UK: House Of Lords Peers At Growth And Infrastructure Bill

Last Updated: 11 January 2013
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry reports on yesterday's second reading debate on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill in the House of Lords.

The Growth and Infrastructure Bill is just past half way through its passage through Parliament.  The bill contains various measures aimed at streamlining planning and consenting, with a couple of provisions on rates and employment tacked on at the end.  The current version of the bIll can be found here.

The bill now contains five clauses relating to the Planning Act regime - clauses 20-24, which do the following:

  • clause 20 is intended to allow consents applied for before the Planning Act came into force to be varied without needing to use the Planning Act;
  • clause 21 removes the need for various certificates in the Planning Act;
  • clause 22 reduces the triggers for 'special parliamentary procedure' (SPP);
  • clause 23 makes corresponding amendments to SPP legislation; and
  • clause 24 allows business and commercial projects to use the Planning Act.

The full debate can be found here but here is a summary, with a focus on the Planning Act clauses.

Baroness Hanham introduced the debate for the government. She went through the provisions of the bill one by one.  Lord Adonis replied for the Labour Party.  He focused on the perceived shortcomings of clause 1 (planning applications being able to be made directly to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) in the case of poorly-performing local authorities - the so-called 'special measures' clause), clause 6 (renegotiation of affordable housing provisions in s106 agreements) and clause 27 (employees getting shares in return for giving up rights), but he also expressed opposition to clause 24.

I abbreviate the debate by saying which clauses each member addressed.  In general they were against the provisions as expressed in the bill, except on clause 8 (relaxing controls on broadband infrastructure), where they were fairly split for and against.

  • Lord Tope: clauses 1, 6 and 25 (postponement of rating revaluation).  He also asked about the effect of clause 24.
  • Baroness Valentine: clauses 1, 6 and 8.
  • Lord Monks: clause 27.
  • Baroness Brinton: clauses 8 and 27.
  • Baroness Whitaker: clauses 6 and 8.
  • Baroness Eaton: clauses 1 and 8.
  • Lord Rooker: general points that the bill will not work.
  • Baroness Parminter: clauses 8 and 24.  She said that clause 24 flew in the face of the commitments made during the Localism Bill, where the 'local plan and views of the local community [would be put] at the heart of the system'. She said that the clause should not be used for 'fracking', although for that to be added to the Planning Act regime would not need clause 24, since it is already energy infrastructure.
  • Lord Whitty: clauses 1, 6 and 27.
  • Baroness Young: clauses 5 (limiting information requests for planning applications), 8, 13-14 (restricting town and village green registration applications), 24 and 27. On clause 24 she said that to take such projects out of the local planning system would mean they were uninformed by local expertise and knowledge. She also referred to fracking in this context.
  • Baroness Wheatcroft: clause 27.
  • Lord Morris: clause 27.
  • Lord Greaves (who suggested the name of the bill should not be a 'soundbite' and should be the Planning (Miscellaneous Provisions and One or Two Other Things) Bill: clauses 1, 8 and 13-14.
  • Lord Smith of Leigh: clauses 1, 6 and 25.
  • Lord Teverson: clauses 1 and 6.
  • Viscount Hanworth: general points and clause 6.
  • Lord Best: clauses 1 and 6.
  • Lord Berkeley devoted his speech to infrastructure projects.  He said that developers were left on their own at the pre-application stage and that it would help if PINS were more involved.  He said that at the other end of the process, ministers were taking too long to make decisions (outside the Planning Act regime), citing the Radlett rail freight project as an example.  He thought that the triggers for SPP should not be limited, but if triggered SPP should only concern itself with the issues that triggered it.  Finally, he asked that 'automatic road-user charging' could be brought within the scope of a Planning Act application, giving the Silvertown Tunnel project as an example.
  • Lord Taylor of Goss Moor: clauses 1, 5 and 6.
  • Baroness Turner: clauses 1, 6 and 27.
  • Lord True: clauses 1, 5 and 8 (and extensions in back gardens, not in the bill).
  • Baroness Donaghy: clauses 1, 6, 25 and 27 (she was reading from an old version of the Bill and gave the wrong clause numbers for the last two).
  • Lord Burnett: clauses 6 and 13-14.
  • Lord Faulkner made the most interesting contribution.  He is one of the six members of the Rookery South joint committee that is part of SPP.  He revealed that he and Lord Geddes thought the promoters did have a case to answer, i.e. it was a 4-2 vote that they didn't (see here for more on that).  He essentially argued against the removal of SPP, saying if it is rarely invoked, why do away with it?  The Planning Act would mean it was invoked more often, however.
  • Lord Shipley: clauses 5, 6, 8, 24 and 27.  He expressed concern about fast-tracking business and commercial projects and asked which ones would be covered.
  • Lord Hunt: clauses 8 and 27.

Lord McKenzie summed up for Labour.  On the infrastructure provisions, he said that Lord Faulkner's comments were 'highly relevant'.  He said that Labour was not opposed to adding business and commercial projects in principle, but they needed to be adequately defined. 

Baroness Hanham concluded for the government.  To Lord Berkeley she said that PINS already provided pre-application advice, although I am not sure that it is to the degree that he was suggesting.  She said that the government was committed to reforming SPP so it was triggered only where there was a real need for Parliament to confirm a ministerial decision.  On clause 24 she said that a consultation had just finished (on Monday, in fact) on the types of project and that these would be set out in secondary legislation.  She said that the government supported fracking if it was technically and economically viable and had full regard to environmental protection.

The bill passed its second reading without a vote and will now undergo its committee stage.  In the House of Lords committees are 'committees of the whole House' rather than a sub-committee as in the Commons.  The first day of committee is expected to be 22 January.

Christmas champagne competition results

I received several entries for the Christmas champagne competition, some of which had even found words and abbreviations I hadn't put there.  The 21 official answers were as follows:

Rather than skIP Christmas shopping this year, I've been on a sPREE, SALLying forth to the malls at the weekend. You may tHINK LEYden Jars are an odd present but I bought one and I am going to shiP IT To my aunt filled with tulIPS. WICHita, Kansas - rather less exotic than MeLANEsia or TashKENT - IS Her address.  I, mercifully far-flunG, AM BLESsed with strange relatives who REQUIRE MENTal effort to satisfy.

When the Christmas rush gets too much I retire to an inN, SIPping my favourite brew, or it might be soUP TONight. I find my LOCAL IS Marvellous for such a quiet moment. I enjoy reading Charlie BROOKERY (You may know him from TV) who can write about anything - kangaROOS, ECOTErrorists and more serious work too.  For example, exposing journalists where tHEY SHAMefully hack innocent people's accounts and destroy their good nAME.  Press regulation is a bit of a mineFIELD, ESpecially on the internet but no-one has daRED DITCH it yet. One moment you find everythinG ALL OPERating successfully and the next there are arrests, however nimBLY THe perpetrators try to avoiD COppers knocking on their doors.

I have decided not to remove points for those who found additional ones, because who's to say that 'regulation', for example, wasn't intentional?  In that case I award the prize to Colin Turnbull of Dalton Warner Davis, who found 20 out of 21, and a bottle of champagne will be on its way to him.  Congratulations!

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