatial strategies were not repeated in their own local development framework.

The Royal Town Planning Institute feels that this amendment would be of considerable help and I hope that the Government will look sympathetically at it in order to help local planning authorities get through this transitional phase to the new system. I beg to move.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, this is a very important amendment and it is supported by other organisations as well as the RTPI. I hope that the Government will take this in the spirit in which it is intended. I believe that this is an oversight, in fact, and one which, unless it is addressed will really make life difficult for, ironically, the very assiduous local authorities which completed their LDFs, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, says. I will not say that we have given up the case, because I believe that regional spatial strategies had a great deal to offer, but we are not revisiting that debate at all here. This is about a transitional situation, where a local authority has its LDF in place, but where it has preferred, to save itself time and resources and to be consistent, to use the content of the RSS as a way of indicating what its policies-on housing supply and distribution, on climate change-will be. It is now in a very difficult position, if there is this lacuna, because, obviously, with the RSS having gone, the content has been abandoned as well, or put into some strange sort of limbo.

It is very important that we do not waste those resources, such as the information and the data sets. More importantly, the local authority should not have to waste time and resources by revisiting those matters or by reiterating the process through a partial review. That would not make any sense. Therefore, it is extremely important that the Government look closely at this provision to see what can be done, which I suspect would not be too difficult to do. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Best, has a good amendment here.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I, too, support the thrust of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Best. I am concerned that the change-over to the new system will simply result in more delay and more expense for local planning authorities that have struggled to produce their local development frameworks-or local plans, as we may now have to call them.

My Amendment 147H is slightly different. It seeks to tackle part of the same problem, but it looks at the issue from the point of view of the local planning authority rather than from that of the regional strategy. My amendment reads:

"The provisions of this section do not affect the validity of any local development documents or of any policies contained in any local development document whether or not any such policy was adopted in order to be in conformity with a regional strategy or structure plan"-

the old structure plans were incorporated pro tem into the regional strategies, although I do not know how much of them survive. The crucial thing is that, if a local planning authority is taking its core strategy, for example, to an inquiry for examination, the strategy should not be torn apart just because those aspects of

7 July 2011 : Column 460

it that have been adopted in order to be in conformity with the regional strategy-or regional spatial strategy-would no longer need to be so if the local authority was starting again from scratch. Although the local authority might be able to argue that a policy is good for this reason or that reason, the true reason that a policy has been included might be in order to achieve conformity with the regional strategy. The issue is as simple as that.

Under the old system, the local authority's approach to the examination could be to say, "It is there because it has to be there," and that would have been the end of the argument. However, the inspector might now say, "Yes, but we have a new system now, so are you sure that this applies to your area?". As we know, the imposition of regional policies has not always been in accord with what was desirable in a particular area, such as was the case with the old housing targets. As the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, will remember, in East Lancashire we fought for a long time with the Government to be allowed planning permission for new housing. Because the housing targets were so low and had all been achieved, we were not allowed to give housing permission for housing that we wanted. That was a total nonsense as a result of the planning system being too prescriptive and too top-down. We were in the opposite position to that of authorities in the south-east, which were arguing against being forced to build too many houses.

However, that has all gone now. I do not know how much the noble Baroness had to do with this, but when I asked a Question in your Lordships' House, the Answer that I got from her colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, started a process. It then took a year before what Ministers were saying here and in the Commons filtered down to grass roots, but it actually changed what was happening, and I was very grateful for that. That is very good example of how the old system did not work very well.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, briefly, I support Amendment 147FG for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Best, has very fully described. Basically, the policies were two sides of the same coin and, if one set of strategies drops off the edge, that will give rise to the possible confusion and legal challenges that have been mentioned.

I also support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. If I understand what he said, his amendment is slightly different, in that it would provide that, where policies from the structure plan are still around, they would be saved. In a sense, that is unlike the situation where the policies do not exist at local level because they disappeared with the regional spatial strategy. I would certainly support the thrust of his amendment as well.

7 pm

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for raising this issue because it is important that the Government have an opportunity to explain their position on it. I am also grateful that noble Lords have not sought to revisit the fundamental decision.

7 July 2011 : Column 461

We know that the difficulty with regional strategies is that they imposed policies and targets on local councils and communities. As my noble friend Lord Greaves said, this has created a certain antagonism and set people against development. As a result, the regional strategy process has been controversial and protracted, creating uncertainty for communities and investors. In reality, the process has not been effective. Regional strategies did not deliver the housing that the country needs, and housebuilding fell to the lowest peacetime level since 1923-24.

In proposing Amendment 147FG, the noble Lord, Lord Best, seeks to allow councils to retain regional strategy policies for a three-year transitional period, but the Government do not agree that there is a need for this sort of transitional arrangement. The coalition agreement clearly set out the Government's intention to abolish regional strategies and to return democratic decision-making powers on housing and planning to local councils. The Government's intention to abolish regional strategies has therefore been public knowledge for some time, so we do not consider a further period for transition to be necessary.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, this is not the point. We agree that regional spatial strategies should not be revisited; we are not challenging that point. The point is that there is a gap in the ability of local authorities to develop and implement the policies that they have already agreed, because the content was in the regional spatial strategy. What allowance will be made for those local authorities which might now have to go through a partial review and reinvent it all? Why is it so difficult simply to allow them to save those policies? I am sorry for having interrupted the Minister prematurely, but I just felt that he was not addressing the point that we had made.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I may not be addressing the immediate point of the debate; I was trying to put the Government's position in the context of their wanting to set the drivers for local authorities to address this issue and set about these reviews as quickly as possible. We did not want to leave the regional spatial strategies in place as a backstop, because the drivers for change must come from local authorities undertaking the review themselves.

We recommend that any reviews be undertaken as quickly as possible. That will enable councils to move away from an inflexible, top-down approach, which I think the noble Baroness will admit was the effect of the regional strategies, and take a lead in planning to meet the aspirations of their local communities.

Councils are perfectly capable of addressing strategic issues locally, working with adjoining authorities-we will talk about the duty to co-operate when we meet again-and other bodies as needed. The duty to co-operate will help them to work together. We know that some councils are already forging ahead and developing strategic policies in their local plans.

Reviews should be proportionate, focusing on relevant key issues. Councils do not need to undertake wholesale reviews as a result of the change. Plans must be based

7 July 2011 : Column 462

on robust evidence and be deliverable, otherwise they will not have the confidence of communities or investors and may not pass the tests of soundness at independent examination. I reassure noble Lords that the same evidence that informed the preparation of regional strategies can be used to support local plan policies.

Amendment 147FH would ensure that policies in existing local plans which were originally drafted in conformity with saved structure plan policies, or regional strategies, were not undermined by the revocation of these policies. As with the Government's intention to revoke regional strategies, the commitment to revoke the saved structure planning policy has been known for some time and, for the reasons I have already given, we do not think that the amendment is necessary. Councils will be free to incorporate elements of saved structure plans and revoked regional strategies into their local plans when they review them. It will be for them to decide how much of these policies they wish to retain for their areas.

Revoking regional strategies is an important part of our proposals-I think the Committee recognises that-to decentralise decisions on housing and planning to local councils and communities. It will make local plans drawn up in conformity with national policy the basis for local planning decisions and put greater power in the hands of local councils and communities. If councils intend to review their local plans once regional strategies are revoked, they should do so quickly and in a proportionate way. There is no necessity for transitional arrangements.

With these assurances, I hope the noble Lord is willing to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: The Minister referred to the inclusion in the coalition agreement of the abolition of the regional spatial strategies, and all noble Lords understand that. I am sure that the Government would not say that local authorities should work on the basis that regional change had happened as a result of an announcement, as distinct from within legislation. If I am right about that, can the Minister give the Committee any news about when the Government intend to bring what will be Section 94 into force? Its commencement might answer some of the points about transition. It strikes me that there is a relationship there.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, requiring local authorities to go through this process is completely inimical to the idea of localism. As I understand it, the Government's policy is to reduce burdens on local authorities, but I do not know whether the problem that is being addressed is a political problem-we understand why the Government want to get rid of regional strategies-or a methodological problem; you cannot save these regional spatial strategies if you have abolished them. I do not whether the Government are wrestling with a practical problem or a political problem.

On the basis of the information that I have received, I know that in every previous attempt at moving from one planning system to another there have been transitional arrangements and a capacity to save plans. This has meant consistency and the saving of time and resources for local authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Best,

7 July 2011 : Column 463

and I are genuinely trying to help the Government in this situation and to help local authorities to avoid having to go through an elaborate double process.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, perhaps it would help if I reiterate what I said before. There is no conflict here. It is possible to inform the review on the evidence provided by the regional strategies and to form the new plans on that basis. Indeed, elements from the regional strategy can be included in them, as I have made clear. It is important to see this as an evolutionary change. We believe that the drivers to get local authorities to address this issue need to make it quite clear that local authorities are responsible for it.

The noble Baroness rather oversimplified what localism means in the sense that it would release the burden on local authorities. It will not; in many ways it will increase the responsibilities that local authorities will have in forming their own destiny and their own policies. It is an oversimplification to say that this Bill is about relieving the burdens; it is about delivering a much more community-led planning policy. That is why the Government are very keen to make sure that it comes into effect as quickly as possible.

I cannot answer the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, unless it is on the piece of paper that I have just been given. It says that revoking the eight regional strategies will be by commencement order as soon as practical after Royal Assent.

Lord Greaves: The Minister said, about amending the local development frameworks or documents, that authorities should get on and do it quickly. Does he have any understanding of how long it actually takes to do these things, even for an efficient authority? Can he give us an estimate of the delay that that will take in a typical authority?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: When I made my introduction to the Government's position on this, I hope that I made it quite clear that we go back to May of last year for indications of what the Government would require of local authorities in this respect. I cannot believe that local authorities have been sitting there, waiting for this to happen. I believe that local authorities are sufficiently on top of the job to know what they are required to do to make their local plan that much more relevant to their community. I believe that they feel liberated because of that and I think that most of them will eventually set about that process. Indeed, many of them will already be well down the road.

7 July 2011 : Column 464

Lord Best: My Lords, I must confess to being a bit disappointed. I clearly did not explain the position adequately. When I asked the people behind these proposals what they expected the Government to do about this, I was told that they thought the Government would be very pleased not necessarily to accept the wording of the amendment but to have a peg to hang something on to handle the transitional problem that faces local authorities. It faces in particular the good guys, who have already prepared their local development frameworks. Just for a partial review of the local development framework, they will have to go through the whole process of hearing evidence in public, getting the planning inspectorate back again and allowing all kinds of people to come and make their case. They may need that partial review just because the framework had referred to a regional spatial strategy that suddenly did not exist and could not be referred to any more, or because it was silent about a particular ingredient because the authority was encouraged by the DCLG not to put in something that the regional spatial strategy already had in it. Those are technical changes that will require a whole bureaucratic process to be restarted, when we could have a quite simple transitional arrangement.

I had rather hoped that the Government would say, "We will fix this, maybe not in the way that you suggested-but we absolutely understand that nobody wants to go through all that bureaucracy just for nothing, since it is a very expensive exercise. We will sort it". I confess to being rather disappointed at this stage, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 147FG withdrawn.

Amendment 147FH not moved.

Clause 94 agreed.

Schedule 8 agreed.

House resumed.

Police (Detention and Bail) Bill

First Reading

7.14 pm

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

House adjourned at 7.15 pm.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page