Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Scott of Bybrook) (Con)
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My Lords, welcome back. Amendment 164 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, seeks to reduce the closure of high street financial services. The nature of banking is changing, and the long-term trend is moving towards greater use of convenient, digital and remote banking services over traditional high street branches. In 2021, 86% of UK consumers used a form of remote banking, such as an app, online or on the phone.

Banking customers can also carry out their everyday banking at more than 11,500 post offices across the United Kingdom. The Government are committed to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Post Office network and have provided more than £2.5 billion in funding to support the Post Office network over the past decade and are providing a further £335 million for the Post Office between 2022 and 2025. There are more than 11,500 Post Office branches in the UK—the largest retail network in the country—and, thanks to government support, the network is more resilient today than it was a decade ago. The Government protect the Post Office network by setting minimum access criteria to ensure that 99% of the UK population lives within three miles of a post office. I do not know whether this is the figure that my noble friend mentioned earlier. Businesses can withdraw and deposit cash at any of those branches of the Post Office.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, brought up a real issue, I think, and that is good internet access, particularly for banking services. The Government know that, and Project Gigabit is the Government’s £5 billion programme that will ensure that the whole of the UK benefits from gigabit connectivity by providing subsidy to deliver gigabit-capable connectivity to uncommercial premises, which are typically in very rural or remote locations. We have an ambition to connect at least 85 % of UK premises by 2025 and 99% by 2030, so we are working on what is a difficult and expensive issue—we know that, but we are working on it.

The Government cannot reverse the changes in the market and customer behaviour, nor can they can determine firms’ commercial strategies in response to those changes. Decisions on opening and closing branches or cash machines are taken by each firm on a commercial basis. However, the Government believe that the impact of such closures should be mitigated so that all customers have access to appropriate banking services.

Of course it is vital that those customers who rely on physical banking services are not left behind, which is why the Financial Conduct Authority has guidance in place to ensure that customers are kept informed of closures and that alternatives are put in place, where reasonable. The FCA’s new customer duty, which came into force on 31 July this year, further strengthens protections for consumers, as it will require firms to consider and address the foreseeable harm to customers of branch closures. These issues were debated extensively during the passage of the Financial Services and Markets Bill in 2023, and through that legislation the Government have acted to protect access to cash by putting in place a framework to protect the provision of cash withdrawals and deposit facilities for the first time in UK law. This introduces new powers for the FCA to seek to ensure reasonable provision of cash-access services in the UK and, importantly in relation to personal current accounts, to free cash-access services. Following the passage of this new law, the Government published a statement setting out their policies on access to cash, which include an expectation that, in the event of a closure, if any alternative service is needed, that alternative should be put in place before the closure takes place.

Furthermore, the financial services sector has established initiatives to provide shared banking and cash services, an example being the banking hubs, which offer basic banking services and a private space where customers can see community bankers from their own bank or building society. Industry has already opened eight banking hubs and 70 more are on the way.

I have set out the comprehensive action the Government are taking to protect access to financial services in a way that recognises the changing nature of banking and respects the commercial decisions of UK businesses. This is why we believe that the right approach is being taken, and, while we agree with the noble Baroness’s intention, we cannot support this amendment.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part, particularly those who have offered their support. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering; I fully understand that she may not be able to join me in the Lobby if I call a vote. I appreciate the support offered by the Green Party through the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, as well as the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey.

The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, made a really important point about the distances that have to be travelled, and the need to go to Exeter. My husband’s family are from Ottery St Mary, and I know the area well. When she said there were no banks there and she had to go to Exeter, I was quite horrified. That is an extremely potent example of the problem.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, of course, for putting her name to the amendment and for offering her support. I have to say that I was pretty disappointed with the Minister’s response. She said that banking is changing and people are now using “convenient” digital services, but the problem is that they are not convenient for everybody. That is the point I was trying to make when I introduced my amendment.

Also, the Post Office network is not always set up in the places and communities where it is needed. We have lost too many post offices and as was mentioned, they are often now not in separate buildings on the high street but at the back of or in the main part of shops. On going to the post office, I have ended up queuing for quite some time because of other people in the shop purchasing things, so it is not necessarily convenient, particularly if you have a lot of money on you. The problem of businesses having to travel large distances with a huge amount of cash has come up. I had not mentioned that issue but of course, it is very important.

The Minister talked about connectivity, but improving connectivity in rural areas has been talked about for years. There are parts of rural areas that are very difficult to connect, and they always seem to get left behind unless the local community agrees to pay what are often very large sums of money. So again, I am not convinced that that will solve the problem. The Minister also talked about having to follow the market. I strongly believe that financial services should be driven not by the market but by the fact that they are important to all our communities, whether we are talking about personal services or business services.

The key point I would like to make concerns the banking hubs. I do not know when we are going to see them. I have never seen one and I do not know what the rollout will be, but they do not seem to be replacing what has been lost.

Having said all that, I am not satisfied by the Minister’s response so I would like to test the opinion of the House.

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Division 1

Ayes: 180

Noes: 175

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Moved by
165: Clause 79, page 88, line 25, leave out “the Secretary of State” and insert “an appropriate authority”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment provides that the power to make planning data regulations may be exercised by “an appropriate authority”.
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Moved by
168: Clause 82, page 90, line 23, after “regulations” insert “made by the Secretary of State”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment provides that the power to make regulations requiring the use of approved planning data software in England may only be exercised by the Secretary of State.
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Moved by
169: Clause 84, page 91, line 10, at end insert “, unless that provision is merely incidental to, or consequential on, provision that would be outside that devolved competence”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment provides that the Secretary of State may make planning data regulations which contain provision within Scottish devolved competence without consulting the Scottish Ministers where the provision is merely incidental to, or consequential upon, provision that is outside that devolved competence.
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Moved by
180: Clause 85, page 92, line 21, at end insert—
““appropriate authority” means—(a) the Secretary of State,(b) a devolved authority, or(c) the Secretary of State acting jointly with one or more devolved authorities;”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment provides the definition of “an appropriate authority” for Chapter 1 of Part 3 as the Secretary of State, a devolved authority or the Secretary of State acting jointly with one or more devolved authorities.
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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I will speak briefly to the amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, has set out extremely well why we are keen to make local nature recovery strategies an effective tool for helping the Government hit their legally binding 2030 nature targets.

The noble Baroness quite rightly said that we did not believe that the current requirements for local planning development plans to simply “have regard to” their local nature recovery strategies would be an effective delivery mechanism. A planning authority could disregard all the spatial recommendations of the local nature recovery strategy and still be compliant with the duty. They could simply write that they “had regard to” the local nature recovery strategy without providing any evidence of how it had shaped the substance of their plans.

When we debated this in Committee, the Minister extolled the virtues of the guidance, and the noble Baroness made reference to the forthcoming guidance. But we did have a very good debate, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, which highlighted the many omissions of the guidance already published. I will not go over all of that, but there is still a concern about the detail of it, and I hope that it will now reflect this new wording in the Bill.

As I said, and like the noble Baroness, I am grateful for Ministers having had subsequent meetings and for the further consideration of our arguments that has now taken place. The Government’s proposals make it much clearer that all tiers in the planning process must take account of local nature recovery strategies when they make their plans. It is not perfect, but it is a welcome concession. I therefore share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, that we should not pursue Amendment 182 at this stage.

Lord Benyon Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Benyon) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Baronesses for their constructive contributions on this subject, both in Committee and more recently. As noble Lords know from the many Statements I have given to this House over recent years, I fully recognise the vital importance of nature and the pressing need for nature recovery. This is at the heart of the Government’s environmental improvement plan and our legally binding targets to halt, and subsequently reverse, species decline.

Local nature recovery strategies were created by the Government to deliver more co-ordinated, practical and focused action to help nature recover. We have been clear from the outset that the planning system has a key role to play in making this happen. Local nature recovery strategies and biodiversity net gain, which we will come on to later, are crucial policies that enable us to achieve this in practice.

Given the strong calls we have heard for more clarity about how the new strategies should be taken into account, we have brought forward government amendments to address this. These amendments would impose a requirement for plan-makers, at all tiers of the planning system, to take the content of local nature recovery strategies into account, and they are explicit about the different aspects of the strategies that must be considered in this context. In this way, we are providing a clear legal framework that plan-makers will need to work within—one that will make sure that priorities for nature recovery are properly addressed. As both noble Baronesses said, this will be reflected in the guidance that we have committed to produce for local planning authorities on how they are to consider local nature recovery strategies in planning. This guidance is in draft and will be published shortly. I am happy to have further conversations with noble Lords about this.

Although our amendments do not impose additional reporting duties on local planning authorities, the way that local nature recovery strategies are addressed through their plan-making will be transparent and open to public scrutiny through the processes of public consultation and examination. Given the importance of getting plans in place, and the pressures on local authority resources, it is important that we do not impose duties that can be met through other means. An enhanced requirement for local planning authorities to report on actions taken to deliver the objectives of local nature recovery strategies is not required at this time.

In May this year, the Government published guidance on how public authorities should comply with the Section 40 biodiversity duty under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, stating that local planning authorities should include information in their biodiversity reports about how local nature recovery strategies have informed policies, objectives and actions.

I really hope that what I have said addresses the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, about how local nature strategies will work across boundaries, catchments and landscapes to make sure there is a coherence that fulfils the principles of the Lawton review of about a decade ago, which set out how our approach to wildlife sites and nature recovery should work.

I hope that I have said enough. I thank the noble Baronesses again for their work on this with us. I am grateful to have been given the hint that they will not press to a Division Amendments 182 and 202.

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I have great sympathy for the intention behind the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley. The value in having up-to-date plans in place is something we can all agree on and is a goal which several of the measures in this Bill are designed to support. Where I must part company with my noble friend is on the best way of achieving that.

These amendments would create a hard cliff edge for policies in plans. A local plan or a neighbourhood plan could be departed from only if there are “strong reasons”, or—if it passes its sell-by date—would be relegated to being just a material consideration. This would risk undermining the important policy safeguards in plans, which could allow the wrong development in the wrong places. Within any plan, some individual policies are likely to have continuing importance and relevance, irrespective of the actual base date of the plan. For example, policies which set the boundaries of important designated areas, such as the green belt, are expected to endure for some time. Because of this, it is a well-established principle that planning decisions rely on a judgment about which policies are relevant at the point of making a decision. If we created the sort of all-or-nothing cliff edge that these amendments imply, we would put this pragmatism at risk and could undermine important protections.

None of this is to excuse slow plan-making, and I agree entirely with my noble friend that we must do more to get up-to-date plans in place. We have a comprehensive set of actions to do just that. The national development management policies will mean that plans have to contain fewer generic policies than they do now; our digital and procedural reforms in the Bill will make it easier to prepare and approve policies; there will be more proactive intervention through the new gateway checks on emerging plans; and the Bill also bolsters the intervention powers that may be used as a last resort. Our current consultation on plan-making reiterates the Government’s aim that future plans should be produced in 30 months, not years.

We expect the new plan-making system to go live in late 2024. There will be a requirement on local planning authorities to start work on new plans by, at the latest, five years after the adoption of their previous plan and to adopt the new plan within 30 months. Under the new proposals, the Secretary of State will retain existing powers to intervene if authorities fail, and these include the ability to make formal directions and, ultimately, to take steps into an authority’s shoes and take over plan-making responsibilities. The plan also provides a new option for the Secretary of State where authorities are failing: local plan commissioners could be appointed by the Secretary of State at any stage of the new plan-making process.

However, we are going consulting. We are asking for views on the proposals to implement the parts of the Bill that relate to plan-making ,and to make plans simpler, faster to prepare and more accessible. That consultation opened in July and will close on 18 October. If any noble Lords would like to see it, it is available on GOV.UK.

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, asked whether neighbourhood plans will still be relevant without a local plan. They will: they are still relevant if the planning application is relevant to the neighbourhood plan.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked about the five-year land supply requirement. We have proposed removing that requirement only where plans are less than five years old. This will be an incentive to keep plans up to date by reducing the threat of speculative development where local authorities have done the right thing in having an up-to-date local plan.

It is important that we give these reforms a chance to work, rather than introducing measures that would complicate decision-making and could weaken protections. Therefore, although I understand the intention behind these amendments, I hope that my noble friend has been persuaded to withdraw Amendment 183.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken on this group of amendments. I am particularly grateful for the support that noble Lords from all sides of the House have given to the principles behind my amendment.

My noble friend the Minister said that she is sympathetic to what these amendments set out to achieve. I am slightly surprised, because she continued to say that I am looking for something with a cliff edge, as it were. The whole point of Amendment 187 is to give Ministers the regulation-making power to graduate the cliff edge and show the steps up to and down from it. At the same time, my noble friend is trying to use cliff edges. She is saying, “Well, it’s five years, then something happens, then two and half years is the limit on the time available”. Sometimes, these timetables serve a purpose. My noble friend is right to say that local plan-making needs to be accelerated; setting these timetables is clearly a part of that.

This is interesting, because we are not necessarily debating the five-year housing supply elsewhere. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, made a good point. My noble friend the Minister said that the Government are getting rid of the five-year supply requirement in relation to the plan itself. So, in effect, the local plan can say, “Well, this is our housing requirement, and this is how we are meeting it”. However, if you go beyond five years and fall off the proverbial cliff edge, and if a local planning authority does not maintain an annual statement of how it will meet the housing requirement it has identified for its area for the five years ahead, it will in effect see a housing delivery test come in—and it will fail that test. We would return to the situation where developers are able to come in, and that may or may not be a bad thing; but it is not as simple as saying, “We have a housing delivery test”, “We don’t have a housing delivery test”, “We have a different housing delivery test”, “We don’t have the buffer”, and so on.

This issue is all part of the problem that my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham and I will return to in our debate on a later group of amendments, concerning the lack of constraints on local planning authorities that will get them to the point of delivering on the Government’s housing targets. The watering down of the housing delivery test is a significant part of that, as is the buffer built into it in trying to meet the deficiencies in supply by local planning authorities.

My noble friend the Minister made some reasonable points. However, the whole point of this amendment is that we need certainty, as my noble friend Lord Deben rightly said. We need that to be achieved in the wake of this consultation on plan-making. It is not about cliff edges; it is about understanding what an emerging plan means in relation to an existing plan and setting that out in very clear terms. Past efforts have not succeeded. For example, Regulation 10A of the town and country planning regulations sets out that a review must start within five years. We saw the results of that. A local planning authority in my area initiated a review on five years plus one day and said, “We don’t really need to review all of this. We’ll just look at the one thing that we don’t like, which is the housing supply number, and we’ll review it and lower it”—and that was the end of it. The planning inspector said that they did not have the power to say that there should be a more wide-ranging review.

I hope—and believe—that this will be sorted in this consultation on plan-making. However, my point, which I think that my noble friend completely accords with, is that even if we do not do this in regulations—and I will not press the point—it must be done, with clarity and soon; otherwise, we will move to a new system into which all the past uncertainties will be reimported, with local developers and planning authorities going head to head as they have in the past and which has not been helpful. We want to see them using the certainty of the system to manage the supply of housing more effectively in the future.

With that thought of hope over experience, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Moved by
184A: Clause 87, page 95, line 9, after “policies,” insert “taken together,”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies that inserted subsection (5B) in section 38 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 requires a determination under the planning Acts to be made in accordance with the development plan and any national development management policies, taken together.
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I do not intend to detain the House for long with Amendment 184A, which is intended solely to avoid any ambiguity arising in relation to the meaning of our changes to Section 38 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. It clarifies that any determinations are to be made in accordance with the combined effect of the development plan and any applicable national development management policies. This was always our intention, but this amendment seeks to put the matter beyond doubt. I hope your Lordships will be pleased to support it. I beg to move.

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All that we are asking in Amendment 190 is for the Government to enable full parliamentary scrutiny of the content of any policies they may wish to put in the NDMP. This has been a good, thoughtful and considered debate. I hope that the Minister will take it in the spirit in which it is intended and respond by saying that she totally agrees and will, on behalf of the Government, accept Amendment 190.
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, our proposals for national development management policies have attracted considerable debate and rightly so, given the important role they play in our planning process. I welcome the thoughtful contributions made today, although I should be clear at the outset that I am not convinced that a compelling case for these amendments exists.

Amendment 186 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would mean that several considerations would need to be weighed up by decision-makers where a conflict occurs between plans and the national development management policies. While I appreciate the intention behind this amendment, it would create a more complex and uncertain task for decision-makers, as it does not provide a clear indication of how any conflict should be resolved, nor how the local authority—as the decision-maker in most cases—is meant to take local authority views into account. The end result is likely to be additional planning appeals challenging local decisions, something our clauses aim to reduce.

Turning to Amendment 188 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, I am unsure what a further statement explaining the relationship between the national development management policies and other planning documents would add. The consultation launched in December last year gave details of what we expect the national planning management policies to do, how they would relate to other aspects of national planning policy and how they relate to plans. In addition, our debates on this subject have helpfully provided further opportunities to make our intentions clear. I want to reassure the House that we are committed to further clarification wherever necessary, which we will do when we respond to that consultation, and again when draft national development management policies are themselves published for consultation.

I must respond to the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, that NDMPs are moving us towards a zoning system. This is not the case at all. We have been clear that NDMPs will cover generic decision-making matters. They will not impinge on the way authorities allocate land or protect certain areas.

Turning next to Amendment 189 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley, I agree that national development management policies should have clear and specific roles, but I am not sure that this amendment is necessary as a means of achieving that. National development management policies will, by virtue of the role they are given by the Bill, cover matters which are relevant in the determination of planning applications. At the same time, a legal limitation of the sort proposed here might constrain the scope of particular policies to be used for that purpose, in a way that would become apparent only through the exercise of preparing them. We have been clear that the scope of national development management policies will not stray beyond commonly occurring matters which are important for deciding planning applications. December’s consultation confirmed that they would

“not impinge on local policies for shaping development, nor direct what land should be allocated for particular uses during the plan-making process. These will remain matters for locally produced plans.”—[Official Report, 17/1/23; col. 1806.]

Amendment 190 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, returns us to the question of participation in producing national development management policies. This is an important consideration and I agree that these policies should be open to proper scrutiny. At the same time, we need to do this in a way which is both effective and appropriate.

Clause 87 imposes an obligation on the Secretary of State to ensure that such consultation and participation as is considered appropriate takes place. We have been clear, through December’s consultation and in this House, that full consultation will be carried out before these policies are designated. This will build on the initial questions on the principles underpinning these policies, which we posed in December’s consultation, and will in due course give everyone with an interest—whether specialist bodies, local authorities, the public or parliamentarians—the chance to consider and comment on detailed proposals. National development management policies will serve a broader purpose than the National Policy Statements, which are used for major infrastructure projects. They will not be used solely by Ministers for decisions on nationally significant schemes, so it is right that we are placing the emphasis on proper engagement as a way of testing our thinking.

I reiterate: we have made it clear that national development management policies will be consulted on, other than in the exceptional circumstances we have previously discussed. This will give parliamentarians and everyone else with an interest the opportunity to scrutinise and comment on proposed policies. That is why broad engagement on the proposed content of the national development management policies is appropriate and will take place. With that, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, will agree not to move Amendment 186, and that other noble Lords are content not to move their amendments when they are reached. With that, I ask the House to agree Amendment 184A in my name formally.

Amendment 184A agreed.
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Division 2

Ayes: 186

Noes: 180

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, this has been a really important group for us to debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, for introducing it with his important Amendment 191, which I was very pleased to support. I have two amendments in this group: Amendment 275, under which a Minister must publish a green prosperity plan—I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for her support on this—and Amendment 283, which defines adaption to and mitigation of climate change. There is a specific reason why I have put that amendment down, which I will come to.

My Amendment 275 says that:

“Within one year of this Act being passed, a Minister … must publish a Green Prosperity Plan”,

specifically to

“decarbonise the economy … create jobs, and … boost energy”.

This amendment and the others in the group are about how we consider climate change and the environmental and energy crises that we have been facing as a country. We need to look seriously at how we are going to dramatically reduce our emissions by 2030. We also believe that climate justice should be a priority. It is important that we can all agree on what action has to be taken to accelerate the benefits of nature restoration and recovery alongside this.

We believe that there should be a national mission to upgrade the energy efficiency of every home that needs it. This will help to lower people’s bills and reduce emissions. We must make sure that, if we are to change the way we heat our homes and how we manage our gas, electricity and oil, we have a different system that supports the reduction of emissions and looks at ways to meet our net-zero targets. We see this as an opportunity to create many thousands of new jobs and help the country to rebuild the economy. It gives us the opportunity to invest in manufacturing and factories—for example, to build batteries for electric vehicles—to develop a thriving hydrogen industry and to increase the manufacture of wind turbines here in the UK. We see this as a huge opportunity, and we also believe the UK should have the ambition to be a world-leading clean energy superpower.

My second amendment, Amendment 283, seeks to insert a new “Interpretation” clause, concerning the interpretation in the Bill of adapting to climate change and adaption to climate change. The reason for this is that, in the Bill, the words “adaptation” and “adaption” are both used. It is very important that there is no confusion about what is meant by adaption and what is meant by adaptation—they are two different terms but they seem to have been used fluidly within the Bill. Amendment 283 tries to clarify that. It may well be that the Government do not want to accept my amendment, but they might want to look at the wording in the Bill and see whether clarification could be brought through in another way.

Adaptation is incredibly important as we go forward. We know we have a strong framework for emissions reduction and planning for climate risks, as set up by the Climate Change Act 2008. However, we still need better resourcing and funding of adaptation, as it is going to be a critical part of supporting the country as we try to tackle the impacts we are seeing—very regularly now—of climate change. We think it is unacceptable not to do that, so we would like to see a clearer understanding of what is required for what we call “adaptation”—though it may well be called “adaption”. This needs to come together in the Bill in a clear and understandable way that will bring about the investment we need in this area.

This brings me to what the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has brought forward in his amendment on wildfires; clearly that is an area where adaptation is going to be terribly important, as it will be with flooding—and we will debate that later in the Bill. One thing we know is that wildfires have brought an increasing threat to a wide range of interests across the country. We need a co-ordinated approach, and the noble Earl, in introducing his amendment, was very clear about why this was needed. We know that we have to mitigate the impacts of wildfires on people, property, habitats, livestock, natural capital, wildlife and so on, as the noble Earl explained. We also know from the recent terrible wildfires we have seen—such as that on Saddleworth Moor, as the noble Earl mentioned—that it is going to take decades for those areas to recover. We have to get systems in place to tell us how we manage that, how we avoid it and what we do when it happens. This is a levelling-up Bill, and the impacts of climate change often have an unequal effect on different citizens in this country. As part of the levelling-up agenda, we need to address this.

Finally, that brings me to the incredibly important amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, to which I was very pleased to add my name. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, talked passionately and eloquently about the importance of how we deliver this and how vital it is that we are able to do this. The noble Lord’s amendment would be an important step on the way to achieving this. If the noble Lord wishes to push it to a vote and test the opinion of the House, he will have our strong support.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, in this group of amendments we return to the crucially important issues surrounding climate change and the green agenda, about which we have heard strong views, and rightly so. Climate change presents clear risks to our environment and our way of life, which is why I am not embarrassed to claim that the Government have led the world in their ambition to reach net zero, and why we are committed to fostering the changes needed to reach that goal. That is the delivery that my noble friend Lord Deben spoke of.

However, what is crucial is that we do this in a way that is effective without being unnecessarily disruptive. That is where, I am afraid, I must take issue with Amendment 191 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Ravensdale and Lord Teverson, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and my noble friend Lord Lansley. For the same reason, I need to resist Amendment 283 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock. I do so with regret.

The intention of these proposed new clauses—to set more specific legal obligations which bear upon national policy, plan-makers and those making planning decisions—is not at all the focus of my criticism. We all want to achieve the golden thread that the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, referred to. The problem is their likely effect, which would be to trigger a slew of litigation in these areas. That in turn could serve to hinder the action that we need to get plans in place to safeguard the environment that we all wish to protect. For example, Amendment 283 would mean that the Bill’s existing obligations on plans to address climate change mitigation and adaptation would have to be interpreted in the context of very high-level national objectives. That would not be a straightforward thing to do, because high-level objectives do not, in most cases, provide clear direction at the level of an individual district.

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Division 3

Ayes: 182

Noes: 172

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Finally, it was important that the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, drew attention to the huge problem of decarbonising domestic heating, as this is a huge challenge for the Government going forward.
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, Amendments 191A, 191B and 286 all deal with the principle of healthy homes. I am the first to say that the debates we have had on this subject are a reminder, if one were ever needed, of the key importance of healthy living environments. Much of the case put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and others centres on the idea of having fixed standards in this whole area. On that, I hope he will welcome the news that the Government have listened. Where fixed standards are the best approach, we are taking action.

For example, we are currently reviewing the decent homes standard, which sets minimum standards regarding the physical condition of social rented homes. We have also committed to introducing the decent homes standard to the private rented sector for the first time at the earliest legislative opportunity. On building standards, we will consult on a full technical specification for the future homes standard and then introduce the necessary legislation in 2024 ahead of implementation in 2025. I hope that that combination of actions will be music to the ears of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, referred to the mission statement in the levelling up White Paper. The measures we are taking should reassure him, I hope, that those missions are still a top priority.

In Committee, I warned about the risks of introducing undue prescriptiveness in this area. That is why I also hope noble Lords recognise that, in the planning system, a degree of flexibility is often needed to reflect the great variety of issues individual schemes may pose. With the best will in the world, any set of prescriptive and rigid rules makes no allowance for such individual circumstances.

Having said that, I want to re-emphasise the added weight that this Bill will give to both national and local policies for controlling development. How our national policies can support healthy living is most definitely something that we will wish to engage and reflect on as we come to update them.

That leads me to a further point. We are currently consulting on proposals to allow permitted development rights, with existing prior approvals on design or external appearance, to include consideration of design codes where they are in place locally.

I am very sympathetic to the intentions behind these amendments, but we are concerned that they would create a legal framework which cuts directly across the actions I have referred to. At worst, they could even hinder progress in pursuing healthy homes by creating uncertainty about the obligations which apply, with the associated risks of legal challenge and delay. It is those concerns which prevent us being able to support these amendments.

Turning to Amendment 198, I listened with care and a large measure of agreement to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, on this topic. I remind the House that health and well-being is already a key consideration in the planning system, and changes made through this Bill will strengthen this. The National Planning Policy Framework states that plans should set out a

“strategy for the pattern, scale and design quality of places”.

The framework is clear that:

“Planning policies and decisions should aim to achieve … places which … enable and support healthy lifestyles”,

including through the provision of open spaces, sport and recreation facilities and layouts that encourage walking and cycling. In other words, these are the key building blocks to better health the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred to.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark indicated his concern that that does not seem to be enough. In response to that concern, changes through this Bill will mean that, in future, planning applications must be decided in accordance with the development plan and any applicable national development management policies, unless material considerations strongly indicate otherwise. It would no longer be enough for other considerations merely to indicate otherwise. That has two effects. First, it will make sure that locally produced policies have a strengthened role in planning decisions. Secondly, national development management policies will give national policies statutory status in planning decisions for the first time.

On the design of buildings, the national model design code provides guidance on the production of local design codes, including consideration of health and well-being. The Bill requires every local planning authority to produce a design code for its area. They will have full weight in the planning decision-making.

Furthermore, we have looked for ways of achieving further join-up. To that end, Active Travel England was established as a statutory consultee within the planning system as of June. It is responsible for making walking, wheeling and cycling the preferred choice for everyone to get around. Therefore, although I fully understand the essence of this amendment, we believe that the status of these considerations in the planning system, as enhanced by the Bill, is already provided for.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, for his engagement on embodied carbon in buildings. The Government agree that reducing these emissions is crucial. I listened with great care as well to the noble Lord, Lord Best. I completely agree with both noble Lords that, to reduce the embodied carbon of buildings, we must decarbonise every part of the supply chain in their construction, from the manufacture and transport of materials to the construction processes on site.

Across government and industry, a great deal of work is already contributing to a reduction in the embodied carbon across those construction supply chains. The Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy and the transport decarbonisation plan, for example, set out how large sectors of the economy will decarbonise. The England Trees action plan looks to increase the production of timber, which can be used to replace higher-carbon materials in construction when it is safe to do so.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, is aware, the Government intend to consult this year on our approach to measuring and reducing embodied carbon in new buildings. This will be informed by in-depth research, and I am pleased that members of the Part Z team sit on the steering group for that research. I reassure the noble Lord that the Government are listening to calls for a change to the building regulations and will continue to engage with him as policy develops. However, it is vital that we understand the impacts of potential interventions—which will be the focus of the consultation—before any commitment to a specific intervention. I know that the noble Lord takes that point.

Amendment 282H, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Sheehan, and my noble friend Lord Lucas, is on solar panels. Renewable energy, such as that generated from solar panels, is a key part of our strategy to reach net zero—I hope that that is accepted. However, as I argued in Committee, and as I think the noble Baroness recognises, not all homes are suitable for solar panels. For instance, some homes are heavily shaded due to nearby buildings or trees. So I cannot go along with her wish to make solar panels the automatic fix in the building of new homes—it is too inflexible.

Our approach to achieving higher standards remains technology-neutral, to provide developers with the flexibility to innovate and choose the most appropriate and cost-effective solutions for their particular sites. The underpinning to that approach is that, in 2021, the Government introduced an uplift in energy-efficiency standards that newly constructed homes must meet. We expect that, to comply with this uplift, most developers will choose to install solar panels on new homes or use other low-carbon technology such as heat pumps. They have to achieve those standards somehow.

As well as delivering a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions, this uplift provides a stepping stone to the future homes standard, which we will consult on this year ahead of implementation in 2025. The future homes standard will go further, ensuring that new homes will produce at least 75% less CO2 emissions than those built to 2013 standards, which represents a considerable improvement in energy efficiency standards for new homes. Introducing an amendment to mandate solar panels would therefore be largely redundant and would risk the installation of solar panels on inappropriate houses, as I said. So, taken in the round, we think that our approach is a great deal simpler and better, and I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able not to move her amendment when we reach it.

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Division 4

Ayes: 158

Noes: 149

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Moved by
191AA: Clause 89, page 96, line 34, at end insert—
“(9A) The spatial development strategy must take account of any local nature recovery strategy, under section 104 of the Environment Act 2021, that relates to an area in Greater London, including in particular—(a) the areas identified in the strategy as areas which—(i) are, or could become, of particular importance for biodiversity, or(ii) are areas where the recovery or enhancement of biodiversity could make a particular contribution to other environmental benefits,(b) the priorities set out in the strategy for recovering or enhancing biodiversity, and(c) the proposals set out in the strategy as to potential measures relating to those priorities.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment requires the spatial development strategy under Part 8 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 to take account of local nature recovery strategies that relate to Greater London.
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Moved by
191C: Schedule 7, page 335, line 33, at end insert—
“(8A) A joint spatial development strategy must take account of any local nature recovery strategy that relates to any part of the joint strategy area, including in particular—(a) the areas identified in the strategy as areas which—(i) are, or could become, of particular importance for biodiversity, or (ii) are areas where the recovery or enhancement of biodiversity could make a particular contribution to other environmental benefits,(b) the priorities set out in the strategy for recovering or enhancing biodiversity, and(c) the proposals set out in the strategy as to potential measures relating to those priorities.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment requires a joint spatial development strategy to take account of any local nature recovery strategy that relates to any part of the joint strategy area concerned.