Baroness Thornhill Portrait Baroness Thornhill (LD)
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My Lords, the main debate on the new plan hierarchy was clearly spelled out in this Chamber last week, but Covid prevented me from joining in, although I listened with interest. I will not waste time going over that debate, but I still want to reiterate certain facts. As was well demonstrated in the debate on the last group, it is a fact that so much detail is still missing and so many important matters are still out for consultation—that is probably why there are so many amendments and why there is so much anxiety around the content of NDMPs. In particular, as was well expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, what will truly be left over for local councillors and their communities to shape their place? The Bill is very strong on the rhetoric of place shaping, but it feels that we are being disempowered to do that.

Before turning to the specifics of the amendment, I will say that it is absolutely clear that the potential for conflict is significant. Without some clarity and legal clout from the Bill—not just ministerial promises that there will be more details in the revised NPPF, or that it will be more clear when we have the NDMPs—what will happen as a result of this is that there will be plenty of work for the planning chambers and litigators going forward. There will be a long transition period—the Government are quite sensibly allowing for that—because this is a new system, so there will be quite some time before we get precedents set, we get used to it and we get to see which way it is going.

The amendments have regard to the obvious potential conflicts between NDMPs and local development plans, and they also question the increasingly all-powerful Secretary of State role and the position of combined authorities. The issues concerning Secretary of State powers have also been well articulated, but, as drafted, Clause 86, which was previously debated, and Clause 87 very clearly—I do not think there is any ambiguity—favour NDMPs over development plans. But they also transfer significant policy-making powers directly to the Secretary of State—this is yet another area of concern and potential conflict because, as we know, NDMPs come with no minimum public consultation or primary parliamentary scrutiny requirements. Despite the Government’s previous assurances that this undemocratic effect was not the intention of the clauses, no legal safeguards have been introduced, so this is an area in which we would certainly hope to see movement from the Government.

My first question for the Minister on this group is on the issue of local plan soundness, as it seems to me that a lot of conflict could and should be avoided if both the NDMPs and the local development plan are very clear about what they are trying to achieve, where the boundaries of their scope are, and where one might take over from another—I was envisaging the Venn diagram and hoping that there was not very much in the middle. It seems highly desirable that the overlap should be almost impossibly small, or as limited as possible, so can the Minister confirm whether a plan would be found sound under the new regime if it contained policies that were at variance with NDMPs?

The proposed introduction of gateway checks, which is an excellent suggestion, would seem to indicate that the intention is, on the one hand, to allow both parties an opportunity to point out unacceptable variance, or, on the other, for the local planning authority to present its evidence as to why local policies should deviate from the NDMPs and therefore receive advice and engage in constructive dialogue. From the thrust of the questions of the NPPF consultations and the subsequent Written Ministerial Statements, it seems that local variance is both expected and accounted for—good.

If that is the case, why do we need new subsection (5C), and why can we not just accept the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor? It is very definite and legally tight—too definite and legally tight to allow for circumstances when it might be absolutely legitimate to give the local plan precedence. Is that deemed to be a bad thing by the Government? If not, under the current system, in which decisions are now weighed and balanced, surely a degree of leeway is desirable—the more so, as has already been mentioned, as the main criticism around NDMPs is the worry that they will set a low floor and stifle ambition and innovation, which has always been, in the main, local authority-led. New subsection (5C) might sound definite, final and firm, and therefore intended to reduce conflict—but at what cost? Could there be unintended consequences?

If the Government do not accept that proposal, the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, provides a more nuanced response to a very complex issue to allow for a time when the NDMP may not necessarily be “Top Trumps” because it is appropriate in those local circumstances. I believe that the weight of new subsection (5C) does not allow that for that discretion, so we will certainly support that amendment. As to the discussion of the word “significant”, I respectfully suggest that planners, inspectors and litigators have always weighed up, and probably always will weigh up, these words. It is part of their bread and butter, it is what they do all the time, and this will be no exception.

Amendment 187 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, is a natural extension of that same logic. She can envisage times when a local plan can and should take precedence, especially if it relates to the additional responsibilities in a larger geographical area. On these Benches, we believe that there is real value in the Government incentivising, encouraging and supporting local authorities to work together to get a larger—and, dare we use the word, regional—spatial strategy of that sort. In effect, we would not want any barriers to be put in the way of that, because there is far more at stake in a local area, such as economic growth, than just meeting housing need.

The noble Baroness’s Amendments 192 and 195 are an interesting extension of this dilemma. I wonder whether her Amendment 193 could be logistically challenging, as the Secretary of State would have to actually hear and know about every single challenge and conflict. But the principle of a feedback loop regarding conflicts seems a good one, particularly during a period of transition, as all this will all new and very different territory for everyone. I think we would all like to know where the pinch points and places with the most disagreement are and, more importantly, how they are being resolved. We will be interested in the Minister’s thoughts on this thread of feedback, reporting, learning and, presumably, revising.

Amendment 187B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, seems very sensible. If the Bill is, as we hear all the time, to truly make the system a plan-led system, it absolutely makes sense that local plans must and should be up to date. My concern, particularly now, is with the removal of the tilted balance and planning by appeal, plus the supremacy of NDMPs. Can the Minister explain how the Government intend to incentivise councils to keep their plans up to date? I cannot see how that will be done, as there appears to be no disincentives to do otherwise.

We will support any amendment to insert a process for the Secretary of State to designate and review a national development management policy, including minimum public consultation requirements and a process of parliamentary scrutiny, as has been set out in the Planning Act 2008 and is already deemed necessary for national policy statements. If local authorities are rightly required to consult on such policies when preparing local plans today, in future it must be right that Secretaries of State be held to account by the public and Parliament in a similar way. As with national policy statements, we ask that Parliament be required to scrutinise NDMPs and that the public be allowed to consult on proposed changes to them.

There are loads of possible advantages of NDMPs, and there seems to be a general acceptance of this in principle, but the devil will always be in the detail. The unprecedented level of central control for planning that they introduce means that safeguards are needed to maintain local consent. These amendments touch on only a few areas of potential conflict, and we had plenty in the previous group. We have yet to touch on street votes versus local plans, neighbourhood policy statements versus the rest, and—one matter that is starting to come to the fore—the turning of supplementary planning documents into supplementary plans and all that this will entail. Those are debates for another day.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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My Lords, I want to add a short footnote to the excellent speech made by my noble friend Lord Lansley, and to try to understand in what circumstances the conflict that we have been debating can arise—that is, the conflict between the local plan and the national development management policy.

Page 294 of the Bill—I appreciate that we have not got quite that far yet—describes the process that a local authority must go through when it prepares its local plan. New section 15CA(5) states that:

“In preparing their local plan, a local planning authority must have regard to … any observations or advice received from a person appointed by the Secretary of State … other national policies and advice contained in guidance issued by the Secretary of State”.

If that process has been gone through, the local plan should already be consistent with the national development management policies—it would have been spotted. So is it the case that the only time a conflict can arise is when, subsequent to a conforming local development plan having been adopted, the Government actually change the policy? Is that the only time that a conflict can arise? It cannot arise if a plan has gone through the process under the current NDMP.

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Lord Crisp Portrait Lord Crisp (CB)
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My Lords, in moving the amendment in my name, I am very grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Young of Cookham, Lord Blunkett and Lord Stunell, who have added their names to my amendments in this group. I very much look forward to their contributions today.

Amendment 188 sets out that:

“The Secretary of State must ensure that national planning policy and guidance are designed to secure positive improvements in the physical and mental health and well-being of the people of England.”

There is currently no provision for promoting health and well-being in planning legislation and guidance. Even in the key paragraph 20 of the National Planning Policy Framework, where the Government set down requirements on strategic policies in local plans, there is no mention of promoting health and well-being but simply a reference to the provision of healthcare facilities. This seems to be a very old-fashioned view of health which equates health with healthcare.

If nothing else, the pandemic has accelerated public understanding that health in the broadest sense, and well-being, are central to place-making, communities and the levelling-up missions. Our homes and neighbourhoods deeply influence our health, for good and for bad, and this all influences our life chances. If we want to level up and create the circumstances in which people can flourish, health and well-being must have central roles in our planning system.

I recognise that this is a big change. The amendment is very carefully worded to say “designed” to secure positive improvements. This is not just an add-on: it places health and well-being at the heart of the system. There is an opportunity here to create the conditions for levelling up and for people to flourish. We can use the planning system to ensure that we are providing healthy environments and healthy homes that are fit for purpose.

I refer briefly to the amendments in this group that are not in my name. They cover very similar territory. While I will not speak to them, I support them.

I turn to Amendments 394 to 399, which are specifically about healthy homes. I will briefly explain the background to these and why I think they are necessary, before going into some detail.

I am delighted that the Government recognise that housing and health are key to levelling up, and that, in the Minister’s letter to Peers on 27 January, she wrote that the Government support the objective within the Healthy Homes Bill. However, she went on to say that this is dealt with by existing laws and/or alternative policy. With respect, I do not believe that that is the case. There is no overall statutory duty with regard to healthy homes, and it is clear to all of us that existing laws and guidance are simply not producing the results that we all want. There is some existing policy—for example, in the National Planning Policy Framework—that addresses some of these issues, but even this is not mandatory and can be set aside by local decision-makers.

More directly, we can all see that existing policies are not working—we need only to look at some of the results. I have a photo book, which I will send to the Minister, of some of the worst examples around the country. I am happy to send it to any other noble Lord who wishes to have a copy. It contains examples of some recently developed homes. Many of them are permitted developments with, for example, redundant office blocks on industrial sites providing appalling accommodation, but this is not just about PDR.

It is reasonable to ask, and I have been asked, whether the requirements proposed in these amendments will add cost. The argument goes that you could perhaps get a larger number of homes for the same sort of money. But that is the wrong question. This is not about higher or lower cost or quality. The purpose is to eliminate homes being developed that are simply not fit for purpose. It is not about the relative cost.

I know that there are other objections around this being extra regulation, although this is not the principal barrier to development generally. I have met with high-quality developers around the country and looked at how they are developing homes and neighbourhoods. There is very little in this that they are not already doing, and they have internal processes to ensure that it happens. More generally, for the regulation system as a whole, I believe that an overarching requirement to promote health, safety and well-being will help align planning and building regulations better and could be used to reduce complexity.

Turning to the detail of the amendments, I think they provide a very sensible structure. I do not claim credit for it; it was proposed by Dr Hugh Ellis of the TCPA. In essence, they set out a duty on the Secretary of State to secure health, safety and well-being in new homes in accordance with 11 healthy homes principles, which the Secretary of State can then establish the policy on. This is not set in stone but can change from time to time as appropriate and can be interpreted differently by the Secretary of State for different areas, such as country and town areas. There is also a duty to report on progress. The key point is that this is all mandatory and that it should be reported on regularly.

Amendment 394 would introduce a duty on the Secretary of State to secure healthy homes. Amendment 395 would require the Secretary of State to prepare a policy statement explaining how the healthy homes principles will be used. Amendment 396 sets out the principles. Amendment 397 would require a draft of the statement on interpretation to be available to Parliament for possible comment. Amendment 398 describes the effect of the statement on different authorities. Amendment 399 would require the Secretary of State to publish an annual progress report.

I commend these amendments to your Lordships as a way of securing new homes that are fit for purpose, which would also enhance health and reduce the burden on the health and care system, because we should note that unhealthy homes, far from being a cost-neutral or light-cost option, cost the NHS roughly £1.4 billion every year. Most importantly, the amendments would provide homes that offer a secure foundation for the lives of individuals and families, helping them to thrive. They would also play a significant role in levelling up. I beg to move.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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My Lords, Amendment 188, headed as it is by the noble Lords, Lord Crisp and Lord Young, sounds like an advertisement for a supermarket lettuce. Along with the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Stunell, I supported the Healthy Homes Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, on 15 July, along with many other noble Lords who all spoke in favour at Second Reading. When the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, replied to the debate, after expressing his disappointment that the Government were not supportive of his Bill, he said:

“I will take the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and look for opportunities for this in current legislation.”—[Official Report, 15/7/22; col. 1707.]

He then did what did not always happened when I was Chief Whip in another place: he followed my advice. His amendments would simply insert his Bill into this one, so today we have an opportunity to build on what was said on that occasion in July and take the debate forward.

I looked again at what the Minister said in reply to that debate:

“The Government oppose this Bill, not because they take issue with the premise of noble Lords’ arguments, but rather because they believe that the problems highlighted in the Bill are already being dealt with via alternative policy routes … Many of the proposed healthy homes principles are already covered by the National Planning Policy Framework, which sets out the Government’s planning policies for England and how these should be applied. The NPPF must be taken into account by local authorities in the preparation of their development plans, and it is a material consideration in planning decisions.”

She went on to say:

“We are intending to review the NPPF to support the programme of changes to the planning system. This will provide an opportunity to ensure that the NPPF contributes to sustainable development as fully as possible.”

So two options are available. One is to do what the amendments would do and incorporate the Healthy Homes Bill into primary legislation. The other—and I hold no negotiating brief for the noble Lord, Lord Crisp—is for the Government to undertake that the revised NPPF will incorporate the relevant commitments in Amendments 394 to 399.

Those amendments build on what is already in the NPPF. In the Minister’s own words:

“The social objective focuses on supporting strong, vibrant and healthy communities by fostering well-designed, beautiful and safe places with accessible services and open spaces. More specifically, the framework is clear that planning policies and decisions should aim to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places. This should support healthy lifestyles, especially where this would address identified local health and well-being needs.”

The Minister went on to say:

“This means that all plans should promote sustainable patterns of growth to meet local need, align growth and infrastructure, improve the environment, mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects.”—[Official Report, 15/7/22; cols. 1702-03.]

But that is not a million miles away from what is in the noble Lord’s amendments. The Minister may want to reflect on the precise wording and have a dialogue with the noble Lord, but her objective of mitigating climate change, which I just referred to, is not a million miles from proposed new paragraph (f) in Amendment 396, that

“all new homes should secure radical reductions in carbon emissions in line with the provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008”.

If my noble friend the Minister has “resist” on the top of her speaking notes, is she prepared to discuss with the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, how his agenda can best be taken forward?

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Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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My Lords, I briefly follow-up on that question which the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has left hanging.

We seem to have several moving parts here. I do not want to detain anybody any longer than necessary. We have the guidance of the NPPF, and the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has outlined its current impact on how local plans are developed. We now have the statutory NDMPs. Eventually we will get used to that acronym, I guess. Earlier this evening, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, told noble Lords that she thought that the occasions of conflict between the NDMPs and local plans would be very rare, so rare that they did not need referencing but, on the other hand, possibly so onerous that it would be burdensome to make every one be referred back to your Lordships.

However, the political context of the NDMPs is of trying to retrieve a situation that was created last year by multiple changes in direction within the department, and by Ministers, about what they wanted local plans to achieve. Do they want them to achieve a very large number of houses, no houses at all, or as many houses as the local area thinks are appropriate?

All that will be resolved when—eventually—the NDMPs are published, because that is when we will be told what the Government intend local plans to produce. At that point it seems foreseeable—I say only foreseeable, not certain—that there will be areas of conflict between the citizens’ assemblies brought forward by the noble Baroness’s amendment and the common consultation process that we have traditionally followed, as the local plan emerges and the NDMPs dictate a different course of action. Where does the guidance to which the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred fit into that? Which fits into what and at which part?

In an earlier debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, also said, perhaps not with the conviction that I had hoped to hear, that, in the event of a neighbourhood plan being more up to date than a local plan—hence in date—it would stand up against an NDMP central government directive. I would be delighted if that is true, but I would be substantially surprised if she says that she did say that; I must have misheard something.

We have some moving parts here, and it is a terribly inconvenient time of the day to resolve those difficulties. A lengthy letter may be the solution, but I just pose those questions. This is the fundamental way in which the current Government are aiming to square a circle out of their national planning policy. Whether they want more houses, where they want them and how fast—all those things—are driven by what comes out of local plans, and they will be framed by what is in the NDMPs, which are not published. Forgive me if I am jumping to a conclusion here; perhaps the planning management policy that comes out will say, “It is okay, guys; do your own thing and send your local plans in when they are ready”, but I have a feeling that that is not the context in which they are being drawn up.

Anything that the noble Earl or the noble Baroness can say to clarify that situation, either this evening or in a subsequent written report, would be gratefully received on this side, because we are baffled and bemused by how this is all supposed to hang together, as things stand.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 209 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley and myself but, before I do, I will speak briefly to two amendments mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor.

Amendment 198 is about deliberative democracy or citizens’ forums as they are sometimes known. When I, as somebody who has been a councillor and an MP, first heard of this, I was slightly suspicious of this alternative form of problem-solving. It struck me as slightly random and unaccountable. But the more I looked into it, with the help of Graham Allen, the former Labour MP who championed the cause of deliberative democracy, I began to change my mind. The Government have actually been funding three experimental projects using deliberative democracy—one in Dudley looking at the future of two shopping centres, one in Cambridge looking at how to solve congestion, and one in Romsey looking at how to solve problems around a local bus station. It struck me that these were actually ways of complementing and reinforcing local democracy, rather than substituting it.

At a time when democracies are struggling to retain public confidence, we should look at every possible means of refreshing democracy in a way that is relevant to the modern world. This is what that amendment wants. Like others, I have been to planning meetings where people have been shouting at each other; there must be a better way to find a way through. I look forward to working with the noble Baroness who moved this amendment, as she obviously has considerable experience. Perhaps the Minister will let me know, following the three trials funded by the DCMS, whether her department will engage with the Local Government Association to see how we can best take that debate forward.

I am afraid that I disagree entirely with Amendment 223 and the suggestion that the adopted plan should be up for review after a local election. The one thing going through this debate since it began is the need for certainty and clarity about the local plan. It has to go through a process to become adopted. If there is a local election just after it has been adopted and control changes hands and it is up for review, what then is the status of that local plan? I very much hope that my noble friend will resist, perhaps more politely than I have done, the suggestion in Amendment 223.