My Lords, I hope I will not abuse the great privilege you have given me by allowing me, as the 24th speaker, to speak in the gap.
I support the Bill because of the three areas it covers: neighbourhood planning, local development plans and compulsory purchase. Neighbourhood planning is dealt with in Clauses 1 to 5, which enable planning decision-makers to take account of well advanced neighbourhood plans by giving such plans legal effect at an earlier stage, prior to full approval by a local referendum. That is critical. A neighbourhood plan attains the same legal status as a development plan once it has been agreed at a referendum and is brought into force by a local planning authority. At this point, it becomes part of the statutory development plan. Applications for planning permission must be determined in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. This will help communities that are well advanced in the neighbourhood planning process to have more protection from speculative development that would contravene the proposed neighbourhood plan.
Will local referenda become nimbyism charters—not in my back yard? I hope not. The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, is also concerned about the localism issue. I hope that referenda will not be a charter for those who want to protest and do not want anything to be done. In York, we have many grade 1 listed buildings. If we try to change them to make them usable for the local community, everybody comes out of the woodwork saying, “The building is in a mess but the pews are lovely. Don’t remove them”. I hope that localism does not prevent people doing anything.
Secondly, pre-commencement planning conditions, dealt with in Part 1, Clauses 12 and 13, are requirements that local planning authorities can place on planning applications which prevent development taking place until they are formally met by the applicant. As I understand it, the Bill would allow a local planning authority to use pre-commencement planning conditions only where it has the written agreement of the developer. However, if I have read it correctly, the Bill would not restrict the ability of local planning authorities to seek to impose conditions that are necessary to achieve sustainable development, in line with the National Planning Policy Framework. Again, the Bill tries to do two things, and does them well.
While it is important to prevent the imposition of unreasonable conditions on developers, it is essential to ensure that archaeological heritage, habitats and species, and the concerns of the community are fully taken into account in the planning process, even after permission to build has been granted. It seems unlikely, by the way—maybe I am wrong—that a developer will agree in writing to have pre-commencement conditions imposed on them, and implementing these clauses could further blunt the powers of local planning authorities to try to ensure sensitive development.
The DCLG maintains that appropriate protections for important matters such as heritage, the natural environment and green spaces will be retained, along with measures to mitigate the risk of flooding. Clause 12 —this is where I want the Minister’s help—will grant the Secretary of State the power to make regulations setting out what conditions may or may not be imposed on the granting of planning permission. It would be helpful to have more detail on what these regulations might be—the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, said the same thing—as the Bill goes through Committee and Report. The Government have indicated that the regulations would be subject to public consultation.
As someone who voted to remain in the referendum, I want to say that part of the trouble with the EU—one of the things that bedevilled it—was what I call a forest of regulations. I hope that regulations will not be used as a way to create greater lack of clarity.
A very helpful clause on compulsory purchase has been included in the Bill. It clarifies the potential payment and prevents claims to increase the value of compensation payable if proposals then change. These changes seem proportionate and will help to bring brownfield sites into development. Work needs to be done on that.
There does not seem to be any provisions in the Bill that will have disproportionately positive or negative effects on different areas of the country, different land types or different communities. In other words, it is a balanced Bill for all areas and, coming from the north, I welcome that. There is much to support in the Bill, which will help to strengthen neighbourhood plans and bring more sites into development. There are some concerns about possible restrictions on the use of pre-commencement planning conditions, but that can be sorted out in Committee and on Report. For those reasons, I welcome the Bill. Its sponsors are to be encouraged and I want to say simply, thank you.