Format of local development schemes and documents

Neighbourhood Planning Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:45 pm ar 27 Hydref 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

(1) Section 36 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (regulations under Part 2) is amended in accordance with subsections (2) and (3).

(2) In the heading after “Regulations” insert “and standards”.

(3) After subsection (2) insert—

“(3) The Secretary of State may from time to time publish data standards for—

(a) local development schemes,

(b) local development documents, or

(c) local development documents of a particular kind.

(4) For this purpose a ‘data standard’ is a written standard which contains technical specifications for a scheme or document or the data contained in a scheme or document.

(5) A local planning authority must comply with the data standards published under subsection (3) in preparing, publishing, maintaining or revising a scheme or document to which the standards apply.”

(4) In section 15(8AA) of that Act (cases in which direction to revise local development scheme may be given by Secretary of State or Mayor of London)—

(a) after “only if” insert “—(a)”, and

(b) at the end of paragraph (a) insert “, or

(b) the Secretary of State has published data standards under section 36(3) which apply to the local development scheme and the person giving the direction thinks that the scheme should be revised so that it complies with the standards.”—

This new clause enables the Secretary of State to set data standards for local development schemes and documents, requiring these documents or the data they contain to comply with specified technical specifications. It also enables the Secretary of State or the Mayor of London to direct a local planning authority to revise a local development scheme so that it complies with data standards.

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment (a) to Government new clause 6, after proposed new subsection (3)(c) of section 36 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, insert—“(d) technical documents.”

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

New clause 6 will enable the Secretary of State to publish data standards for local development documents and local development schemes. Local planning authorities already gather a range of information during the planning process, and the local government transparency code places a duty on authorities to make openly available data on which policy decisions are based and public services are assessed.

The local plans expert group, to which I have referred several times, believes that there needs to be a step change in how local plans are presented to their users—for example, ensuring that documents are accessible on the web, improving the interactivity between maps and planned policy documents, which is something to which I personally attach particular importance, and exploring opportunities for improving online consultation. The Government agree with that recommendation.

There are a number of examples of where new technology has enhanced and improved engagement in communities on local planning matters. By way of example, my Department funded an initiative that has seen Plymouth City Council’s neighbourhood planning team lead a Data Play initiative to help to open up council data for neighbourhood forums to use, but we can be more ambitious to ensure that planning and planning documents take advantage of what technology has to offer. New technology means that individuals, groups, entrepreneurs and businesses can now access and exploit public data in a way that increases accountability, drives choice and spurs innovation.

A constituent came to my surgery and brought a relative of his who did not live in my area but was involved in the development business. He showed me something that he had produced for a town in Kent. He had essentially taken a detailed Office for National Statistics map of that town and overlaid on to that map the planning policies of the relevant local plan in order to identify 324 small sites that would accommodate at least one unit of housing and that ought to receive planning consent because they appeared to be consistent with the planning policies set out in that relevant local plan. That was hugely interesting, thinking about the experience we all have with small and medium-sized enterprise builders who talk about access to land. My constituent’s relative was planning to go into partnerships with a whole series of small builders in that area. He would secure planning consent and work with the builders to develop out the scheme.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Devolution)

I want to endorse the power of open data. Greater Manchester is one of the pilot projects for the Cabinet Office’s open data scheme. That means that across all of Greater Manchester the public can access, completely free of charge, data on utilities, services, natural boundaries and, quite importantly, land ownership. We have discovered that the public sector sits on quite a lot of land that is ripe for development. Of course, the Land Commission will identify that as part of the whole parcel of attempts to get such sites developed. I recommend that the Minister, when he visits Greater Manchester, takes a look at that project.

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

I am always grateful for tips. I think that I am coming up to co-chair a meeting of the Land Commission at the start of December with Tony Lloyd, so I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing that project to my attention.

I think that we are all localists here, but I hope that we all recognise that, to capitalise on the opportunities provided by new technology and gain maximum value, key planning data need to be published in a consistent format across the country. If every local planning authority opened up its data, but did so using different systems and in different ways, it would be much more difficult for people who want to operate across local planning authority boundaries to make use of the data.

The intention behind new clause 6 is to open up those possibilities, and it will do that by amending the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, with which we are becoming very familiar by now, to enable the Secretary of State to publish data standards. In essence, those standards are detailed technical specifications that local planning authorities must meet for documents that they are already required to publish.

We want to work with representatives of the sector to develop the specification of the data standards. We will then consult local planning authorities on the technical document that authorities will need to follow. Once the data standards are defined, they will apply to all local development documents, the planning documents prepared by a local planning authority; and local development schemes, the timetable for the preparation of the development plan documents that comprise the local plan.

The measure provides a solid basis for creating more accessible and more transparent plans. Opening up public data lies at the heart of a wider Government push for a digital nation, in which the relationship between individual citizens and the Government is transformed. This is a small but important contribution to that.

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

I will make a few brief comments on new clause 6 and on amendment (a). The Opposition very much welcome new clause 6. Anything that the Government can do to make planning documents more accessible to local people, the better, because, as I described earlier, some of those documents can be very weighty and lengthy. Being able to access them easily online and in a format in which people can comprehend them more easily will be a good thing and is very much to be welcomed.

I tabled the amendment on technical documents to test with the Minister whether the provisions of new clause 6 will relate to technical documents as well and to ask whether the Government will give some consideration—to reiterate a point I made earlier—to what exactly is needed in technical documents, which are public-facing documents. Obviously, we want people to have as much information as possible about what underpins policies in a local plan, but we also want to ensure that the important points do not get lost in a mass of detail such that people never seek to address, look at or try to understand the documents.

My first point is that I broadly welcome new clause 6, and it will be interesting to see how it works in practice and what sort of data the Secretary of State puts in the standards. I hope that the Minister will learn from his Cabinet Office colleagues about the open data project mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton and that the documents are made as successful as possible. Will the Minister deal with the specific issue I have raised about how we might do the whole technical documents thing?

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

I hope that the hon. Lady and I can have a discussion outside the Committee to test whether we have a point of difference here. In essence, as the new clause is drafted, it defines what needs to be released in legally precise language—as I said, the local development documents, which are the planning documents prepared by the authority, and the local development scheme, which is the timetable for preparation. If she feels that that does not capture some of the things that need to be released, the Government are very happy to look at what other wording can be included. Clearly, however, the wording would need to be precise, so that authorities understand it exactly. Our intention is clear: all the key documents that make up the local plan should be covered by the measure. If, having listened to me, hon. Members feel that there is a gap here and that something is missing, I am happy to talk about it outside the Committee, perhaps coming back at a later date to address it.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 6 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 7