All 71 contributions to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 (Ministerial Extracts Only)

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(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Wednesday 8th June 2022

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Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 Read Hansard Text Watch Debate

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Michael Gove Portrait The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations (Michael Gove)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am delighted to be able to move the Second Reading of this Bill. The Government are getting on with the job, and no Department is doing more than my own. There are five Bills in the Queen’s Speech generated from our Department. As well as the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, there is legislation to improve conditions for those in social housing, to improve the rights of those in the private rented sector, to ensure that business rates can be updated so that our economy thrives, and to get rid of the pernicious employment of boycott, divestment and sanctions policies by those who seek to de-legitimise the state of Israel. I hope that all five pieces of legislation will command support across this House. They are designed to address the people’s priorities and to ensure that this Government provide social justice and greater opportunity for all our citizens.

This Bill looks specifically at how we can ensure that the Government’s levelling-up missions laid out in our White Paper published in February can be given effect, how we can have a planning system that priorities urban regeneration and the use of brownfield land, and how we can strengthen our democratic system overall.

Robert Halfon Portrait Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend will know that perhaps one of the most exciting pages in the levelling-up White Paper is page 238, which announces that there will be a new hospital health campus in Harlow over the coming years. He knows how important that is because of the fact that our current hospital estate is not fit for purpose despite the incredible work that staff do. Can he confirm that the timeline for our new hospital will be announced in the coming months?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Of the more than 400 pages in the White Paper, page 238 is perhaps one of the most important, not least because it contains an image of what we can hope to see and what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will be announcing, which is action to ensure that my right hon. Friend’s constituents get the state-of-the-art, 21st-century hospital that they deserve. That would not happen, I am afraid, under the Opposition, because it is only through the investment that we are putting in and the sound economy that has been created under my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s leadership that we are able to ensure that the citizens of Harlow get the hospitals that they need.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am always delighted to give way to the hon. Lady.

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas
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I wonder if there is a page missing in my copy of the Bill, because I was looking for the net zero test, which I am sure the Secretary of State would agree ought to be applied to all planning decisions, policies and procedures, yet it is conspicuous by its absence. Does he agree that if we are serious about using this Bill to really level up, then we need to have that net zero test? Can he commit to that now?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I will say three things as briefly as I can. First, the national planning policy framework that will be published in July will say significantly more about how we can drive improved environmental outcomes. Secondly, there is in the Bill a new streamlined approach to ensuring that all development is in accordance with the highest environmental standards. Thirdly, as the hon. Lady knows, under the 25-year environment plan and with the creation of the Office for Environmental Protection, the non-regression principle is embedded in everything that we do. The leadership that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has shown, not least at COP26, in driving not just this country but the world towards net zero should reassure her on that front.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
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I am pleased that the Secretary of State believes in more devolution. How much extra devolved power will our councils get to settle the very important issue of how much housing investment we should welcome?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My right hon. Friend gets to the heart of two of the most important measures in this Bill: strengthening local leadership and reforming our planning system in order to put neighbourhoods firmly in control.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
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May I follow up on my right hon. Friend’s point about local leadership? What more are we going to do about devolving fiscal responsibility to local authorities? Ultimately, if local authorities have true powers of leadership, they must have the means of raising revenue in their own areas in a way that does not increase taxation but offsets it, so that local decisions are funded locally.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My hon. Friend, who was a distinguished local Government Minister, makes an important point—a point that was made just as eloquently and forcefully by Ben Houchen, the Mayor of Tees Valley Combined Authority, when he talked about the vital importance of leaders of combined authorities and others having more control over business rates and other fiscal levers. This legislation and the devolution negotiations that we are conducting with Ben and others are designed to move completely in that direction.

Dan Jarvis Portrait Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab)
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On the subject of metro Mayors, the Secretary of State will have seen that the decarbonisation summit took place this week. Metro Mayors met and made an offer to the Government to work more closely with them on the transition to net zero. Has the Secretary of State seen the detail of that offer, and if not, will he get in touch with Mayor Tracy Brabin and look at what more can be done to work closely with the Mayors on this important agenda?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. Across the 12 metro Mayors, we have seen examples of leadership on the environment and the move towards net zero, and indeed on the modernisation of transport systems. I know that the Mayor of West Yorkshire is particularly keen to ensure that transport and spatial planning are aligned to drive progress towards net zero. I will do everything I can to work with the Mayors of West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Talking of South Yorkshire, I can see that the Chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee wants to intervene.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Betts
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I want to follow up on the two questions that Conservative Members have asked about transferring powers to local authorities and Mayors. I can see in the Bill welcome proposals to expand combined authorities to more parts of the country, particularly to county areas. What I cannot see anywhere—if I am wrong, the Secretary of State will point me to the precise clause—is the making available of more powers that are currently not devolved to any local authorities. Are any such powers going to be devolved, and if so, in which clause do they appear?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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The Chair of the Select Committee brings me to an important point, which is that this legislation is complemented by other activity that Government are undertaking on levelling up. That activity involves negotiations with metro Mayors, for example in the west midlands and in Greater Manchester, on the devolution of more powers. When my good friend the former Member for Tatton initiated the programme of devolution to metro Mayors, he did so by direct discussion with local leaders. We will be transferring more powers, and we will update the House on the progress we make in all those negotiations. I noted a gentle susurration of laughter on the Opposition Front Bench, but I gently remind them—I sure the Chair of the Select Committee knows this—that when Labour were in power, the only part of England to which they offered devolution was London. This Government have offered devolution and strengthened local government across England.

As I look at the Benches behind me, I find it striking that in this debate on this piece of legislation, which is about strengthening local government and rebalancing our economy, the Conservative Benches are thronged with advocates for levelling up, whereas on the Labour Benches there are one or two heroic figures—such as the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), who are genuine tribunes of the people—but otherwise there is a dearth, an absence and a vacuum.

Talking of dearths, absences and vacuums, may I commend to the Labour Front Benchers the speech given by Lord Mandelson today in Durham—a city with which I think the Leader of the Opposition is familiar—in which he points out that Labour has still not moved beyond the primary colours stage when it comes to fleshing out its own policy? In contrast to our levelling-up White Paper and our detailed legislation, Lord Mandelson says that Labour is still at the primary stage of policy development, but I think it is probably at the kindergarten stage.

We have put forward proposals, and we are spending £4.8 billion through the levelling-up fund and similar sums through the UK shared prosperity fund, to make sure that every part of our United Kingdom is firing on all cylinders—and from Labour, nothing. When it comes to addressing the geographical inequality that we all recognise as one of the most urgent issues we need to address, it is this Government who have put forward proposals on everything from strengthening the hand of police and crime commissioners, to strengthening the hand of other local government leaders, and providing the infrastructure spending to make a difference in the communities that need it.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend rightly makes a powerful case for devolution and increased democracy, but is he aware that under this Bill, a combined authority can be created that transfers powers from second-tier councils to itself, without needing the councils’ consent? That is different from the position under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. Does he agree that that would be tragic for real devolution to the lowest possible level, and that the consent of district councils to the transfer of any powers must be secured?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My hon. Friend makes an important point, and it gives me an opportunity to pay tribute to and thank those who work at district council level. As we look at the pattern of local government across this country, it is important to recognise that one size does not fit all. Although I am a strong advocate of the mayoral combined authority model, and it has clearly brought benefits in areas such as Tees Valley and the west midlands, we need to be respectful of district councils and the structure of local government in those parts of the country that do not—and, indeed, need not or should not—move towards that model. I look forward to engaging with him and the Association of District Councils on how we can make sure that our devolution drive is in keeping with the best traditions in local government.

As my hon. Friend reminds the House, the devolution proposals outlined in the Bill extend the range of areas that can benefit from combined authority powers, and they strengthen scrutiny. One criticism that has sometimes been made of the exercise of powers by Mayors in mayoral combined authorities is that there has been inadequate scrutiny, particularly by the leaders of district authorities within those MCAs. Our Bill strengthens those scrutiny powers, and in so doing strengthens local democracy overall. That is in line with the progress that the Government have made, including on the Elections Act 2022, which the Minister for Local Government, Faith and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch), brought in.

When we talk about levelling up, and particularly when we think about changes to our planning system, we absolutely need to focus on effective measures to regenerate our urban centres. One challenge that the country has faced over the last three or four decades has been the decline in economic activity and employment in many of our great towns and cities. We need to make sure that people’s pride in the communities where they live is matched by the resources, energy and investment that they deserve.

I saw some of that energy on display when I was in Stoke-on-Trent just three weeks ago, under Abi Brown, the inspirational Conservative leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council. Real change is being driven to ensure that all the six towns that constitute Stoke-on-Trent have their heart strengthened, their pride restored and investment increased.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am just about to refer to my hon. Friend. In order to ensure that people have the tools they need, we need to tackle some of the things that generate urban blight. We need to deal with the problem of empty shops, vacancies and voids on our high street, which not only depress economic activity but contribute to a lower footfall and less of a sense of purpose, buzz and energy in our communities. That is why, following on from the ten-minute rule Bill introduced by my hon. Friend, we will be bringing forward compulsory rental auctions, so that lazy landlords who leave properties void when they should be occupied by local community trusts, businesses or entrepreneurs will be forced to auction those properties, to ensure that we have the entrepreneurs that we need and the small businesses that we want on the high streets that we love.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
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May I personally thank the Secretary of State? He came to the great towns of Tunstall and Burslem to see at first hand the regeneration of brownfield sites to create hundreds of new homes, and to look at the blight of rogue and absent landlords on our high streets in the town of Tunstall. He has sat down and met me on many occasions to look at this legislation, and it is a big win for the city of Stoke-on-Trent, as well as for Members from across this House. I want to put on the record a “Thank you” on behalf of the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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The communities of Tunstall, Burslem and Kidsgrove could not have a better advocate than my hon. Friend, and I could not have a better ally in shaping measures on urban regeneration. To drive urban regeneration, we will be increasing the council tax surcharge on empty homes. That is a means of making sure that we deal with that scourge and bring life back to all our communities.

Critically, we will also reform the compulsory purchase rules, because the way those powers operate often thwarts the desire of Homes England and others involved in the regeneration business to assemble the brownfield land necessary to build the houses and to get the commercial activity that we want in those communities. The reform in the Bill will ensure that the assembly of land required for urban regeneration becomes easier, so more of the homes that we need are built in the communities that need them in our towns and cities, rather than on precious green fields. The legislation also introduces new measures to facilitate the creation of the urban development corporations that have been integral in the past in driving some of the changes that we wish to see.

A significant part of the Bill seeks to reform the planning system, which I know is an issue of concern across the House of Commons. We all recognise that we have a dysfunctional planning system and a broken housing market. There is a desperate need for more new homes to ensure that home ownership is once more within the reach of many. It is more than just the planning system that needs to change: as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will outline later this week, changes need to be made to everything from the mortgage market to other aspects of how Government operate to help more people on to the housing ladder. Planning is part of that.

As well as making sure that we have the right homes in the right places, we must recognise, as the Bill and my Department do, why there has been resistance to new development in the past. Five basic and essential factors have led to resistance to development and our Bill attempts to deal with all of them. First, far too many of the homes that have been built have been poor quality, identikit homes from a pattern book that the volume of housebuilders have relied on, but that have not been in keeping with local communities’ wishes and have not had the aesthetic quality that people want.

One of my predecessors in this role, Nye Bevan, when he was the Minister responsible for housing in the great 1945-51 Government, made it clear that when new council homes are built, the single most important thing should be beauty. He argued that working people have a right to live in homes built with the stone and slate that reflect their local communities and were hewn by their forefathers, so that when someone looks at a council home and a home that an individual owns, they should not be able to tell the difference, because beauty is everyone’s right. I passionately believe that that is right and there are measures in the Bill to bring that forward.

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
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The Secretary of State rightly references the important role of local people in new developments, but the Osterley and Wyke Green Residents’ Association and Brentford Voice have expressed their concerns that the national development management policies in the Bill give the Secretary of State powers to overrule local people and the local plan, and that unlike for national policy statements, there is no requirement for parliamentary approval. In reality, is the Bill not the latest in a long line of power grabs by this Government?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am allergic to power grabs. I am entirely in favour of relaxing the grip of central Government and strengthening the hand of local government, which is what the planning reforms here do. The reference to the national development management policies is simply a way to make sure that the provisions that exist within the national planning policy framework—a document that is honoured by Members on both sides of the House, of course—do not need to be replicated by local authorities when they are putting together their local plans. It is simply a measure to ensure that local planners, whose contribution to enhancing our communities I salute and whose role and professionalism is important, can spend more time engaging with local communities, helping them to develop neighbourhood plans, and making sure that our plans work.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
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May I suggest some powers that the Secretary of State might like to grab?

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne
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I suggest that the Secretary of State addresses a problem to which national parks are particularly prone, where a historic lawful development certificate is acquired because a caravan was previously located there, affording huge development on the basis of permitted development rights over which the national park authority and the planning authority have no control. That is a power that needs to be grabbed and given back to local authorities.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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And areas of outstanding natural beauty.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I hear the important point about national parks, and the echo from my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) with reference to areas of outstanding natural beauty. The environmental protections in the Bill should meet that need, but I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend in Committee to ensure that the protections are there.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend has referred to the national development management policies. There is great concern that they will override local planning authorities, which spend a great deal of time preparing their local plans that are then approved by Government inspectors. It would be quite wrong if national Government overrode them, and it would destroy the careful balance that has existed since the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, in which planning was devolved to local authorities.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to reassert that the NDMPs will not override local plans. Local plans have primacy—that is perfectly clear in this legislation. As a result of strengthening the plan- making system, we will make sure that we deal with the issues and questions that have led particular communities to resist development in the past.

I mentioned the importance of beauty. Specifically, for example, we will strengthen the role of design codes in local plans. Through our new office for place, which is a successor in some respects to the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment but even better in its drive, we will be in a position to ensure that beauty is at the heart of all new developments. In particular, I pay tribute to my predecessors in this role, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) and the late James Brokenshire, who worked to ensure that beauty, quality and higher aesthetic standards were at the heart of new architectural developments and did so much to reset the debate away from where it has been in the past and towards a brighter future.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Talking of brighter futures—

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Betts
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On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure that the Secretary of State would not want to inadvertently mislead the House. In response to the question from the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) about the conflict between local plans and national policies, he made a comment—

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Betts
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I am trying to help the Secretary of State so that he does not inadvertently mislead the House.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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I thank the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman is a senior Member of the House. It does not seem to be a point of order for me, but a point of argument with the Secretary of State, who is willing to give way. Will the hon. Gentleman withdraw his point of order so we can allow the Secretary of State to continue?

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for withdrawing his non-point of order. I hand the Floor back to the Secretary of State.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I understand that the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene; I am delighted to give way.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Betts
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I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. Clause 83(2) proposes a new section 38(5C) to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, which says:

“If to any extent the development plan conflicts with a national development management policy, the conflict must be resolved in favour of the national development management policy.”

That is what it says—it overrides the local plan. It is in the Bill.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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It has always been the NPPF’s function to have those national policies, which have been agreed and which ensure that plans are in conformity with what this House wills our overall planning system to be. It is no more than a more efficient way to make sure that the existing NPPF and any future revisions of it are included in local plans.

Another reason why we sometimes see opposition to development is infrastructure. One of the critical challenges that we must all face when we contemplate whether new development should occur is the pressure that is inevitably placed on GP surgeries, schools, roads and our wider environment. That is why the Bill makes provision for a new infrastructure levy, which will place an inescapable obligation on developers to ensure that they make contributions that local people can use to ensure that they have the services that they need to strengthen the communities that they love.

Of course, section 106 will still be there for some major developments, but one of the problems with section 106 agreements is that there is often an inequality of arms between the major developers and local authorities. We also sometimes have major developers that, even after a section 106 has been agreed—even after, for example, commitments for affordable housing and other infra- structure have been agreed—subsequently retreat from those obligations, pleading viability or other excuses. We will be taking steps to ensure that those major developers, which profit so handsomely when planning permission is granted, make their own contribution.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova (Battersea) (Lab)
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On the issue of viability that the Secretary of State has just raised, how does the Bill seek to prevent developers from going back and using viability as an angle to, say, reduce the number of affordable homes that they are expected to build in any new development?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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The reason for the infrastructure levy is that it ensures a local authority can set, as a fixed percentage of the land value uplift, a sum that it can use—we will consult on exactly what provisions there should be alongside that sum—to ensure that a fixed proportion of affordable housing can be created. The hon. Lady is quite right to say that there are some developers that plead viability to evade the obligations that they should properly discharge.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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The Secretary of State will be aware that, at the moment, someone can build tens of thousands of houses but people wait years and years for increased general practice capacity. Those from the Rebuild Britain campaign whom I met this morning tell me that they believe that integrated care boards and trusts will be prevented from requesting section 106 money to mitigate the impact of new housing, and medical facilities are but one of 10 types of infrastructure that there is no duty on local authorities to provide. Is he really confident that this will be better under the current Bill?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am absolutely confident it will be better, but my hon. Friend makes a very important point, which is that section 106 agreements—sometimes they work, and in many cases they do not—do need to be improved, and the proposals for our new infrastructure levy should do precisely that. However, the way in which the infrastructure levy will operate is something on which we will consult to ensure that it covers not just the physical infrastructure required but, as he quite rightly points out, the provision of critical healthcare.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) (Lab)
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am anxious to make just a wee bit more progress, because I am conscious that there are lots of folk who want—[Interruption.] Oh, all right then.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins
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The Secretary of State is being generous with his time. This is about the infrastructure levy and the timing of its payment. At the moment, it appears that payment is going to be on completion, which benefits developers, but not the local authorities and place makers that will need to put in the infrastructure up front.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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The way the levy is going to operate will mean that, if the development value—the value uplift—for the developer is greater over time, local communities can get more of it. It is a way of making sure that there is appropriate rebalancing. Again, one of the things I want to stress, because it is important to do so, is that there are strengthened powers in the Bill to deal with some of the sharp practices we sometimes see in the world of development and construction. There are stronger enforcement powers, stronger powers to ensure that we have build out and stronger powers to deal with the abuse of retrospective planning permission within the system. I look forward to working with the hon. Lady and others to ensure that all those enforcement powers are fit for purpose.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Ah, yes—brilliant! I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer).

Ben Spencer Portrait Dr Spencer
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I thought there was going to be a bit of a fight there over who would intervene. I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way, and I welcome the provisions on planning enforcement. A key intervention, however, is to break the business model of rogue developers. Would he look again at the debate we had last year on my Planning (Enforcement) Bill, so that we can enhance these important powers to break this model and ensure that people cannot profit from gaming the planning enforcement system?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Yes. The reason I was so pleased to be able to give way to my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour is that I think his legislation and the arguments he made were incredibly powerful. I am a bit wary about criminalisation, but I am keen to explore with him and others how we can have effective tools—real teeth. We have some proposals in the Bill, but they may not go far enough, which is why I hope we can discuss in Committee exactly what we need to do to ensure that enforcement is stronger.

I should say—I touched on the environment briefly earlier—that as well as making sure we have new development that is beautiful, that is accompanied by infrastructure and that is democratically sanctioned, we need to make sure we have new development that is appropriately environmentally sensitive. Let me repeat—

Laurence Robertson Portrait Mr Robertson
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Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Oh, yes. I do beg my hon. Friend’s pardon.

Laurence Robertson Portrait Mr Robertson
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I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Just before he entirely leaves the issue of infrastructure, to which he is right to draw attention, one of the big problems is that the water companies do not provide adequate drainage systems when new builds are being proposed, so should they not have such systems in place before new developments actually start?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My hon. Friend is getting me on to a subject that I have often touched on in the past, which is the role of water companies overall. When I was fortunate enough to be Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I was able to talk to the water companies about the way in which they have privileged financial engineering over the real engineering required to ensure that new developments are fit for purpose, and in particular about how we deal effectively with a lack of investment in infrastructure, such as a lack of effective treatment of waste water. The way in which some of the water companies have behaved, frankly, is shocking, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be bringing forward more proposals to ensure that the water companies live up to their proper obligations, because it is a matter of both infrastructure and the environment.

I mentioned earlier that the environmental outcome reports, which the Bill makes provision for, will strengthen environmental protection, and of course the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is helping to ensure that biodiversity net gain is integrated fully into the planning system to make sure we have the enhanced environment that all of us would want to pass on to the next generation.

As we recognise the need to develop homes in the future that are beautiful, with the right infrastructure, democratically endorsed and with the environmental externalities dealt with appropriately, we also want to ensure that they are parts of neighbourhoods, not dormitories. That is why it is so critical that we deal with one or two of the flaws—I will put it no more highly than that—within the current planning system. Such flaws mean, for example, that we can have developers that, because they do not build out, subsequently exploit the requirement for a five-year housing land supply to have speculative development in areas that local communities object to. We will be taking steps in this legislation and in the NPPF to deal with that.

We will also be taking steps to ensure that the Planning Inspectorate, when it is reviewing a local plan and deciding whether it is sound, does not impose on local communities an obligation to meet figures on housing need that cannot be met given the environmental and other constraints in particular communities. There are two particular areas, I think, where the Planning Inspectorate —and it is simply following Government policy—has in effect been operating in a way that runs counter to what Ministers at this Dispatch Box have said over and over again. That has got to change, and it is through both legislation and changes to the NPPF that we will do so. We will end abuse of the five-year land supply rules, and make sure that, if local authorities have sound plans in place, there cannot be such speculative development. We will also make sure that, even as we democratise and digitise the planning system, we are in a position to make sure that the Planning Inspectorate ensures not that every plan fits a procrustean bed, but that every plan reflects what local communities believe in.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Wow! Yes, I give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox).

Liam Fox Portrait Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend go further for the sake of clarity, and make sure that there is, if not an equation, at least a clear mechanism by which local authorities can net off the contradictory elements—floodplain, green belt—so that they are not asked to build houses in inappropriate numbers simply because of a national target?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Exactly right—my right hon. Friend is spot-on. We do need to have a more sophisticated way of assessing housing need, and that is something we will be doing as part of revisions to the NPPF, but the protections my right hon. Friend quite rightly points out are integral to ensuring that there is democratic consent for development.

Jane Stevenson Portrait Jane Stevenson (Wolverhampton North East) (Con)
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In Wolverhampton, we have developed right up to my northern boundary, which borders South Staffordshire. That land is currently under proposal for housing, and my residents in Wednesfield and Fallings Park really object to losing their beautiful green space and green belt. Could the Secretary of State reassure them that their views will be taken into account, even though this crosses local authorities and is at the edge of the West Midlands mayoralty?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Absolutely. First, my hon. Friend’s constituents could not have a better champion. Secondly, green belt protection is critical. Thirdly, we will ensure that a local plan protects those areas of environmental beauty and amenity. Fourthly, we will also end the so-called duty to co-operate, which has often led some urban authorities to offload their responsibility for development on to other areas in a way that has meant that we have had not urban regeneration but suburban sprawl.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am happy to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst) and then my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans) and my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely).

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst (Rochester and Strood) (Con)
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On the issue of constraints, can my right hon. Friend give us some further detail about whether the local authority could argue for constraints on the basis of economic areas, for example? Could that be an opportunity to save my dockyard from closure, following a proposal for flats to meet a housing target?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Again, a variety of factors can be part of a sound local plan. Indeed, at the moment, permitted development right provisions that allow us to move from commercial to residential are capped at a certain size to ensure that we recognise that some commercial sites should not be moved over to residential. In a way, that is often sensible, but not always, and certainly not when we are thinking about an historic dockyard that has existed since the days of Samuel Pepys.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
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The Secretary of State is making a great argument on solving some of the flaws in the system. He may not have been privileged enough to be at the debate that I held yesterday on neighbourhood planning. One of the problems that came out was that, if a council does not have an up-to-date local plan—my Liberal Democrat-run borough council does not have one—neighbourhood plans get ridden roughshod over. What can my community do to stop and prevent the sprawl that happens in my constituency?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am shocked—shocked, I tell you—that a Liberal Democrat authority does not have a plan in place and, as a result, housing numbers are spiralling out of control. Imagine what would happen in other beautiful parts of our country such as Devon, in a community such as Tiverton, or Honiton, if Liberal Democrat politicians were in charge. I reassure my hon. Friend that this legislation will ensure that if you have a local plan in place—preferably one put in place by Conservative councillors—you will safeguard your green spaces and natural environment, and you will not have those developers’ friends—the Liberal Democrats—concreting over the countryside.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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On the Isle of Wight, we are separated by sea from the mainland. Our local building industry builds between 200 and 300 homes a year, and we cannot really build more. The standard methodology gives us ridiculous targets of 700-plus, and the nonsense of the mutant algorithm would have given us 1,200-plus. Even in the current consideration, we are forced to offer targets that realistically we cannot hope to build. What reassurance can he give the Island?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. I think it is the case that the thinker who coined the phrase “mutant algorithm” is my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O'Brien), who is now an Under-Secretary in the Department and working with me and the Minister for Housing to address precisely the concerns that he outlined. We need to build more homes, but we also need to ensure that how we calculate need and how plans are adopted is much more sensible and sensitive.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Talking about sensible and sensitive, I give way to my right hon. Friend.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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The Secretary of State is saying much that suggests that he believes we should rein in the Planning Inspectorate and give back to local authorities more control over planning, but that is not in the Bill. So is he today at the Dispatch Box saying that he will table amendments to the Bill along those lines?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I will say two things. First, I hope to work constructively with Back Benchers across all parties to ensure that the Bill is strengthened. I have never seen a piece of legislation introduced to the House that could not be improved in Committee, and I know that this Bill will be. I also look forward to good ideas, if they come, from Opposition Front Benchers.

Secondly, it is also the case that the publication of a revised NPPF and NPPF prospectus will help us to appreciate what the nature of the further amendments should be. As my right hon. Friend knows, in one or two areas of the Bill, there are placeholders, where more work requires to be done. I am frank about that and I look forward to working with her.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am conscious that lots of people want to speak in the debate. I will accept interventions from the four people who are standing up, but I fear that I cannot take any more interventions. I will then briefly end.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. The Secretary of State has just said what I was hoping he would say, so I do not have to say it. Sixty-two Members wish to speak in the debate. The time limit will be very short for each speech, and every intervention made is stopping somebody from getting to speak later. I have noted who has made the most interventions.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I give way to the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western).

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
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The Secretary of State is being generous. On housing and the constraint of local authorities, in my constituency, we have an over-supply of 4,000, which a previous Housing Minister described as “very ambitious”—in other words, too much development. May I bring him back to the lack of GPs in infrastructure supply through development? Will he make NHS Providers a statutory consultee in any of these developments?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Let me reflect on that in Committee.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
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I am interested in what the Secretary of State has said about the re-emphasis on the environmental protections. Of course, in urban areas, that is often urban green space rather than green belt. I have a case in Haughton Green in my constituency where the council closed Two Trees high school. When it closed the school, it said that there would be housing on the footprint of the school but that the fields around the school, in a heavily urbanised area, would be protected, so there would be a green doughnut. It now says that it has to build on the entire site to meet the Government’s housing targets. With what he just said, does he give hope to the people of Haughton Green that the council can look at Two Trees again?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I cannot comment on a specific planning application for reasons that the hon. Gentleman knows well, but I appreciate the strength of his point and will ask the Minister for Housing to engage with him more closely on both that specific issue and the broader policy points that he raised.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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As the Secretary of State knows, York also has a Liberal Democrat-run council, and the challenge we have is that the council is not building the tenure of housing that my local residents can afford either to rent or to buy. So how will this legislation really shift the dial on affordability?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I have a lot of sympathy for the hon. Lady and the situation in which she finds herself. I know that she is a doughty champion for York—it is a beautiful city, and a potential home for the House of Lords if it does not want to move to Stoke—and that York needs the right type of housing and commercial investment. I look forward to working with her and with Homes England, and also to consider what we can do in the Bill to deal with some of the consequences of some of her constituents foolishly having voted for Liberal Democrats at the local level.

Munira Wilson Portrait Munira Wilson (Twickenham) (LD)
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The Secretary of State was asking for good ideas on things that have been missed in the Bill. On building more social and affordable housing and GP surgeries, there is a missed opportunity here to ensure that public sector-owned assets such as land and buildings, including police stations, can be sold for slightly below market value where a GP surgery is needed or housing associations want to build social housing. He is aware that I have been campaigning for that on Teddington police station in my constituency, which the Labour Mayor wants to sell to the highest bidder for luxury housing, even though the community wants a new GP surgery and more affordable housing. Will he put that provision in the Bill?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Well, this is a first. It is the first time—certainly in the last seven years—that there has been a Lib Dem policy proposal that makes sense. I am nostalgic for those coalition years when, every so often, there was a Lib Dem policy proposal that made sense—they normally came from people who are no longer in the House—and that one does. Yes, she is absolutely right.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I should probably quit while I am ahead. We have consensus on one particular area where reform is needed. I stressed earlier, in introducing the Bill, that it sets out to ensure that urban regeneration becomes a reality, that our planning system is modernised, that the missions we have to level up this country are on the face of the Bill and that we are accountable to this House. There are so many colleagues who want to contribute, because that mission is so important. I beg leave to ask the House to give the Bill its Second Reading. With that, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will sit down.

--- Later in debate ---
Stuart Andrew Portrait The Minister for Housing (Stuart Andrew)
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It is my pleasure to deliver the closing speech on Second Reading of the Government’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. I begin by thanking hon. and right hon. Members from all parts of the House for their thoughtful contributions to this afternoon’s debate. Before I address some of the points that have been raised, I should say that accompanying each of the 12 missions in our levelling up White Paper, enshrined in law by this Bill, is a clear commitment from this Government to work with all political parties, across all four nations and all tiers of government, to build a stronger, fairer and more united country after covid.

Despite the negativity we have heard from the Opposition Front Benchers, I am pleased to report that when I go around the country, I find that Mayors and leaders of all political persuasions are keen to work with us to deliver this mission. I believe that the Bill will help us to make this shared vision a reality by supporting local leaders to take back control of regeneration, end the blight of empty shops and deliver the quality homes that communities need. It is about giving them the tools that they need to deliver, along with the other major pieces of work that Government are doing in this area. I am grateful to hon. Members who continue to engage constructively with us on the provisions of this Bill so that it delivers the transformative change that we all want.

Liam Byrne Portrait Liam Byrne
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Could the Minister say a word about how he will use the missions to drive the reduction of inequalities in our country? One approach that the Labour Government tried was the use of floor targets in neighbourhood renewal funds. He may have a different approach, but that detail is terribly important.

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
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The right hon. Gentleman will have seen that, as the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien) just reminded me, we have a whole annexe with the measures on that and we will be held to account by Parliament. That is the right thing to do. I cannot recall there ever being missions like this before Parliament so that every single Member of the House can challenge the Government on whether they have reached those objectives; it is a real opportunity for Parliament to hold the Government to account on those missions.

I echo the sentiment of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when he said in his opening remarks that we will continue to work closely with right hon. and hon. Members to further hone and refine the legislation before it is put on the statute book. We want to build on our £4.8 billion levelling-up fund which, as hon. Members know well, is supercharging connectivity by building the next generation of roads, bridges, cycle networks and digital infrastructure. Through the UK shared prosperity fund, more than £2.6 billion is being spent to help people in the most deprived parts of the country to access more opportunities and pursue better careers. With more than £2 billion pledged by my Department over the next three years, we are helping local authorities to redouble their efforts to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, building on the incredible achievements in the pandemic.

I will turn to some of the issues that were raised today. One issue that hon. Members on both sides of the House spoke about, including my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) and for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton)—I understand that they are calling themselves “levelling-up central”—and the hon. Members for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) and for York Central (Rachael Maskell), and my hon. Friends the Members for Gosport (Dame Caroline Dinenage) and for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher), is the importance of breathing new life into our high streets, towns and city centres, all of which were especially hard hit by the covid pandemic and now require investment and support to adapt and thrive.

Many hon. Members spoke about the importance of entrusting councils, which know their areas best, to get on with the job and to green light regeneration schemes in their areas. We agree, which is why the Bill liberates councils to more easily redesign and regenerate their communities. The Bill allows local authorities to hold high street rental auctions so that landlords are encouraged to put empty buildings to good use. It makes the temporary freedoms around al fresco dining permanent, so that we can create more buzzing vibrant high streets. I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) and I will take her thoughts further—well, I would not be allowed not to do so.

Most importantly, the Bill makes it much easier for councils to issue compulsory purchase orders so that they can repurpose boarded-up shops and derelict sites. All those changes are accompanied by a series of common-sense reforms that will mean that no council has to pay over the odds in hope value to landowners when it issues compulsory purchase orders—a small change that will deliver big savings for the public purse. We will publish further details on how we intend to use those powers in the Bill. It should hopefully go without saying that we are more than willing to engage with hon. Members in the process.

One issue that is guaranteed to provoke lively debate in this place is planning reform, as we have seen today. I was going to list all the hon. Members who have raised planning concerns with me, but I suspect that I would run out of time. I am extremely grateful to all hon. Members who have engaged with the Government and with me on that issue over many months. We have listened intently to their feedback, and that is reflected in the fresh reforms that we have set out in the Bill.

Some may defend the status quo and question whether there is still a case for planning reform amid everything else that is going on, but let us look again at the facts. It currently takes on average seven years for councils to prepare a local plan, and, in some cases, five years before a spade even hits the ground. Response rates to a typical pre-planning consultation are around 3%, and that drops to less than 1% in local plan consultations. I say to hon. Members that we cannot deliver the homes that this country needs without planning reform, and we cannot level up communities without the improvements set out in the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) rightly pointed out, we need these homes. I commend him for his excellent report and the proposals he has made to help people to build their own homes.

This Bill will simplify the content of local plans and standardise the process in a much shorter time, with improved local engagement. With more local plans in place, there will be far less speculative development, giving communities transparency and a real voice to influence what is built in their area. Our digital reforms will also move us beyond the days of laminated notices on lamp posts to fully accessible planning applications that people can view on their iPads and smartphones at home.

I am, of course, still continuing to listen to hon. Members. On the issue of local housing need and the targets, I should make it clear that they are not targets. They are there to inform the development of a plan, but in reality we know from listening to colleagues that they have been treated rather stringently. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his opening comments, we need a more sensible approach and we are looking at that at pace.

Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley
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My right hon. Friend rightly points out that planning often leads to a heated debate in this Chamber and can be quite a complicated issue. He also knows that the other elements of the Bill such as devolution, locally-led development corporations and all the other factors can have a huge beneficial impact on our areas. Can he assure me that the complicated planning debates and discussions among colleagues will not be allowed to delay the outcome on those other much more straightforward and well-supported parts of the Bill?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is challenging me to expose my parliamentary expertise, but this is really in the hands of the Committee, so I would ask him to kindly lobby members of the Committee to help me get the Bill through, and I can help him with his aim.

Let me mention a key element that people have been raising, which is the issue of the five-year land supply. If an area has an up-to-date local plan, it will no longer need to demonstrate such a land supply, and that is so that we can stop speculative development.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling
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Part of the problem we face—for example, in an area where there are small local district councils in charge of planning—is that, however much Ministers may say that targets are not targets, the local officers see them as such and see their task as being to implement a number that has landed on their desk. It is really important during this process that we break free of that. One of the reasons that councils are taking so long to form their plans is, frankly, that it takes so long for them to work out what on earth to do with the targets. Can my right hon. Friend please bear in mind, as he takes the Bill through, how we send clear messages to councils about what they are and what they are not expected to do?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. He knows—we have had a number of conversations on this very issue—that these are the things we are looking at. I look forward to bringing them forward as part of the Bill.

I want to touch on the issue of build out. I have heard loud and clear from colleagues, and so has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, about the issue of developers seeming to take a long time from approval to build houses. These commencement orders and an agreed rate of delivery will, we hope, help us to get such permissions built out much more quickly.

A number of Members—my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) and others—have raised their concerns about the national development management policies. One of the key aims of the Bill is to reduce the administrative burden on local councils so that they can concentrate on delivering high-quality, locally-led plans. That is why, through this Bill, we hope to shift the onus of delivering on national priorities to central Government through introducing a set of national development management policies. These policies will cover the most important national planning issues facing the sector, including net zero, tackling climate change and making sure that we are also dealing with heritage issues and protections of green belt.

To those who are concerned that these provisions will somehow override local plans, I would say that that is not the intention. The intention is to produce swifter, slimmer plans to remove the need for generic issues that apply universally, which will help us to reduce time-consuming duplication, and to ensure that local plans are more locally focused and relevant to the local communities. I hope that, during the passage of this Bill, we will be able to give more assurance on that.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister will know that Stockport, which is one of the two councils that covers my constituency, pulled out of the Greater Manchester spatial framework, largely because even though Manchester and Salford were taking a large chunk of its housing allocation, its councillors were against green belt development.

Stockport is a very tightly constrained borough surrounded by green belt. It is now in the process of developing a local plan, but it will have to meet even higher housing targets. Will the Minister guarantee that if Stockport develops a local plan that meets the needs of Stockport but saves and protects the green belt around Stockport, he will support it?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Member knows that I cannot comment on individual plans. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) would be the first to apply for an urgent question asking me to explain why I prejudged a local plan. What I would say, in general terms, is that it is clear that local authorities can argue the constraints that they may have, and his local authority may be planning to do that; I do not know.

Let me move on, because I am conscious of time. I turn to second homes, because, if I did not, my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), as well as my hon. Friends the Members for St Ives (Derek Thomas) and for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) and others, would be rather angry with me. We have put provisions in the Bill to try to help on that, and I know that she wants us to go further. I have made a commitment to come down to the south-west to hold a series of roundtables and see the issues for myself. We will see what else can be done as we go through the Bill’s passage.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In addition to second homes, we have the challenge of Airbnbs, which of course the Bill does not mention, and yet they are blighting our communities as they take out existing stock and dominate new stock that is being built. Will the Minister look again—it is urgent—to put an amendment into the Bill to address that serious issue?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In fact, I had a meeting just this morning to talk about that very issue. I will report back in due course, if that is okay.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is being very generous in giving way. I concur with the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), but will he also carefully consider introducing an amendment in Committee that would make second home ownership a separate category of plan and use? That is obviously the clearest way in which we could control second home ownership in communities such as mine and in other parts of the country. Will he at least consider that in the coming weeks?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am keen to ensure that we get it right. Of course I will consider it, because I want to ensure that we consider all aspects. There could, however, be unintended consequences in other parts of the country. We will want to ensure that we get it right, but I will look at all options. I have made that commitment to numerous colleagues who have raised the issue with me.

I turn to infrastructure. I want to mention in particular my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) , who seems to secure a Westminster Hall debate on this issue every other week. I congratulate him on that. Many have asked what the Bill means for our infrastructure: our roads, bridges, schools, GP surgeries and so on. This is where I believe communities stand to really benefit from our reforms. All of us know that, without new infrastructure, when people see new homes going up in their community, too often they fear the worst. They fear that it will result in more congested roads, busier trains and fewer services to go around.

I hope that the proposals that we have set out in the Bill will go a long way towards allaying those fears for good. I am determined to continue working with hon. Members on both sides of the House to do so. That starts with sweeping away the old, opaque section 106 agreements and replacing them with one simple infrastructure levy that is set and raised by local authorities. The new levy will be fairer, simpler and more transparent, and it will be imposed on the final value of a development. It is important to stress that, with the housing market as buoyant as it is, the levy will easily be able to respond to market conditions. Put simply, when prices go up, so will the levy.

Crucially, our Bill also requires councils to prepare an infrastructure delivery strategy, setting out how and when the levy receipts will be used. That means new development will always bring with it the new schools, nurseries and GP surgeries that communities want and need. I have listened, in particular to the debates secured by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire. He knows that I will be meeting my colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care next week to see what more we can do to ensure that local health services are more involved with the planning process.

We will run a test and learn approach. We are holding a series of roundtables with stakeholders because we want to get it right. It is important to remember that councils can borrow against the levy, so they can bring the infrastructure in as soon as the development is happening.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He will have heard what I said in my speech about the gross added value method of charging for the infrastructure levy, which will act as a disincentive to developers to put added value on environmental and design matters. Will he please discuss that matter with me to see whether we can use a better method by capturing the increase in land value?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I certainly make that commitment. My hon. Friend raised that point with me earlier this afternoon. There are some points there that I want to further explore, so I will ensure I meet him in the next week or so.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister say something in his summing up on the points that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott) raised, and which we discussed earlier with his colleague the Secretary of State, to reassure us that there is no intention to devolve upwards and that the powers of district councils will remain as they are without being poached by some CCA?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hope my hon. Friend saw the enthusiastic nodding on the Front Bench, which will give him the reassurance he seeks.

The Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill represents a major milestone in our journey towards building a stronger, fairer and more united country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) said, it is for all parts of the country. It confers on local leaders a suite of powers to regenerate our high streets, towns and cities, and gives them unprecedented freedoms to build the homes and infrastructure that communities want and need, following all the BIDEN principles—that is, the Secretary of State’s, not the President of the United States. I also take on board the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (David Johnston) about the environmental standards of homes. I hope to do some more work on that in the coming weeks.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for giving way. He has not responded to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) about publishing an impact assessment. Will he confirm that one will be published, and will he let us know when?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, there will be, and it will come at the second stage of Committee.

Munira Wilson Portrait Munira Wilson
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister talked about building the homes that communities want and need, and he made a commitment to the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) about not devolving powers upwards. Last year, central Government pushed through permitted development rights, which enable developers to put whole storeys on top of existing buildings, causing misery for leaseholders even when residents and local planning authorities have opposed them. Will he look at rescinding those powers in the Bill?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

No, I will not.

As I said, these new freedoms will help communities to repurpose and redesign old unused sites, and turn them into new vibrant communities. The Bill allows us to become a regeneration nation. It will support the housing and construction sector to play its part in growing our economy, creating well-paid jobs and levelling up. At the same time, the Bill brings our ageing analogue planning system into the digital age, with residents able to share their views at the touch of a smartphone. It places local people at the heart of a smoother, simpler more streamlined planning system using street votes, new design codes and community-led plans.

Most importantly, by enshrining the 12 missions of our levelling-up White Paper into law and offering every part of England a devolution deal by 2030, the Bill fulfils our promise to the British people—a fundamental promise upon which the Government were elected—to take power away from Whitehall and place it directly in the hands of communities, so that they can determine their future and realise their full potential. That is the pledge we made and that is what the Bill delivers. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (First sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage
Tuesday 21st June 2022

(2 years ago)

Public Bill Committees
Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 21 June 2022 - (21 Jun 2022)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Thank you. I call Minister Neil O’Brien to open the session.

Neil O'Brien Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Neil O'Brien)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you, Professor Leyser, for coming this morning. I start with a very open-ended question. To what extent do you think the Bill will help achieve some of the goals set out in the levelling-up White Paper?

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser: Goodness, that is a big question. My interest and expertise are particularly around the R&D aspects of the Bill. One of the really encouraging and exciting things going on across the Government at the moment is the attempt to tackle some of these huge cross-cutting issues, and levelling up is very much one of those things. That absolutely requires concerted, co-ordinated action, right across the Government, through virtually all the Departments, in a way that is aligned and co-ordinated and which really delivers on very broad priorities. Levelling up is a really good example. Net zero is another one.

Those kinds of things require different ways of working. This Bill is one framework in which that kind of joined-up thinking can be set out and embedded in the way in which government works. Yes, I think it absolutely has the opportunity to deliver on the ambitions set out in the White Paper. That depends very much on the alignment between the mechanisms and framework set out in the Bill and the missions element that is core to pushing forward the White Paper agenda.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O'Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q The Bill sets out various measures to widen the devolution agenda. It also puts into law the various missions set out in the levelling-up White Paper. For context, will you explain how in your particular area of expertise that fits with the wider agenda of ensuring that research and development spending serves the goals of levelling up, and what that means for UKRI as an organisation?

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser: Absolutely. Research and development has an important role to play in the levelling-up agenda, in the context of economic regeneration right across the country. What we see at the moment is huge disparity in all kinds of measures, but one of them is total factor productivity across the UK, and R&D-intensive business and industry are critical to generating those high value-add activities that support economic growth across the UK, bringing with them a whole variety of high-quality jobs. One of the things that is important to emphasise is that innovation-led growth is not just about jobs for innovators; it is a huge ecosystem of activity that goes around that, which will provide economic growth and high-quality jobs and opportunities for people in local innovation clusters right across the country.

That is the goal. The role that UKRI needs to play is critical in that. We have this extraordinary opportunity, with the formation of UKRI four years ago, of bringing together all the disciplines and all the sectors. In the same way as I mentioned that cross-Government co-ordination is needed, cross-R&D co-ordination is needed to deliver some of the activities. We span the whole system in UKRI, so we can build back better aligned investment that can support open economic growth—as I said—right across the UK. We need that balance, co-ordinating across different inputs, to drive growth which is led by R&D and innovation. That is multiple things, some of which are in my remit and some of which are certainly not—that is another key point.

The co-ordination locally is important, but in the broader national context—that is also important. This is not about fragmentation; in fact, it has to be the opposite of fragmentation. While local empowerment and local choice are critical, that has to be embedded in a much wider national context. We cannot have a situation in which, across the country, every region decides that it aims to specialise in the same thing. That would obviously be incredibly counterproductive for everyone. That balance between national co-ordination and local empowerment is critical across my kind of investment and across the broader range of leaders as set out in the White Paper.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O'Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q One of the missions takes forward the Government’s ambition to increase our public domestic R&D spending outside the greater south-east by a third over the spending review period. How do you feel about that mission? On the level of ambition, are there things you would change about it; is the balance right; should we be doing things in a different way; should we be locking it in more tightly? Given all those different sorts of questions, is that balance between that objective and other priorities for UKRI right? How do you feel about the mission broadly speaking?

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser: It is good to have those kinds of clear targets and goals. That is helpful. I think it is a long-term ambition, and that is another critical element of both the Bill and the missions, having those clearly articulated long-term goals to steer towards. The SR element of it is obviously much more rapid, and made in the context of the rising R&D budget across the SR, so I think it is achievable.

From my point of view, it is important to stress that our spend distribution does not meet the target from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. There is the broader Government target for the whole of investment, of 30% and 40% set out in the missions, and then there is a specific BEIS target of 55% outside the greater south-east. Our spend does not meet that at the moment—we are only part of the BEIS spend—but the critical element from that point of view is that in our open competitions for funding, we have flat success rates across the country. The news that we are investing more in the greater south-east than outside that area is because we do not receive the applications.

A lot of what we need to do is capacity building. We need to think hard about how we support the excellent research and innovation that we see right across the country to galvanise and bid into our schemes, making sure that the schemes we put forward are equally open to everyone right across the country and that the targeted interventions that we put in place, of which there are some—they are only going to be a small proportion of our overall investment—are carefully considered in the context of the wider capacity-building activity to drive up opportunity for everyone right across the country.

There is excellence everywhere, however, and we can see that, for example, in parts of the recent research excellence framework. One hundred and fifty-seven universities across the UK made submissions to have their research assessed in that exercise. There is world-leading research in 99% of them, according to the assessment process, which can lead activity. Harnessing the benefit of that will be critical to the levelling-up agenda and to the wider economic recovery from the pandemic that we need to drive.

Getting back to your question—are those the right ambitions?—I suppose I am inherently more in favour of outcome and output ambitions than I am of input ambitions but, none the less, I think having those clear targets behind which we can align our activity in UKRI and more broadly across Government is very helpful in embedding this agenda right across everything that we do. That will be critical to success.

Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you, Professor Leyser, for your time this morning. In your role as a member of the Levelling Up Advisory Council, with respect to levelling up, do you think that at the moment things are getting better, or are they getting better quickly?

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser: That is quite a difficult question to answer. At the moment, things are very challenging right across the country. We have the inflationary pressures caused by a combination of the tail of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. That has come on the back of the pandemic, which also caused a lot of economic and social shockwaves across the country. Both those things, if anything, amplify disparities for a whole variety of reasons. Because of those factors, it would be difficult to argue that things are getting better.



Having said that, and looping back to what I said at the beginning, I am very encouraged by the ambition—reflected in the Bill and the White Paper—to take on some of the really big, long-standing and multifaceted problems; to get to the root of them and tackle them through this concerted, aligned action. That is not typical, because we have tended to work in silos when dealing with particular aspects, which does not work as well as integrated, concerted actions. A lot of the important problems, such as health inequalities, are multifaceted, and we do not solve them by simply looking at, for example, the health system. I am encouraged by the new approaches that are being taken to try to address some of the problems, but I do not think they are yet biting.

--- Later in debate ---
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Tracy, I am going to have to cut you off, because we need slightly shorter answers. I will ask the Minister—who does not believe in “churn of Ministers”—to ask you a question.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Tracy, thank you for taking the time to be with us this morning—it is much appreciated.

Clauses 60 and 61 will simplify and streamline the processes for setting up new combined authorities. West Yorkshire is lucky, because it already had a combined authority from 2014. From your own experience of getting the mayoral combined authority set up and from the wider experiences of the M10 group, could you say anything about the complexity and time taken to set up new combined authorities? I appreciate that people are full of enthusiasm and want to get on with it, but that, at the moment, they have to go through some quite laborious processes to get going. What was your experience of that? Do you welcome provisions that would simplify and speed up the process of getting going with CAs?

Tracy Brabin: My role really started on election day—I was not here setting up the office and the CA. However, going forwards into combined county authorities and other models, I hope that whatever learning you get from that will come back and refresh our modelling, so that we can learn from these new MCAs and CCAs. Ben, would you like to add to that? You were here; you did it!

Ben Still: Briefly, there is a set of processes that we and the other CAs had to follow. The provisions in the Bill to simplify those processes are welcome in the sense that the statutory tests still need to be met; that is the important thing, I suspect. For us, though, the combination of the will on both sides—both locally and within the relevant Government Departments—to go through the processes at pace and to work collectively is just as important as the steps we need to go through.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you. When I was a child in Huddersfield, we originally had a metropolitan county council; we then went through a long period of having no elected city region-wide leadership. How do you compare the experience of having a directly elected Mayor to either of those previous regimes—either having no elected leadership, or having a county council or assembly-type model? Do you think the mayoral model is preferable?

Tracy Brabin: I would say wholeheartedly that the mayoral model is better. It is a single point of contact; it is a point of contact with Government. The Mayor is a champion, advocate and ambassador for the region, and somebody that can work collectively on strategic priorities. The role is not just local but national—and, I would suggest, international—to raise the profile of a region. It is great that Government are understanding and getting behind devolution. It really, genuinely is the way forward for our region.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q The Bill makes it simpler for Mayors to take on police commissioner powers. What are the advantages for Mayors of having police commissioner powers? Does it allow integration across different subjects in your activity?

Tracy Brabin: I cannot tell you. The gift that keeps on giving is the fact that I also have responsibilities for police and crime. It means we can take a public health approach to everything we are doing, getting people in the room or on Zoom from housing and transport, and—via the integrated care system—people from health talking about health inequalities that impact on crime. It is a really brilliant tool to address some of the greater challenges across West Yorkshire. There are obviously lots of different versions, and only Andy Burnham and myself have those powers, but they are really useful.

For example, they help us to deliver my commitment to the safety of women and girls across West Yorkshire. It feeds into everything, including transport. We have the safety app that allows bus users to feed back on whether women and girls feel safe travelling. On skills, we are able to support 750 more police officers and staff, and to work with the chief constable to try to find a pipeline of diverse young people wanting to go into the police. It is a really great strength.

I would say that giving police and crime commissioners and our teams in-year funding pots, with different expectations and timeframes, is incredibly difficult to handle. I hope that we can get multi-year pots of funding to do bigger projects that have a greater impact.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I have one last quick question. West Yorkshire has what some people describe as a strong Mayor model, whereby the Mayor needs to be on the side of the majority for various decisions to be taken. There is a diversity of decision-making structures in the existing MCAs. What would you say are some of the advantages of having a strong mayoral model or strong decision making for particular subjects?

Tracy Brabin: It is helpful that we have real strength in our leaderships, because they are really experienced leaders. We are all focused on delivering for the people of West Yorkshire, and it has not come to a point where it has been down to my vote. We get a consensus before we go to a vote, and the opposition members on the CA are very helpful, because they provide the check and challenge to get us to a point of compromise so that we can bring everybody with us in delivering for the people of West Yorkshire.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you, Tracy; it is nice to see you again. Your region is significantly diverse, with both rural and urban areas. Like every other part of the UK, you will have seen a worsening housing crisis in the last couple of years, particularly in the private rented sector, which appears to be evaporating into short-term lets, especially in your rural communities. What powers does the Bill give you to ensure the availability of affordable for the people you represent?

Tracy Brabin: Affordable and sustainable homes are a priority for me, because it is personal—I grew up in social housing. My commitment to the people of West Yorkshire was to deliver 5,000 affordable and sustainable homes. Over the years, we have seen the number diminish, partly due to right to buy and partly due to the lack of funding. I am able to work with the councils and push them to get to further building target, which has been really helpful. The brownfield fund for housing has enabled us to really focus on the spots that blight our communities, and to work with developers.

For the first time, the West Yorkshire housing associations have all come together under one umbrella to deliver on my housing pledge and to help us get there, but it is still a challenge. Although the £22 million extra in the Bill for brownfield housing is welcome, it comes with the same strings attached and the same expectations from the Government, but with less time to deliver. There is an expectation that we have more freedom, but we need to get away from the strings that hold us back from delivering.

Let us not forget that we have areas in West Yorkshire where the housing stock is really low cost, and we are trying to square the circle of how we build more when we have the Government’s expectations about market failure. We have met Homes England since I became Mayor. I am very interested to see how that relationship develops and how we can work more closely on affordable housing, because the need in our region is growing exponentially. The lists of people waiting for a secure and affordable home are far too long. Ben, I do not know whether you want to talk more technically.

Ben Still: Thank you, Mayor. There is a lot in the Bill that could potentially be helpful to local authorities in unlocking and developing land. The issue that we face in West Yorkshire is much more about the viability of housing sites than about pressure on land and so forth. This is a good example of where the Mayor working in partnership with the local authorities is not just about the legislative provisions, but about the strength of the partnership. The Bill does not change the fundamental relationship between local authorities and Mayors with regards to who is responsible for the delivery of housing.

--- Later in debate ---
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I call Stuart Andrew.

Stuart Andrew Portrait The Minister for Housing (Stuart Andrew)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good morning Tracy; it is good to see you.

I want to return to planning. We share an ambition, in that we obviously want the right houses in the right places for our population. Much of the Bill is about community-led planning—that is, ensuring that communities have a say in where houses should be built, so that we can improve support for development within communities. How would that marry up with a strategic approach that was perhaps done by Mayors? I often describe planning as something that people feel happens to them, rather than them being engaged in it. If Mayors around the country had lots of strategic planning rights and powers, is there a danger that we might negate the chance of improving community involvement in the planning system in order to build the houses we need?

Tracy Brabin: It feels to me that there are already those checks and balances for local communities. When there is an option for a warehouse or the building of homes and so on, the public and communities have an opportunity to reject that planning. Obviously, local plans are a responsibility for local councils, but for me what would be interesting with the strategic planning is to support local councils when they have a vision. For example, in Stockport in Manchester, the council has a vision to bring together greater investment and a bolder planning opportunity, working with communities. Maybe it would be cross-border and difficult to navigate, so the Mayors could be helpful there.

Of course, it is important for the public to have a voice in what their communities look like, but we would hate to get into a situation where communities that are happy with their village could block much-needed housing from their community. It is important that we keep the conversation going, though. I know our local councils do everything they can to work with communities to get the right outcomes, but we do need more social and affordable housing in our region. There is a role for the Mayor to play in that, and the strategic plan would help.

Ben Still: To add to what the Mayor has said, the strategic planning covers a variety of topics of which housing is one. There is probably a role for Mayors from mayoralties and combined authorities to join up when looking at things like strategic infrastructure such as transport, broadband and so on, where it makes sense to plan across individual local authority or unitary authority areas. As the Mayor said, the local authority is the planning body and it has that process with communities. The Bill has a number of aspects that might strengthen that.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Any other questions? No. That brings us to the end of the session. Tracy—Madam Mayor—thank you for your enthusiastic evidence. Ben, thank you for coming along for your evidence, too. It is most appreciated.

Tracy Brabin: Thank you, and good luck everybody.

Examination of Witness

Mairi Spowage gave evidence.

--- Later in debate ---
Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Do you think it would be helpful or desirable for an independent body to oversee and assess the UK Government’s progress on levelling up?

Mairi Spowage: Through the Bill, my understanding is that the UK Government have to publish regular updates on the progress that they are making towards the missions that it sets out and the metrics chosen to measure success. There is quite a lot of work to do to ensure that those metrics cover the whole of the UK on all the different missions. There is a significant amount of investment—I believe that the ONS is looking to try to do that better, but it is not for me to say whether an independent body should be set up to monitor what is, after all, a UK Government policy agenda that they can legitimately pursue.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Professor Spowage, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us this morning. The Bill creates statutory requirements around the levelling ambitions that we were just discussing. One of those is on digital connectivity. Through Project Gigabit and the shared rural network, Scotland is likely to see particularly large increases in connectivity. How do we best drive growth, particularly in more rural parts of Scotland? How do we best measure progress in the roll-out of connectivity? Do you agree that the rise of online working is, potentially, a strong tailwind for the rural Scottish economy?

Mairi Spowage: Yes, if and when digital connectivity is of sufficient quality it will present a lot of opportunities for the rural economy. We still hear in parts of Scotland that it is a barrier to remote working. It would be hugely transformative for lots of areas, particularly of rural Scotland, but I am sure that lots of other rural parts of the UK would say the same. It would be transformative in terms of the connectivity of people working from home, perhaps for businesses in population centres but also for businesses that are operating in these areas, to have a more reliable connection. It could be extremely transformative to those areas.

We have heard from some of our work with businesses that to a certain extent it can also work the other way. Businesses based in remote and rural Scotland are employing people in the big population centres, but sometimes having to pay them more money because they are more likely to command higher wages in those areas, particularly in this very tight labour market that we have at the moment.

Improvements in digital connectivity present huge opportunities for rural Scotland. As much as there is quite a lot of focus on transport connectivity through the levelling-up funds, investment UK-wide—particularly in rural areas—in digital connectivity is one of the areas where we could get the biggest bang for our buck in transforming the economy and reducing regional inequality, particularly when we look at the population outlook if current trends continue in rural areas.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you. One of the other missions for which the Bill is creating statutory requirements is to increase domestic public R&D investment outside greater south-east England by a third over this spending review period. Alongside that, there has been the creation of an innovation accelerator centred on the Glasgow city region. How can we best harness the large public investment in research and development to drive growth right across Scotland?

Mairi Spowage: That is a great question, and one that policy makers in Scotland have been grappling with for a long time, particularly given the quality of our universities in Scotland and their international prowess in research and development. We seem to have an issue between the development of the ideas, the start-up, and the translation of that into commercial opportunities that can be scaled up into medium-sized businesses. In Scotland, we often find those opportunities are lost, particularly to the south-east of England, because the infrastructure is there to scale up that business to the next step. I think the sorts of investments that you are talking about, not just in Glasgow but in other locations in Scotland, will be really important. We have to think about how we take all of the great advances that have been made in academia in Scotland and turn them into commercial opportunities, have them scale up and feel that there is the infrastructure and capacity in Scotland so that they do not have to move or be bought by companies outwith Scotland.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O'Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q That is very helpful. In your earlier answer you drew attention to the lack of UK-wide indices of multiple deprivation. We know that in the first round of the levelling-up fund, the 50% of local authorities that had the lowest median pay got roughly three quarters of the investments—it is targeting poorer areas. Would it be attractive, as part of the data drive in the levelling-up White Paper, to create more UK-wide indices of deprivation and other things?

Mairi Spowage: Yes, I would be very supportive of that. We can see in the sorts of metrics that are used—not only those related to indices of multiple deprivation but educational outcomes or transport connectivity—that some of them are focused on England-only measures; sometimes they are GB only. We do not want to fall into the trap of, in some cases, using GB and UK inter-changeably here. It is really important that we think about the metrics that we are going to use to capture the reduction in regional inequalities across the UK. Wherever possible, we should invest in developing UK-wide measures.

In some cases I can see that there are data sources in the devolved nations that are very similar to those being used for England. I think there is work that could be done to develop more consistent measures right across the UK, for which, as I said earlier, there is a clear policy need for the UK Government’s programme.

Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you for your time this morning, Professor. Can you expand on an element of a previous answer you gave about the work that the Office for National Statistics, of which you are a fellow, is doing on developing a dataset in that area?

Mairi Spowage: I am not here to speak for the ONS, but I am a fellow, so they ask me and a group of other expert academics for advice on their work programme. They have published a subnational data strategy, which was worked up not just by the ONS but across the Government’s fiscal service, to think about how we can develop more sophisticated metrics across the UK to capture different levels of needs and progress. That would be to support not only the levelling-up agenda but things more broadly. In partnership with the Department for Levelling Up, the ONS is looking to develop more metrics across the UK. Some of that will be working closely with the devolved Administrations to develop data sources and think what might be comparable.

We have done a significant amount of work with the Economics Statistics Centre of Excellence. We published a paper recently on developing a suite of sub-national indicators across the UK. We made recommendations there, which included working closely with the devolved Administrations to develop data that was consistent across the UK, particularly on educational and environmental outcomes. A recent example would be something like fuel poverty, which is obviously a live discussion. It is measured differently in all four nations of the UK, so it is very hard to compare differential rates of fuel poverty in different parts of the UK at the moment.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (Second sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage
Tuesday 21st June 2022

(2 years ago)

Public Bill Committees
Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 21 June 2022 - (21 Jun 2022)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I call the Minister.

Neil O'Brien Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Neil O'Brien)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q This question is for Eamonn and Laura. One of the missions the Bill will put on a statutory footing will increase public domestic research and development spending outside the greater south-east area of England by a third over the spending review period, and in both of your combined authorities there is an innovation accelerator on top of that. How can we best ensure that that mission is a success? How can we best ensure that the innovation accelerator does what it is supposed to do and catalyses significant amounts of further public and private investment into those two city regions? I will ask Eamonn to start.

Eamonn Boylan: Thank you. We were very pleased to be identified as one of the three innovation accelerator areas in the White Paper. We have been working very hard on developing a broader approach to innovation through an organisation imaginatively called “Innovation Greater Manchester”. We see the innovation accelerator as being effectively the fuel in the tank that can drive that forward.

It is fair to say that there needs to be a clear concentration on those areas where individual city regions can be globally significant and competitive, rather than having a broader approach. They need to be very clear that the purpose of the innovation accelerator is to improve not only the performance of business and employment in a particular location, but to drive prosperity for the UK as a whole.

There is a need for longevity in terms of the commitment, to make certain that the innovation agenda can be rolled out, developed and properly evolved over a period of time, but also concentration on those areas where, quite clearly, particular places have a significant, if not unique contribution, to make.

Laura Shoaf: I will do my best not to repeat the exact same answer, but we have another organisation, the aptly titled “Innovation West Midlands”. I reiterate all the points that Eamonn has just made and a point I made slightly earlier, which is that places have different areas of expertise. We want not to spread the jam so thin that it doesn’t make a difference in any one area, but to really invest and be very precise in each area, especially where there is a comparative advantage.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O'Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you both. The Bill makes it easier and quicker to establish new combined authorities, either with or without a Mayor, in new parts of the country. How important has the role of the Mayor been in terms of being a figurehead and attracting inward investment to your two city regions, and catalysing wider conversations with Whitehall and other stakeholders? What difference has having a Mayor made in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands? I will ask Laura to start answering this question.

Laura Shoaf: It has really been transformational. As an officer, I was working in the region before there was a Mayor, then in a Mayor’s first term and now in a Mayor’s second term. I would reflect on the fact that the role, with its accountability and ability to galvanise and be a figurehead, has grown over time. It definitely evolves alongside a region.

For us, with our Mayor, we have seen the ability to come together as a region, to make cohesive arguments, to attract a lot more inward investment and to be able to work at scale, if you take something like brownfield land, where we have been able to operate at regional level, so we can have a regional impact, then being very careful not to do what is already done very well locally. I often describe it as two plus two plus make five, instead of four. That is exactly what we have seen through the model to date.

As you can tell, my background is not from this country, but this model is well understood and recognised in other countries when trying to attract inward investment from abroad. It is a model that is understood, works well and helps make it easier, if that makes sense, to drive some of those big conversations.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O'Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you. Eamonn, would you add anything to that?

Eamonn Boylan: I would certainly echo Laura’s final comment about the international potency of the mayoral model, which is proving to be a real strength. We led the field with the creation of the first combined authority, which has been in operation since 2010. The first mayoral election was in 2017, so they had a lot of experience of working prior to having a Mayor, with strong local leadership provided—particularly by the city of Manchester.

I think the Mayor has had the transformative effect that Laura has described, not only in respect of areas where there is a very clear power vested in the Mayor, but also where the Mayor’s influence and use of soft power can be quite useful in helping to galvanise change and support and amplify activity. The example I would use in the Greater Manchester case is the work we have done collectively on street homelessness and rough sleeping, which has been very successful. A huge of amount of work has been done by individual local authorities, but it has also been galvanised by collaboration through the office of the Mayor. It is a very powerful office and tool for us to use both locally and internationally.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O'Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q The Bill strengthens and streamlines compulsory purchase order powers and creates the opportunity for local authorities to run high street rental auctions as part of a wider shift toward increasing places’ ability to do brownfield regeneration through the brownfield fund, with the new role of Homes England and so on. Are the strengthened CPO powers and the high street rental auctions and so on things you would welcome and which you could see your authorities and your constituent authorities using? I will aim that again at Eamonn and Laura mainly, but if anyone else wants to come in, please do.

Eamonn Boylan: It would be difficult to make CPO slower. Aiming to accelerate it is very welcome. The flexibility around the application of CPO to support a wider range of purposes is also welcome. I think we need to recognise that initiating a CPO is quite a high-risk activity for a local authority. Therefore, we would need to be certain about the legislative framework within which we were working, but certainly the principle of acceleration of CPO and its broader application is something we would generally welcome and would certainly seek to make use of.

Laura Shoaf: I will just pick up on the point about pride in place. Pride in place is a key goal that is outlined as part of the levelling-up agenda. I think that being able to speed up the delivery of projects where a compulsory purchase order is needed will bring clarity and help us to deliver pride in place. That is just one other aspect that I think is important.

[Sir Mark Hendrick in the Chair]

Joanne Roney: I will come in with three quick points to support Laura and Eamonn. Among the wider society of chief executives—who represent the views from up and down the country, including places that do not currently have combined authority or mayoral models—there is a welcome for these additional powers. The first point is that whatever replaces the existing CPO system needs to simple and inexpensive. The current process is very costly.

Secondly, there is a bit of a concern around capacity in local authorities to take advantage of these new powers. Talking with my Manchester hat on, one of the things we do in Greater Manchester is shared capacity between the 10 local authorities through the combined authority, but that capacity point to take effective new powers is important. Thirdly, we would like to see the revoking of permitted development rights to go alongside CPO powers to make the maximum impact in some of our communities.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O'Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I have one last question to Laura. The Bill, among other things, makes it simpler for Mayors to take on the powers of the police and crime commissioner, effectively streamlining governance and creating a single point of accountability, which enables the join-up of different priorities between crime and transport and so on. If that were to happen and there were to be a decision in Westminster to do that, could you see that there would be some synergies from combining those two roles? You could join up transport and criminal justice policies.

Laura Shoaf: We have certainly seen it work well elsewhere, including in Greater Manchester. Initially, the combined authority did not have full support to transfer those functions in 2019. What I would suggest that we need to do now is look at the timing of the deal and of Royal Assent, and how we could align governance around that. We would need to look at the issues around co-termination and there would probably be quite a bit of work to make sure that it was something that the entirety of the region would get behind.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O'Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Laura. Unless Eamonn wants to add anything on that point, I am probably finished.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I will move over to the Opposition. I call Alex Norris.

--- Later in debate ---
Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you. I have a quick one for Rich and/or Sacha about planning. How much do you think the campaign to increase communities’ power over their destiny depends on the level of planning control and the kinds of powers communities have?

Rich Bell: I think the destiny of communities is significantly shaped by their level of control over planning decisions. One thing we are at once encouraged by and slightly disappointed by in this Bill is the proposal regarding the neighbourhood share. This is the idea that 25% of the infrastructure levy could be controlled by either a parish council or a neighbourhood planning forum. That currently applies in the case of the community infrastructure levy, but not in the case of section 106. I think it is a very positive step on the Government’s part to extend that neighbourhood-level control over the investment of developer-generated public money—to devolve that directly to neighbourhoods. Unfortunately, parish councils are predominantly found in wealthy and rural areas. A report produced for the Department then known as the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government by academics at the University of Reading concluded something very similar on neighbourhood planning forums just a few years ago.

We would suggest that members of the Committee should consider whether the Bill could be amended to expand the definition of a “qualifying body” on page 264. We would ask Members to introduce a clause amending the Localism Act 2011 that expands the range of organisations to whom that neighbourhood share could be passed. It should be possible for local authorities to designate community anchor organisations, such as the Wharton Trust in Hartlepool, as local trusted partners who could work with that local authority to spend that not insignificant amount of public money.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O'Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q This question is mainly for Sacha and Rich. It is about high street rental auctions, which the Bill introduces. As well as being an opportunity to improve our high streets and regenerate the local economy, do you think they are an opportunity for voluntary groups, small businesses and social enterprises to get themselves a place on the high street? How would you like to see community involvement in that high street rental auction process work?

Rich Bell: We were very encouraged by the detail of this proposal. We were very pleased to see that the Bill defines high street use in a way that recognises the use of high street premises as a communal meeting space. It is incredibly important that the legislation recognises that high streets are not just drivers of local economies; they are the sites of the bumping spaces and the meeting places that stitch together our social fabric. It is similarly positive that the Bill’s local benefit condition recognises the social and environmental benefits of high street premises as well as their economic benefits.

We encourage the Government to consider how they can shape accompanying regulations to ensure that local authorities feel that they have permission to work with social enterprises and local community organisations, and to shape their own criteria for high street auctions, so that those community organisations can gain access to high street sites. As I say, we were encouraged by the detail.

Sacha Bedding: High streets are absolutely about pride. There is nothing worse than seeing boarded-up places. The opportunity for local ownership and activity will help. People are full of ideas on how to do that. I will not go on too long; we absolutely agree with what Rich said, and there will be any amount of ideas, not just focused around retail, on how people can help make their high streets thriving places again.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I noted your comments, Mr Bell, about the importance of team spirit in levelling up communities. Do you have any thoughts or comments about the fact that the Scottish Government will not be involved at the decision-making stage in the allocation of levelling-up funding? That suggests that there will be implications for duplication, the inefficient use of resources, and lack of strategic overview.

Rich Bell: My only comment would be to say that it seems incredibly important, when taking what is a pretty radical step in promoting sub-regional devolution across England, to do so in a joined-up way which involves dialogue with all the national Governments across the UK. That said, I would say that the problem in the Bill is not the lack of emphasis on sub-regional and national devolution; the problem is the lack of emphasis on devolution at the most local level, as Sacha said, and the complete absence of genuine community leadership.

--- Later in debate ---
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Okay, Minister?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I just want to return to the issue you raised on neighbourhood planning. There is an interesting concept there about the neighbourhood share, particularly in areas where there is not a parish council or town council. What potential issues might you see in terms of any conflict between the interests of that group and what they are wanting to deliver for that community and the wider community? What governance arrangements might be needed to ensure that there is transparency around the needs of that community and how they develop?

We have a significant number of neighbourhood planning groups and neighbourhood plans around the country. However, there are areas—particularly more deprived areas—that have not developed those. The Bill provides for the neighbourhood priority statements to introduce a simpler way for communities to think about how they want to improve their place. Do you see any issues around that area in the Bill that need to be looked at again? Is this a real opportunity for such groups to formulate how the needs of their communities are delivered on the ground for those towns and areas?

Rich Bell: The creation of neighbourhood priority statements, which allow people at the local level to very clearly set out their priorities, and having those accounted for in local plans, is definitely a positive step forward, and we really welcome that. The point we would make is that community anchor organisations work in a way so as to unlock the capacity that is already present in communities. We would suggest that drafting them into this work could actually be key to addressing the geographic disparity in current levels of neighbourhood planning, particularly as research by the Communities in Charge campaign has demonstrated that the sorts of organisations we are talking about—community anchor organisations that seek to address local challenges in holistic ways that are truly reaching the community—are actually more likely to be found in areas that we would describe as deprived.

Clearly, there are challenges around how you ensure those organisations are acting with legitimacy. We think that the Government’s pledge to bring forward community covenants in their White Paper is potentially a game changer in that respect. We see that as a means of working through the challenges of a public body investing a degree of authority in a community organisation that is not on a statutory status. We would suggest that as long as you are working through the intermediary organisation in the form of the local authority, and as long as the Government provide guidance and regulations to ensure that that local authority is ensuring the community organisation has the trust of the whole community before it invests that power, it is a neat and relatively easy quick fix to what might otherwise be a problem by which the Bill would wind up deepening inequalities in control and power rather than resolving them.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I call Matthew Pennycook.

--- Later in debate ---
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Thank you—that is fine. We are just a bit anxious about the other two members of the panel not being able to connect yet. I will throw the questions open to the Government side first.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O'Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you, Sam, and thank you for making the time this afternoon. One of the goals of the Bill is to amend the law in order to make it easier for us to extend the devolution of powers to more areas outside our cities, particularly areas with two-tier governance, and to respect that two-tier governance. It both makes the process of setting up a combined authority quicker, and also creates combined county authorities. The Government’s intention through combined county authorities is to leave the option of having a mayoral combined authority in place, but to create a model in which the consent of every single district in the area is not needed for the creation of the combined authority.

However, it is the Government’s intention to have a strong role for lower-tier authorities once those combined authorities are created. I wonder if I could pick your brains on what sorts of things your members might want to combine powers on as voting members of those new CCAs or through joint committees, for instance as a single local authority devolution deal. What sorts of powers would your members potentially want to combine powers on, and to what end?

Cllr Chapman-Allen: Thank you for the question. Initially, I think we need to talk about the scale of ambition that local authorities and leaders are trying to achieve. The levelling-up framework sets out the clear positions of levels 1, 2 and 3 for what can be devolved within those nine vanguard areas. For me particularly, those six are in those two-tier areas.

Neil, you spoke about the county councils and unitary councils being enablers for the CCA and what districts would be willing to support moving forward. I think it is important to say that district councils in some areas where these deals are being suggested are being more ambitious than those counties and unitaries. Therefore, whoever is willing to be most ambitious should ensure that they have a seat around the table, but in turn ensuring that no sovereign body has those powers and/or responsibilities removed. There should be opportunities for districts, with those key enablers around business support and planning and growth.

Having spoken to colleagues across the country, but particularly in my area of Norfolk, which is one of those areas, I think we would be willing to have conversations with those that want to share strategic opportunities in the wider planning piece, be they in local planning, master planning, the duty to co-operate —although that is a blight, it is being diluted as we move forward, which is important—our housing challenges and how we support each other to ensure that our housing policies support residents in our localities and, in turn, how we deal with inward investment, to ensure that, regardless of where you want to land in a county locality, you have the same opportunities and support on business rates, business rate exemption and that planning process.

However, it is important that those individuals and sovereign councils buy into being a part of that CCA. In turn, they have to be a constituent part. We are talking about combined authorities, so district councils need to be combined in the decision-making process. There should absolutely not be a veto. I do not think that any individual in that combined authority should have the opportunity to veto, but if they are relinquishing some of that sovereignty through partnership and collaboration, they should have an equal say in how policies, strategy, spend and projects come forward.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O'Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q That is helpful. Can I press you a little further on that? Obviously, the Government completely agree that no sovereign body should lose power without consent, and that lower-tier councils should have a vote where they are pooling powers. In the light of what districts and boroughs do at present—culture, waste, democracy, tourism, leisure, inward investment, planning, homelessness and so on—how can we best use the new models of combined authority in two-tier areas? How can we best set things up to make it as easy as possible for districts to come together in the ambitious way that you have described?

Cllr Chapman-Allen: The frameworks and structures around MCAs already exist. Some individuals in Whitehall cite failures of governance in some of those MCA structures. We do not necessarily need to throw the baby out with the bathwater as we try to recreate a CCA. We can actually use the existing framework and governance structure, and tweak them to ensure that we are delivering for residents and businesses across our localities and communities.

It comes down to the bottom-up position. Localities and sovereign councils absolutely see the opportunities presented in the levelling-up framework and the Bill, but we have to make sure that we are able to help in shaping those opportunities moving forward. District councils across the country collaborate with each other through partnerships every single day. In my locality in Norfolk, we have a shared waste partnership across three councils—it is one of the biggest waste partnerships in the country—and, of course, as the collection authority across the whole of the county of Norfolk, all the district councils provide a set framework for how we collect that waste.

That district collaboration in some statutory service provision—be it waste, planning, housing, or homelessness —occurs not just in Norfolk, but across the whole of the country. We just have to make sure that we lift that to the new body—whether it is an existing MCA or the new CCA—which will be able to help shape the agenda as we move forward and ensure that there is equal say at the table on policy and spend.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I call Matthew Pennycook.

--- Later in debate ---
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I call the Minister, Stuart Andrew.

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you very much, Sir Mark. I am half-tempted to say, “G’day, Sam.” Thank you for your time today.

Just touching on the local plans, obviously at the moment we have about 39% of England covered by local plans, which means that there is a significant area not covered by them. Clearly, the Bill is trying to simplify the process of developing local plans. What has been the reaction your members of to the measures in the Bill to try to achieve that, and are there any other suggestions they have made that they think would be helpful, so that we can get more local plans in place within a much shorter timescale than we are currently experiencing?

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Just before you answer that question, Sam, can I just bring it to the Committee’s attention that we have now been joined by Councillor James Jamieson, chair of the Local Government Association, and Councillor Tim Oliver, chair of the County Councils Network. Welcome to the sitting. I am sorry that you have had those technical problems, but we are glad to see you here. We are just partway through a question from the Minister, Stuart Andrew, at the moment. I will bring you both in and we will obviously tailor some of the questions towards you both as the sitting progresses.

Cllr Chapman-Allen: Thank you, Chair. Stuart, the answer is twofold. Local planning is an immensely complicated process—that to-ing and fro-ing with the planning inspector makes it immensely challenging. I think it comes back to the previous questions: “Is this a top-down exercise? Do we need a very clear framework for what planning is?” But planning derives from that local position.

If we are being really clear and setting clear parameters for what local communities need to deliver through that formula of housing growth, challenge if it cannot be delivered, and allow those local communities to move forward and deliver upon that in a set timeframe, then we will expediate that. In my local authority in Breckland, we delivered a local plan, confirmed in December 2019. We are already out for review again, at vast cost, vast expense and vast frustration for our communities, when actually we should probably only be tweaking some of those local policies.

The sad fact is that some of those locations that you mentioned, which do not have a developed local plan, are now in the challenge around nutrient neutrality and an inability to deliver those plans, and of course the duty to co-operate places a further burden on those councils to provide that local plan.

In answer to your question, really briefly—sorry to waffle—make the timeframe shorter; allow that local drive to come from the bottom up; ensure that the national planning inspector supports those local policies, not a top-down approach; and I think you would see expediated local plans and adopted local plans across the country.

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you. I will try to give you a bit of a breather now, and involve our other two witnesses.

I want to turn to the infrastructure levy. The intention behind this is that it is non-negotiable, to try and reduce all the time that planning officers seem to spend on negotiation. Are the measures welcome? On the development of the infrastructure statements that local planning authorities have, do you see the opportunity for greater working between county and district councils in agreeing, as part of a local plan, the sort of infrastructure that is needed within those communities ahead of development being granted?

Cllr Jamieson: Thank you and apologies for my technical problems. On the infrastructure levy, I do think that is a helpful move. All too often, developers use viability as an excuse to increase their profits, or landowners to increase the value of their land. Really, where there is a significant uplift in the value of land as a result of receiving planning permission, it is only right and fair that that bonus of increase in value should go towards providing the essential infrastructure that is needed to support that development, whether that is roads, schools or soft infrastructure, such as health and community support. We welcome the community infrastructure levy as a simpler mechanism and one that will be applied to more developments, both commercial and housing.

One of the issues we have raised many times is the fact that developments of fewer than 10 houses do not pay anything. Quite clearly, that is all very positive. Of course, there are parts of the country where the land value uplift is not sufficient to provide the infrastructure, and that needs to be addressed and will have to be addressed by funding from Government. However, in areas where it is—yes, we welcome the fact that it is simplified. Of course, Sam just mentioned some of the other issues, such as nutrient neutrality, which is yet another imposition on development, so we need to be cognisant when we look at the infrastructure levy of the other levies and costs that are put on the land.

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Tim, do you have anything to add from a county council’s perspective?

Cllr Oliver: Many thanks, and my apologies too for the technical issues. We absolutely welcome a simplified community infrastructure levy and section 106 arrangement. At the moment, CIL is administered by the district and borough council, and the county council, in normal circumstances, would make an application for a part of that funding. It would be helpful for the Bill to provide clarification on how that infrastructure levy should be used. It is a levy to enable infrastructure support to facilitate housing and development. I know that part of the suggestion in the Bill is that 25% of that infrastructure levy would be set aside for parish councils, but, to your point, I would hope that there would be early conversations between all three tiers of local government, where they exist, as to how that levy should be spent for the benefit of the community.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Thanks Stuart. Just before I bring in Tim Farron, I will give both Neil and Matthew the opportunity to ask a question to the other two panellists, who unfortunately were not present earlier. Neil, have you got any brief questions? I will then bring in Matthew.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you, Sir Mark. James and Tim, the Bill contains measures both to simplify and accelerate the process of creating new combined authorities, be they mayoral or non-mayoral, and to create a new type of combined authority, which is more regularly usable in two-tier areas and respects the division of powers in those areas. I do not know what your views are on how much interest there is among your members in forming further combined authorities and doing further devolution deals. What is your view of the powers to accelerate and create new models to enable us to move forward with devolution in two-tier areas and avoid the unintended consequence of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, which gave each district in an area a veto over its neighbours and led to us not moving forward with deals in Lincolnshire and in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire previously? I suggest James answers first.

Cllr Jamieson: First, in broad terms, we welcome the move to enable every part of the country to have devolution. Previously it has been very much city focused and, of course, most of the country is not in cities, so we welcome that fact and the ambition that everywhere should have a devolution deal.

Obviously, simplifying the process is always welcome, provided that there is a fair and reasonable consultation, and involvement of all relevant parties. Clearly, we should not ride roughshod over various parties. However, as ever with devolution, we think devolution should be led by devolving and not by restructuring. That is one of the issues that has happened in the past, and we need to ensure it does not happen this time. There needs to be genuine devolution from Whitehall down to the local level, at which point we will find much greater acquiescence at the local level when it comes to how to come up with a structure that works.

When we first start talking about restructuring and then about devolution, I am always concerned that we should devolve the powers down and then look at what is the best way, on a local basis, which will be different across the country, to deliver the outcomes from that devolution. I would emphasise—Neil, I really appreciate the work that you are doing—that we certainly believe that far more can be done on a place basis than on a Whitehall basis in local devolution, simply because if I am in the north of England or Northumbria that is very different from Cornwall or central Bedfordshire. We have different priorities and issues, and that can only be done at the local place level, so the more that is devolved, that is clearly better. I emphasise devolution first, and then restructuring to match the powers that are devolved to us.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you. Tim?

Cllr Oliver: Thank you very much. The County Councils Network and my members are hugely supportive of the intentions set out in the Bill. We see this very much as an opportunity for the two thirds of the country that are not currently able to benefit from any devolution deal.

We see this as the devolution of powers from Parliament down to local government. The complications that exist at the moment will be taken away by the Bill. I think we will see members embracing the opportunity to have a devolution deal. In terms of the CCA, only 50% of my members would need that, where they have an adjoining county authority or unitary authority. The other 50% could benefit from a simple devolution deal.

My understanding is that this is not about the organisation of local government, either overtly or through the back door. This is about the flow down of powers from central Government to local leaders, where those leaders are clearly identified, and then the county level engaging with all our partners. This is as much about delivering the health system, and the integration of health and social care, as it is about any tier of local government. It is important that the process is simple, straightforward and quick. If at all possible, we want to get on with this. Then it is for the county authority to engage with the other two tiers of local government, if those exist, and to work out how best to deliver that.

I am very supportive, as is the CCA. I am grateful to the Minister for clarification on some confusion around clause 16. That seems perfectly workable and reasonable, so I very much support the direction of travel.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Matthew, do you have any questions for the two panellists?

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (Third sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Committee stage & Committee Debate - 3rd sitting
Thursday 23rd June 2022

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Public Bill Committees
Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 23 June 2022 - (23 Jun 2022)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We are now 20 minutes into this evidence session. In the interests of time, I will call the Minister. If there is any time left at the end, I will come back to you, Mr Pennycook.

Stuart Andrew Portrait The Minister for Housing (Stuart Andrew)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q My first question is straightforward: what practical changes do you think the Bill will make to the people you represent?

Victoria Hills: I represent 27,000 members. Practically, and on a strategic level, we welcomed the Bill, because we welcome the recognition that, rather than having a planning Bill, planning is integral to levelling up and regeneration. That is why we warmly welcomed the Bill: it has elevated the status of planning from being some regulatory thing over there to being fundamentally essential to delivering levelling up. Indeed, we say it is the lead domino; if you get the planning system right, you have the framework and the foundations to deliver regeneration.

That is our starting point. Within that, we have to have a broader conversation—perhaps not today—about how we ensure that local authorities in particular are resourced for the changes. We look forward to the forthcoming consultation on the fees to help to fund some of the additional work. Practically, it will mean that our members are going to be extremely busy—first, with responding to all the consultations, and secondly, moving forward with implementing the new system. There is an urgent need to address the resourcing, as I have highlighted, because local authorities are somewhat struggling at the moment anyway to deliver business as usual.

Some of this will be a bit business as unusual. We have heard that the CIL is potentially a major change. Changing local plans and updating them will take time and resources. It will be a busy period for the members I represent. That said, although we welcome the recognition that planning is integral to levelling up, we do need to have an open and honest conversation with you about how we now move forward quickly to resource local authorities to enable the changes. I hope that answers the question.

David Jackson: Likewise, given the high profile that has been given to the levelling-up agenda, it is very welcome that planning is so closely associated with such an important part of the Government’s programme. We very much welcome that.

For the people I represent, it is difficult to define exactly what the changes will mean, because they are multifaceted. For people I work directly with, there is a lot to get through and understand about the changes, but we are planning professionals and that is what we direct ourselves towards. That is part of our responsibility. For our clients, there is an expectation of a transition period, and that is a process to be navigated through. We are there to help them through that process. I repeat what I said earlier about the importance of trying to get through that phase as quickly as possible so that we can move on to obtaining the key objectives of building prosperity and creating flourishing communities.

On flourishing communities, in the work that we do as planning professionals we become very much associated with and embedded in communities for the period of a project. It is really important that that process of local engagement and projects being opened to the public scrutiny that leads to improvement—[Inaudible.]

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

David, you are looking away from the microphone again and we missed what you said.

David Jackson: Sorry. Public scrutiny is necessary to improve projects and win public trust.

Tony Mulhall: Chartered surveyors provide their services largely at the level of strategic land preparation and development delivery, so they are acutely aware of the increasing risk associated with development projects proceeding. Planning comes with certain risks—in other words, getting a project through the planning system—so it is very important that we have a system that works well in process terms.

From a development point of view, planning is one of the factors. We have huge pressure on costs at the moment. I have here a document that I have just received from the Building Cost Information Service that says that the materials cost index has continued to grow, with annual growth in excess of 20%, and figures say that the cost of complying with the building regulations is around 6%. Those are cumulative risks, and the planning system is just one of those. It is a very important one, and getting it right is very important, but in a development context the danger is that investors will defer making decisions on taking projects forward until they have greater certainty about the regulatory environment they are heading into and that that regulatory environment can be priced, in a sense—what is it going to cost to get through the regulatory environment?

We need to take account of that, and not just in relation to large house builders. They are capitalised very well, but a lot of small and medium-sized enterprises find it extremely difficult to engage with the planning system at a level they can afford. That impacts on borrowing: you cannot engage a lender if you have what I would describe as planning risk associated with your side. These are the realities that our members face in advising their clients.

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you. One of the complaints that I hear quite a lot, not just from my own constituents but from people throughout the country, is that people feel planning is something that happens to them, and we know that public engagement with the planning system is incredibly low. Do you think the measures in the Bill—the neighbourhood planning, the priority statements and the digitisation of the whole system—will help to improve community engagement? Do you think that, in turn, it will help to enlist more support for development within communities?

Victoria Hills: We welcome all those aspects, and particularly the investment in digital transformation and a bit more structure around what that looks like for local authorities so that they can make the investments in digital that are required. We also absolutely welcome neighbourhood planning, and also, potentially, street votes and all that comes with that.

Something equally important that we are strongly advocating for is that virtual planning committees can continue in the way they did during the pandemic. We are seeking an amendment to the Bill for that purpose, because we think it provided an additional aspect to the ways in which communities could be genuinely engaged, particularly for those people who cannot get to committee meetings in the evenings because of their own commitments.

We welcome all the aspects that have been included in the Bill to broaden engagement. Our top two omissions are the one that I started with—involving the community in the national policies—and enabling them to join in via a virtual committee.

Tony Mulhall: This is a really important point. Our experience, and what we get reported back, is that the community does not tend to engage with the plan-making process—people need to get a development on the corner of their street before they become exercised—so it is very important for us to understand what is a meaningful way to get feedback from the community about what it is that they do not like and what is top of their list of what they want.

I am not sure that the plans that we put through have the legitimacy we might expect from real engagement with people, because I think they do not fully understand what the plan is saying. We have seen the kind of developments in neighbourhood planning that were really good but probably did not get to the people who need to participate to improve their local communities. There is an interesting measure in the Bill to facilitate that. I would say that we really need to rethink what meaningful participation in plan making is about, because people are coming away from the production of a plan without much knowledge of what is going to turn up in their neighbourhood.

David Jackson: I agree with that point. What we need is engagement at all levels of the plan-making process, from the SDS—spatial development strategy, the new strategic level of plan making—all the way through. It is down to the profession to go out and do that. That is where the parallel development of the levelling-up agenda, putting planning alongside that as the key delivery mechanism, has some advantages, because it demonstrates exactly the role that planning has in facilitating the benefits that we want to see for those communities. My slight concern is in what I might call the hyper-local, because that allows people to focus just on their immediate areas, but as I say, what we want is a focus across the plan-making portfolio, so that people have that aspiration.

One example of the risk of the hyper-local is footnote 54 in the NPPF, which requires onshore wind turbines to be supported by the local community that is most affected. While onshore wind has overall high levels of public support, a massive drop-off in the delivery of onshore wind has been the result of that particular control. It does not take us away from the need to engage with communities at the local level to win their support, but it does create difficulties—challenges—in that hyper-local environment.

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q My final question returns to the community infrastructure levy. We have said that we want to take a test-and-learn approach, trialling it with a number of authorities, so I welcome the fact that you want to engage in that process. Do you agree that planning authorities often spend a considerable amount of time in negotiation on CIL or section 106, and often find the negotiations going downwards in terms of investment for the local community? That further erodes trust in the process in respect of what will be delivered on the ground for communities. Will this legislation help to free up the time of some of the planners to do some of the more important strategic stuff? I will go to David first.

David Jackson: On replacing CIL with the infrastructure levy, the simplification of the infrastructure levy based on value is certainly advantageous. In our experience, we were very engaged in the preparation of CIL on behalf of the Home Builders Federation. We engaged with many local authorities on that basis, and it was indeed a very complex process, looking at viability and trying to project that over a period of time and for a range of development scenarios. That simplification is welcome.

I take a slightly different view on section 106. It goes without saying that where section 106 is engaged, we are dealing in large part with complex, difficult, challenging projects. We have to ensure that local communities have trust in the process and that it will deliver the outcomes they expect to see. Inevitably, there is an element of commercial negotiation, because viability can often be engaged where we have multiple demands on investment in a local community, so it is right that we go through that complex process. I think CIL helps in terms of taking—[Inaudible.] The complexity of section 106 is merely a reflection of the complexity of the projects we are dealing with and the wish on both sides—both the community and the developer—to ensure that the infrastructure that is required to make the project work is actually delivered.

Victoria Hills: We have been very clear that anything that comes in needs to not overcomplicate an already quite complicated system. As proposed, the infrastructure levies will all go through PINS—the Planning Inspectorate —which we think will add more delay and cost to the system. We are advocating for the new infrastructure levies to get directly agreed by local authorities with the Secretary of State or the Department, to take out some of what I think you are alluding to—the horse trading, the negotiation and all the rest of it. Then, there is one discussion between the directly elected authority and the Department, and that gets agreed. You can take months and significant cost out of the whole system by not running it through PINS.

Another important point, which I could not make earlier, is that it is really important to understand how, in simplifying the system, the new infrastructure levy will sit alongside other statutory requirements—not least biodiversity net gain and affordable housing—and how, in simplifying it, it will balance out those quite complex aspects. The requirement for affordable housing has always been the case, but biodiversity net gain was not a thing before.

At the moment, until we see the detail, we are not convinced that it will all be simplified. There are some important complexities to take on board.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q In the light of the Government’s proposals and commitment to building 300,000 homes by 2025 and real revision of the planning process, do the witnesses believe that is deliverable? Do they believe we will see homes that are predominantly assets, investments, second homes and Airbnbs?

Victoria Hills: We have always been very clear that the way to deliver great places and great communities is through a robust local plan and framework where the local authority has the opportunity to set out their priorities, which could include some of the aspects you referred to. The elevation of the importance of the local plan in all this is welcome. The detail, which we do not yet have, is on to what extent local authorities will be able to carry on delivering priorities through policy, and to what extent they will get pulled out into the national framework.

We support the principle of the local plan being elevated. We recognise that it is the only way you can move ahead with delivering on agendas including net zero, affordable housing and well-designed, healthy homes. If you are going to have policies against second homes, that may well be something to prioritise in your local plan, or in national guidance—the detail is yet to be seen on that.

Whether or not it meets the housing numbers is still an area for debate. The Government are on the record saying that is very much the plan in action. We will be advocating for local authorities to be well resourced, without delay to the national framework, to enable them to get on with the business of producing local plans as quickly as possible, in order to provide certainty for local communities and the development sector, so that it can get on and start planning and then building. It really just relates to the earlier theme of resourcing.

However, there also needs to be no further delay. There is an urgent need to deliver more homes, as we know. The housing waiting list continues to rise, and more and more people are still desperate to have a place of their own. The need continues to grow, so it is important that we move forward quickly on any regulatory reform and that we move forward with a resourcing package—which surely must include bringing up the planning fees as well, to help to move those things forward as quickly as possible.

Tony Mulhall: I totally agree with Victoria’s point about the importance of having up-to-date local plans, and the important aspect in the Bill of being able to combine local authorities so that they better match their functional urban region or their socioeconomic hinterland. That is important because we are spending a lot of time and money squeezing the carbon out of our buildings, but there will not be much point in doing that if we have to drive miles to get to our jobs and schools. It is critical that we have a proper planning system linked with the standards of quality construction that will achieve climate change.

On the point as to whether the measures in the Bill will deliver the target of 300,000 houses per annum, the feedback that I get from our members is “No.”

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None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We have until 1 o’clock and this time I turn to the Minister first.

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you, Mrs Murray, and I thank the witnesses for their attendance this morning.

In the previous evidence session, we heard that people often describe planning as something that happens to them. Do you think that the measures in the Bill will increase community engagement in all aspects of the planning process, particularly the development of local plans and other individual planning applications? Do you think that some of the measures, such as the introduction of the neighbourhood priority statements, will help to increase the number of neighbourhood planning groups that might be spread in areas that have been difficult to reach so far?

Tony Burton: Generally, we think the Bill is helpful for communities who want to have more of a say on planning issues. There are one or two headlines. The most pre-emptive one is that the Bill confirms the statutory role for neighbourhood planning, given the uncertainty since the publication of a White Paper that said relatively little about it and that brought forward some proposals that would have shut out community input, such as those at the planning application stage.

The specific measures around neighbourhood planning, and I appreciate that your question goes wider than that, are relatively limited. The adjustments to the basic conditions and the broad definition that has been provided, which is helpful, will not have a significant impact on take-up. They will help to clarify some elements of process. And neighbourhood planning will be caught up in the same changes as local plans, when it comes to the primacy of the development plan and the centralisation of the development of management policies. Again, they need to play out, but much of that is welcome, because it attaches additional weight to the document, and to the time and effort that volunteers invest.

The neighbourhood priority statements are triggering some interest among the groups we work with, but they are also raising a significant number of questions. In our view, if the aim is to support greater take-up, particularly in urban areas, which I know the Minister is keen to see, then more needs to be done. They need to be seen as something that is additional to and complementary to neighbourhood planning, not a replacement for it.

The legislation is quite weak in the weight that needs to be attached to it by local authorities; the “have regard” requirement is weak. We have a decade of experience in London of boroughs not really taking that much notice even of neighbourhood plans, which are statutory documents, so we would like to see a stronger weight attached.

It needs to be confirmed in the legislation, not just elsewhere, that it is about more than informing local plans. We understand that that is the Government’s intention, but the current drafting of the Bill is quite restrictive. We think that it would be really sensible if the Government supported communities to pilot and to try to make all priority statements before the legislation is finalised, so that we get a real sense of what they could achieve.

The disappointment is that the local planning provisions are not more extensive, to encourage wider community involvement. We are about to publish our “The State of Neighbourhood Planning in London” report this evening, and it shows that progress in engaging communities is still being hampered by obstructive local authorities in many cases. Therefore, we believe that if the Bill is to effectively engage communities in leading development, as opposed to responding to it—doing planning, as opposed to having it done to them—it really needs to strengthen the legal duty on local authorities to support neighbourhood planning. It needs to give neighbourhood forums the same powers as parish and town councils in receiving and spending the neighbourhood element of the community infrastructure levy. At a stroke, that is the single most important thing that the Government could do to encourage local planning in cities. The Bill also needs to set time limits on local authorities making decisions on key stages.

The final point we would make is that the Bill itself will not be enough, and that there will need to be support for communities to engage and involve themselves. We would put particular attention on the role of the neighbourhood planning support programme, which is probably the single most important measure available to accelerate community involvement in planning decisions. It could be significantly improved and increased.

Jonathan Owen: I am sure it will not surprise any of you to hear that probably the No. 1 issue affecting 10,000 parish and town councils and 100,000 councillors is planning. That is top of their agenda, and I think it would be fair to say that we need to look at every way we can to make sure that the public are more effectively engaged with the system. We are pleased with the emphasis on a plan-based system—that is right—and public engagement in that planning is absolutely vital.

The main area of interest for us is neighbourhood planning, and parish and town councils have really been in the driving seat of producing those plans. I think there have been about 3,000 so far, with about 90% done by parish and town councils. They have had amazing referenda, with something like a million people voting in them over the last few years. I think they cover an area of about 10 million people. That is a really good way in which the public can engage with the planning system, but there are thousands and thousands of other communities that are being left behind and that do not have neighbourhood plans by parish and town councils or neighbourhood forums.

Some of the feedback that we had from our 10,000 parish councils was that they were concerned that it will be costly and time consuming, and that the neighbourhood plans will be overlooked and not taken seriously by principal authorities. A lot of the measures in the Bill will help address those issues, which should help with promoting neighbourhood planning.

This must not stop with the Bill. If you are going to reach the other 7,000 or 8,000 communities, we need to make sure that we are promoting neighbourhood planning and its benefits, and that we are investing in helping those communities to do that work. I would encourage you to continue with the grants that are available, and perhaps to make them easier to access. We have had a good start to neighbourhood planning, and I am really pleased that you are committed to continuing with it and making it more effective. We will work with you to try to make that happen.

There are a couple of bits of other feedback around the infrastructure levy. Again, that is to be supported, but there is a risk that because the percentage is the same regardless of whether you have a neighbourhood plan or not, there might be a slight disincentive to produce a neighbourhood plan. As you know, there is a boost to the share of the community infrastructure levy if you have a neighbourhood plan. It would be good if you could consider how best to address that point, so that people are incentivised to have neighbourhood plans and to engage effectively with the public.

On the specific matter of the mini neighbourhood plan, I think that is fine but, again, we need to make sure that doesn’t limit communities’ ambitions to go further and to have neighbourhood plans. We probably need to balance that territory.

I have been amazed by the innovation of many neighbourhood plans and the things they are now trying to address, including climate change, health and wellbeing, such as dementia-friendly aspects, and a vast range of other things. Clearly, we must not lose that innovation. We must use this Bill to drive forward neighbourhood planning and get more people involved with it, and I think that would be a good thing.

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you. In the spirit of wanting to encourage more people to get involved in the development of local plans, we have certainly heard from communities that it is a very complex process. If you are a parish or town council, there may be some resource you can lean on, but in areas that are not covered by town or parish councils such work is reliant on volunteers. Do you think the digitalisation of the process will life a lot easier? Will that encourage more people to take up the mantle of developing a neighbourhood plan for their community?

Jonathan Owen: I think one thing we have learned over the last couple years is that people are getting more and more used to digital engagement and using such systems, so that probably will be the case. Obviously, you will need to review and monitor it, but I think it is certainly something that is worth developing further.

Many of our parish and town councils are already using digital processes when considering planning applications for principal authorities, so I think that could well make a difference. There might be some capital investment required to ensure that even remote communities in the middle of rural Suffolk, where I live, can access the material online without being excluded.

Tony Burton: Our experience is that digital is part of the answer. In relation to local and neighbourhood plans, we would point to the opportunities it presents around new, complementary forms of community engagement—there are now a variety of tools available to support that—and more effective ways of pooling and analysing the evidence that is required, which is often a minefield of PDFs that do not link to each other or help people to navigate the system or get to the nub of the issues.

There is a potential—this is something we have been pressing for—for the neighbourhood planning support programme to provide bespoke support around this and to offer provision for particular elements, such as centralised tools or databases. Also, we would emphasise more digital mapping. Almost by definition, planning is about maps and places—it is spatial—and yet the ways in which we bring everything together on a map are still rather clunky and not all that effective. The best of what is out there shows what can be done, and the best should be the norm.

I would emphasise that digital is only part of a solution. It is no panacea and nothing is more important than the peer-to-peer, face-to-face support that communities need to support them to be their best when it comes to engaging with these processes.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I am afraid that this will have to be the last question from the Ministers before I move to the Opposition spokesman. Minister O’Brien, I believe you have a question.

--- Later in debate ---
Neil O'Brien Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Neil O'Brien)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you, Mrs Murray. The Bill comes at a time when various processes to look at the reform of neighbourhood governance are still under way, but it still contains a number of important changes, be it the strengthening of neighbourhood plans or the changes to the infrastructure levy, with potentially larger sums for neighbourhood communities. There are also things such as street votes and high street rental auctions, which might give community groups, and indeed parish councils and the like, a chance to get on to the high street and increase their visibility. Reflecting as practitioners of neighbourhood governance, what is your advice on how best we can put into practice the different measures in the Bill so that they best channel the energies and pick up the concerns of neighbourhoods and local communities?

Jonathan Owen: We are really keen to see the detail on some of the other aspects of the neighbourhood governance review. The White Paper held out for us real promise to ensure that the opportunities of devolution and levelling up were really seized, so I hope you will not mind if start off by encouraging you to consider how you can build aspects of that wider review into the Bill. We are particularly keen to see the review conducted within quite a reasonable timescale, to be involved in the process and to make sure that any proposals that come out of it are enacted. We would quite like to see some sort of placeholder clause put in for street votes, to say that the neighbourhood governance review will be completed within a certain time and the agreed proposals enacted. I do not know whether that is possible, but I really do think you might miss an opportunity if you do not engage fully in that review and implement some of its actions.

The key things for us are about making it easier to set up parish and town councils. At the moment, about two thirds of the country has a parish, but only about a third of the population, which means that two thirds of the population are missing out on having the first tier of local government supporting community empowerment and helping them address the big challenges that we face. Many of you will be aware of the research done by Onward. Its social fabric index showed that places with parish councils tended to have a stronger community identity and so forth. I think there are some real opportunities that need to be picked up either as part of the Bill or as part of that wider neighbourhood governance review.

The other big area for us is funding of the sector. At the moment, our councils are not necessarily able to access some funding streams, such as the community ownership fund and other things. It would be good to look at making it possible for them to access that funding. An interesting example of that was how, through the covid pandemic, a lot of our 10,000 councils stepped up really early, as you will be aware, to set up volunteering arrangements and support local communities. Many of them did really great things, but many of them lost out from lost income. You were able to compensate the principal authorities but unable to compensate parish councils that had lost out. To be honest, principal authorities were reluctant to devolve much of the funding they received down to our level.

I think you should consider using the Bill to put in place a mechanism whereby you would be able to fund local councils directly. That could be really helpful to this Government and probably to future Governments when another big problem happens, such as the pandemic, so that you would be able to reach down to communities throughout the country and provide some financial support or lifeline as necessary.

On the street votes, we will be interested to see the detail on that and, again, picking up on my other point on neighbourhood planning, we just need to make sure that that complements and does not replace the wider neighbourhood planning role.

Finally, returning to the last question on digitalisation, the holding of remote meetings has been really useful in the last couple of years. We have seen evidence that lots of members of the public have attended parish and town council meetings because they are able just to attend for the one item that interests them, which is often a planning matter. Enabling councils to meet remotely and have engagement remotely from residents would be really good.

Tony Burton: I think it is a really helpful question to be asking at this stage. There is experience from similar questions that came through on the Localism Act 2011, from which some of the existing community rights measures stemmed. If we look back over those 10 years, we see that some have been successful and some have disappeared, frankly—they might be on the statute book but no one is using the power they provide. The things that worked are those that responded to what people want—there may be lessons here for the provisions you cited and others in the Bill. They were a response to what our communities were asking for, as opposed to us saying, “We’ve got a good idea. Please will you use it.” Some came with support and help, which allowed communities to really understand how to navigate and use the process and talk to others that are maybe slightly further ahead of them in the process. Some in a sense held the ring on some of the bigger questions.

That is why neighbourhood planning is so good. It is such a flexible and strategic tool, as well as being locally specific. You can make it a single policy about a single issue if you want, or you can make it a mini local plan that covers the bases. It is up to the community to drive that process.

I would also encourage you to anticipate where there will be blockages in the application of whatever powers or rights are being established. With neighbourhood planning we have had to retrofit a lot of those, and it has not been that helpful. There have been things such as the timetables for local authorities to make decisions and some of the powers to appeal to the Secretary of State. It is actually worth stress testing these against the worst cases within which they are trying to be applied as well as thinking that we are always going to be operating in a benevolent environment.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O'Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you. That was very helpful.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I call the shadow Minister.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (Fourth sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage
Thursday 23rd June 2022

(1 year, 12 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 23 June 2022 - (23 Jun 2022)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

For the Government side, I call the Minister.

Stuart Andrew Portrait The Minister for Housing (Stuart Andrew)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q With permission, Mr Bone, I shall ask the first question, and then Minister O’Brien has some further questions to ask.

Good afternoon, Andy. It is good to see you and thank you for giving up your time.

Andy Street: You, too.

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q You have been quite a champion of brownfield sites and regeneration, particularly with a focus of trying to preserve many of the greenfield areas in the West Midlands. There are a number of planning reforms in the Bill. Do you see those as potentially helping you in your aim to deliver the housing that the West Midlands needs and, in particular, to level up the parts of the region on which you are really keen to focus?

Andy Street: I will give you a straight answer to the question in one moment if I may, Mr Andrew, but let me give a bit of general context. This, I think, is a very good example of where the combined authority has been able to demonstrate the fundamental principle that each can achieve things that individual local authorities working on their own probably would not have done. Of course, the critical point is that we achieve it by working with our local authorities, but we can clearly demonstrate that we have brought additional firepower.

The stats are very clear: we have hit our housing target in this region over the last four or five years, and we had, pre pandemic, doubled the number of homes being built every year in this region. One way that we were able to do that is, of course, working with central Government by deploying the brownfield land funding that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities had allocated to us in various tranches. We have made the existing system work, and very clearly we probably would not have had a negotiation—for example, Walsall or Wolverhampton separately—with DLUHC had we not existed.

Coming to your question, we are doing this against a good backdrop. We hope we will win further funding in due course to advance this even further, but on the reforms in the paper—it is a general question—essentially I would be supportive of them because they do bring simplicity to the operation. I do think that one of the challenges we constantly face is the time difficulty in drawing these items to a conclusion.

Neil O'Brien Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Neil O’Brien)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you, Andy, for joining us. The Bill makes various provisions to speed up and to simplify the creation of new combined authorities and to make it easier, as we have just discussed, for Mayors to take on PCC powers. It also makes it easier to create combined authorities in two-tier areas through the combined county authorities clauses. Do you think the extension of mayoral combined authorities to more areas of the country is a good idea, and what would your advice be to places that are setting up new combined authorities?

Andy Street: The answer to the first question, in one word, is yes. Let me explain why, and this is something that Minister O’Brien and I have talked about for probably a decade, since we were both in previous roles. If you look at the economic history of this country and compare it with other, similar countries, we definitely have a weakness in the out of London areas. There is nothing original there; we know that. Of course, part of the answer is to try to address that in what you might call areas of sufficient scale. I think the thing that the combined authorities have done, as you could argue that the more successful and bigger LEPs did as the precursor to it, is begin to think about economic policy at an appropriate spatial level, or what the books would probably call a natural economic area—a travel-to-work area or whatever. That, I honestly think, has been one of our great successes. Transport policies do not stop at the end of Birmingham when it moves into Solihull, as Gill’s market does not stop at the end of Wolverhampton when it moves into Dudley. We have been able to think about these determinants of economic success across the appropriate geographical area. In our case, that is not yet fully complete, and if you look around the country, you see that other combined authorities are more clearly incomplete in that sense. I would argue that they should be encouraged to expand to fill their natural economic areas.

In terms of the advice, I think there is one simple word: you have to make sure that everybody is up for it. I do not believe this should be imposed. I do not think this should be about unwillingness. I do believe there needs to be a sort of buy-in to the core principle that the very first question is that everybody has got to be prepared to compromise and make this work for it to be a success.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you. I have a very brief supplementary. One of the levelling-up missions that this Bill puts on a statutory basis is to increase the public domestic R&D spending outside the greater south-east by a third over the spending review period, and one of the institutions helping us to drive that is the new innovation accelerator in the West Midlands. How, other than through the legislation that we are passing, can we achieve that goal of driving high-quality public investment in R&D outside the golden triangle, and what role do you think the innovation accelerator can play?

Andy Street: Brilliant. I actually think this is probably one of the single most important parts of this Bill, and I am not sure it has had—what is the word?—the celebration it probably deserves. If you look at the long-term determinants of inequality, the intensity of R&D in an area is absolutely critical. You only have to look at the states of the Union and at an area such as Massachusetts and its leadership in R&D in medtech to see how Boston has become the most successful city in that sector by a country mile.

We have had a lopsided country in terms of public R&D—not just a little lopsided, but hugely lopsided. If you look at the West Midlands, we are very successful at drawing in private R&D, and we are very weak at drawing in public R&D. Our ratio here is four to one. It is definitely the worst in the whole country. It is ironic, isn’t it, because the private sector sees the opportunity and the public sector has not seen it in the same way? So for the Government to commit to tilting that and leveraging in even more private sector cash on the back of that is very important.

What has got to happen to do it? Frankly, we have got to change our approach to some extent. There is a whole piece here about cluster theory. Our public R&D has been incredibly focused in a very small number of research councils and research universities, which are basically around our automotive sector. We need to continue to play to that strength, but then to balance that by looking at the medtech sector, the fintech sector and clean growth. That is where we will be putting our focus in the innovator accelerator, so that it is a catalyst for us to improve our performance in new, adjacent sectors. So that diversification approach is a very important sprat to catch a mackerel—that’s what I call it.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I call Rachael Maskell.

--- Later in debate ---
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We have unfortunately almost run out of time. I was tempted to see whether the Housing Minister wanted to come back and chat to our witness, but he seems to be pointing to the fact that time is up. Or does he want to use the remaining minute?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The time is up.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

The time is up, I am told. Thank you so much for coming, Mr Street. Your evidence was extremely clear and very helpful to the Committee.

Andy Street: Thank you very much.

Examination of Witnesses

Nicholas Boys Smith, Lizzie Glithero-West and Adrian Dobson gave evidence.

--- Later in debate ---
Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you, Mr Bone. There has been quite a bit of criticism that much of the development that we see around the country is the same wherever you are, and that there is a lack of imaginative design. Some would describe those developments as uninspiring places to live. How important is it to improve the design of new developments for the people who live there and to encourage more support for development in communities?

Nicholas Boys Smith: I assume that question is for me. Thank you, Minister. That is a very profound question, and I do not mean that in a sycophantic way. The current percentage of British people who trust planners to make their local neighbourhood better is in medium single figures, and for those who trust developers, it is in low single figures—between 4% and 7%. Despite the widely accepted desperate need for new housing, the instinctive assumption of most neighbourhoods, most of the time—sorry, this is a bit of a coda, but we have the lowest houses to households ratio in the western world—is that new development will make places worse. That informs the politics of all large developments and most small ones.

That is new, and it used not to be the case 50, 70, 100 or 200 years ago. It is something that is particularly prevalent in this country. Until we fundamentally fix the instinctive assumption that people have—before they learn more—that new development will worsen your bit of the world, the caught-between-the-horns nature of the politics of housing will never go away. As elected Members of Parliament, you do not need me to tell you that. This is not a criticism of the Bill, but it will not fix that—no one bit of legislation or set of actions can—although some elements of it are relevant.

I will say one final thing before I shush so other people can come in. This is not just about support for new housing, important though that is. Provably, where we live has very measurable and, in some large degree, quantifiable and predictable consequences for the lives we lead, our personal health, our mental health, how many of our neighbours we know and how much we walk in our daily existence, rather than just jumping in a car to go to the shops. It has very profound consequences, not just for spatial development patterns, but for the depth with which we tread upon the planet.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Q Lizzie, do you want to come in on that?

Lizzie Glithero-West: Very briefly, because I am sure that Adrian will have some points on this. From the perspective of heritage and the environment, the Bill and the things around it—I support the point that this is not just about the Bill, but about the policies around it—should support sustainable reuse of buildings. Some of the best new homes are not necessarily new built; they can be renovated. Something that would be on our list for the Government to think about alongside the Bill would be the incentives to encourage reuse rather than demolition and new build.

We welcome the possible introduction of design codes, which would allow for developments that could recognise the local vernacular. Design codes should offer sustainability, safety and quality. There is a big point about the protection of designated heritage assets, as well as non-designated heritage assets, which are not necessarily included in the Bill. Some provisions could be made, either within the Bill or around it, to incentivise repair and saving buildings, and using them as a way to keep the character of a place rather than just resorting to new homes and new buildings.

There are two things that we could look at in particular. The first is removing the permitted development right for demolition, which is a problematic loophole at the moment; it incentivises flattening beautiful buildings that may not be listed. Secondly—I can presumably talk about this in more depth later—we could look at the VAT on the maintenance of current buildings. That is normally 20%, which is completely contrary to the 0% rate for new build and incentivises the wrong solutions for the environment as well as for local communities.

Adrian Dobson: The Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission highlighted the value of good design, presumably in part because communities are more likely to accept well designed buildings. It also highlighted a lack of resource within the planning system, particularly in design expertise. The Bill itself places a lot of emphasis on local design codes. I am sure the Committee will want to talk about that; it is something that excites quite strong opinions both ways. Some people see local design codes as a way of establishing good basic principles, greater certainty around development and the ability to reflect local needs, but some people see them as potentially stifling innovation. That would be one way of addressing the issue.

I think it is important for us to think about design as not just being skin deep, although it is about appearance. Good quality design needs to address issues around sustainability, quality of build and the health and welfare of the people who use the buildings. When we talk about the Bill, there are perhaps some contradictions at the moment. There is possibly a contradiction between emphasis on local design codes, but growth in permitted developments. They seem to contradict each other slightly, and that might be one thing to think about. Also, there is a tension in the Bill between national development management policy and its relative weight against local development plans. Again, that might be part of the area of debate on the issue.

To follow up on something Lizzie said about the sustainability and embodied carbon aspects, we probably ought to be making more presumptions on reuse, retrofitting and alteration of existing building stock, and not just looking to new build as the solution to those issues.

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
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Q Looking more broadly at heritage, there have been a number of calls for the strengthening of measures. Do you think the Bill goes far enough in answering the calls that the sector have been making for some time?

Lizzie Glithero-West: We believe that heritage is at the heart of the levelling-up and place agenda. We are really pleased that heritage is in the Bill and has its own chapter—chapter 3. There is a lot to welcome in the Bill. Given that heritage has not recently had any distinct legislation of its own, as we had hoped to have with the draft Heritage Protection Bill of 2008, nor is it likely to, it is important for us to take any opportunity to address some of the legislative aims of the sector and policy makers. Many of those aims had cross-party support. This Bill is one of those significant opportunities. There is always more to be done around heritage protection, but several elements of the Bill, and some further measures we have sent in a briefing to the Committee—I can unpack that, if it would be helpful—address some of those long-awaited calls from the sector.

We strongly support clause 185, which would make historic environment records statutory. That has been a long-term ask from the sector, and it features in our heritage manifestos. The sector is delighted that this has made it into the Bill, and I congratulate those working on that behind the scenes. We strongly support clause 92, which extends the protection of heritage assets. We suggested a limited number of key additions to the heritage assets list that would ensure that protection was clearer and more comprehensive, and those are outlined in our briefing.

Given the presidency of COP26 last year and the recognition of the climate emergency, we hope to see more action from Government in parallel with the Bill, or possibly within it—for example, the mention of permitted development that I made earlier for demolition —to encourage the use of current building stock over a presumption to new build. We hope that will be picked up in tandem.

Clauses 93 and 94 are also welcomed by the sector. Clause 93 makes stop notices, which have long been available within the wider planning system, applicable to heritage consent regimes. There is strong support from some in the sector for clause 94, which says that urgent works can be required in certain cases where listed buildings are occupied.

I think clause 95 is the one that you are probably referring to. There is general agreement from the sector that there needs to be a better system for the protection of buildings that are being considered for listing. The whole sector recognises that interim protection of heritage during the listing process is important. There are different views in the heritage sector on the proposals in the Bill to address that. Many in the sector welcome the removal of compensation in clause 95 and would go further by asking for a duty on local planning authorities to serve a building preservation notice where they believe criteria for listing can be met.

A significant minority, however, have concerns about the removal of compensation from those wrongly served a BPN, which could result in delays and losses. There is a concern that that would set a precedent for other compensation clauses. The organisations that I mentioned would rather have a system of interim protection akin to that in Wales. It is important for the whole sector that there is clarity on the approach taken in any transition period until the Act is fully effective. There are other bits I would like to mention, but they are not necessarily directly on the heritage angle and are particularly in relation to the replacement of environmental impact assessments and strategic environmental assessments. We can come on to those if the Committee would like to touch on them later.

None Portrait The Chair
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Q Nicholas, did you have anything that you wanted to add?

Nicholas Boys Smith: I will make a quick point linking to the wider discussion on levelling up. The danger in the years to come is that as public sector money rightly supports the regeneration and investment in left-behind towns and places, in areas with low land value, that could actually lead to the reduction in quality of the urban realm and thus the reduced liveability of lots of historic but low-value places—the Grimsbys, the Hulls and the Stoke-on-Trents of this world. It is very important that the Bill focuses on the protection of heritage.

I think it will be very important in the years to come to think hard about how we protect, as we do not do quite so well at the moment, late Victorian and early 20th century heritage. At the moment, the ability to list gets much tougher for the late 19th century. This is not something that needs to be done through the Bill; it could be done through secondary legislation or guidance. We should make sure that as lots of money and focus goes on to levelling up places, we do not, as we have too often in the past, erringly do great harm to areas with unlisted and perhaps not very fashionable early 20th century-style places.

The quality of the urban infrastructure and realm of many of our left-behind towns is fantastic. They are often post-industrial towns with much lower levels of listing than the Salisburys and the Winchesters of this world; that is no disrespect to Salisbury or Winchester. There is a quite urgent need to face into that. Doing so would have the added advantage that more of our housing requirement could hopefully come in a more sustainable pattern from these rather under-utilised, under-invested-in and under-lived-in towns in the midlands and the north.

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Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
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Q Finally, do you believe that clause 117 could potentially lead to an erosion of existing environmental protections? Do you believe that clause 120 provides adequate protection? Will it ensure that, at a minimum, there is no regression from existing protections? If not, how would you ideally like to see the Bill strengthened?

Dr Benwell: I should have brought my copy of the Bill. There are actually some very good bits in clause 117. The Government have done quite a good job of writing in the mitigation hierarchy, which is welcome to see. The problem is linked through to clause 127, which allows everything in preceding parts simply to replace existing environmental law. It would be much better if the Government came forward with fully worked-up proposals for how to strengthen the existing system of the EIA and SEA, rather than taking the approach of giving themselves the powers to take out layers of environmental law and put in something different.

You mentioned clause 120, the so-called non-regression clause. It is obviously a good thing to have a commitment not to weaken environmental protection, but I am afraid that the efficacy of such a clause is really in doubt, for a number of reasons. First, it is the Secretary of State in whose opinion environmental law has to be maintained at an equal level. That is a highly subjective opinion left in the hands of Ministers—and, just to emphasise, not a court in the land would challenge that on the basis of ultra vires without it being patently absurd. Courts are really deferential to decision makers, so if a Minister were to say, “Yes, this is equivalent,” that statement would have to be really, really daft for a court to challenge it. So we think that that kind of non-regression provision is unlikely to be robust.

Secondly, the other noteworthy part of the non-regression provision is that it talks about overall levels of protection. That is where we come back to the idea of talking about the environment in aggregate and those big broad trends of species-level data, which is really important—like Carolyn, I think that we should be linking back to the Environment Act targets—but it is not sufficient. We must keep in place the rules that protect the particular, the peculiar and the exciting at the local level that matter to important people, and those local populations of species and habitats that are so important. Otherwise, we get into a runaway offsetting mentality where the assurance that things will be better overall can be taken to obscure a lot of harm to the natural environment at the local level.

So there are some good things in clause 117 and some nice sentiments in clause 120, but overall they do not give the reassurance that would be provided by simply taking time to work up provisions in full and bring them forward in primary legislation rather than giving Ministers the power to swip and swap through regulations.

Paul Miner: I have nothing further to add on this question.

Carolyn McKenzie: I have nothing further to add other than to reiterate the local element. You do get lots of peculiarities in different areas, and they can be lost, so we must make sure that they are not.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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Q This question is directed at Paul in the first instance. The Bill contains a number of measures from the infrastructure levy to strengthening compulsory purchase order powers, high street rental auctions and heritage protections that are intended to drive more brownfield, urban regeneration. It also contains measures to create more combined authorities with transport and regeneration powers as part of building on the Government’s urban uplift and shift towards a regeneration-led approach to planning and housing. What assessment have you made of the advantages in embodied carbon of building reuse and of denser, better public transport-connected cities in reducing pollution? What is your take on that model of development?

Paul Miner: We think that a brownfield-first approach to new housing and commercial building development can have a number of benefits. We have seen constantly over the years that there is enough brownfield land available for over 1 million new homes in any given year, and this supply of brownfield is constantly replenishing as more sites come forward, and it is possible to build at higher densities.

We think there are a number of clauses in the Bill that could help with brownfield regeneration, such as those relating to changing compulsory purchase order powers, as you have mentioned, and the infrastructure levy. Getting local plans in place more quickly will also help to bring brownfield sites forward. So we see a lot of benefits to a brownfield-first approach.

However, the problem we have consistently had over the past 15 years, under both Conservative and Labour Governments, is that it has been easier for large housebuilders to bring forward speculative developments through the planning system, often not contained within local plans, than to be able to get these schemes through at appeal. We think there are a number of measures the Government need to look at.

Some of these may involve legislation but more involve changes to policy to give councils more power to set targets for the amount of housing needed in their area, to make sure that housing targets reflect what is likely to be built in the area, as opposed to what house builders say when they claim to be meeting housing targets that they then do not build, and to identify local needs for affordable homes. In many areas of the country they are crying out for affordable homes, but the kind of housing that is being built is not meeting those identified needs.

We recognise that there is a lot in the Bill that is helping to bring forward the benefits of a brownfield-first approach, in terms of, as you say, embodied carbon, saving precious agricultural land and regenerating communities in of need levelling up. At the same time, we think there is scope to do much more.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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Q Let me extend that question to Carolyn.

Carolyn McKenzie: To build on what Paul has said, I think the circular economy is missing from the Bill. There is not much that is looking at what can be reused, recycled or reclaimed. It is about the new, and sometimes that is not the best way to go. Specifically around things like housing retrofits, it is about repair and regenerate rather than new housing. There is not that look at retrofitting that there should be, bearing in mind that the majority of housing we have is already in existence.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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Q One of the other things the Bill does is take forward measures to widen and deepen the devolution agenda by making it easier to set up new combined authorities, for authorities to join them and for them to gain new powers. How would you like to see the devolution agenda drive positive environmental outcomes? Is it primarily through helping towards our transport mission and better public transport? Is it through the housing quality mission? Or is it something else entirely? How do you think the devolution agenda can best serve a wider environmental agenda? I put that to Carolyn first.

Carolyn McKenzie: The first thing would be to actually have a mission in the Bill that relates to environmental outcomes, as the Bill does not have such a mission in there. Even though there has been some commitment to sustainable and non-competitive funding, if there is no mission then you cannot link that back. When you have funds such as the shared prosperity fund, which will take regard of the environment, if there is no mission you cannot just say, “Well, this is a priority.” So having a mission on the environment would definitely push this along.

There is a need within devolution to be clear about people’s roles. At the minute, everything that is done around climate change is done by local authorities, both at county and district level, because they have been driven to do so by the public through climate emergencies. It is not because we are being asked to do it. That drives action, absolutely, but it drives different types of action—inconsistent action—and the data is different so you cannot compare.

Also, when you get things like covid coming along, or Ukraine, or inflation, the risk of dropping down the agenda is really high, so that sustainable approach to funding is needed, rather than there being small pots of funding and grant-based funding, which can change and is short-run and competitive. That approach is not great for really putting down the foundations and encouraging local authorities to work with partners and to partner up. We are looking at working with the private sector, residents and other public sector bodies to really partner up their funding with our funding, to get more bang for our bucks and to achieve more through things like volunteering to plant trees, which involves health and social, and tackling fuel poverty, which keeps people out of hospital as well as reducing carbon emissions. As I keep saying, that integration is really key.

Again, when we look at things to spend money on, we really need to look at what is needed at the local level. There are lots of things that will be consistent that people need to spend money on, but there will be lots of differences and nuances at the local level that will make it better spent. I reiterate again that 41% of Surrey’s emissions—we are not unusual among other authorities—are down to the private car. With little or no funding for public transport, it is a really difficult target to hit to get people out of the car. You can get people to change to electric vehicles, but that has an equalities aspect to it: not everybody drives and not everybody can afford it. Public transport and good safe routes for walking and cycling are really crucial, as is the housing side, again.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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Q Thank you. Paul, on the transport powers that are devolved through devolution deals, as well as getting more people on to public transport, which is good for the environment, what is the potential impact of improved public transport in driving more brownfield regeneration rather than sprawl? You must have done quite a lot of work on this kind of thing.

Paul Miner: Yes, we have done plenty of work on that, which we can send to the Committee. In particular, we produced a report a few years ago on public transport-oriented development, which showed that you could get much higher densities in urban areas that were already served by an intensive public transport network. In turn, that mutually reinforced and made sustainable public transport improvements within that area. There is certainly more on that that we could send to the Committee, which we would be very happy to do.

In addition to Carolyn’s point, I also want to say something very quickly on the rural aspect as well. Cornwall in particular is a possible trailblazer on rural devolution, in terms of what it has been able to do to integrate its transport network—that is in trains, ticketing and single points of information. It has also done some great work in terms of setting housing policies and on retrofitting rural housing stock. It does seem to be an exciting model that others could look at.

None Portrait The Chair
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Richard, we have not forgotten you; we will ask you to comment in a second.

Carolyn McKenzie: The key point on that is that there are so many different actors and so many different funds in respect of devolution. It is about looking at how we co-ordinate that. I am proposing to my authority to look at taking a lead climate change authority approach, similar to the lead local flood authority approach, so that we can actually co-ordinate, get the data down, look at what is relevant for the local level and deliver on that. We can then use that data to influence the funding that we bring in or to influence Government funding pots, so it is appropriate. That co-ordination element among all the different sectors is really key. At the minute, it is not there around environment. There are lots of different people and lots of different areas to come from.

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None Portrait The Chair
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For your benefit, Sir, the purpose of this Committee is to gather evidence to help us when we consider the Bill as we go through it line by line next week. One advantage of this Committee is that the Minister gets to ask questions. That is the only fun that he will have in this Committee, so I think we will start with him.

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
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Q Thank you very much, Mr Bone.

Dr Ellis, thank you very much for your time this afternoon. Could you perhaps tell us what your organisation and its members think about many of the reforming aspects of the planning system that are contained in the Bill?

Dr Ellis: I think they regard it, and we regard it, as a mixed picture. We welcome the issues on hope value and on development corporations, and strengthening the development plan is certainly welcome. But then there are a series of issues on which we need some serious reassurance. There are just three. First, how can we drive delivery and does the Bill do enough on that. Secondly, democracy and public trust are absolutely critical to everyone because, as we have already heard, there is a lack of public trust in the system. Finally, there are the really positive measures that could be taken on climate change.

Briefly, I will throw one more in. When we write legislation on planning and when planners think about the future, we often have a tendency to think about it through our lens. I think it would have been great to see more creative, local community solutions in the Bill, particularly on the cost of living. The planning system has enormous potential to be a solution for things such as local food growing and local flood defence. It would have been great to see some concrete measures enabling that kind of activity from the bottom up.

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
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Q Given that about 39% of England is covered by up-to-date local plans at the moment, do you think that the measures in the Bill will make it easier, or is there anything else that should have been included to try to progress these plans; to give confidence to communities about what will be developed in their areas?

Dr Ellis: The primacy of the local plan is really important. We are very worried about the relationship with national development policies and whether that masks a centralising tendency. Local and neighbourhood plans are so important in giving certainty to communities. As is often the case, we are making some changes to the process of planning reform—that is nothing new—but the fundamental issue is about resources. Most people who talk to us about planning and the delivery of local plans would say, “Well, if we had more resources we could deliver them more quickly, and if we had more certainty we could also do that.” So we should not get too hung up about changing the law.

We have divided the local plan into several pieces now through this Bill: we have said there is a local plan, then a supplementary plan, and then a strategic plan, and two of those are voluntary and one is not. In that sense, we have created that framework. The answer is that it all depends: it depends on resources and on how much power the Secretary of State wants to take to the centre on the content of local plans. We have an honest concern that if you want to rebuild public trust, you need to handle those powers with extreme caution.

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
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Q Do you welcome the strengthening of neighbourhood planning and the neighbourhood statements included in the Bill to try to engage more of that community involvement?

Dr Ellis: I think we do. We are obviously desperate to preserve the rights to be heard. That is an important point. We are losing some rights to be heard and communities really need them. The TCPA fought for them from the 1960s onwards so that people had a right to be in the inquiry of a plan. Our planning system is very asymmetrical; the development sector is very dominant in that process.

A lot of people are sceptical about the idea of neighbourhood planning. I admit my own scepticism about it, because plans are often happening in places with more social and economic capital than others and we absolutely have to address that, but they are proving powerful—I speak as an ex-parish councillor, so I have served my time on this. Whether the statements get us over the line in creating something simple and meaningful is the challenge we want to see explored through this Bill’s progress. Will those statements actually have weight? Yes, you have to have regard to them, but what exactly will that mean in detail? Local and parish councils are denigrated, but they do have a powerful and meaningful role in the planning process.

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
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Q Finally, we have heard time and again about complexity and bureaucracy in the development of local and neighbourhood plans. What has been the reaction of your association’s members to the digitisation of the planning process in the Bill?

Dr Ellis: There are two sides to that reaction. First, what is not to like about digitisation? There are some very archaic practices in the planning process and it would be great if we could catch up and have the resources to digitise. That will make information more accessible. It is also really important that we are able to integrate environmental data, because there are competing datasets out there. One of the most important recommendations is that we sort of need a national laboratory for that spatial data, as that would simplify the process no end.

But digital data goes so far. There is an issue about digital exclusion that worries us for communities. We can have as much digital information as we like, but we also need access to the arenas where decisions are made, so there is a twin relationship between understanding what is going on and being able to do something about it. That is where rights to be heard, which we are so exercised about in the planning process, are so important.

None Portrait The Chair
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