Sustainable development and placemaking

Neighbourhood Planning Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:00 pm ar 27 Hydref 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

(1) The purpose of planning is the achievement of long-term sustainable development and placemaking.

(2) Under this Act sustainable development and placemaking means managing the use, development and protection of land and natural resources in a way which enables people and communities to provide for their legitimate social, economic and cultural wellbeing while sustaining the potential of future generations to meet their own needs.

(3) In achieving sustainable development, the local planning authority should—

(a) identify suitable land for development in line with the economic, social and environmental objectives so as to improve the quality of life, wellbeing and health of people and the community;

(b) contribute to the sustainable economic development of the community;

(c) contribute to the vibrant cultural and artistic development of the community;

(d) protect and enhance the natural and historic environment;

(e) contribute to mitigation and adaptation to climate change in line with the objectives of the Climate Change Act 2008;

(f) promote high quality and inclusive design;

(g) ensure that decision-making is open, transparent, participative and accountable; and

(h) ensure that assets are managed for long-term interest of the community.”—

This new clause would clarify in statute that the planning system should be focused on the public interest and in achieving quality outcomes including placemaking.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I accept that this is a fairly long new clause, but it seeks to do something that is really important: to put the purpose of planning in the Bill to be absolutely certain that it is about achieving long-term sustainable development and, critically, placemaking alongside that. It is very much along the lines of, but not identical to what is in the national planning policy framework.

The new clause then says what a local planning authority should do to try to achieve sustainable development: identify suitable land for development; contribute to the sustainable economic development of the community; contribute—this is really important because it often falls off the agenda when considering development issues—to the vibrant cultural and artistic development of the community; protect and enhance the natural and historic environment; contribute to mitigation and adaptation to climate change in line with the objectives of the Climate Change Act 2008, which I rehearsed for the Committee the other day; promote high-quality and inclusive design, which in my experience planning applications and determinations do not pay enough attention to; ensure that decisions are transparent and involve as many local people as possible; and finally and really importantly, because it often falls out of the decision-making process in applications, ensure that assets are managed for the long-term interest of the community.

Far too many developers in my area and others are very keen and quick to demolish or to enable alterations to be made to important historic buildings, for example, particularly if they are not protected by a listing. Planners often do not consider the short-term nature of some developments and whether they are of poor quality. If planning communities had to think about how they were managing assets for the longer term, some of the truly awful planning decisions that have been made might not have been made.

The Royal Town Planning Institute, in its August 2016 report, “Delivering the Value of Planning”—I am sure that it was one of the first things to land on the new Minister’s desk—pointed out:

“Instead of stripping power from planning, governments need to maximise the potential of planning and ensure that planners have the powers and resources to deliver positive, proactive planning.”

That is the purpose of new clause 9.

In terms of how positive planning can be in delivering new development and communities, we also want to consider what is happening in some other countries. If the Minister is planning a world tour—he might be after this Bill, and certainly before the next one—he might want to visit China, where planning has become the primary tool for municipalities to attract new industrial and residential developments. Because China is developing new cities, which is not happening everywhere around the globe, it is an interesting place to visit to see what planning can deliver when it is done properly and how it can overcome obstacles to growth.

I will not say that everything about the system in China is absolutely fantastic, because I am not sure that is the case, but China is keen, through the planning system, to develop new settlements and ensure that they are underpinned by economic development and deliver all the different facilities and services required to make a new community and a new place where people want to live. My point is that we in the UK are in danger of losing that kind of proactive planning and thinking about how to envision a neighbourhood going forward for 30 or 50 years.

I know that the Minister’s White Paper is getting bigger by the day, but I want to add something else for him to consider in it. How might he encourage local authorities, either singly or in combination, to think about delivering new settlements? I suspect that we will not be able to address the housing need in this country unless we think about how to support local authorities to bring together new settlement proposals. My preferred route to that is to facilitate the development of new garden cities underpinned by the garden city principles, because that seems most agreeable to local communities. When I have talked to people in my local community about a garden village or a garden city extension, they understand what it means. They think that it will be a good-quality development with decent, affordable family housing, a range of services, access to employment and transport and an ongoing fund for the community to keep infrastructure and services in a reasonable condition.

I will not say much more, but I point the Minister to the RTPI’s new publication. There are also regular publications by the Town and Country Planning Association and others that point to a positive role. The reason why I emphasise it with him is that in the past I have had lots of discussions—I think that the current Minister is the third or fourth Planning Minister with whom I have dealt—and what I have heard is that planning is a block to development and is what holds up development in this country. It is often portrayed in a negative way, whereas we know that planning can be the method by which we create development. In fact, if we use planning positively it can deliver the neighbourhoods and the places that we all want to see developed and would all want to live in and bequeath to our children and grandchildren. New clause 9 asks for something to be put in the Bill to recognise the positive role that planning can play in making places we all want to live in; in protecting our need not only for employment and housing, but for access to culture and leisure, and in promoting healthy environments.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London) 3:15, 27 Hydref 2016

I thank the hon. Lady for tabling the new clause and for underlining the importance of sustainable development and placemaking. To a degree, we have had this debate before—we had an interesting debate earlier about sustainable development—so she probably knows what I am going to say on the overall issue. However, she raised some interesting specific points about new settlements, which I will come on to in a moment.

The Government agree that sustainable development is integral to the planning system and that a plan-led system is key to delivering it, but we do not believe that it is necessary to write these things into legislation. The new clause seeks to make the achievement of sustainable development and placemaking the legal purpose of planning, and it would set objectives to be met by local planning authorities in working towards that goal. However, the Government believe that that goal is already adequately addressed both in legislation and in policy. I refer the hon. Lady to a statute that I have referred to many times today, the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, section 39 of which requires bodies that prepare local development documents for local plans to do so

“with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development.”

Our national planning policy framework is also very clear that sustainable development should be at the heart of planning and should be pursued in a positive and integrated way. Taken as a whole, the framework constitutes the Government’s view on what sustainable development means. It is explicit that the purpose of the planning system is to contribute to achieving sustainable development; that the economic, social and environmental aspects that the hon. Lady referred to in some detail in an earlier debate are mutually dependent and that none should be pursued in isolation. The Committee has discussed the NPPF already, so I will not read out a long quotation from it, but the first sentence of the ministerial foreword, written by my right hon. Friend Greg Clark when he was Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, reads:

“The purpose of planning is to help achieve sustainable development.”

Our commitment there is very clear. That principle runs through all levels of plan-making—strategic, local and neighbourhood. Since decisions on individual applications must by law be plan-led, the goal of sustainable development permeates the planning system.

Although the Government completely agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of sustainable development and placemaking, we do not believe that setting a prescriptive definition in statute is the right way forward—not least from a democratic point of view, because it is perfectly possible that a future Government will want to amend the NPPF definition in some way, hopefully an ever more progressive way. In our view, that should not necessarily have to be done by introducing more primary legislation; the Government should be able to do it through policy.

For those reasons, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw her new clause, but I will say a few positive words on her comments on new settlements. I very strongly agree with those comments. I have had some very good discussions with the Town and Country Planning Association on the issue, and I recently addressed a conference at Alconbury Weald, which is one of the new settlements being delivered along garden village principles. There were people there from all over the country who had bid into our programme to create new garden towns and villages. I very much hope to make an announcement on that shortly.

The Government have taken action fairly recently to try to change the law in a way that helps the process. At the instigation of the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, we made some important changes to the New Towns Act 1981 by means of the Housing and Planning Act 2016. Those changes make it easier to set up new town development corporations in areas and to extend their objectives so that they can better support the delivery of new, locally led garden towns and villages where that is what local areas want.

I very much agree with the hon. Lady that new settlements will be an important ingredient of our strategy to ensure that we get this country building the homes we need. They are not the only answer because, by definition, a significant number of new homes are involved in the creation of a new settlement, and it takes time to get the build-out of those properties. We also need smaller sites where we are more likely to get rapid build-out. The hon. Lady is right to say that in many parts of the country it will prove much more politically acceptable to plan some new sustainable settlements, with all the community infrastructure and environmental sustainability that is at the core of the garden town and garden village concept, than to slowly expand every existing settlement out.

The Government share the hon. Lady’s thoughts on new settlements, and our garden towns and cities programme is good evidence of that. In fact, one of the first visits I made as a Minister was to Ebbsfleet to see the progress that is being made. It took some time to get under way, but we are now seeing good progress. I am looking forward to visiting several other new settlements throughout the country over the coming months. I very much share the aspirations that the hon. Lady expressed in support of her new clause.

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

I thank the Minister for his response, much of which I anticipated, if not quite all of it. I shall make two brief points.

First, with some of the detail of the new clause I was trying to tease out the extent to which the Government feel that new towns or garden cities have to abide by the garden city principles. For example, I discussed with the Minister’s predecessor the lack of affordable housing in Ebbsfleet, which did not seem to me to be in line with the garden city principles. That is why the new clause contains quite a detailed list and includes things such as community assets, which are not mentioned in the national planning policy framework. Will the Minister ponder on the fact that there is a great deal of detail in the new clause that is not in the NPPF? How might such detail be applied to new towns?

Finally, we have not discussed this much in Committee because the national infrastructure commission was taken out of the Bill, but I emphasise to the Minister that for any new settlement it is essential to get the infrastructure costs met, and met up front. That was a huge problem for Ebbsfleet, which is why there was considerable delay in the build-out. When the Minister comes to putting the final touches to the White Paper, I hope there is something in it about how infrastructure will be funded, because that seems to be a major issue that holds up the development of new settlements. With that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 10