84C: After Clause 124, insert the following new Clause—

“Client money protection for lettings agents

(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, a person may not accept money from another person (“T”) in the course of lettings agency work unless there are in force authorised arrangements under which, in the event of his or her failing to account for that money to the person entitled to it, his or her liability will be made good by another.

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(2) In this section “T” is any person who seeks residential accommodation which is to let, or who has a tenancy of, or other right or permission to occupy, residential premises; and a “relevant payment” means any sum of money which is received from T in the circumstances described in subsection (1).

(3) In this section “lettings agency work” has the same meaning as in section 83 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 (redress schemes: lettings agency work) and a “lettings agent” is a person who engages in lettings agency work.

(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument—

(a) specify any persons or classes of persons to whom subsection (1) does not apply;

(b) specify arrangements which are authorised for the purposes of this section including arrangements to which an enforcement authority nominated for the purpose by the Secretary of State or any other person so nominated is a party;

(c) specify the terms and conditions upon which any payment is to be made under such arrangements and any circumstances in which the right to any such payment may be excluded or modified;

(d) provide that any limit on the amount of any such payment is to be not less than a specified amount; and

(e) require a person providing authorised arrangements covering any person carrying on lettings agency work to issue a certificate in a form specified in the regulations certifying that arrangements complying with the regulations have been made with respect to that person.

(5) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (4) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(6) Every guarantee entered into by a person who provides authorised arrangements covering a lettings agent shall tenure for the benefit of every person from whom the lettings agent has received a relevant payment as if the guarantee were contained in a contract made by the insurer with every such person.”

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab): My Lords, Amendment 84C is about client money protection. It would require every letting agent to have the money that they hold—belonging either to a tenant by way of advance rent or to a landlord as rent received or funds for repair or insurance—to be protected. In this way, even if a letting agent disappeared or went bankrupt, such money would be safe and available to the landlord. This client money protection is required of solicitors, other professionals, estate agents and, indeed, anyone else holding client money that belongs to others. It is what is needed for rents collected by letting agents on behalf of landlords. It is not the agent’s money and it should be held separately in a protected client account.

This is a big issue: there are hundreds of cases of letting agents taking money from tenants as holding fees, deposits, rent, service charges or even tax, but then pocketing the money. Sometimes, the long arm of the law catches up with them. Tim Glasson was jailed for 21 years for unlawfully and dishonestly keeping rent and deposits; Roy Jackson of Suffolk Letting stole £70,000 from landlords and Keiran Farrer stole £17,000 in rents and deposits, repaying neither the tenant nor the landlord. Similarly, Shirley Player was jailed for stealing £400,000 and Russell Baker was accused of taking £150,000 in deposits but not handing them on to either a tenant deposit scheme or the landlord.

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This money is not going into the housing market. It deprives landlords of their income and tenants of their security. About 60% of landlords use letting agents to help to manage their property. Thus money for repairs and insurance, in addition to rents, is channelled through the agent’s bank account. This is not money for the agent’s services; it is due to be handed on to someone else.

The amendment would require the funds to be in a ring-fenced protected client account, in the same way as happens with solicitors. It is strongly supported by landlords as much as by tenants. It is backed by the National Landlords Association, RICS, the British Property Federation, the Association of Residential Managing Agents, the Association of Residential Letting Agents, the Property Ombudsman, Ombudsman Services, Crisis and Shelter. It was recommended by the CLG Select Committee in the other place.

Reputable letting agents strongly support the amendment. As David Cox, who leads their professional association ARLA, said, client money for protection is,

“fundamental for tenants and landlords to ensure they have peace of mind should an agent go bust or take off with their funds”.

A director of a large firm, Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward, which protects landlords’ and tenants’ money under a client money protection scheme, said that,

“all too often, rogue agents who do not subscribe”,

to such a scheme,

“misappropriate landlord and tenant funds … It should be compulsory for all agents to subscribe to a client money protection scheme”.

Savills—well-known to everyone in this House—urges the Government,

“to make it compulsory for all letting agents to have client money protection”.

We are talking about vast amounts of money handled, but not owned, by letting agents: probably £2.7 billion at any one time, perhaps £700 million of which is unprotected. In deposits alone, renters typically hand over £600 each, with no guarantee of its safety.

Amendment 84C, which would require all letting and managing agents to have client money protection, is based on similar provisions in the Estate Agents Act 1979. Agents would have to maintain a segregated bank account for clients’ money, with written confirmation from the bank that all the money in that account belonged to the clients. It would mean, importantly, that the bank was not entitled to combine that client account with another account or to offset the money in that client account for any sum owed to the bank by the letting agent.

We tabled a similar amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill and it seemed that the Government were almost persuaded. They came up with a compromise amendment of their own, which required letting agents to display whether they had client money protection. However, it has not worked and it was never going to work. As far as tenants go, they cannot choose which letting agent to use; it is the landlord who chooses. For a tenant, if a particular letting agent is handling the property that they already rent, or which they want to rent, they cannot shop around to find another agent. Their only choice is not to rent that property. They

17 Mar 2016 : Column 1978

have no consumer power to change behaviour in the market. It hardly works for the landlord either. Many are small and non-professional and do not really appreciate the importance of client money protection until, of course, it is too late.

The Government’s transparency amendment, which became part of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, is fairly useless because, even before that change, every letting agent who had client money protection already proudly boasted about it, but that did not drive the rogues to follow suit. As we predicted, the amendment made little difference. It did not help tenants, who could not shop around, and it did not help landlords, who could only check at the beginning, and not later, whether there was client money protection in place. The other problem is that even the law that was put through is being flouted. We have numerous examples of letting agents failing to display their charges and whether they have client money protection.

When we dealt with this before, the Minister for BIS, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, claimed that client money protection could,

“make it difficult to encourage landlords to invest in properties”.—[

Official Report


3/11/14; col. GC 600.]

How wrong could she be? It is exactly the security given to landlords by client money protection that will encourage them to invest, knowing that the rents paid over to the letting agent are safe and sound. This amendment is wanted by tenants and is particularly wanted by landlords; it is also strongly supported by reliable letting agents. I beg to move.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD): My Lords, I support the amendment, to which my name is attached. I declare my interest as chairman of the advisory board of the Property Redress Scheme, which has been mentioned in passing.

It seems very little to ask, in legislating for housing, to require letting agents to have a protection scheme in place for moneys received by them in their course of business from tenants, prospective tenants and anyone who is renting or seeking a place to rent. It has been estimated—I always wonder how these estimates are arrived at—that letting agents hold about £2.7 billion in client funds, yet if the agent has not elected voluntarily to obtain cover, landlord and tenant can lose their money. If disaster strikes in the form of an agent going bust or running off with the loot, under this amendment the landlord and tenant would be covered. The amendment does not require government underwriting, so the Chancellor does not need to amend the Budget. The cover could be provided by the users; this would supplement any award under any one of the redress schemes. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has said, we are not asking for reinvention of the wheel. Section 16 of the Estate Agents Act 1979 already provides protection in the course of sale and purchase transactions.

Client money protection is of course operated by the travel industry. Travel agents in the UK are required by law to be a member of an independent client money protection scheme that uses ABTA or ATOL. Many of us may have had to use these in the past—I certainly have. When you pay for your travel, your payment to

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the agent is protected by ABTA or ATOL against the agent going bust or going walkabout with your holiday money. You claim against ABTA or ATOL rather than against the travel agent. This amendment asks that what is the norm for the travel industry, just for going on holiday, is also used for letting agents—for most people, the property that they own or seek to let is much more important—and that there should be compulsory protection for rents, deposits or moneys held, even moneys for repairs.

2 pm

The current problem is that while there are voluntary schemes, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, mentioned, the good guys subscribe to, the bad guys do not subscribe to them, which is why we need the system to be compulsory. The careful tenant or landlord, if they have the opportunity to choose, can have their money protected, because independent schemes are in use. It is particularly important that the independent holder of client protection money should be involved rather than the money simply staying in clients’ accounts.

What is different? The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, gave the example of solicitors, so I will concentrate on that. As a chartered accountant in my early career, I audited firms of solicitors and I had to give them something called the accounts rule certificate. It was incredibly traumatic when I found that a client, who was a friend of mine, had, sadly, not separated the money properly into a clients account and I had to qualify my accounts rule certificate. I use this as an example because in the letting industry letting agents do not have a law that requires them to have a clients account. If, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, says, they should have a clients account, nobody forces those letting agents to operate in that way, as the Law Society does for solicitors.

There is an urgent need for us to convert into law what is voluntary at the moment and is done by many people who belong to professional bodies to protect people who are most at risk, often small landlords and letting agents. A noble Lord described a property owned by one of his children, I think, and said that they should not choose the room next to the kitchen. Very often people do not have the ability to decide whether to choose the property—often they feel that they are only too lucky to find someone who will let to them and they do not realise that the rents, deposits and money for repairs are at risk. That is why we urgently need this amendment.

Lord Foster of Bath (LD): My Lords, I support the amendment in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and my noble friend Lord Palmer. I hope that noble Lords will not read anything into my very brief appearance here on the Front Bench.

We have heard a little about some of the figures. Back in 2012, Reading University carried out a survey that showed that some £23 billion a year was paid in rent and that in a year some £6 billion to £10 billion was held by agents after being collected by them on behalf of landlords. However, as my noble friend Lord Palmer points out, a more recent survey shows that, at any one time, some £2.7 billion is held by letting agents. The amendment is about the protection of that money.

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It is worth reflecting on what eminent people have said about this issue. In July 2013, the Property Ombudsman felt moved to say something about client money protection under the heading:

“Client Money Protection Is a Necessity for the UK Lettings Market”.

He said:

“'We need an even playing field for lettings. All agents are required to hold client money in a separate Clients Account but there is no current requirement to have those funds insured against unlawful use or fraud, which is why”,

client money protection,

“is crucial for landlords and tenants”.

He went on to say that client money protection,

“is not a duplication of any deposit scheme or professional indemnity cover. It goes beyond that and provides landlords with the peace of mind they need to know that the rent collected by an agent is protected”.

As we know, many good agents and trade bodies, such as the Association of Residential Letting Agents and the UK Association of Letting Agents, recognise the importance of this and provide necessary protection for their members. Sadly, however, some do not.

Back in 2013, the Property Ombudsman surveyed some 8,000 lettings branches and discovered that, while 80% had client money protection, 20% did not. The ombudsman concluded:

“My personal viewpoint would be to question why a letting agent would not support CMP. In the absence of any regulation … agents themselves need to take proactive steps to show landlords and tenants that they have taken out the necessary cover to protect rental income”.

However, it is very difficult indeed for the vast majority of agents—those who provide client money protection—to persuade the others to do so. It is also difficult for them to run the necessary publicity campaign to warn landlords or would-be landlords and the public of the need to choose an agent who provides that protection.

Of course, agents are helped to some extent by the new transparency rules, which are being enforced by local authorities; I have no doubt that the Minister will refer to that in his response. These require the publication of the breakdown of the fees that agents charge to tenants and landlords, the redress scheme that they belong to and a statement of whether they are a member of a client money protection scheme. I recognise that there are many such schemes—again, no doubt, the Minister will refer to schemes such as SAFEagent and CM Protect. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, points out, there is no evidence to suggest—and the vast majority of agents agree with her—that those schemes alone will provide the level of protection that is needed.

Earlier in our deliberations on this legislation, during our discussion of zero-carbon homes, the Government said that by opposing the introduction of tighter energy efficiency standards they were protecting housebuilding businesses; they said that they were stopping the overregulation of housebuilders. I was able to point out at the time that the housebuilders themselves supported the introduction of the regulation. We have a similar case here. It is instructive to learn what

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Mr Brandon Lewis said in response to such an amendment when this matter was discussed in another place. He said:

“We want to ensure that we have a strong and thriving private rented sector that is not tied up in excessive regulation. Requiring agents to pay to belong to a client money protection scheme would force honest agents to buy insurance against the risk that they themselves were fraudulent, when, as the hon. Lady said, the vast majority of agencies are not. Introducing a mandatory client money protection scheme at this point would be a step too far and would overburden a market that is perfectly capable of self-regulation”.

That is slightly odd, coming from a Minister who is imposing a large number of regulations in the Bill. However, it was much more bizarre that in this case, just as with zero-carbon homes, the industry itself is pressing the Government to introduce regulation.

It was the Association of Residential Letting Agents that drafted the amendment before us today to protect money received from clients and held by agents, such as rent due to landlords. The Government claim that the only reason for rejecting the amendment is that it would overburden the industry, but given that the industry wants it imposed on itself, I hope that the Government will drop their opposition. I hope that when the Minster responds he will reflect on the other thing that Mr Brandon Lewis said during his response to a similar amendment in another place. He went on to say, rather indicating that even he is a bit worried about the situation:

“However, in May 2016 we will review the impact of the transparency measures that were put in place only recently. At that stage, I will take due consideration of whether any further action is needed”.—[Official Report, Commons, Housing and Planning Bill Committee, 10/12/15; col. 719.]

We see yet again another example of the Government being prepared to consider something after we have finished our deliberations on this legislation. I urge the Minister to reflect on the fact that the agents themselves want to see an amendment such as this in place. I hope that the Minister will support, if not the precise wording of the amendment, something along these lines.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: My Lords, it gives me considerable pleasure to be responding to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, who will probably remember only too well that not so long ago we debated a number of Bills with some vigour. This amendment would introduce provisions under which cover for money received or held by lettings agents in the course of business, generally known as client money protection, would be mandatory. I hope that at the end of my remarks I can offer a little light at the end of the respective tunnels for particular Lords, if I may put it that way.

I am aware of some support within the housing sector for this measure. That has been reflected in interventions from the noble Lords, Lord Palmer and Lord Foster. But I am concerned that requiring lettings agents to belong to a client money protection scheme will introduce burdens and costs into the sector that could have implications on rent levels. Instead, this Government’s approach is to encourage lettings agents to adopt client money protection without the need for regulations. I shall explain.

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We have already legislated through the Consumer Rights Act 2015 to require lettings agents to be transparent about whether they offer client money protection. Transparency raises consumer awareness and encourages landlords and tenants to shop around and choose an agent based on the level of service that it provides. I recognise the importance of client money protection. This is why in our guide on how to rent we champion the SAFEagent scheme—a kite scheme, in effect. This helps landlords and tenants easily to identify agents that offer this protection by the display of the SAFEagent mark. I accept that participation is voluntary but estimate that at least two-thirds of agents already offer client money protection. At the moment, to introduce mandatory client money protection would be a step too far and overburden a market that is perfectly capable of self-regulation. The balance of regulation for lettings agents is now about right. We need to allow time for the transparency measures to which the noble Lord, Lord Foster, alluded to bed in.

We shall review the impact of the transparency measures later this year. I reassure all noble Lords, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Foster, that this review will be taken seriously and that we intend to work closely with our industry partners and representative groups to develop this review. I hope that this explanation reassures noble Lords and that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill: What is the Government’s logic? The Minster has said how good money protection schemes are, how everyone feels reassured by them and how many people—landlords and others, lettings agents in particular—subscribe to them. So, as the Minister said, they are good. If it is good to be voluntary, why is it not even better to be compulsory? The compulsory element sweeps up the bad landlords. The Minister is talking about the good landlords who use lettings agents. The idea of compulsion would be to deal with those who are not at the moment helping protect tenants and landlords. The logic in not making a successful voluntary scheme compulsory is lacking.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: I appreciate that the noble Lord feels strongly about this, but as explained earlier, at the moment we feel that we have got the balance right. I have explained that the review will aid us further by providing greater intelligence. Further regulation could deter lettings agents and make it difficult to encourage landlords to invest in properties. This is what this Bill is about—freeing up the market to ensure that the supply of housing for rent helps to meet the country’s urgent housing needs and demand.

2.15 pm

Lord Foster of Bath: The Minister is suggesting that the introduction of measures proposed in this amendment would increase costs on letting agents. That is true. I have looked at the costs of such insurance schemes as are currently available. We know that the Minister says three-quarters of lettings agents have already entered such schemes. I believe that it is almost 80%. Will the Minister share with the House, either from figures in his brief or by writing subsequently, the Government’s

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estimate of the cost of the introduction of the scheme, not to the 80% that have taken it up but to 100%, and of its impact on rent levels?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: Yes, indeed. I shall make two points arising from the noble Lord’s question. We believe that the balance is right also because we want to encourage a market whereby customers or people who wish to rent have the opportunity to shop around and to go to those agents where there is a kite scheme and reassurance in terms of their level of service. We believe that the market will weed out those that do not. To answer the question on the money involved, agents typically pay an annual levy of around £300 to join a scheme. The noble Lord probably has these figures himself. This forms part of a central pot of money that can be used to pay successful claims by landlords and tenants.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, I thank the government Front Bench for allowing us to take this amendment at this stage and apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Bates, and my noble friend Lord Rosser. The reason is that between 2 pm and 3 pm this afternoon I am completing my house purchase and I have the keys at 3 pm. That is utterly relevant to this debate because that money was certainly in my solicitor’s account at 2 pm. I am hoping that by 3 pm it will be in the account of the seller and I am completely confident that that money in the solicitor’s account is safe.

It will not go through estate agents—estate agents hold very little in client accounts. You pay almost nothing to the estate agent. The seller will have to give them a percentage of the sale, but it is very small. But the amount that tenants pay to lettings agents is enormous. So under an earlier Act, client money protection is essential for estate agents who hardly handle any client money, but not obligatory for lettings agents who do handle an enormous amount. The noble Viscount, Lord Younger, again says that tenants can shop around. They cannot. In London, you are lucky to find anywhere to live. The idea that as a tenant you would shop around for your lettings agent, let alone the property, is, I am afraid, unrealistic.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, for his intervention. I had to confess that when I went on holiday I had not realised that my money was protected, but there it is. We make it essential for holiday firms and estate agents, but somehow for lettings agents this £300 to safeguard tenants’ and landlords’ money is a step too far.

I hope that the Minister was not saying that he wants even more letting agents coming in—letting agents who would not protect their clients’ money. I think that that is what he is saying. He is saying that he wants more people to come in as letting agents, but without requiring them to protect their clients’ money. That sounds to me like a charter for more rogue “set up today, take the clients’ money tomorrow” letting agents.

Despite the Minister’s firm response, I hope that the Government will think about this again. We will clearly bring it back on Report. I am not threatening anything but I think he knows how much support it will have. Instead of having to go down that route,

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I ask the Minister whether he will be willing to meet me, the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, and perhaps some other noble Lords to talk about this, as I do not feel that the Government are taking the right position here. For the record, I saw a very healthy nod from the Minister there. So I thank him for that and apologise to the Committee for having to get my new key at 3 pm. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 84C withdrawn.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 2.51 pm.

Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2016

Motion to Approve

2.21 pm

Moved by Lord Bates

That the draft Order laid before the House on 22 February be approved.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, the International Sikh Youth Federation, which I shall refer to as the ISYF, is a separatist movement committed to the creation of Khalistan, an independent Sikh state in the Punjab region of south Asia, and was established in the 1980s. The ISYF’s attacks have, in the past, included assassinations, bombings and kidnappings, mainly directed against Indian officials and Indian interests. The ISYF has been proscribed as a terrorist organisation in the UK since March 2001. The decision to proscribe it was taken after extensive consideration and in the light of a full assessment of available information, and it was approved by Parliament. It is clear that the ISYF was concerned in terrorism at that time.

Having reviewed with other countries what information is available about the current activities of the ISYF, after careful consideration the Home Secretary has concluded that there is now not sufficient evidence to support a reasonable belief that the ISYF is currently concerned in terrorism as defined by Section 3(5) of the Terrorism Act 2000. Under that section, the Home Secretary has the power to remove an organisation from the list of proscribed organisations if she believes that it no longer meets the statutory test for proscription. Accordingly, the Home Secretary has brought this order before the House and, if it is approved, it will mean that being a member of, or providing support to, this organisation will cease to be a criminal offence on the day that the order comes into force.

The decision to deproscribe the ISYF was taken after extensive consideration and in the light of a full assessment of available information. As noble Lords will appreciate, it would not be appropriate for us to discuss any specific intelligence that informed the decision-making process.

The Government do not condone any terrorist activity, and deproscription of a proscribed group should not be interpreted as condoning any previous activities of this group. The British Government were always clear

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that the ISYF was a brutal terrorist organisation. Groups that do not meet the threshold for proscription are not free to spread hatred, fund terrorist activity or incite violence as they please, and the police have comprehensive powers to take action against individuals under the criminal law.

We are determined to detect and disrupt all terrorist threats, whether home-grown or international. Proscription is just one tool in the considerable armoury at the disposal of the Government, the police and the Security Service to disrupt terrorist activity.

The Government continue to exercise the proscription power in a proportionate manner, in accordance with the law. We recognise that proscription potentially interferes with an individual’s rights—in particular, the rights protected by Article 10 on freedom of expression and Article 11 on freedom of association in the European Convention on Human Rights—and so should be exercised only where absolutely necessary. A decision to deproscribe is taken only after great care and consideration of a case, and it is appropriate that it must be approved by both Houses. If agreed, the order will come into force on 18 March. I beg to move.

Lord Rosser (Lab): I thank the Minister for his explanation of the background to, and purpose of, the order. As he said, it amends the Terrorism Act 2000 by removing the International Sikh Youth Federation from the list of proscribed organisations, meaning that, if the order is passed, it will no longer be proscribed as an organisation concerned in terrorism within the meaning of Section 3(5) of the Act.

As the Minister said, the international Sikh Youth Federation was added to the list of proscribed organisations under an order in 2001. Proscription has a number of consequences. These include it becoming a criminal offence to belong to or invite support for the organisation, or to arrange a meeting in support of the organisation. It also means that the financial assets of the organisation become terrorist property and can be subject to freezing and seizure.

Under the terms of the Terrorism Act 2000, a proscribed organisation, or any person affected by the proscription of the organisation, can apply to the Secretary of State for deproscription. If the application is refused, the applicant may appeal to the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission. According to the Explanatory Memorandum, the Secretary of State has received such an application for the deproscription of the International Sikh Youth Federation and has now decided that there is insufficient information to conclude that the group remains concerned in terrorism.

The application was made by three members of the Sikh community in early February last year. It should have been dealt with within 90 days, but was not since the response was not made until the end of July last year. The response was to the effect that the Secretary of State still had a reasonable belief that the International Sikh Youth Federation was concerned in terrorism, but no reasons were given.

The applicants appealed on the basis that the Government had not given any reasons for the refusal to deproscribe, contrary to the rule of law, and that

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the ISYF was not concerned in terrorism. The Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission directed the Home Secretary to provide reasons to support her position. However, on the day that the reasons and evidence were due, the commission was told that the Home Secretary would not now defend her decision but would lay an order for deproscription, which is what we have in front of us today.

Of course, the inevitable question that has been asked is what new information had come to light between the end of July, when the Home Secretary declined the application for deproscription, and the decision at the door of the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission some six months later not to defend that decision—new information that could not have been known or found out at the time of the decision at the end of July, over which the Home Secretary said there had been extensive consideration and a full assessment of the available information.

There is a feeling in some quarters that being required to provide reasons for the decision not to deproscribe may have been a not insignificant factor behind the very different decision then made by the Home Secretary to lay an order for deproscription. I have no doubt that the Minister will wish to respond to that point. Perhaps he could also say, without disclosing its nature or content, whether significant new information became available for the first time between the end of July 2015 and December 2015 which proved a key factor in reaching the very different conclusion from that reached in July: that the International Sikh Youth Federation should no longer be proscribed.

The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation has previously suggested that once an organisation has been proscribed, there should be a review of that decision within specified time limits to ensure that it continues to be justified and necessary. Since proscription is currently for an indefinite time, are the Government now looking at adopting a procedure and process along the lines suggested by the independent reviewer, and to which I have just referred?

2.30 pm

I am sure I am not the only noble Lord to have received information from the Sikh Federation UK for this debate. Its briefing indicates its clear view that the ban that this order seeks to lift has been in existence for so many years as a result of pressure from the Indian Government. That was strongly denied by the Government in the House of Commons two days ago, and I assume that the Minister will repeat the Government’s position when he responds.

Proscription means that the financial assets of the organisation concerned can be subject to freezing and seizure. If this order is agreed, will any funds or financial assets of the ISYF be released and, if so, when? Which other bodies, organisations or countries will be advised that the ISYF has been taken off the list of proscribed organisations?

We support the order. In the House of Commons on Tuesday, the shadow Home Office Minister Lyn Brown MP said that she hoped the Sikhs in our communities could now look forward to a new relationship with the Government. She said that she had met

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representatives of the UK Sikh Federation who had told her about the real difficulties that have affected former members of the International Sikh Youth Federation, including naturalisation and international travel issues. The UK Sikh Federation also says that it has found it challenging for well over a decade to represent the community properly due to the association with the ISYF, and that there has been an associated reluctance on the part of Ministers and officials to engage with the federation. If the Minister accepts that this has been the situation in the light of the IYSF’s proscription, will one effect of deproscription be to change that, and, if so, in what practical way will that change be reflected?

Lord Bates: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his questions. I will try to respond to them in the order in which they were asked.

The noble Lord’s first question was about the changes that occurred between July, when the application was considered, and December when it was about to be presented to the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission. Following careful consideration of the available evidence, the Home Secretary decided to maintain proscription of the group in July on the basis that she considered that the evidence demonstrated that the group remained concerned in terrorism. However, in December 2015, having further reviewed with other countries the available information about the current activities of the ISYF, after careful consideration the Home Secretary concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to support a reasonable belief that the ISYF was currently concerned in terrorism, as defined by Section 3(5) of the Act.

The Home Secretary considers various pieces of open-source material—the noble Lord asked about the nature and content of the material—when determining whether a group is engaged in terrorism, but she also considers material obtained via the intelligence agencies. Of course, as the noble Lord suggested, it would not be appropriate to discuss the specific material that informed the decision-making process, particularly details of the information reviewed and how this altered the assessment of the IYSF’s current activities. We always seek to present as much information as we can, but I cannot comment on matters relating to intelligence.

The noble Lord asked about David Anderson’s concerns. Clearly, David Anderson is a very well-respected adviser to the Government on terrorism legislation and in fact we are dealing with a lot of his recommendations in another context on other legislation. We look very closely at his proposals. David Anderson had stated that,

“the Home Secretary had … agreed to a process for deproscribing groups that no longer met the statutory test, and that a preliminary analysis had unearthed 14 groups that may be in this category”

While it is not government policy to provide a running commentary on any proscribed organisation, I can confirm that officials did not recommend that the ISYF should be deproscribed at that time.

Under the current regime, the organisation or any person affected by proscription can submit a written application to the Home Secretary requesting that she considers whether a specified organisation should be removed from the list of proscribed organisations.

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We believe that addresses the noble Lord’s concern as to whether there should be a sunset clause in relation to proscription matters.

In respect of the possible impact of proscription and the points raised by the Sikh Federation in relation to visa and citizenship applications, the Home Secretary has to be satisfied that an individual seeking citizenship meets the statutory requirement for citizenship and is of good character. A range of issues is considered when determining whether an applicant meets this test and an individual’s current or former membership of a proscribed organisation may well be a factor as well as the individual’s specific activities.

The noble Lord raised an important point about the nature of the relationship with the Sikh community within the UK. This is, of course, extremely important. In relation to the point about India, I can say without hesitation that diplomatic pressure did not lead to the ban on the ISYF having been maintained since 2001. Proscription of a group can remain only if there is compelling evidence to support a reasonable belief that it is currently concerned in terrorism as required under Section 3(5) of the Act.

Regarding engagement with the Sikh community, I do not want at this stage to expand the deproscription debate into a broader one on engagement with other organisations. The focus of our discussion should be deproscription, which is quite distinct from other areas of government engagement.

The noble Lord asked whether we intended to engage with other countries. We engage with other countries in considering whether an organisation should be proscribed or deproscribed. It is an important part of the process and we will inform other countries with an interest in this deproscription of our decision.

In relation to the point about relations with the wider Sikh community, we have some distinguished members of the Sikh community in this House and of course recognise the immense contribution they make to the wider community. We hope that any misunderstanding that may have occurred in the past can be removed and that we can have a more positive relationship going forward if this deproscription has been a barrier.

I do not want to convey in any sense that we did not believe that there was just cause for the then Labour Government to proscribe this organisation in 2001. There was clear evidence then that it should be proscribed, but we have now looked at it again and arrived at a different conclusion.

Proscription is not targeted at any particular faith or social grouping but is based on clear evidence that an organisation is concerned in terrorism. It is the Home Secretary’s firm opinion that, on the basis of the available evidence, the ISYF no longer meets the statutory test for proscription and it is appropriate that it is removed from the list of proscribed organisations in accordance with the deproscription process set out in law. I thank the noble Lord for his questions and commend the order to the House.

Motion agreed.

2.39 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Housing and Planning Bill

Housing and Planning Bill

Committee (7th Day) (Continued)

2.51 pm

Amendment 84D not moved.

Amendment 84E

Moved by Baroness Gardner of Parkes

84E: After Clause 124, insert the following new Clause—

“Sinking funds for repairs: leaseholds

(1) The buyer of a leasehold in a shared residential building with common parts is required to make periodic deposits of sums into a fund to be maintained and used for the purpose of making repairs to the building in which the leasehold property is situated.

(2) The fund shall be held and administered by the person designated to fulfil that role by the leaseholders.

(3) The sums to be deposited and the timetable for their deposit shall be determined by those holding rights in the shared building, and the collection of those sums may be incorporated into the building’s service charge arrangements.

(4) The requirement provided for by subsection (1) applies to any buyer of a leasehold who completes the purchase of that leasehold at any point after the day on which this section is brought into effect.”

Baroness Gardner of Parkes (Con): My Lords, this amendment is self-explanatory, and people in this House have heard me speak before on the issue of sinking funds. It was drawn to my attention particularly by people who bought their council flats in the days of Margaret Thatcher. No sinking funds were set aside at all and, if you are a tenant in a local authority block, you do not have to pay for sudden repairs. However, the case I quote to the House is of a woman who has an income of £10,000 a year and received a bill, this year, for £12,000 for her part of the roof repairs. When I followed this up with the housing association that owns the property, it said the problem is that there are 26 people in exactly the same position. To avoid this, from the day that you own a leasehold, you should really be part of a sinking fund so that you do not suddenly find yourself threatened with losing your home altogether because you cannot find the money. What happens if she does lose her home? The local authority has to pick it up again, so it seems that the fund is necessary.

It is also very necessary and important that a sinking fund exists in private blocks. We do not have one in the block that I own a flat in and, some years ago, someone suggested that we have a voluntary scheme. The scheme came into force and we all put our money in, and it was great because it paid for all the repairs for the year—some minor and some less minor. Then, a new tenant bought a leasehold in the block and said, “I don’t want to pay a sinking fund; there is nothing in the lease about it”. They had to give us all back our money, whereupon, years later, we will be faced with another giant bill for a new boiler system or new central heating or something.

It really is so much better if people have a sinking fund for repairs, and it is important that this should be a possibility for people in local authority housing and people who have a right to manage, even if their lease does not have provision for a sinking fund. My aim is

17 Mar 2016 : Column 1990

to put in a clause that would enable people to decide that by a majority. If a majority want it, it should come into force, and it should not be the case that it can be withdrawn at a later date, which was what threw our system into complete chaos, it having been done on a voluntary basis. I beg to move.

Lord Beecham (Lab): My Lords, I sometimes think that the noble Baroness’s title is not really adequate: “Baroness Gardner of Leaseholds” would have been better than Baroness Gardner of Parks. She is an expert in these matters and deeply committed to improving the situation of leaseholders, and on that she is to be congratulated. It is fair to say that the aspirations in these amendments are to be welcomed. However, I have some difficulties with the drafting.

In Amendment 84E there is a reference to:

“The buyer of a leasehold in a shared residential building”.

However, not every owner is a buyer—they may inherit or be given the property, and so “buyer” is not the right term. That also applies to subsection (4) of the amendment’s proposed new clause. It is also not clear in proposed new subsection (1) how the requirement is to be made. Normally, of course, provision is made within the lease. The implication here is that, somehow, legislation should overtake the provisions in an existing lease, which I think is a somewhat difficult concept. Furthermore, proposed new subsection (3) says that:

“The sums to be deposited and the timetable for their deposit shall be determined by those holding rights in the shared building”,

but it does not indicate how many of the leaseholders would be required—I suspect that a majority is what is intended, as it is in subsection (1) of the new clause proposed in Amendment 84F. That needs to be tidied up.

Having said that, there will be a chance, if I may say so respectfully, to improve the wording of the amendment before we get to Report. I hope that the Government will be sympathetic to this and possibly work with the noble Baroness in coming to an agreed position. She has highlighted a significant issue that is having adverse consequences for many occupiers of leasehold properties; at any rate, those with common parts. Perhaps the Minister will undertake to look at that with her and others to see whether the Government might bring forward an amendment to meet the objectives set out here but, as I said, unfortunately with drafting that may not achieve them.

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): My Lords, I do not like either of these amendments. I want to make it quite clear that I think they are wrong in principle. For a start, Amendment 84E states that the buyer of a leasehold “is required”—in other words, it would be mandatory. There are blocks of flats—particularly where there is self-management, as in the case of my arrangement in Maidenhead—where resident committees agree that a sinking fund is not needed. We simply agree to turn up the money when a large expenditure is required. A couple of years ago, we had to spend £80,000 on a roof repair, but we agreed in advance that we would not levy for it until the expenditure needed to be incurred. It should be left to people in blocks of flats to decide whether there is a sinking fund, because there are varying views. Therefore, I am against that provision.

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I am also opposed to Amendment 84F, and I will explain why. It is being suggested here that a majority—51%—of leaseholders could change the terms of the lease. If the terms of a lease were changed in such a way whereby a minority objected, and that objection was so strong that they just become awkward, which is what happens, they would simply default on the payment of their service charges. You cannot divide leaseholders in that way. In the case of the block in Maidenhead, where we have shared freehold interest, every time we enter into major works—indeed, any works—we agree in the resident committee. Because we are also the management company running the organisation, in which I take a very active part, we make sure that everybody agrees. Indeed, we get letters or emails from them confirming that they agree to any change that we wish to make. The reason is very simple. We have people that live both within and without the United Kingdom. In the event that we were to take an action which in any way they found unacceptable, I know that people would say, “Well, I’m sorry. I just do not agree with what you’ve done. I know I was invited. I know it said that in the event that I was unable to be there I would be deemed to be in favour of the proposal”, but irrespective of that they would feel that they were being manipulated into taking a decision to which they object.

3 pm

Anything that suggests that you could in any circumstance compromise the decision of all the leaseholders in any particular building would be totally counterproductive. It will lead to objections, as I say, by leaseholders and in many cases a refusal to pay. I can tell you that if you are in a small development and someone refuses to pay, it triggers all kinds of arguments, all kinds of concerns, and sometimes they end up in the courts. That is the reality of the world we live in. Therefore, I am totally opposed to both these amendments.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I would like to respond to the point made. I think it is very interesting.

First, I should have spoken to Amendment 84F as well as Amendment 84E, because the two are linked on the groupings list, which I had not realised. The situation as described sounds entirely different from my own personal experience. My experience is that people who do not live in these places at all—except maybe for a few weeks in the summer when they come from somewhere overseas—do not respond to any attempt to contact them whatever. If you end up with a sufficient majority of those people, you cannot get anything done. There is no money to put forward even for emergency repairs. In each case you are asked to pay your money in advance, before the work can go ahead. Often legal action has to be taken against someone who says, “No, I’m not paying until I’m sure you’re doing the work”. An instance in hand was that, as the building was old, we wanted to have all new windows at the front. We all paid our money for them. People came and put up the scaffolding and the windows were delivered. The council arrived and said, “Have you got permission for that?” “Oh no, we phoned up and they said you don’t need it.” “Oh yes, you do. This is a conservation area”—the building itself is not worth conserving, but it is a conservation area. So the

17 Mar 2016 : Column 1992

windows were all taken down, taken away and thrown away. We paid for them but we never got them, which was pretty disastrous for everyone.

Other times when someone needs emergency work done on the boiler or heating systems, again the money is needed up front—and people often have to be taken to court to get it. They might claim that they had not been justifiably contacted, but with the right to manage there could be a contact address or a proxy for every single resident or owner in the block.

I went to a meeting with Peter Bottomley, who is in the other place, and someone stood up from the department there. They said that the department was seriously considering the idea that if you fail to respond in any way you would be deemed to be not opposed to whatever was suggested. I then came back to this House and tabled a Question on that and I was told, no, that was not being thought about. Now again I am told that maybe it is being thought about. I find it extremely confusing, but I am looking for some way whereby you can deal with non-resident, uninterested parties who would allow places to fall apart.

Lord Campbell-Savours: The answer is actually in the original deed. If on acquisition of the property and purchase, the original deed specified that a suitable majority was sufficient to take a decision and the purchasers signed up to that, they are bound by that. The resident association, or the management company if it is run by the resident association, would have that in mind when it took decisions. Both these amendments could be dealt with in terms of the original lease. In the event that a lease change is required, then you would need—to be fair, in my view—a 100% majority turnout, or proxy or whatever, of all the residents to take that decision to introduce these provisions into the lease. If that is done then it is fair, but to impose it on people who may be reluctant to accept it is quite wrong.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: The second to last point the noble Lord made was that you have to have 100%. The problem is getting the 100%. I have asked Questions in this House—I had the Library look them up and there must be at least six—and each time the Government have answered that it is impossible to get 100%, or that it is very easy to avoid getting 100%. All you need is a landlord who has a different interest to pay one person or own one flat in the block himself and he can prevent any action of any sort to improve or maintain it.

Lord Campbell-Savours: When the noble Baroness purchased her apartment, she would have done well to ask her lawyer to read the lease and explain to her what was in that lease; it would have precluded her doing what she is suggesting now.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: We have gone into this legally in great detail over many years, but the answer is no, you cannot amend anyone’s lease unless everyone agrees to that. That is why I would be quite happy with the 100% if one could be sure of replies from 100%. However, if the replies do not come one way or another, it is very fair that the action should be deemed

17 Mar 2016 : Column 1993

to be not opposed. They would be given ample time. They would be able to produce—this happens in Australia and everywhere; it is very simple management—a contact or someone who could attend any meeting as a proxy. They can authorise a party. There is no reason why they should not be able to reply in some way. They either deliberately wish to be obstructive or they are uninterested. Either way, it can have a disastrous effect on everyone else in the block. You need only one person to be obstructive.

In the description I gave, the landlord himself—the head lessee—has now bought one. He is happy to take on every flat that comes up if anyone wants to leave. He is always offering to buy mine. The point is that to get that 100% is acknowledged to be impossible. Certainly it is very difficult. Even when you agree on the works to be done and everyone is prepared to pay their money, there are always a few who have to be taken to court and works never start until all the money is available to pay the contractor. This means that terrible deterioration can happen during that period. Of all the points that are in these two amendments, to me, that concerning the leaseholder who fails to participate in the vote is the most important. In that instance you are being deliberately manipulated or controlled by people who do not have enough interest to bother expressing their views.

Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con): My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Gardner for her amendments. I agree that, as indicated in Amendment 84E, it is important to ensure that sufficient funds are available for the repair and maintenance of leasehold blocks, and that sinking funds built up over time can indeed play an important role in mitigating large one-off service charge demands. However, while well-intentioned, the amendment is unnecessary. It would cause conflict and confusion with the existing requirements and responsibilities under the terms of the lease, and does not address a range of important issues covered by the existing legislation. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, with his great knowledge, for being helpful in this regard.

The existing legal contract between the freeholder and leaseholder, which, as we all know, is called the lease, already provides for the collection of service charges for the upkeep and maintenance of a block. In a growing number of cases, provision is also made for an amount to be collected called a sinking fund. Importantly, where a lease does not already provide for a sinking fund, legislation makes it possible to seek a variation of the lease to do so.

It is sensible, clear and workable for the person responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the building to also be the person responsible for any sinking fund. To require the creation of a separately held and managed sinking fund administered by someone other than the person with legal responsibility for maintaining the block would create conflict and confusion with the existing lease, as would trying to dovetail it with the existing arrangements. For instance, if major work were required to the roof of the block, how would responsibility for the work be determined and how would any shortfall in the funds needed to carry

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out the work be dealt with? Who would be responsible for arranging the repairs? The current arrangements keep responsibilities and accountabilities clear, and do not fall foul of any legal obligations and responsibilities.

Importantly, legislation enables the freeholder to be held to account on service charges, including any sinking fund. Leaseholders have the right to challenge the reasonableness of service charge amounts being sought, whether for day-to-day use or towards a sinking fund. Existing legislation governing service charges also provides for a wide range of important issues, including the protection for service charges by deeming them to be held in a statutory trust, and that the money may be deposited only at a financial institution specified by the regulations. Under the amendment, it is unclear how the leaseholders would determine who held and administered the sinking fund, or how contributions would be determined and spent. The existing arrangements, in contrast, provide protection and a route to challenge the freeholder.

I say again that I recognise the important role that sinking funds can play, and that where the lease does not already provide for a sinking fund it is possible for either leaseholders or the freeholder to seek a variation of the lease to do so. This is the most appropriate route for creating sinking funds, avoiding unnecessary confusion and ensuring that appropriate protections remain in place. I hope that with this explanation my noble friend will agree to withdraw her amendment.

I turn to Amendment 84F. The leasehold right to manage is a right for leaseholders to take on specific responsibility for the management of their individual block from the landlord, by which I mean the freeholder, where they meet the qualifying criteria. That right can be exercised where a majority of qualifying tenants agree. It does not require or allow variations to leases. I understand my noble friend’s concern that once a right-to-manage company has been set up, the company needs 100% agreement from the members of the right-to-manage company before anything can be done. However, I am pleased to reassure her that this is not the case. In taking over responsibility from the freeholder for the management of the block, the right-to-manage company is required to carry out the repairing obligations under the lease, for the benefit of the leaseholders and the freeholder. This is the same as the freeholder would be required to do where they are responsible. Failing to do so could result in a breach of the lease. There is a requirement to consult on major works, but there are no particular restrictions that require 100% agreement before the right-to-manage company can carry out their obligations.

On top of this, the company is subject to company law in general, and the decision-making process, voting arrangements and appointment or termination of directors are set out in the prescribed articles of association. These are the RTM Companies (Model Articles) (England) Regulations 2009, which set out the objects of the Company. These generally require a quorum and a majority, but certainly do not require 100% agreement. I hope that this somewhat protracted explanation allays my noble friend’s concerns.

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Lord Campbell-Savours: Despite the provision that the Minister has referred to, unless you secure the agreement of everyone involved, people often go into arrears and default. That creates problems within an association.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: That is true, but there are restrictions in place to allow for that. It still works.

3.15 pm

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, that the wording might be defective. The purpose of Committee stage, however, is that it is the topic that you are really discussing and you can always go back and correct the wording. So that is not really the issue but I appreciate his point, though I thought the Public Bill Office had done jolly well even to get it as clear as it is, because I found it impossible.

The Minister has not looked at the entire situation. He keeps talking about the freeholder and the leaseholder, but what about the head lessee—the person between the freeholder and the leaseholder? This is where most of the problems come in. The head lessee should not even exist because the head lease should have been offered to all the people in the block, but because of that company law loophole it was not. That therefore creates an extra intermediate tier. Where that happens, you are in quite a degree of difficulty. Our freeholder seems quite benign and willing to go along with things, except where he evidently agreed to set up this sister company and floated it off to an outsider as a leaseholder —the head lessee. It becomes very complicated when you get these extra layers in management, and it means that each process has to go to each person.

I cannot remember the detail, but something meant that until we got to the door of the court the head lessee would agree to nothing. We were applying to the court to deal with it without his consent because he refused to respond to any correspondence, making it very difficult for everyone. Right at the last moment, there was a message from his solicitors saying, “We agree”. What was at issue was nothing terribly major, but it was hard to believe that we had to go through those legal procedures to get a simple agreement about something.

Lord Campbell-Savours: May I make a suggestion to the Minister? There is a reform that would be helpful. Some freeholders require 50% of the residents to agree to the formation of a residents’ association that they are prepared to recognise, but unless they get 50% the freeholder will not recognise it. I would like to see, in law, some requirement for a lesser percentage. Particularly in blocks of flats in London, where you have large numbers of residents living abroad—despite the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham—the fact is that you cannot get their addresses and therefore you are often limited in the number of people you have access to in order to meet that 50% threshold. Perhaps the Minister might ask officials to look at that. A nice little amendment to that effect on Report would be very helpful.

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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: That sounds like a good and constructive suggestion. Perhaps we can work on that idea. Certainly we are looking for some answer to this. I went this week to a meeting on the private rented sector at which the person speaking was the present Housing Minister. The one thing on which he agreed with me was that we need a property consolidation Act. I have been involved in Act after Act since 1981, when I took my seat in this House, and the way that each law amends the previous one and goes on to change something else is such a hotchpotch. We really should have a comprehensive consolidation Act. The problem is that the Law Commission does not do these any more, but if the Government were prepared to pay then it certainly would. That would save a huge amount of bother for ordinary people. If ordinary people cannot understand the law, it is very difficult to implement it and for people to feel satisfied with it. That is why I am all for a consolidation Act.

Meanwhile, I think that we have aired this subject fairly well. I am grateful for the comments from those who have made them, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 84E withdrawn.

Amendments 84F and 84G not moved.

Clause 125: Designation of neighbourhood areas

Amendment 85

Moved by Lord Greaves

85: Clause 125, page 59, line 12, leave out “Regulations under subsection (11) may provide that”

Lord Greaves (LD): My Lords, we move at last to Part 6 of the Bill, headed “Planning in England”. Some of us thought we might never get here—but here we are. First, I thank the Government time managers for giving us some extra time at the end of this Committee stage, so that we can have a bash at dealing with Part 6 properly. I understand that a lot of the housing stuff that has gone before is extremely important. Nevertheless, we had feared that it would take over completely, and we would not be able to deal with planning in any sensible way. So I thank the Government for providing the time—even if that time will not, by and large, be conveniently arranged for a lot of us. Never mind.

As well as moving Amendment 85 I will speak to the other amendments in the group that are in my name. The planning clauses as a whole raise some important principles, and I am sure that we shall have some clashes of views on those principles as we go through Part 6. They also raise a series of the kind of issues that that House of Lords is, at least in part, here to look at—to try to understand what the legislation actually means, how it might work, and whether it will work. It is important that we look particularly at some of the clauses in Part 6 that were put into the Bill right at the end of its progress through the Commons, and have not been properly scrutinised at all. So I hope that we shall do that.

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There are a lot of concerned people working in the planning system around the country who, on the basis both of my experience and of information provided by colleagues, do not understand how this is going to work either. The Government have been organising meetings, seminars and so on, but many people believe that the legislation needs looking at thoroughly before it leaves your Lordships’ House.

The amendments in the group are about neighbourhood planning. We are starting off in a fairly benign way on this subject, because there is probably more agreement on what is proposed in this part of Part 6 than there is on some other areas. The amendments relate to Clause 125, which is called “Designation of neighbourhood areas”, and Clause 126, which is called “Timetable in relation to neighbourhood development orders and plans”.

I have no doubt that all noble Lords in the Committee are fully up to speed on neighbourhood planning and what all this means, but it may be helpful to put on record at the beginning the fact that neighbourhood planning is one of the success stories from the Localism Act, which some of us here spent a lot of time working on five years ago. Neighbourhood plans are the main part of neighbourhood planning, and about 1,800 of them are at some stage from the initial inquiry through to adoption. That is a lot: the system is a success. We should be looking to build on that success, and where successful neighbourhood planning has taken place, to move it to other parts of England where so far it has not taken hold.

This is a complicated process. Five years ago some of us spent a lot of time trying to understand how it, and the legislation, were going to work. It is not easy to understand, because the legislation appears in a number of different planning Acts. Basically, the process has to start with a relevant body, which is either a parish council or, if there is no parish council, a neighbourhood forum. If there is no parish council, the neighbourhood forum has to be approved by the local planning authority—the main council. There must be a neighbourhood area, which the parish council or neighbourhood forum operates in, which is the basis for the local neighbourhood plan. In many cases, obviously, that is the parish, but if there is no parish, that is a source of discussion and delay.

Then, within that neighbourhood area, a neighbourhood plan is put together. This is the part of it that is very interesting, and sometimes quite exciting, involving residents and the local groups. The body that is responsible for the neighbourhood plan is the parish council or the neighbourhood forum. According to the rules, the plan must be submitted to the local planning authority for approval. Then there has to be a referendum involving everybody who lives in the neighbourhood area. That, again, is organised by the main local authority. Then, if the referendum vote is to approve—so far, in almost all cases it has been—the local authority has to adopt the neighbourhood plan as part of its overall local development plan.

If that sounds complicated, it is actually quite complicated, so there are within the system a number of points at which the local planning authority can,

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if it wishes—or just if it is not all that efficient—slow the whole process down. As I understand it, the purpose of these two clauses is to remove those impediments, or at least to speed up the process.

I drafted these amendments some time ago. I did it for two reasons. The first was a natural protest against the degree of prescription in the two clauses: effectively, they say that, in different ways and at different times, with all the usual specifications, the Secretary of State can do whatever he or she wants to do. That seems to me unnecessary. If the Government know what they want to do in changing the system, they should simply put that on the face of the Bill. Then, at least, it would be less complicated for people trying to understand it.

The second reason, of course, was to probe what the Government are intending to do—what time limits they propose, and so on. So I put some of that in the amendments. Since then I have seen a more recent document called Technical consultation on implementation of planning changes. It is an extremely interesting document, which has been circulated to local planning authorities and elsewhere, and it contains the proposed timetables for neighbourhood planning. I do not agree with everything in it—as the Committee will discover in due course over the next day or so—but the proposed timetables for neighbourhood planning are fine. Indeed, they are rather better than those I put in my probing amendments. The Government are doing better than me on this one, so good for them.

I hope that this afternoon the Minister will be able to put that timetable on the public record in the Committee. We understand that it is subject to the consultation process, so there might be changes, but it would be helpful to set it out so that at least it is there in Hansard and people can see what it is.

The reason why I raised the question of whether Clause 127 should stand part of the Bill was to protest against what seem to many of us to be two pages of unnecessary intervention powers for the Secretary of State. I know that there have been some problems over neighbourhood planning with some local planning authorities, but I do not think that the way to deal with them is to have two pages of detailed legislation setting out what will become umpteen pages of even more detailed legislation when the regulations provided for in almost every other line in these two pages are agreed. That is just a statement of opposition to doing it in that way. The important thing is: we need to get a better and clearer timetable for the neighbourhood plan-making process, set out and agreed in legislation, and then let us all get behind the whole neighbourhood planning process wherever any of us has any influence. I beg to move.

3.30 pm

Lord True (Con): My Lords, I have tabled Amendment 87A in this group. Since I have been silent a great deal throughout this Committee—I must say that such silence, unlike at a wedding, does not always indicate assent, but it certainly does indicate consent—I should remind the Committee that I am leader of a London borough council which is a planning authority. It wishes to remain a planning authority and it maintains vigorously that local authorities, as the arbiters of local communities, should be respected fully at every

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level as legitimate public authorities. One does not always hear that language, sadly, from whatever Government are in power.

I well remember the lengthy debates that we had on the Localism Act, in which my then noble friend Lord Greaves was a very active participant. I also played a part. I am a very strong believer in localism and I did play a part in that Act. One of the points that I made repeatedly at that time, often unavailingly, I fear, was that localism can be delivered in many forms. My own council was a pioneer in 2010 in inviting local people to define their own communities—a process in which about 13,000 people took part—rather than simply following ward or parish boundaries. Since then we have established with local people 14 village and town areas within our borough, with very active community engagement in discussing and setting local priorities. It so happens that only one neighbourhood forum has been set up because that has been the will of local people. They appear to have been satisfied with the process that we have taken forward.

We have now begun incorporating and adopting detailed supplementary planning documents—we call them village plans—within our local plan, which reflect that dialogue with the local community following question times, walkabouts, open meetings, post-its, as well as formal consultations. It has been a successful and popular process in which thousands of people have been involved. Indeed, I had to leave your Lordships’ Committee last Thursday early to go to a public meeting in one part of my borough, which was launching the latest village plan. Some 150 to 200 people attended the meeting in a public hall; that is unusual, as I think anybody involved in local politics would say. So, there is enthusiasm.

I was very grateful to have the opportunity to discuss my amendment with my noble friend Lady Williams on the Front Bench. I entirely except her from the many strictures that I may have made at the start of my speech about Ministers over the last 20 to 30 years, since I have been involved in local politics. My main concern and reason for tabling the amendment is that the Bill, and specifically the intervention powers of the Secretary of State, are locked in to this existing single body of statute which is about a neighbourhood forum and a neighbourhood plan, as enacted under the Localism Act. That is one method of getting people involved—a very good and successful method, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, rightly said—which is what we want to do. However, it is not necessarily the only method or in every circumstance the best method.

I freely admit that my amendment is not necessarily the best way. It may not be in the right form or in the right place. However, before statute and practice totally ossify and case law proliferates, establishing that there is just this one way of doing it—as laid down by departmental officials and enforced by the Secretary of State from above—and that everything else is inferior, I would like to see some protection for local authorities, and there are many. I do not claim any exceptional skill on behalf of my own, although I think it is been a principle applied by both Liberal Democrat and Conservative Administrations in my authority. Where local authorities have local planning documents in full, after full consultation, they should not find themselves

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snagged up on artificial challenge as a result of not complying with the specifics of statute in relation to neighbourhood planning envisaged in this single way.

All I am really asking for is some reassurance. Ideally, I would like to have it in law because ultimately, these things will be tested and challenged in law—I suspect by people who perhaps want to make mischief and do not have the overall interests of local people in mind. If it cannot be made clear in law, we need some assurance that this Government, at least—we cannot bind future Governments—recognise that there may be under heaven ways of doing good local planning and involving the public other than as laid out in the Bill before your Lordships’ House.

The Earl of Lytton (CB): My Lords, I very much welcome the opportunity raised by this group of amendments to discuss this business of neighbourhood plans. Perhaps I should declare an immediate past interest as the previous president of the National Association of Local Councils, now occupied very ably by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Goss Moor.

The noble Lord, Lord True, rightly pointed to the primacy of what I, as a private sector operator, know as the principal authority for planning purposes. We should never forget that, fundamentally, that principal authority is the one that ultimately has to make the decision. It is informed by a series of neighbourhood plans where those have been prepared.

Localism is a great thing, but it has come in with something of a great rush into a world in which the neighbourhood construct—by that I particularly mean parish, town and community councils—has for a very long time been neglected in terms of resources, powers, authority and ability to do things. Here, we come to the issue of neighbourhood plans. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, pointed out, their administration is quite complex, as are the philosophical constructs behind them. Too often, I still meet people who say, “We have tried to do this neighbourhood plan but really what everybody’s concentrating on is making sure that we don’t get too many housing developments in our area”, so it is seen as a defensive strategy, which is perhaps regrettable. Because it comes with so much of the baggage of what is known as development control, which is essentially a rather negative turn of phrase, that is the inherent direction of travel and it is seen as the received wisdom.

It is not a quick process to turn this round so that people see this as an opportunity to take things forward and to generate a resource they could not otherwise have. This question of resources is one that troubles both the neighbourhood sector—if I can call it that—and the principal authorities. One thing that the noble Lord, Lord True, did not mention is that as soon as you try to step in and make good efficiencies at neighbourhood level, that has resource implications. It also requires officers’ time, which would otherwise be devoted to other things, and almost certainly requires cash outlay on things like mailing, drawing up and making documents available and so on.

The test that needs to be applied was in a question I put to one of the heads of our rural community council. I asked what he thought the main ingredient of a good

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local plan was. He said that first, people must be properly canvassed: rather than teasing out what they do not want, we must ask what really turns them on and gives them a buzz about their area. At that stage, you can start to peel back the skin of the onion in order to get at the truth. Unfortunately, because of what might be called the inherited philosophical direction of travel, that question is often not asked properly. As a result, we do not candidly canvass the views of the old, young, shopkeepers and businesspeople, and—maybe—the farmers, mums with children and all who would otherwise remain silent. One of the main problems with neighbourhood plans being declared unsound is that it cannot be demonstrated that that process has been gone through with rigour and care. This is an important set of amendments enabling us to discuss this principle.

I am in favour of communities determining their own situation, but if in a particular area they say the equivalent of what I believe is the current acronym— BANANA: ban anything near anyone anywhere—then the principal authority’s executive is going to have to come with a red pen and make themselves deeply unpopular, because there are certain Government imperatives. While these are particularly to do with housebuilding, they also concern the associated infrastructure such as schools, clinics, road improvements —never mind fire services and things like that.

These things are complicated and a community often does not have the voluntary resources. How many would have a private sector town planner, for instance, who had time to attend meetings and guide that process? How many would have people available to deal with the financial mechanics, so that the community can clearly state what benefits it expects and set this out in a constructive manner? These are highly complicated issues, which often require expensive professionals—I stand guilty as charged in that respect. Parishes and town councils do not have those sorts of resources.

It is all very well having a provision whereby the principal authority steps in, but there are still the issues of covering resource implications and achieving a candid representation of the community’s views to take the process forward. Those seem to be sticking points whatever is done. I hope the Minister will be able to throw some light on that.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con): I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, neighbourhood planning has been a success since its introduction in 2011. For the first time, communities have been able to prepare plans that have real statutory weight: neighbourhood plans have the same weight in law as the local authority’s local plan, and must be the starting point for decisions on planning applications. As the noble Lord also said, more than 1,800 communities have started neighbourhood planning, representing more than 9 million people, and planning applications are being approved and refused according to neighbourhood plans. The Government made a manifesto commitment to support communities who have embarked on the process and to encourage more to start.

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Under Clause 125, the Secretary of State would be able to use regulations to prescribe the circumstances in which local planning authorities must designate the neighbourhood area applied for. In the prescribed circumstances, the authority would no longer need to advertise, and consult on, the proposed neighbourhood planning areas. This will allow communities to start planning more quickly and will significantly reduce the burdens on local authorities.

3.45 pm

We have recently set out in our consultation document the two circumstances that we intend to prescribe. The first is where the whole of a parish council area is applied for. This is because a parish council is the only body responsible for neighbourhood planning within their boundary. Some 90% of applications are from parish councils, and 90% of them are applying for the whole of their parish to be designated. In nearly all cases we are aware of, the whole of the parish has been designated, but the amount of time that this has taken has varied hugely, from around six to 19 weeks. Specifying that all applications for the whole of a parish must be designated without delay would therefore remove a significant administrative burden from the system for the majority of local planning authorities.

The second circumstance where we consider a local planning authority must designate the area applied for is where it has failed to come to a decision after existing time periods have expired. These time periods are either 13 or 20 weeks depending on whether the proposed area straddles local authority planning boundaries. But local planning authorities will not be required to amend existing designations—except to enlarge an existing designation of part of a parish to cover the whole parish—and will be given time to consider competing applications to designate all or part of the same area.

I turn now to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who has expressed concerns that the proposed circumstances which I have described are not set out in the Bill. I would like to reassure the Committee that there are sound reasons why we believe that the detail is best left in regulations. First, we believe that circumstances could change over time as a greater number of areas are designated, and we wish to retain the flexibility to alter the prescribed circumstances if required. A power to do this through secondary legislation allows far greater flexibility. Secondly, we want to allow the opportunity for public consultation on our proposals and we are open to comments on the details.

The noble Lord asked about the proposed timetable for decisions. We are consulting on the following, which we propose would be included in the regulations. There will be five weeks for the local planning authority to decide whether to send a plan to a referendum, 10 weeks from the decision to send a plan to referendum until the date of the referendum, and eight weeks from a successful referendum until the plan is brought into force. Indeed, as the noble Lord acknowledged, these timeframes are shorter than he has proposed in his amendments.

Clause 126 inserts new paragraph 13A into Schedule 4B to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and amends Section 61 of that Act, as well as Section 38A of the

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Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. Together, these changes will allow the Secretary of State to set the time periods in regulations for key local planning authority decisions at the final stages of the neighbourhood planning process. This will ensure the timely progress of plans and orders that have passed an examination to ensure that they are taken swiftly to the local referendum and brought into force as soon as possible. I have just set out those time periods.

While some authorities are already doing this, there is considerable variation and no indication in regulations of expected performance. We estimate that if areas currently failing to complete regulated stages on time were to meet the maximum of the proposed timescales, on average an area would complete the process 17 weeks earlier. The time periods I have set out will ensure that groups have certainty that their plan or order will progress in a timely manner. They will also ensure that momentum and enthusiasm is maintained as the plan or order moves towards being brought into legal force.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for Amendments 87ZA, 87ZB and 87ZC to set three-month time periods for neighbourhood planning decisions. However, as I will set out, I do not believe that they are appropriate. I can assure the noble Lord that there are sound reasons why the prescribed time periods are set out in regulations and subject to public consultation. First, there is a clear precedent for setting time periods through regulations, such as the current time periods for designating a neighbourhood area. Experience may show that over time it would be sensible for the Government to look again at the prescribed time periods, and regulations will provide much more flexibility.

Secondly, as I have said previously, we want to allow the opportunity for public consultation on our proposals as we believe that local people and planning authorities should have an opportunity to have their say on this important issue as they are neighbourhood planning on a daily basis. All the proposed time periods we are currently consulting on are based on current averages and evidence.

Clause 127 inserts new paragraphs 13B and 13C into Schedule 4B to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. This gives the Secretary of State the ability to take over a local planning authority’s responsibilities to decide whether to send a neighbourhood plan or order proposal to referendum. I stress that this will apply only in the rare cases when a proposal is blocked by the local planning authority and intervention is requested by the neighbourhood planning group.

Lord Beecham: My Lords, I am sorry to intervene, but surely the noble Baroness is moving on to other groups. She seems to be responding to the ninth group. Perhaps I am making a mistake. If it is the right group, I beg noble Lords’ pardon.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: I apologise if I repeat myself as I find my place again.

As I have said, this would apply only in rare cases. These cases would be when a local planning authority has failed to decide what action to take in response to the recommendations of the independent examiner or where the authority disagrees with an examiner’s

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recommendations and wants to modify the plan or order proposal against the wishes of the neighbourhood planning group, unless the modifications are to ensure compliance with EU or human rights obligations, or to correct errors. We anticipate that this power would be used only in exceptional circumstances. We have been very clear that communities and local planning authorities should be working very closely on the neighbourhood plan or order proposal throughout the process. However, we are aware, as the noble Lord suggested, that in a small number of cases there have been disagreements between groups and authorities. There is currently no mechanism to resolve these disagreements. In extreme cases those disagreements have blocked the progress of a proposal by more than a year, even though it is supported by the community and has been approved by an independent examiner. We do not believe that that is an acceptable situation. Regulations would set out the procedure to be followed when a request to intervene is made and the proposals for these are also the subject of public consultation. While this power to intervene would remove some responsibility from the local level, we believe that it is necessary in the rare cases that I have outlined.

Although I fully understand the good intentions behind my noble friend Lord True’s amendment, unfortunately we believe that it would diminish the ability of the Government to meet their manifesto commitment of speeding up and simplifying the neighbourhood planning process. The amendment would unnecessarily restrict and potentially even nullify the proposed power and would mean that some plans or orders could be indefinitely blocked by an authority or amended without the support of the community. However, I can assure my noble friend that we very much support and encourage local planning authorities such as Richmond-upon-Thames, which works proactively with communities to prepare other types of community plans. Indeed I congratulate Richmond-upon-Thames on taking such a comprehensive approach to delivering community-led planning through its series of village plans.

Neighbourhood plans are a powerful tool, because they become part of the statutory development plan, which is the starting point for planning decisions. They are subject to two consultations and must pass an independent examination and a local referendum before becoming part of the development plan. We believe that every community that passes the independent examination stage should have the right to request that the Secretary of State intervenes if that plan is blocked by a local planning authority, or amended in a way that the examiner did not recommend. It would not be right to restrict this power where an authority has adopted in the past, or says it will be adopting in the future, other kinds of supplementary planning document, and there is no guarantee that other types of documents are up to date or have the same level of genuine support as a neighbourhood plan.

We have learned from the experience of communities undertaking neighbourhood planning and believe that the proposed new power in the Bill is already limited to the right set of very specific circumstances. Indeed, the Government have further explained, in our recently published consultation document, that the Secretary

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of State will, in considering a request, consider the plan or order plans positively for local development needs, taking account of the latest evidence. Let me reassure my noble friend that the proposed power does not affect a local planning authority’s ability to progress other types of planning document where it is already working with its communities. I also assure the noble Lord that the proposed power does not enable the Secretary of State to intervene in any other stage of the neighbourhood planning process. For these reasons, I hope that noble Lords will withdraw or not move their amendments, and ask that Clauses 125, 126 and 127 stand part of the Bill.

Lord True: The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, will probably get the final say, because he heads the group. Having heard such kind words, however, it would be extremely churlish of me not to say how grateful I am to my noble friend on the Front Bench. I will make sure that the officers who have been involved in that process see what she has said. I am of course slightly disappointed, because as time goes by circumstances could arise whereby diversity gets snagged on legalism, and a single approach is in the end fraught with difficulty.

My only other comment—I do not expect a reply, although it would be interesting to get a comment in writing—is that a number of things that have been said relate to parishes and areas where there are clearly defined communities. For me, the really interesting challenge in neighbourhood planning—one which we are seeking to address—is in local urban communities, where it is much more important to get people involved and engaged. In urban communities boundaries overlap.

I will not detain the House long but I have an interesting example of this which I urge the Government and Committee to reflect on. There is a stretch of river in my borough—the only one which lies on both sides of the Thames—that has a lovely green area in it. We would like the many institutions in this area to work together in what we call a river park concept; that is part of our local plan approach. One part of that area, the Ham community, wishes to become a neighbourhood forum. There was a nascent dispute—I had no interest in disputing a neighbourhood forum—over where the boundaries were. In those green lands, not only did Ham have an interest but so did Petersham, Richmond and Twickenham. Yet the Ham neighbourhood forum was effectively saying, “We want exclusive control of this territory”. In the end, we agreed to the boundaries. One of the problems, however, with the legislation as explained in the Explanatory Notes, is that if the Secretary of State says that wherever there is a designation —particularly in an urban area—the whole area asked for must be designated, there may well be overlapping interests. Parallel communities, different villages and communities may have an interest in the same land. That is why sometimes it may be legitimate for the principal planning authority to say that they might withhold that land from the neighbourhood plan because there are communities and neighbourhoods that have an interest in it. As I say, I do not expect a response. It is quite a detailed point but a fundamental one, because real human communities do not have red lines around them: they have fuzzy lines.

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Lord Greaves: My Lords, I am grateful for the care and detail that the Minister has put into her reply. In most cases, when I read it in Hansard it will turn out to be satisfactory.

One issue that the Minister might respond to now, or perhaps afterwards, is that of designation. For which kinds of areas will there not be automatic designation? I understand that in most cases, particularly parishes—most cases are parishes at the moment—the application is for the whole parish, and that is very clear. What will the position be if the application is for only part of the parish, and not the rest of it? What will the position be if more than one parish applies together for designation as a neighbourhood area? What will the position be if—the obvious further complication—one whole parish is part of the neighbourhood area together with part of another parish? I should say that that is exactly the position in the area where I live. Anyway, that is a straightforward question and I will move on from it.

4 pm

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for his comments. I will pick up on one thing that he said: that development control decisions and other planning decisions, presumably by the local planning authority, will be informed by neighbourhood plans. They will, in exactly the same way as they are informed by the local plan because the neighbourhood plans form a full part of the local development plan. I am fairly sure that that is correct, until or unless somebody says that I am wrong. The neighbourhood plan is therefore a fully fledged planning document alongside the core strategy, the allocations and the other things in the principal authority’s local development plan.

The noble Earl said that neighbourhood plans are often seen as a defensive strategy. In my experience of looking at quite a few around the country, my observation is that in many cases that is how they start—by people saying, “We don’t like this planning application”, or, “We don’t like the decision on all this new housing. What can we do to stop it? Let’s have a neighbourhood plan”. As the process of putting together a local plan develops, and as discussions among the local people who put it together take place, it seems that there is often a change of emphasis. People come to understand that they cannot change the overriding policies in the National Planning Policy Framework and the local development plan, but that they can change the impact of those policies to a degree on their community. They can have new housing in one place instead of another, for example, or perhaps a different sort of new housing or different access altogether.

Whatever it may be, while the people could then go back and say, “We’d rather not have it at all”, the process of getting involved in putting it together nevertheless results in a much higher local understanding of the problems, and of the situation that they are in. This appears the case from the fact that, so far anyhow, almost all these plans have been passed in a referendum, so that they have a local buy-in to what is there. In an ideal world, they might prefer to be on Mars or the moon or somewhere, but they are not. It forces people to accept the reality of what they are doing and where they are.

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Listening to the noble Lord, Lord True, who is not here at the moment, I was thinking that I heard the same speech from him several times during debate on the then Localism Bill. I say to the Government that he is putting forward a very good case in relation to a small minority of local authorities. I think the Minister said that the Government do not want a lot of exceptions in the legislation that would stop people going through the neighbourhood planning process in the future. They could just block it because they do not like the concept of neighbourhood planning. The position in Richmond, and perhaps in some other authorities, is that what they do differently they have already done. There ought to be a way of exempting them from going through the whole system again, with all the expense and everybody having the same discussions with the same people and all the rest of it, when they already have a system which has local support and local acceptability. In other words, although the system may not fit the detailed rules and regulations of neighbourhood planning as set out, nevertheless the process and the involvement of the people has been similar, and the outcome is the same, so there ought to be a process by which authorities can apply to say, “We accept that in the future all new authorities will have to go through the neighbourhood system. But look at us as we are now and tell us, ‘Yes, there is a way for you not to have to go through that alternative system all over again’”. That is a common-sense way of dealing with it which will stop the noble Lord, Lord True, having to make the same speech on the next planning Bill in three or four years’ time. Apart from that, if the Minister can answer my questions, I will then withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: The questions raised by the noble Lord are subject to the consultation and bring up a number of issues. I will certainly write to him with the detail, if that would be helpful.

Lord Greaves: That would be extremely helpful. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 85.

Amendment 85 withdrawn.

Amendments 86 to 86B not moved.

Clause 125 agreed.

Amendment 87

Moved by Lord Greaves

87: After Clause 125, insert the following new Clause—

“Promotion of neighbourhood planning in unparished areas

(1) A local planning authority which includes unparished areas which have not been designated as neighbourhood areas must, from time to time and by such means as it considers appropriate, take active steps to bring to the attention of persons living or working in those areas the opportunities for neighbourhood planning (a “neighbourhood planning promotion”).

(2) A neighbourhood planning promotion must include appropriate means to promote and explain neighbourhood planning on a range of local media, including the authority’s website.

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(3) The authority must carry out a neighbourhood planning promotion if it has not done so within the previous three years.

(4) In addition to the steps required by subsections (1) to (3), the authority must maintain at all times a section on its website explaining neighbourhood planning and in particular how to identify or set up a relevant body in order to make an application for the designation of a neighbourhood area.

(5) In this section “unparished area” has the same meaning as in section 87(3) of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 (constitution of new parish).”

Lord Greaves: My Lords, this little group of amendments—in moving Amendment 87, I shall also speak to Amendments 88 and 88B—is about the promotion of neighbourhood planning in unparished areas and a general duty on local authorities and particularly the Government to promote neighbourhood planning.

Amendment 88 is a way of sneaking on to the agenda, with the assistance of the Public Bill Office, which was extremely helpful as usual when it rejected my first efforts, the question of setting up new parish councils in unparished areas. We are talking about urban areas more than any others. Most rural areas, villages and a lot of small towns now have parish councils or town councils, whatever they call them. However, huge swathes of urban England do not have any form of parish council. The amendments are based on the view that parish councils ought to be pushed and promoted more rigorously in those areas.

The link to neighbourhood plans is that, although neighbourhood plans can be put through by two different kinds of qualifying bodies—a parish council or a neighbourhood forum, which has been set up and approved by the local planning authority in an unparished area for the purpose—almost all the neighbourhood plans which have been adopted are in parished areas. I am not sure exactly how many are not, but I think they can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Of the 1,800 which are under way, the great majority are in parished areas.

The reason for this is quite clear. Parish councils exist. They are a body of people with links, networks and systems of knowing what is happening in the world outside. They have understood that neighbourhood planning is possible and, as an existing body, they have taken it on board. If there is no such body in an area, or if there are only community groups or community associations which are not linked to these sorts of systems, it is going to take a lot longer. However, it is fairly clear that neighbourhood planning can be as beneficial in unparished areas as in parished areas. In many of them, where development is being proposed in urban areas, neighbourhood planning could be very valuable.

The amendments raise the issue of what the Government are doing, first, to promote neighbourhood planning in unparished areas and, secondly, to get parish councils going in unparished areas. Do the Government know how many of the 1,800 are in parished areas and how many in unparished areas? Is there a way of finding out? As I say, I think there is a handful of adopted plans in unparished areas.

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Since tabling these amendments, I was asked to attend a meeting with many of the civil servants involved in this part of the Bill—who I think were a bit curious to find out what all these amendments put down by Lord Greaves were all about—and I was certainly curious to find out what they had to tell me. A great deal of it was extremely helpful and I thank them very much for that meeting.

Since then, I have had a letter from, I think, the head of neighbourhood planning at the Department for Communities and Local Government. The letter has some very interesting and extremely helpful information which I did not previously know, particularly about neighbourhood planning in deprived areas and the efforts which the department and the Government are making to promote this. I will not read it all out, as it would take too long—and perhaps the Minister is going to tell me some of it anyway—but it refers to,

“Building capacity and take up in deprived urban areas by training community organisations to be able to lead neighbourhood planning in their neighbourhoods … Working with Community Organisers to use neighbourhood planning to tackle issues faced by communities in deprived urban areas”,

and so on. This all looks very good. I have not had time to look into it any further since receiving the letter this morning, but I shall be doing so.

The letter also talks about having,

“More powers for neighbourhood forums to become parish councils”.

It also sets out the legislative changes which have already been made—which are, in my view, not sufficient but are welcome—and talks about, in particular, speeding up the process by shortening the amount of time a local authority can take to complete a governance review. A local governance review happens when the authority receives a petition from the necessary number of electors and has to conduct a review as to whether to set up a parish council, more parish councils or whatever it may be.

The letter then goes on to the encouraging part:

“The next phase of work on making it easier to set up new parish councils will be to publish the updated DCLG Local Government and Boundary Commission … Guidance on Community Governance Reviews. This will set out the new legislation and establish the working principles to ensure the guidance becomes a living document reflecting the evolving devolution landscape”.

That sounds good, but does the Minister know when that guidance will be issued? This is taking us a little bit away from the heart of the Bill, so I will not say anything more about it, but I thank the department for this information.

Some of us will be urging the Government on in the hope that they will proceed with all due speed on this. Local democracy is extremely important and local neighbourhood planning is a way of developing genuine grass-roots local democracy and they will have our support in everything they do and we will continue urging them to do more. I beg to move.

Lord Shipley (LD): My Lords, this is my first chance to speak on the planning aspects of the Bill today, so I declare again my vice-presidency of the Local Government Association.

Like, I think, noble Lords across all parts of the House, we are strongly supportive of the concept of neighbourhood planning. We had many discussions

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around it as part of the Localism Bill, and I have been deeply impressed by the commitment of so many communities to get involved in the process. This has been a success story from the last Government.

My noble friend Lord Greaves said earlier that there have been some 1,800 neighbourhood plans at some stage of development. Of course, many fewer have actually held referendums, and it is quite a task to move from initial expressions of interest through to actually having a neighbourhood plan in place. We want to encourage the process, and this group of amendments is about how we can do that.

Amendments 87 and 88 do just that, and Amendment 88B asks the Government to do a little bit more by looking at ways in which they might provide an additional contribution to the work of communities in developing their neighbourhood plans, because not having the necessary resources is clearly an impediment.

4.15 pm

I understand—and the Minister might comment on this—that DCLG published some figures about three months ago on neighbourhood planning delivery. Apparently, more new homes have been delivered—some 10% higher—in the first areas that had a neighbourhood plan than there would have been under the council’s own local plan. That is very strong evidence that there is something to be gained in terms of building more homes if you have a neighbourhood plan, as the community will have discussed it. It may also derive, as my noble friend Lord Greaves said, from there being a disagreement locally about housing proposals, but there is then a gain as people get together and see that their neighbourhoods might actually be improved if there were to be additional housing in the area. That is the evidence of it.

The overall point—and I hope the Minister will understand why this group of amendments is important —is that unparished areas seem to have many fewer neighbourhood plans than parished areas. Thus, this is not just an issue about encouraging neighbourhood planning; it is actually an issue about encouraging the creation of parish councils. In urban areas, there are many fewer parish councils and town councils than there are in rural areas. There are good historical reasons for that, but there is another step to take now to encourage the formation of more town councils; I have been, and am, a very strong advocate of that because it builds citizen involvement in local democracy. That, for me, is an extremely important aspect of this.

I hope that the Government will understand that these probing amendments are actually meant to enhance the process of neighbourhood planning, not to get in the way of what is, in other respects, a very good Bill in relation to neighbourhood planning.

Lord True: My Lords, I follow a very great deal of what has been said by noble Lords opposite. It is absolutely fundamental that it must be right that you get more development and housing by a process of consent than by a process from outside. That is one of my objections to some of the other policies that are around and appear to be more developer-led than development-led, so I agree with that. I think that I

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should quit while I am ahead in this part of the Bill because, with my authority having been praised by my noble friend on the Front Bench, the kind words of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and even some from the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, I might risk getting some kind words from the Front Bench opposite.

I have a slight difficulty with the amendment, because it gets into the prescriptive area and slightly snags on the point that I was making on the previous amendment on the Government’s one-club approach. If we put this in statute, it will relate just to the process under the existing legislation. All local authorities should have a duty to involve communities, to put out publicity and to get engagement. My slight worry with these amendments is that, if they fall into the hands of a department of state, we will get regulations that say, “Just publish what we want to do, not what you want to do”. So I support the spirit of the amendments, but I think that it is a duty on local authorities. In our case, we might find ourselves running two parallel publicity arrangements, although we obviously publicise the opportunity to have a neighbourhood forum. For that reason, I could not go along with it, but I fully support the spirit of where the noble Lords opposite are coming from.

Lord Foster of Bath (LD): My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord in what he said, and I hope that in my very brief remarks about neighbourhood planning I can reassure him that in this area there is so much enthusiasm at the local level that central government prescription is not really going to hold sway. That is what is so exciting about what happened with the Localism Act. It really has liberated local communities in so many different ways to take on and run local assets, to take on and run local services and, of course—as we have heard—to introduce neighbourhood planning. I intervene merely to express my huge enthusiasm for neighbourhood planning, to share a couple of experiences and then to ask one simple question of the Minister, which may help provide information to the House that may help us move forward on these issues.

It is worth recording, notwithstanding what my noble friend said a few minutes ago, that we have already seen 126 successful referendums; interestingly, in every single referendum that has taken place the plan has always been passed, which is huge testimony to the work that local communities have done to engage the local community before the plan is finalised and brought to the referendum stage. I acknowledge of course the 10% figure we have heard which relates to the way in which those plans have often led to developments of housing, for instance, far greater than they were in the local plan. I have had the opportunity to see first-hand a number of examples where, as a result of local involvement, things that were perhaps initially not very acceptable to the local community have suddenly been embraced because the community has been involved and engaged in the detailed decision-making process.

In one case there was a plan to have a supermarket in a relatively small town. There was huge opposition to it and a neighbourhood planning group was brought together. Residents discussed what they wanted in the neighbourhood plan and eventually decided that it

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might be a good idea to have a supermarket after all if they could determine its location, the routes people would use to get to it, the parking arrangements, and so on. Eventually, a supermarket was included in the neighbourhood plan. It has been to a referendum and been accepted, and the supermarket is being built.

Back in February 2013, when I had the opportunity to engage with neighbourhood planning, I and the other Minister involved, Mr Nick Boles, went to a windswept Upper Eden in Cumbria a few days before the first referendum on the first neighbourhood plan was due to take place, when we had an opportunity to talk to councillors and members of the local community. We were under strict instructions from the civil servants that in no way were we to express a view on whether we were for or against the neighbourhood plan, which proved rather difficult for two Ministers who are passionately supportive of the principle. But we more or less stuck by that, although we both left wearing “Yes” badges on our lapels on the way out. It was exciting to see the first plan going through.

The crucial bit, which relates to Amendment 88B, was that only a few weeks following that visit I was able to announce a £9.5 million fund for a two-year period to provide more financial support to communities that wanted to develop a neighbourhood plan. To reflect the point in my noble friend Lord Greaves’s amendment, further money was then made available to give local councils financial support for their work in supporting and dealing with various aspects of neighbourhood planning.

We were also able to announce the establishment of the My Community website, which has subsequently been a very good source of information for people looking to develop their own neighbourhood plan, and after that there was also a scheme to introduce 40 neighbourhood planning champions, many of whom operate up and down the country; they are people who have led their own neighbourhood plan, local councillors, planning officers and so on. Members of your Lordships’ House who are interested in this matter may like to have a look at the recently established website, where these neighbourhood planning champions now share their own experiences and so on.

The reason I intervened, apart from perhaps to show my enthusiasm for neighbourhood planning, was to ask the Minister a very specific question in regard to my noble friend’s Amendment 88. As various pots of money have been made available—initially, for instance, £7,000, now £8,000, potentially with a further addition of £6,000 in difficult areas to support neighbourhood planning development—the Government announced an additional pot of money for pilots for councils to look at best ways of helping to promote neighbourhood planning in their areas. They made £600,000 available and various bids were sought.

Since then, I have been unable to find any further information as to what has happened to that particular pilot scheme. It was designed to help us identify the best way of moving forward in promoting and supporting neighbourhood planning, which is the thrust of my noble friend’s amendment. So I think that the House would be delighted to hear from the Minister details

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of how the money has been spent, what sort of projects have been brought forward and what lessons have been learned from which we can all benefit.

Lord Beecham: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming the concept of neighbourhood planning, particularly where it takes a positive attitude to development in the area. I acknowledge that there is real potential both in urban and in rural areas. The noble Lord, Lord True, is right that we need to be a little cautious about the implications within urban areas. I can best illustrate that from the ward that I represent in Newcastle. It has 18 or 19 discernible communities within it and I think now nine residents associations, each with its own particular perspective on what is going on.

It is not just a question of planning; it is a question of involving the community in a whole range of issues, be it social care, policing or other matters. It is important to involve local people, but your Lordships must bear in mind the constraint these days on the capacity of planning departments to cope with their ordinary business. It is well known that the number of planning officers is being reduced substantially as a function of the cutbacks that are being suffered. That does not make it any easier, to put it no higher, to support the valuable process of neighbourhood planning. In this context, I recall the words of one of our most famous poets, John Donne:

“No man is an island, entire of itself”.

In my judgment, no neighbourhood is an island entire unto itself unless it happens to be physically remote from others.

The experience of planning generally is that often planning applications evoke a negative response rather than a positive engagement. I recall particularly some occasions of that close to my heart. One was over 20 years ago when the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and I were opposing one another. I was leader of the council and he was the leader of the opposition. He will recall that there was a proposal for building on greenfield rather than green-belt land towards the north of the city. This was part of a major plan that we were bringing forward as a council. It was opposed by the noble Lord and some of his more vociferous colleagues, as he will recall, on the grounds that it was unnecessary and so on. In fairness to them, they were reflecting the views of at any rate some of the people living in private housing estates which themselves had been built on green fields perhaps 20 to 30 years beforehand. These people would not contemplate the possibility of housing on the green fields that were in the vicinity of their estate.

More recently I encountered a similar and disturbing attitude while canvassing in a ward—not my ward—on the edge of the city. Again there were proposals about potentially building on greenfield sites. Here the houses from which we were somewhat vainly endeavouring to elicit support were part of a housing estate built within the last few years. I felt almost constrained to nominate myself for the Nobel Prize for self-restraint when one woman on whose door I knocked said that it was bad enough having any sort of housing built on the fields behind her, which of course a few years before would

17 Mar 2016 : Column 2014

have encompassed her house, but at least there was not going to be social housing there. We have to take cognisance of the fact that there will be tensions and priorities to be assessed by local authorities which will perhaps transcend the immediate interests or concerns of local communities expressed through their neighbourhood planning or otherwise.

4.30 pm

I hope that we promote the sensible involvement of people in their communities in a way that encourages them to look beyond what might be their immediate concerns towards the position of the larger area of which they are a part and the position of communities in other parts of their area which need development in order to enhance their standard of life, perhaps to a level similar to that enjoyed by people in some of these neighbourhoods. Of course, that is not a universal position. We are talking not just about neighbourhoods on the edge of green fields or on the perimeter of towns but about all manner of communities.

Therefore, while we generally support the thrust of the amendments, we have to be a little more realistic about the mechanisms, given the pressures on local authorities generally and on their planning departments in particular, and encourage people to feel that they are not just part of their physical community but part of a wider community whose interests also need to be taken into account in a process that is positive and not just negative. That seems to me the potential downside of a strictly neighbourhood approach. We certainly sympathise with the intention behind the amendment and look forward to the Government practically supporting the kind of approach outlined in it and in what noble Lords have said.

Lord Shipley: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that he has in fact made a very good case for the neighbourhood planning process? It is a process that engages people in decision-making rather than huge numbers of houses being proposed from a centralised planning function in a civic centre and not commanding the support of local people because it has not been discussed with them. Does he further agree that the concept of permission in principle could well make things worse rather than better?

Lord Beecham: I think that we will shortly be spending a good deal of time on permission in principle and, judging by what the noble Lord has just said, there may be a degree of agreement. I repeat that people have to look beyond their immediate circumstances and geography. They have to acknowledge that there are needs beyond that immediate locality which have to be reflected in an overall plan. There needs to be a significant contribution from localities to the overall plan but not one that is limited purely by locality in the narrower sense; otherwise, particularly in the present circumstances, we will not get, for example, the required number of houses, although that is not the only issue that needs to be considered in terms of development.

However, there are housing shortages and physical constraints in some areas. One immediately thinks of London in that context, but other areas also have

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restrictions. My noble friend Lady Hollis may well say that Norwich, for example, is tightly constrained, and other urban authorities would say the same about their areas. One thinks of Stevenage, for example, which is built to its limits and has no option but to seek—unavailingly, as it turns out—collaboration on development from its neighbouring authorities. There is a balance to be struck, so up to a point I agree with the noble Lord. However, I notice that the noble Lord’s former colleagues are effectively trying to resurrect Gosforth Urban District Council, promoting the concept of the parish council there, which, of course, is entirely unrelated to the fact that they may feel a little under pressure politically.

Lord Shipley: My Lords, the noble Lord is very keen to talk about a place other than your Lordships’ House. It would be part and parcel of successful neighbourhood planning. It is very difficult to organise neighbourhood planning without a formal structure to enable it to happen. Therefore, I entirely subscribe to promoting town councils in the north of Newcastle upon Tyne and I sincerely hope that he will too.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham (Lab): My Lords, I was not proposing to speak on this, but I want to support strongly the point made by my noble friend Lord Beecham and, to some extent, by the noble Lord, Lord True.

My home city is Norwich, which has tight boundaries. It is not parished. It has wards—obviously—and a strong network of community groups, such as housing associations, residents associations and so on. Part of that is because all the people of Norwich own the city centre as well as the community in which they live. That is fine, but in over 25 years in local government I had, I think, three ombudsman’s rulings against me and possibly one or two JRs. I won the JRs. All of them involved planning. All the cases—certainly those involving the ombudsman, which was why I was aggrieved—were seen as an issue of the individual in their own home being against the nasty local authority stopping them doing something.

Actually, it was the local authority wearing a planning hat trying to hold the ring permanently between the local particularised interest and the wider city interest. Sometimes it might be elderly folk against having a children’s play area near them which would produce noise and possibly ball games. It might be that residents wanted a road closure, nice culs-de-sac or chicanes in the road to keep traffic out or slow it down, against the need to have through roads, otherwise the roads down which the traffic went became intolerable for other residents—it just pushed the problem along.

I remember being involved building a site for Travellers and the outrage associated with that. I put it down near an allotments area because it was in an outer area of the city, but all the allotments were raided and that produced quite a lot of problems for me. The biggest problem was trying to get social housing, particularly sheltered housing for the elderly, in owner-occupied areas where owner-occupiers believed that they had bought not only an owner-occupied house but an owner-occupied street, park, church and school.

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On another occasion I was trying to put halfway houses across the city. I reckoned that no street could take more than about two halfway houses. Some of the houses were for people who were overcrowded or were desperate or suffering from domestic violence; some were for people coming out of Nacro homes and care homes. There was one home for anorexic young women and the residents fought it tooth and nail and would go to the ombudsman if they could. I was having to say that there was a wider community interest involved. I would meet them, talk to them and try to persuade them. On other occasions we were having to demolish something—whether for city widening or because the housing was unfit—and the residents, owners, perfectly reasonably did not want this to happen in their area.

While I hope that I have never gone ahead bulldozing my way through, in a mental sense, none the less you cannot always expect people to have the wider community interest at heart when their own personal interest will be affected by a decision. I probably would not. I am not trying to be superior about it. That is how it is. We had three ombudsman decisions. I think that we won two and lost one and in all cases the ombudsman was wrong in that they saw it as a bipartite city council versus the individual issue, rather than the city council trying to be the umpire in planning disputes.

I just hope that we do not believe in neighbourhood planning without this understanding that the whole city owns the city centre, the city’s traffic network and the city’s housing development and that the whole city owns the community pressures for halfway houses for disadvantaged and vulnerable people and that you must try to scatter them fairly across the community and so on. If we accept that there is always going to be tension, the one thing that I would not want, at any stage, is to devolve decision-making to a body that, by virtue of being a parish with formal electoral position, had extra leverage in this over and beyond that of appropriate, proper and decent discussion, debate, communication and consultation. I have seen in rural Norfolk the implications of nimbyism. I fought that off in my city and I do not want to see nimbyism come in through the back door due to any proposals like this.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: My Lords, a number of amendments have been proposed to give additional rights and powers to neighbourhood planning groups and communities, and requiring the promotion of neighbourhood planning. I support the intention of the two amendments from the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Shipley, aimed at increasing the promotion of and support for neighbourhood planning, particularly in urban areas. In relation to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, about how many of the 1,800 communities are not parishes, we do not have exact figures but estimate that around 90% are and, therefore, that about 10% are unparished. That 10% is rising, but obviously it reinforces the points that have been made.

A legal duty to promote neighbourhood planning, either on local authorities or the Secretary of State, is unnecessary and can be achieved by other means—we need to maintain a balance. We recently launched a £1.5 million mobilisation programme to promote neighbourhood planning nationally. This includes capacity-building projects to train community organisations

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and community organisers in urban and deprived areas. These organisations and individuals will lead and promote neighbourhood planning in areas of lower take-up. This summer we will launch our first-ever national advertising campaign to raise awareness of neighbourhood planning and its benefits through local newspapers, posters and social media. These activities are in addition to our £22 million My Community support programme for neighbourhood planning.

This three-year programme confirms that the Government are financially committed to supporting neighbourhood planning and also recognises that urban or unparished communities face additional challenges in producing a plan and provides additional support to them. Forums in unparished areas can apply for up to £15,000 in grant, compared to the £9,000 available to parishes, as well as specialist technical support from planning consultants. It is up to the community how they use the grant to progress their neighbourhood plan, and we have seen lots of innovative community engagement as a result. Online resources, examples and case studies are also available on the support programme website that highlight the benefits of community planning to help inspire further communities and equip them with the necessary information and skills.

It is important, however, that we do not compel local authorities to duplicate existing work or bind them into promoting neighbourhood planning in perpetuity where members of a community may have decided that it is not for them. Furthermore, local authorities already have a legal duty to give such advice or assistance as they consider appropriate to facilitate neighbourhood planning. Our planning guidance underlines:

“A local planning authority should … be proactive in providing information to communities about neighbourhood planning”.

Therefore, Amendment 87 would duplicate this existing legal requirement.

It should also be recognised that a number of other organisations also promote neighbourhood planning and are well placed to provide advice and information to communities, such as the Royal Town Planning Institute and Planning Aid, the Prince’s Foundation, the CPRE, the NALC and ACRE. Plus, as the noble Lord, Lord Foster, said, we have established a network of over 120 neighbourhood planning champions who voluntarily promote and support neighbourhood planning across the country. These are enthusiastic and experienced individuals, and we are supporting them with resources and training in order for them to share their expertise widely. A statutory duty, either on local authorities or on the Secretary of State, to promote, inform and finance neighbourhood planning is therefore unnecessary as it is already our policy and practice.

The noble Lord, Lord Foster, asked about the 23 pilots. They are currently under way and are due to completer this summer. They include Horsham Council, which is exploring opportunities for the devolution of planning functions to town and parish councils; Cotswold Council, which is piloting an approach to involving communities in setting infrastructure requirements; and Milton Keynes Council, which is pioneering an approach to involving communities in strategic housing land assessments. We will be sharing the learning from these pilots when

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they complete later in the year. I hope that with these reassurances the noble Lord will be content to withdraw his amendment.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for raising the issue of making it easier for neighbourhood forums to become parish councils through Amendment 88. We are keen to enable more forums to become parish councils where they wish, so that local people can play an even stronger role in serving the community. However, we do not feel that the amendment is necessary. As he will know, last March the then Government introduced new measures that made it easier for communities to set up new town and parish councils. We believe that it is important for these measures to bed in before any further review is considered.

These changes followed two public consultations.

4.45 pm

Lord Hunt of Chesterton (Lab): The Minister explained that resources were needed for these welcome developments. She gave examples of consultants and communities—which is fine—but where is the support for local authority planning departments? This is a very big additional load for them. Will there be more resources? The resources for planning departments are going down. One sees this all across the UK. These planning issues are not getting adequate support. The expertise in the departments is going down and this will make it more difficult for departments in future.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: I think I have an answer, but I just need to check it, so if I could carry on I will try to come back to the noble Lord before I finish on this group.

These changes followed two public consultations which found that the legislation required in setting up a parish or town council was too burdensome and bureaucratic —and that it discouraged local campaigners from establishing one. The subsequent amendments made a number of important changes. The threshold of signatures required to trigger a review of governance was lowered from 10% to 7.5% of residents. The amount of time the local authority can take to complete a governance review was shortened to 12 months from receipt of a valid petition. This is speeding up the process and creating greater certainty for local campaigners. Importantly, the changes allow neighbourhood forums, which have a neighbourhood plan passed at referendum to trigger a community governance review for a new parish council without requiring them to submit a petition. The next phase of work will be to publish guidance on community governance reviews to establish the working principles and to reflect the evolving devolution landscape.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, was correct in his figures. Early evidence indeed shows that the first neighbourhood plans are proposing around 10% more houses than the local plans. Applications are coming forward more quickly. Also, neighbourhood plans are helping to improve the acceptability of housebuilding among the public, which has also doubled.

In relation to the noble Lord’s question, the Government have provided £12 million to local authorities to support neighbourhood planning. I hope that with these reassurances noble Lords will withdraw or not move their amendments.

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Lord Foster of Bath: To avoid anyone who may be listening to our debate being put off neighbourhood planning by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, could the Minister just confirm that a neighbourhood plan must conform to the thrust of a local authority’s strategic plan, such as its core strategy? Therefore, some of the concerns the noble Baroness has raised are not a reality. Indeed, if the noble Baroness would go to Exeter and see the excellent work between the community of St James and Exeter Council—a similar-sized authority—she would see that such problems simply did not exist because the two work together.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: I thank the noble Lord. Yes, I can confirm that what he said is absolutely right.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Just to be clear, my Lords, I have no problems at all where a city has a tradition or a history of having parish councils and wants to use those as the vehicles for neighbourhood planning. All I am saying is that where this is not part of that authentic, organic texture of a city, but where there is a network of other forms of civic groups, community groups and so on—particularly where you have cities with very tight boundaries and very constrained lines—there can be tensions. If Exeter has overcome those, that is great. All I can say from my experience of 25 years of local government is that some of the most difficult decisions concerned precisely those tensions. Obviously one would work with them, and I agree that the neighbourhood planning councils would have to have planning proposals that conformed to the city-wide ones. I accept that, but one should not underestimate the locality—ward councillors and so on, as many of us have been—when it comes to how those tensions can occur. All I am saying is: by all means encourage local authorities to go down this road where there is already a history of parishes of this sort, but do not assume that this is the answer to the deeper problems of keeping a city alive, vibrant and able to respond confidently to new challenges. That is why I have some reservations about trying to suggest that it should apply across the board and that we should be actively encouraging it where people do not want it.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab): I am a councillor in Lewisham and Crofton Park. At the moment we are in the process of setting up our own neighbourhood plan, which is very good and I welcome it. Equally, though, it has not answered all the problems. We have some challenges in our area, such as ensuring that there is proper retail provision. We have sites of multiple occupation with no building taking place, and so on. So the plan is all very good and I am supportive of it, but my noble friend has raised some genuine points.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I am trying to think what on earth has ever existed or exists now that is the answer to all the problems. There are people in the world who think they have an answer to all the problems but they are usually—I am trying to think of a word I can use in your Lordships’ House—on the extremist fringe of ideas.

I thank everyone who has taken part in this debate, which has been extremely interesting. I particularly thank my noble friend Lord Foster of Bath for all

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the work he did in getting some oomph behind neighbourhood planning when he was a Minister in the DCLG. I also thank my noble friend Lord Stunell, who is in his place but has not spoken today, who was closely involved in the promotion of the Localism Act in the first place. I am not saying that it was all their work and no one else’s, but from these Benches it is quite stimulating and daunting in different ways to have them sitting behind me, ready to shoot me down when I say things that are not quite right.

I was fascinated by what became at one stage a mini-debate about the future of local governance in the former urban district of Gosforth in the north of what is now the city of Newcastle. I have to say that the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, reminded me of debates in my own authority in Pendle perhaps 30 years ago, when we were looking hard at what had been five former urban districts and at whether they should have parish councils. They now have town councils. The arguments that the noble Lord is putting forward are very similar to those put forward by members of this party in Pendle 30 years ago. We set up the town councils in the former urban districts, with the support and assistance of referendums and local people, and they have been an astonishing success. I have to say that they are now one of the reasons why we are able to preserve some of our local services, which the borough council can no longer afford to run. So I say, “Good on you, Gosforth—get on with it”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said that there would always be tensions. Local decision-making, however democratic or political it is and whoever is making the decisions, is always full of all kinds of local tensions. That is what it is all about. No one believes that neighbourhood planning is some miracle cure and that it is a perfect system that will take away all the differences of opinion among residents and other people in different parts of an area. Clearly it is not, but it is a means of involving a lot more people in the debates, the arguments and the issues. We will not necessarily get any more agreement at the end, although this process does tend to achieve more agreement than exists if it is not carried out.

I have recently been involved in huge planning applications—at least, huge by our standards; one of them involves 500 houses—over which there have been enormous disputes. A system of neighbourhood planning in that part of the borough, which is now being set up as a consequence of the decisions that have been made, would have helped to achieve sensible, even if still quite angry, engagement between people, instead of people just standing a long way apart and shouting at each other.

The system is not perfect—but nothing is perfect, and it is better than what happens if it is not there. On these Benches we are absolutely certain that that is the case. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is right to say that the people who most strongly oppose a new housing development are always those who are in the previous housing development. But that is just life, and part of life’s tensions. We have to bring people in and get them to talk about it. I am grateful for the Minister’s comments and the helpful information that she has provided, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment 87 withdrawn.

Amendments 87ZA to 87ZC not moved.

Clause 126 agreed.

Clause 127: Making neighbourhood development orders and plans: intervention powers

Amendments 87A and 87B not moved.

Clause 127 agreed.

Clause 128 agreed.

Amendment 88 not moved.

Amendment 88A

Moved by Baroness Parminter

88A: After Clause 128, insert the following new Clause—

“Neighbourhood right of appeal

(1) After section 78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (“the 1990 Act”) insert—

“78ZA Neighbourhood right of appeal

(1) Where—

(a) a planning authority grants an application for planning permission,

(b) the application does not accord with policies in an emerging or made neighbourhood plan in which the land to which the application relates is situated, and

(c) the neighbourhood plan in paragraph (b) contains proposals for the provision of housing development,

certain persons as specified in subsection (2) may by notice appeal to the Secretary of State.

(2) Persons who may by notice appeal to the Secretary of State against the approval of planning permission in the circumstances specified in subsection (1) are any parish council or neighbourhood forum, as defined in section 61F of the 1990 Act (authorisation to act in relation to neighbourhood areas), whose made or emerging neighbourhood plan includes all or part of the area of land to which the application relates, by two-thirds majority voting.

(3) In this section an “emerging” neighbourhood plan means a neighbourhood plan that—

(a) has been examined,

(b) is being examined, or

(c) is due to be examined, having met the public consultation requirements necessary to proceed to this stage.”

(2) Section 79 of the 1990 Act is amended as follows—

(a) in subsection (2), omit “either” and after “planning authority” insert “or the applicant (where different from the appellant)”;

(b) in subsection (6), after “the determination” insert “(except for appeals as defined in section 78ZA (as inserted by section (Neighbourhood right of appeal) of the Housing and Planning Act 2016) and where the appellant is as defined in subsection (2) of that section)”.”

Baroness Parminter (LD): My Lords, like a number of other noble Lords, I welcome the initiatives by the coalition Government to devolve power to local communities, particularly the introduction of neighbourhood planning. Given that the Government accept the importance of

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local people having a direct say in the planning of their communities and their environment, how can it be right for local people to have no redress when a planning application is approved that drives a coach and horses through everything that has been agreed? The amendment would create a limited neighbourhood right of appeal for neighbourhood planning bodies. It would enable them to appeal against the granting of permission for new housing that conflicts with the policies of a made, or well-advanced, neighbourhood plan.

We have heard figures given this afternoon—my noble friend Lord Greaves made it clear—that there are about 1,800 neighbourhood plans in the early stages of development. The Minister will correct me in her summing up if I am wrong, but I think that only about 140 of those—140 out of a potential 9,000—have gone right through the referendum process and been created. The Government are rightly keen to increase that number. Is it not a powerful disincentive to neighbourhood groups thinking of putting together the neighbourhood planning processes if they do not have a right of appeal? Why should they make the effort of producing a neighbourhood plan if such plans can easily be ignored when councils decide on planning applications, and the only opportunity to challenge such decisions is through costly judicial reviews, which are limited in scope to largely procedural matters?

The right that I am arguing for would apply only to parish councils and neighbourhood forums whose neighbourhood plans had progressed at least to the point of formal submission to the local authority for examination. Last month, the House of Lords Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment —which is chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, who is not in her place at the moment, and on which I serve—came out strongly in favour of a limited right of appeal. We did so after hearing the evidence from a number of organisations and stakeholders, including particularly powerful evidence from former chief planning inspectors, who supported a community right of appeal in certain circumstances. That support is important.

This amendment will support the Government’s commitment to get more neighbourhood planning and, as has been mentioned and confirmed by the Minister herself, neighbourhood planning delivers more homes, which is the overall purpose of the Bill. If we get that, we will need a whole raft of approaches to get more communities involved in neighbourhood planning. It is very encouraging today to hear more about how the Government are taking special steps to encourage more neighbourhood plans to come forward.

If I may say so as an aside, as a former councillor of Horsham District Council I was delighted to hear the Minister mention that Horsham is a member of the pilot. We will need all those initiatives to get more councils involved. I firmly believe that a limited community right of appeal will be one more means to get more neighbourhood plans that will help us to bring more people involved in the planning process, help deliver more consensus and deliver homes we all know we need. I beg to move.

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5 pm

Lord Best (CB): I support the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, on Amendment 88A, which would give parish councils and neighbourhood forums rights of appeal if permission was given for a development that failed to accord with a neighbourhood plan that has been prepared but not yet finalised. I note that this proposal was debated in the other place, where Nick Herbert MP commended neighbourhood planning. I echo his views and agree with noble Lords who have congratulated the Government and the coalition Government on the neighbourhood planning initiative, which has now reached this number of 1,800 neighbourhoods—I think that well over 200 have now been concluded, but we will probably hear about that from the Minister.

During the passage of the Localism Act 2011 through this House, I supported the idea of neighbourhood plans, but I opposed the idea that after the plan had been approved by the parish council, the district council, the county council, and by an independent examiner, it would then need to be approved through a referendum. I was worried that all the people who had not participated in any of the public meetings, consultation sessions, and the rest, after years of hard work by the local volunteers, who had nobly got together to prepare their neighbourhood plan, would come out of the woodwork and vote against the plan on principle because they opposed anything happening in their area. I was wrong. The referenda have all so far voted in favour of the local plans, and this has not been a negative barrier to getting the plan through.