Modification of neighbourhood development order or plan

Neighbourhood Planning Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:15 pm ar 20 Hydref 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing) 2:15, 20 Hydref 2016

I beg to move amendment 6, in clause 3, page 2, line 25, at end insert

“after consultation with the local area involved.”

This amendment ensures that any changes to a neighbourhood development order or plan are first subject to consultation with the local area involved.

The amendment seeks to amend proposed new subsection 4A, which states:

“A local planning authority may at any time by order modify a neighbourhood development order they have made if they consider that the modification does not materially affect any planning permission granted by the order.”

The Minister might say that a modification to a neighbourhood development order or plan would not in any circumstances be made without the local community that put the plan or order in place being aware of it. Again, I seek clarity from the Minister. It would help our understanding of what the clause is trying to achieve if he would explain the circumstances in which he thinks a modification would be undertaken by a local planning authority. Does he see any circumstances in which it would wish to make such a modification without having a period of consultation with the local community or at least checking whether they were not unhappy with the proposed modification?

That is an important test of the Government’s commitment to localism, of which there will be a number this afternoon. As we have already mentioned, a lot of people put a great deal of effort and work into producing neighbourhood plans and, indeed, applying for and getting neighbourhood development orders. They would be really concerned if, at some whim of the local authority, their plan or development order could be modified, and indeed they might not know anything about that modification. I have sat in meetings in which people spend an afternoon on a neighbourhood planning forum arguing over the content of one paragraph in the neighbourhood plan to ensure that they get it absolutely right and that it reflects what they think is the consensus of opinion. People could spend a great deal of time putting together an evidence base and then, for some reason that the clause is not entirely clear about, seemingly the plan could be modified without them knowing anything at all about the modification or the reasons underpinning it.

It could be that we are quite wrong about that and that somewhere else it is clear that the local authority must consult and ensure that the local community is on board. While I am talking about the amount of effort that local communities put into getting the plans and orders together, they are also often done at considerable cost in time and resources. Locality makes it clear in its “Neighbourhood Plans Roadmap Guide” that

“There will be costs associated with preparing a neighbourhood plan. Estimates vary widely; from less than ten thousand pounds to several times this amount”.

I certainly know that some have cost in excess of £50,000.

The point is that that is a considerable resource for local communities. Clearly, they will get some of that from the Government’s support for neighbourhood planning forums and neighbourhood plans, but in a number of circumstances they will have had to raise additional sums of money. They would not want to go through the whole process of raising the money and getting their plan in place only to find that, five modifications down the line, some central tenets of the plan no longer hold.

We also know that putting a neighbourhood plan together can take a long time. The average time communities appear to spend is somewhere between 18 and 24 months. I know that the Government are seeking to reduce that time with a process that is much easier and quicker and that this legislation is part of that. Nevertheless, even after the Bill is enacted it is still likely to take communities a considerable amount of time—easily a year—to get all the documentation together and go through the various stages of the process. It will also take a lot of person hours because, as I said earlier, the groups get together and have to do substantial amounts of work in order to get their various assessments and policies together.

We are all committed to neighbourhood planning and to making neighbourhood plans work, and we would not want the clause to worry neighbourhood planning forums or parish councils that, having done all of that work on their plans, carrying out the referendum and getting the plan adopted, it could simply be modified out of existence by the local planning authority. That could perhaps happen because the direction of the local plan changes, or because the authority is thinking about changing it and it does not like what is in the neighbourhood plan.

I am not entirely certain about the circumstances in which the clause would be used, so it would be helpful to hear about that from the Minister. Will he outline the circumstances in which he thinks the provisions in clause 3 will be used, and how extensive he thinks the use of those provisions will be? What assurances can he give to neighbourhood planning forums and parish councils that their neighbourhood plans will not be modified out of existence without them knowing anything about it?

Photo of Oliver Colvile Oliver Colvile Ceidwadwyr, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport

I declare an interest: I am a shareholder in a small communications company that I set up, coincidentally, with a partner who was a Labour councillor in the London Borough of Enfield. We worked very closely together on a number of planning applications and gave advice to developers on how they could get planning permission, which I have always felt very strongly is about good community consultation. That is listed in my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I have spent about 15 or 20 years working on these kinds of issues. I am going to give some examples of where I think, with good community consultation and by involving the local community, we achieved an awful lot. The first is Sainsbury’s in Nine Elms, which is now being developed. We did an enormous amount of public consultation. We were advised by the leader of the Labour-controlled council to talk to the local community, which we did. We had public exhibitions, Planning for Real weekends and everything like that. I am delighted to say that we would have got the application through within six weeks of when it was needed. The only problem was that my client failed to talk to the retailers about their planning application, so it was a story of the property department at Sainsbury’s not talking to the retailers; that was an issue.

The second example, which I was very much involved in, is what is currently known as “Tesco tower”, which is down on Cromwell Road near the M4 out of London. We looked with our client at developing a block of flats on top of it. It got very close at one stage. We even got to the stage of being minded to approve, but the leadership of the local authority decided that they were not happy with it because they had received a lot of concerns from local communities, which ended up stopping it. What then happened was that the director of planning in the Royal Borough, who is now working in my hon. Friend the Minister’s Department, decided that he was going to do a masterplan, in which the local community was going to be very much involved.

In all those issues, the really big story was the massing and the height of developments that were taking place. On the Hoe, which is a conservation area in my constituency of Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, an application was recently agreed for Pearson House. It did not have the support of the local community at all. It was thought to be too high, the massing was not right and it did not have any land around the outside either. Unfortunately, the council approved it. I argue that it might have ended up setting a precedent for other activities within the conservation area, so this is very important.

My concern about the amendment, if I am honest, is that it might cut across the strategic interest in the rest of the local authority, and I think that needs to be looked at.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing) 2:30, 20 Hydref 2016

The amendment would not prevent the local planning authority from making a modification; it merely suggests that it should consult the community before doing so.

Photo of Oliver Colvile Oliver Colvile Ceidwadwyr, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport

I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that. The point I am making is that it is vital that a neighbourhood plan, with all the hard work that people do, reflects what the height and the massing should be.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

As the neighbourhood planning system matures, we need to ensure that it will be suitably flexible to respond to changes in community aspirations. It is now almost five years since the first neighbourhood plans were prepared. As we have heard, well over 200 are now in force and more than 240 have been approved in referendums. We are aware that some of the early pioneers of the system want to update their plans.

Currently, the process for updating a neighbourhood plan is the same as the process for preparing a brand new one, regardless of the scale or significance of the changes proposed. The clause on changing the area that a plan covers, and the clauses that we shall come on to, are designed to address that fundamental problem. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw is nodding. He has lots of plans in his area, so clearly he has some experience of this.

The Government therefore believe that it is important to introduce a more proportionate way of revising plans to ensure that they remain up to date. Clause 3 will achieve that by introducing two new modification processes. I think that the confusion may have arisen—it is possible, at any rate; I cannot read the mind of the hon. Member for City of Durham—because there are two different processes. I will explain them, in the hope that that will provide some reassurance.

First, a process is being introduced to allow a local authority to make minor modifications to a neighbourhood plan or an order at any time, in the same way as an authority can currently correct errors. Clause 3 does that by amending section 61M of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. On the key point that the hon. Member for City of Durham raised, I can absolutely reassure her that a local planning authority will need the consent of the relevant neighbourhood planning group to make the modification. That is clearly an important point. Her concern was that people would put a lot of work into producing their neighbourhood plans and then councils could modify them in some way without proper consultation. I can reassure her that that would require the consent of the relevant neighbourhood planning group, whether a parish council or a neighbourhood forum.

Secondly, any proposed modification that uses that minor change procedure cannot materially affect any of the policies in the neighbourhood plan or, if we are talking about a neighbourhood development order, the planning permission granted. Although there is no consultation requirement, the local planning authority must publicise what it has done, so people will be aware that the decision has been taken.

That is an important change, because currently even the most minor modifications, such as amending the wording of supporting text to clarify what a policy means, cannot be made without going through the same process to produce a new plan, including holding a referendum, which clearly involves a significant cost at a time when I think we are all aware of the pressures on local authorities. We strongly believe that that is overly burdensome.

However, the clause also provides a means by which more significant modifications may be made to a neighbourhood plan, through a streamlined procedure. It does that by inserting new subsections into sections 38A and 38C of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, along with a new schedule A2. The new schedule sets out in more detail the process to be followed in bringing forward draft proposals to modify a plan.

The streamlined procedure has a stronger expectation that the independent examination of the revised proposals, which we have been discussing, will be paper-based, with hearings only in exceptional circumstances. Additionally, there is no referendum. So the examiners’ recommendations will in most cases be binding. We have the minor modification procedure, the completely new plan procedure and an intermediate one, which may be used where the proposed modifications are not so significant or substantial as to change the fundamental nature of the plan but none the less are more than simple, minor modifications.

Crucially, with regard to safeguards, the local planning authority and the independent examiner will need to agree that that is the case in order for a draft plan to proceed through the streamlined procedure. In this case, we are taking powers to regulate the process. We are consulting on that, but I can say to the hon. Member for City of Durham that in the intermediate procedure our intention is that the local authority must publicise what it is doing and consult in the same way that it would for a new neighbourhood plan.

To sum up, in the case of the most minor modifications, it is the Government’s contention that a full consultation of the kind we would have for the streamlined or new plan procedure is not necessary, but there is the safeguard that the relevant body that drew up the plan must give its consent to what is being done. However, if we are looking for more significant changes, although not those that would trigger a new referendum, it is important that there is some consultation.

I hope that I have provided the reassurance that the hon. Lady’s probing amendment was looking for, and that my explanation has been useful in helping Members understand the two procedures and when they would be used.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing)

Having listened to the Minister, I think that the probing amendment did its job effectively. There is now much greater clarity on exactly what the provisions of the clause mean. On the minor modification process, I take the Minister’s point about a simple drafting error that can be corrected easily and perhaps without going out to full consultation, but I would still expect a process for notifying the neighbourhood planning forum or the parish council that the modification has been made or is about to be made.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

It goes further than that. The relevant neighbourhood planning body has to give its consent even for the most minor modifications, and then the wider public are notified.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing)

That is a helpful clarification. In the second set of circumstances, I take the Minister’s point that this is perhaps an intermediate measure in order to allow modifications that are a bit larger to take place and that the community would clearly be involved in that. Given the Minister’s helpful clarifications, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 1