Wednesday 8 June was not just the second day of my Inquiry. It was also the date of the second reading of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill in the House of Commons.
A link to the Hansard report of that debate is below. If you have the time it is definitively worth a read. The debate was, if nothing else, eventful.
From the tone of the debate, it looks as if the government may have a bit of a fight on its hands. It is safe to say that some aspects of the bill are proving controversial.
The proposal that National Development Management Policies would over ride local plans 'in the event of a conflict', in particular, came in for a significant amount of criticism from all sides of the house.
At various points in the debate these provisions were referred to as:
- an "enormous centralising power"
- a "power grab"; and
- a proposal that would "severely weaken democratic control of the planning process".
This is despite the fact that earlier in the debate, the Secretary of State stated that:
"The reference to the national development management policies is simply a way to make sure that the provisions that exist within the national planning policy framework—a document that is honoured by Members on both sides of the House, of course—do not need to be replicated by local authorities when they are putting together their local plans."
"It has always been the NPPF’s function to have those national policies, which have been agreed and which ensure that plans are in conformity with what this House wills our overall planning system to be. It is no more than a more efficient way to make sure that the existing NPPF and any future revisions of it are included in local plans."
There were also calls for clarification over the level of consultation required for national development management policies. A point which the bill largely leaves to the discretion of the Secretary of State.
The government also came under criticism for failing to include Net Zero targets, or other environmental measures, in the bill; or to produce any impact assessments in relation to the proposed new infrastructure levy.
We were also given some insight into other policy or legislative measures that might be coming our way in the not too distant future.
When introducing the bill, the Secretary of State indicated:
- That consultation on revisions to the NPPF was likely to begin shortly;
- That significant revisions were being prepared to the standard methodology for assessing housing need - to ensure that they take into account planning and environmental constraints;
- That the government was proposing to 'place limits' on the role of the Planning Inspectorate when approving plans to ensure that it "does not impose on local communities an obligation to meet figures on housing need that cannot be met given the environmental and other constraints in particular communities". Or act "in a way that runs counter to what Ministers at this Dispatch Box have said over and over again".
- That he hoped to strengthen the planning enforcement provisions in the bill still further during committee stage; and finally
- That the government is hoping to address the regulation of water companies to ensure "that the water companies live up to their proper obligations, because it is a matter of both infrastructure and the environment." A comment which would seem to indicate that there is recognition of the need for water companies to play a greater role in resolving both the water and the nutrient neutrality issues that are currently effecting large parts of the country.
In short, from the tone and content of this debate, it does not look as if the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill's passage through parliament will be entirely smooth sailing.... In fact, I suspect that there may be a number of very interesting amendments coming out of the committee stages....
LURB it or hate it, this will definitely be a bill to watch.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. Clause 83(2) proposes a new section 38(5C) to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, which says: “If to any extent the development plan conflicts with a national development management policy, the conflict must be resolved in favour of the national development management policy.” That is what it says—it overrides the local plan. It is in the Bill.