Housing and Planning Act 2016 (Permission in Principle etc) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) Regulations 2017

Tuesday 21st February 2017

(4 years, 11 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Motion to Consider
Moved by
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Housing and Planning Act 2016 (Permission in Principle etc) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) Regulations 2017.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government and Wales Office (Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth) (Con)
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My Lords, these regulations are necessary to ensure the effective operation of permission in principle when it is introduced later this year. Permission in principle is a new route to planning permission that will give developers up-front certainty that sites are suitable for housing-led development in principle, before they need to work up detailed and costly development proposals.

Permission in principle will make the planning process less risky and more efficient and, in doing so, will help tackle the undersupply of housing by increasing the amount of land, particularly brownfield land, with permission to build. We secured the primary powers through the Housing and Planning Act 2016 to bring permission in principle into effect. We consulted on the detailed operation of the policy and, taking account of the responses received, are now developing secondary legislation that we intend to lay shortly before this House. These regulations make a small number of minor consequential and miscellaneous amendments to primary legislation.

Regulation 2 amends paragraph 9 of Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972, which prevents local planning authorities excluding information at a planning committee about an application for planning permission in relation to development on its own land. This amendment will require the local planning authority to comply with this requirement where an application for permission in principle is made in relation to local authority land, thereby ensuring an equal level of transparency.

Regulation 3 amends the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Section 69 of that Act deals with entries on planning registers, which are public records of planning applications and permissions in the local area. Regulation 3 will ensure that records of permission in principle applications and consents are made publicly available on local planning registers, too. Section 75 of the 1990 Act ensures that a grant of planning permission enures for the benefit of the land. In other words, a grant of planning permission runs with the land and is not personal to the applicant. Regulation 3 applies this long-standing principle to grants of permission in principle, so that they also run with the land and not with the applicant.

Section 96A of the 1990 Act enables a non-material change, for example a correction to a spelling mistake, to be made to a grant of planning permission. This amendment will enable the applicant to follow an expedited process to make a non-material change to a grant of permission in principle. Without this amendment, the applicant would have to reapply for permission in principle to make such a change. The final change we propose to make through Regulation 3 is to amend Section 100 of the 1990 Act, which deals with revocation powers. This amendment will ensure that local planning authorities can revoke or modify a grant of permission in principle in the exceptional circumstances where such a course of action is necessary. This is consistent with the current arrangements for grants of full or outline planning permission.

Regulation 4 amends the Planning (Hazardous Substances) Act 1990 to ensure that in dealing with an application for hazardous substances consent, the hazardous substances authority shall have regard to any permission in principle that has been granted in relation to land in the vicinity. This change will ensure consistency with the arrangements for having due regard to grants of planning permission in relation to hazardous substances consent.

Finally, Regulation 5 will amend the Commons Act 2006 to ensure that when a local planning authority publicises its intention to grant permission in principle to a suitable site on a brownfield register, the right to apply to register that site as a town and village green is switched off. The right to apply is reinstated when a period of 10 weeks passes from when the local planning authority publicises its intention to grant permission in principle without the land being granted such permission. The right to apply is also reinstated when the grant of permission in principle expires. I commend these regulations to the Committee.

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
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My Lords, I have two brief questions for the Minister. The first relates to the definition of housing-led development that the Government are currently using. We debated this during the passing of the Bill and, as I understand it, permission in principle can be obtained only in relation to housing-led development. However, questions were posed at the time regarding what happens when the housing element of a development is much smaller than the development as a whole, which may have commercial development at its heart and the housing element is consequential. In other words, can permission in principle be granted for housing on a site where less than half of the total development planned is for housing? A clear definition would be helpful.

The second matter is not so much a question as a request for the Minister to consider producing for the general public a plain-English guide to planning law. There are complexities around the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, which goes to Report on Thursday, and the changes it makes to the Housing and Planning Act, under which these regulations are being made. If one looks at, for example, permitted development regulations, permission in principle regulations and, probably in future, pre-commencement conditions, the question arises of whether there are any plans to consolidate all of them. Perhaps more importantly, it should be made easy for the general public, particularly those who are producing neighbourhood plans, to understand the statutory position of many of these policies in relation to themselves. In other words, it should be written in language that people can understand.

Lord Jones Portrait Lord Jones (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his helpful, clear and brief exposition. I note that he is a compatriot with a truly Welsh title. I have a brief question on Regulation 4—“Consequential amendment to the Planning (Hazardous Substances) Act 1990”—in the knowledge that successive Governments have been encouraging the use of brownfield sites. There must be a relevance to that aspect of policy and this item. What is the consequence of this regulation for builders, local authority housing committees and housing associations? How have the Government reached conclusions affecting the use of brownfield sites? I note the helpful reference to Regulation 4 in the Explanatory Note and the mention of a “hazardous substances authority”. Can the Minister—during the debate, by letter or with help from officials—say what this authority is, who is chairing it and what sort of people sit on it? It is relevant in terms of a genuine debate.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab)
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My Lords, I start my remarks with my usual declarations and refer Members to my entry in the register of interests. I should specifically mention that I am a local councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

The Government are slowly—actually, very slowly—bringing forward regulations under the Housing and Planning Act. We are now coming up to the first anniversary of Royal Assent, and I recall all the fuss, hoo-hah and pressure we had to get the Bill on to the statute book. When Members argued that we should spend a bit more time getting the regulations sorted out, we were told, “No, no, we have to get this on the statute book now. It must happen”. Here we are, nearly a year later, and one or two regulations are coming forward. That is no way to legislate. It has caused worry and confusion and is not the way to do things. Having said that, I am very pleased that the Government have dropped some parts of the Act. That is good, and long may it continue—there are one or two things we want to see the end of fairly shortly and all power to the noble Lord’s elbow on that—but it is not a great way to make legislation.

The SI deals with permission in principle. It is designed to separate planning decision-making on “in principle” issues—for example, locations—from the more technical detail, to give up-front certainty to developers before they get into the more technical and, some might say, costly matters. Equally, one could suggest that residents are concerned that this is just a way to bypass local people in the planning process so they have less influence. Of course, that is not very localist.

Turning to the specifics of the statutory instrument, I have one or two questions for the Minister, but I shall not be detaining the Grand Committee for very long. Regulation 2 provides that a local authority application for permission in principle should not be exempt information. Perhaps the Minister can say a little more about that, and whether the Government have any plans to increase transparency there. That would be useful. Regulation 3 concerns non-material amendments; perhaps he can say a little more about that. Regulation 4, to which my noble friend Lord Jones referred, talks about hazardous substances with regard to any permission in principle granted to land in the vicinity. Can we have more information about what that means in practice? How will the Government decide what is in the vicinity? What does that mean? It is a bit like asking how long is a piece of string. What sort of testing regime will there be of harmful impacts of hazardous substances on land, water supply or animal life? We need to know a bit more about what will be carried out.

Finally, Regulation 5 is about triggering and terminating events of an application for registration of a village green. As the Minister will know, Section 87 of the Localism Act 2011 is still a very new piece of legislation which was put on the statute book by the coalition Government and deals with assets of community value. It allows village greens to be designated and therefore prevents them being sold off for development. Effectively, the regulation could put a stop to all that. What is the point of putting something on the statute book in 2011 to give communities this right and then, six years later, creating a mechanism whereby that right can be lost? That does not seem very localist either. I should like to hear more from the Minister about that. What was the point of putting it on the statute book in the first place if we are now to take that right away with no warning to local people?

Those are my questions. I have no further points to make on the effect of the regulations. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Beecham Portrait Lord Beecham (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I want to make just one point raised by my honourable friend Roberta Blackman-Woods when the matter was discussed in the Delegated Legislation Committee yesterday. She referred to the remark of the Minister in the Commons that the statutory instrument would amend primary legislation. As she pointed out, during the Bill’s passage there was a promise that a lot more detail on how the procedure would operate in practice would be brought forward in secondary legislation. This is not, by any means, the most substantive set of provisions in relation to what the 2016 Act brought into being—or, at least, forecast would be brought into being. Yesterday she asked whether and when the Minister would expect more information on how permission in principle will operate in practice.

We now have a housing White Paper. Does that mean that the secondary legislation under the previous Act will be held up until there is legislation following the housing White Paper? Are these two things connected, or will the Government proceed with the regulations implementing the provisions in last year’s Act? It all seems somewhat confused. This is a result of the very laborious process that many across the House warned last year was unsatisfactory: that we were being asked to pass legislation without seeing or being consulted on any draft regulations. I hope, therefore, that the Minister can indicate whether this specific issue—how permission in practice is going to work—will be the subject of regulations under the existing legislation, and when we might expect to see them.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in the debate on these regulations and I will try to address the points they made in the order in which they were raised.

First, on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, the definition of “housing-led development” is that the main purpose of the development is housing: that is central. I have much sympathy with the second issue raised by the noble Lord. As officials in my department know, I fight against acronyms and abbreviations every day, because they confuse me—and, I suspect, a lot of other people—so I will go away to reflect on that and look at our website to see how we make this more accessible for people than it is now or is generally the case. I have some sympathy with that point.

Turning to the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Jones, I thank him, as always, for his courtesy. His point, I think, related to Regulation 5 and the hazardous substances authority. What we are doing here is tightening the restrictions. I know from how this operates in Wales, which I think is essentially the same as in England, that currently if planning permission is granted for a site, the hazardous substances authority, in designating how it can be used—for the storage of oil or whatever—has to consider whether there is planning permission in the vicinity. I am not sure of the precise definition of “in the vicinity”, but I will write to the noble Lord about that, as I suspect that there is a statutory definition of it. The authority has to take account of that and that restricts it, for very understandable reasons. This regulation extends that to permission in principle, in addition to the existing planning permission.

I therefore thank the noble Lord for his considerate and, if I may say so, balanced response—which brings me to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, who I thank for his qualified welcome and excellent impression of Eeyore during the first couple of minutes of his introduction. I know the noble Lord, and suspect that some of that was tongue in cheek. I will, however, address some of the points he raised about the regulations, starting with Regulation 2. This regulation is rooted in the community; a local decision is being made. This does not in any way run counter to the localism agenda. The choice about where to grant permission in principle is a local one. The local planning authority would make the decision in accordance with its own local plan and in line with the National Planning Policy Framework. That is a rigorous process, and I do not see anything unlocal, as it were, that runs against localism in that.

The noble Lord asked about Regulation 3, which amends the 1990 Act, and what it ensures. It ensures that in addition to current planning applications permissions, which are put on the register, permission in principle is put on the register as well. This extends transparency. Without this, it would not go on the register. I am sure the noble Lord welcomes that provision, possibly in a rather muted way.

Regulation 4 amends the Planning (Hazardous Substances) Act. I think it was the noble Lord who asked about “vicinity”, and I will ensure that that is covered in a letter to noble Lords who have participated in the debate, as I am not quite sure of the definition. I think there is a fairly tight statutory definition.

The noble Lord then raised an interesting point on Regulation 5, which amends the Commons Act 2006. This is not a new procedure. There are trigger events at the moment—I think they operated under the last Labour Government as well—that, for understandable reasons which I would certainly support, put a halt to registering something as a commons when planning permission has been given for it. I do not think that that is unreasonable, as you have given planning permission. If the planning permission lapses or is withdrawn, the land is available once again for commons registration. That seems to me to be entirely sensible. It is a pause, and the same applies here. This extends the process to permission in principle—dare I say, mutatis mutandis? That operates on both sides, that one. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, raised points on this issue and I will have to write to him on those. As he said, the issue was raised in the Commons, and he makes a very fair point about making clear what we are going to do in this area. I will write to him on that issue and copy noble Lords in. I thank noble Lords who have in general given a welcome to these regulations.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark
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I thank the Minister for his welcome of the points I made. We are clearly going to have a number of these regulations over the next few weeks and months, and that is fine. We will debate them. However, we will come back to this point, and I make no apology for raising it. If you want to look at how to put legislation through Parliament, the Housing and Planning Act—I know the Minister was not in the department at the time and had no input whatever—was not a good example. It was rushed through, and here we are, a year later. It was not a good way of doing things. I make no apology for raising that. I am sure there are many examples of where the Labour Government did something similar. I am not suggesting it is only one party, but we need to look at how we make legislation. This Act was not a good experience for Parliament or for the department.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
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I thank the noble Lord for the constructive way he is offering to share the blame on legislation that fails to meet the objectives of being open, transparent and non-rushed. I hope that the process will be followed. I thank the noble Lord and the noble Lords, Lord Beecham and Lord Shipley, and other noble Lords for the way we have engaged on the Neighbourhood Planning Bill. It is a model for others to follow. These regulations are wholly sensible, as I think the noble Lord accepts, and are consequent on measures that we know make sense in ensuring that we build more houses in our country.

Motion agreed.