Assistance in connection with neighbourhood planning

Part of Neighbourhood Planning Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:30 pm ar 20 Hydref 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London) 3:30, 20 Hydref 2016

It is a range of things. Technology certainly plays a part. I also observe that the designation regime introduced by the coalition Government has played a part. I do not want to go on too long, because this is not directly relevant to the point we are considering. However, I genuinely believe that when we look back on this period—this is not all down to the Government, if that makes it easier for the hon. Gentleman to accept—we will say that despite the financial restrictions public services were under, public servants have done an amazing job of improving the services they provide. That is the point I wanted to make.

I welcome the intent of amendment 2, but I cannot agree that it is necessary. I hope I can reassure Committee members that even in these times of tight public finances, we are supporting neighbourhood planning groups. We have made £22.5 million available to do that. More than 1,500 payments have been made to date. Since 1 April this year, all groups can apply for a grant of up to £9,000. We are providing additional support to priority areas, which include more deprived areas and those with the highest housing growth. Communities that fall within those priority groups can apply for up to £15,000 and can also access technical planning support.

I agree with the hon. Member for Bassetlaw—this is becoming a worrying trend for both of us—that this is not just about money. It is also about having good advice and assistance. We have a national network at the moment of 132 neighbourhood planning champions, who are there to provide exactly that kind of advice and assistance. While I understand what the amendment is trying to do, which is quite rightly to say that thus far neighbourhood planning has been adopted mainly in more rural parts of the country and that we need to ensure that it is also well used in urban and more deprived and more transient communities—there is no argument there—I am not sure whether saying 50% of the money has to go to such areas is right, because by definition it is a demand-led budget.

I want to encourage people from all around the country to set up groups and ensure that funding is there to support them. If it helps the hon. Member for City of Durham, I assure her that if we ever get to a point where the budget is running out because there are so many applications, I will be the first person knocking on the Treasury’s door to ensure that there is extra support. However, I think if we passed a law to say that 50% must go to these places and 50% to those, we could run the risk that some people would run out of money when the other pot had not been used. That does not seem to be a logical way to deal with the issue.

I completely understand the aspiration behind amendment 10. We agree that in order to provide clarity to neighbourhood planning groups about the context within which they prepare their plans all areas should have a local plan. In the evidence session and on numerous other occasions I have spoken strongly about the importance I attach to having local plans in place. If the Committee will permit me for a minute, let me reiterate the main point. The planning applications that tend to come across my desk are nearly all speculative applications where essentially the local planning authority has not had a local plan in place with a five-year land supply. Developers have then come in and picked the sites that they want to build on—those are not the aspirations of the local community but where the developers want to see development go—and things escalate and end up on my desk. I want to remove all that unnecessary conflict from our planning system and the way to do that is to ensure that we have complete coverage in place.

I appreciate that again this is a probing amendment so I will not be too critical, but, rather than accepting an amendment that asserts that something should happen by this timescale, we have tabled a series of amendments that seek to advance that agenda. I also want to make plan making much quicker and make it much easier for planning authorities to update their plans.

The hon. Member for Bassetlaw has previously spoken about—he mentioned it today—his frustration at the delay when the coalition Government changed the national planning framework. Actually, I think we were quite right to do that because we needed to ensure that when one council does not meet its housing need, those houses do not disappear from the system but are spread out in surrounding authorities. He is, however, quite right to say that because the process is so slow at the moment, that imposes a big delay when that happens. Therefore it is important both to make sure that we have plans in place and try to make the process quicker so that when they need updating—because either Government policy changes or the facts on the ground change—that can be done much more quickly.

I do not want to labour the point, because I know the amendment is a probing one, but its wording mentions just having a plan in place. We would all probably agree that we actually need an up-to-date plan that takes account of the latest household projections and an accurate assessment of housing needs. A lot of authorities currently have a plan, but not a plan that is based in any way on the latest information about what the area requires. I hope that I have reassured the hon. Member for City of Durham on the underlying issue, even if we disagree on the amendment.

Finally, I turn to the interesting issue in new clause 2, which I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising. We are looking at the matter in general terms at the moment. We have always been clear that we would like to see the new homes bonus benefiting communities that support development, such as those that produce neighbourhood plans, and we strongly encourage local authorities to allocate funding from the new homes bonus in that way. Indeed, it is already possible for councils and areas where a neighbourhood plan is in place to reach agreement in exactly the way she suggests in her new clause.

With regard to the second part of the new clause and the community infrastructure levy, communities where a neighbourhood plan or order is in force receive 25% of the CIL arising from development in their area, whereas the figure for communities without a neighbourhood plan is only 15%, so there is already a key incentive. Three questions are posed by the new clause. First, should we actually legislate to require something similar in relation to the new homes bonus? Secondly, should we raise those percentages in relation to CIL? Thirdly, should we force everybody to have a CIL? I will take those in turn.

On the first question, that is an interesting idea. I hope that the hon. Lady will allow me to reflect on that some more in the White Paper. The Prime Minister is very interested in ensuring that communities that go for growth are properly rewarded, so that people feel that if their community accepts more housing, their quality of life improves, rather than them finding it harder to get a GP appointment or to get a child into the local school, or finding their train more overcrowded. I am not sure that we should legislate in the way she suggests, but I am very interested in the underlying grain of the idea.

On CIL percentages, there is a balance that we need to be wary of. We can take Bassetlaw as an example of a particular area with a local plan and think about what we want to do with the money that the state captures out of land uplift. We certainly want to do things in that local community, but we might also need to make sure that major bits of infrastructure across the district happen. If we put too much into one local area, we will lose the money that might pay for the new junction on the dual carriageway, or a spur off the main roundabout, or whatever the right project is. There is a tension that we need to recognise.

We probably also need to recognise that it is not necessarily in the interests of every single local authority to have a community infrastructure levy. One could at least think of circumstances in which land values were sufficiently low and development therefore marginal in terms of viability. Introducing a CIL might then push crucial regeneration projects, which would otherwise have been viable, and make them non-viable. I am not sure that forcing every local council to introduce a CIL, if they judge that to do so would not be in the best interests of their area, is the right thing to do.

In summary, the hon. Lady is quite right to raise all those questions. They are at the heart of the debate about what we need to do to ensure that communities are incentivised to go for growth, but I hope that I have pointed out some of the points of detail as to why we do not want to accept the amendment.