HL Deb 26 April 2004 vol 660 cc596-9

27 Page 20, line 29, at beginning insert "Thereafter,"

The Commons disagree to this amendment for the following reason—

27A Because it is not appropriate to make such provision.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 26 and 27 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reasons numbered 26A and 27A.

These amendments have been a focus for some concerns about the new planning process in London. I am pleased that following assurances that we have given, the amendments were not pursued in the other place. In no particular order, the concerns were, for example, about the following matters: whether the Mayor could intervene in a London borough's unitary development plans. The Mayor does not have the power to do so under the current legislation, and nothing in this Bill changes that.

The other issue is what powers the Mayor has on planning applications in London. He can direct refusal of strategic planning applications. The definition of "strategic" is in circular 1/2000, which sets out the arrangements for strategic planning in London. On the relationship between the London plan and the boroughs' plans, I have repeated in this House a Statement by the Minister for Housing and Planning on our policy on general conformity. The key point is that this is a test of "general conformity", not conformity. It is only where an inconsistency or omission in a borough unitary development plan, or in the future a local development document, would cause significant harm to the implementation of the London plan that it should be considered not to be in general conformity.

Another issue is whether determining planning applications in London would become much more complicated and expensive. It will not. The London plan will be a factor when an application raises strategic issues that are covered by policies in it. Many applications will not raise strategic issues, and it should be reasonably straightforward, in the case of those that do, to give the appropriate weight to strategic and local planning policies. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 26 and 27, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reasons numbered 26A and 27A.—(Lord Rooker.)

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I noted in the written Statement and the debate in the House of Commons, and particularly the explanation that the Minister has just repeated, that it is only where there is an inconsistency or omission in a unitary development plan that would "cause significant harm" to the spatial development strategy that the unitary development plan should be considered not to be in general conformity.

I assume—I hope that I can assume—that the Mayor's guidance on general conformity, which has just finished a consultation period, will have to be in its final form such that it reproduces those words, "significant harm". I do not know whether the Minister can comment on that today.

The explanations did not address the point made when the Bill was last in this House; namely, that the spatial development strategy should not achieve the status or relationship given it by the Bill until its first revision. That is not out of any desire to make mischief, nor anything other than to avoid the confusion to which I referred at Report stage.

However, I note that the Government have not agreed with my analysis, or that of the boroughs which expressed their concerns and prompted me. Indeed, your Lordships may have seen the letter from Michael Snyder, chair of policy and resources at the City Corporation, which also expressed concern about the arrangements that the Bill would put in place. Given that the Government have not taken the point but have clarified the interpretation of general conformity and have made the point about significant harm, I do not intend to press the matter further.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, I do not want to add much to what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said. We supported each other on this amendment at the previous stage. The concern, if any, that still remains is the question of the lining up or the timescaling of the need to conform borough plans with the Mayor's strategy. From the outset, the whole argument was that the Mayor's strategy has been set after the boroughs have completed their unitary development plans, when they did not even know that they were going to have to comply at some stage with a regional spatial strategy set by the Mayor. Therefore, it is inconceivable that every policy within those would be even in general conformity with the Mayor's strategy. The questions are: at what stage will it be sorted out and who will sort it out if there is a conflict of interest?

If the Minister can reassure us further on that, the matter may not need to go any further. But that is the problem. It may be that there is a problem with all the regional spatial strategies, but it seems to be more germane in London where the London Plan has far wider connotations than in the other regional spatial strategies, as indicated under the Bill. The fact that the London Plan is much wider in its scope than the other regional spatial strategies and the fact that the boroughs' plans were set before the Mayor's strategy was devised are causing the problem. That suggests that it would be sensible to allow one stage and a revision in order that the boroughs could bring that conformity into the London Plan. Indeed, it may be that the London Plan needs to be looked at to determine whether it needs to conform with the regional spatial strategies, as laid out in this Bill. There is a mismatch somewhere here that needs the Minister's constructive thought.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I do not want to repeat the statement made by the Minister. Obviously, that is a matter of record now. However, I have three further paragraphs to put on the record. This is an area on which I have no expertise whatever. Perhaps I may make that absolutely clear. I shall therefore stick to the words on the brief. I hope that these three paragraphs may go some way to allaying the fears expressed by both noble Baronesses.

We have considered the Mayor's draft guidance on general conformity and have responded to it identifying those areas where the drafting of the Mayor's consultation document does not reflect the Secretary of State's policy on general conformity.

There are examples of issues related to the London Plan being insufficiently strategic. Obviously, that has been subject to panel examination. The panel concluded, for example, that policies 3A.9 and 3A.10 in the draft London Plan, requiring boroughs to adopt policies detailing requirements for off-site provision of affordable housing or payments in lieu, were insufficiently strategic. They are not included in the final published version of the plan.

There is an issue relating to giving the London Plan the status of a development plan. Although the change in status would not make a big difference, we think that the change is important for two reasons. First, there is no logical reason for treating the London Plan differently from regional spatial strategies for other regions, which would also initially be based on documents that predated this legislation. Secondly, we would not wish to send a message that the existing London Plan or the strategy that it sets out is in any way of reduced status. The plan is an important document that the Government believe has a key role in planning the future of London.

I hope that those three paragraphs might touch on the points raised by the noble Baronesses and go some way to reassuring them.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I should like to say that they do touch on it. But I do not think that they answer the point about the fact that the London Plan has a much wider scope than the regional spatial strategies will have. One concern is that London will be doing something different from other parts of the country in relation to planning authorities and the regional spatial strategy. I cannot see why London boroughs should have to respond to a plan that is wider than any other spatial strategy.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, from the Dispatch Box, I do not know the technical answer to that. However, I cannot help but point out that of all the regions in the country, only London has an elected authority. Look: the noble Lord is nodding. He knows what I am on about.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, I realise that we cannot do this at this stage of the Bill. We cannot keep bouncing backwards and forwards. Of course, that is correct if there are any other regions, but they will not have the same regional spatial strategy or the same form of regional spatial strategy as in London. That is the point; it is not the elected authority point.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, it comes down to that because, as I said in the points that I just read out, the initial regional spatial strategies will be based on documents that pre-date this legislation. Clearly, the London Plan pre-dates this legislation. But the London Plan has come from an elected planning authority. The noble Baroness made a point about the boroughs and the plan, and I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, was nodding vigorously at what I said. They may not like elected regional planning authorities, but in London we have one.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, we have an elected mayor. It is his plan. The Minister needs to go back to the legislation and recall that it is the Mayor's plan and not that of the assembly.