LORD GREAVES SPEECH | HOUSING AND PLANNING BILL SECOND READING | HOUSE OF LORDS
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(this is a slightly edited version)
Normally at weekends I spend my time on local political stuff, trying to help run the local council and so on. This weekend I took a few days off and sat down to read the Bill and its various documents. People in our household thought I was a bit of a geek but, nevertheless, when noble Lords have a bit of spare time, I recommend that they read the Bill. In particular, I recommend that they read the Bill but do not believe the spin.
The quality of the Bill is variable. In the 15 years that I have been in your Lordships’ House, taking an interest in housing Bills, planning Bills and all sorts of other Bills, I have come to realise that there are good Bills and bad Bills. Some of this Bill is very well written: it is clear, full of admirable detail—in the Bill and in the schedules—and the Explanatory Notes are good, but parts of it are abysmal.
In recent debates in your Lordships’ House about secondary legislation, affirmative orders and what rights we should or should not have over them, many noble Lords have complained about the skeletal nature of some of the Bills. Anyone doing a future academic course on skeletal Bills could do no better than address themselves to Part 1 of this Bill on starter homes. It covers not much more than three pages but includes nine ministerial regulation-making powers, over half of which, at the moment, are to be affirmative. I associate myself with what the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, said: unless we have a lot of detail about what these regulation-making powers are to be, we should not pass the Bill in this House.
As to the planning system, the Government’s view appears to be, first, that we need to build more houses; secondly, that the planning system is broken; and, thirdly, that the planning system is to blame for not enough houses being built. I have said several times in your Lordships’ House that I believe the planning system is bust, and I stand by that. However, it is wrong to identify the problem of not building enough houses as basically lying in the planning system. It lies in a lack of finance and people’s lack of ability to build houses—and the proposals in the planning section of the Bill will not improve matters. The problem in the planning system is not mainly in development management or the processing of applications but in plan-making. The plan-making system for developing local planning policy is in need of substantial overhaul and the Bill does not do that.
Local plan-making is supposed to take place within a coherent framework of the national planning policy, on an evidential base of needs, the facts on the ground and in consultation with all affected interests, including local people and local residents. However, national policy is erratic, dictatorial and is always being changed. The building of the evidential base is overly elaborate and too reliant on evidence based on instructions from on high, and the outcomes, when the computers churn them out, are very often “garbage in/garbage out”.
As a result, the consultation system is expensive, highly complex, bureaucratic and repetitive. It involves an avalanche of barely comprehensible paper and is inaccessible to most people. It usually ends up consulting vested interests, such as landowners, developers, organised bodies and a few powerful people—mainly the people who are able to pay experts who understand the system to deal with the continual requirement for more and more input into the consultation. These are the consultants and other people who make their livings out of this.
I have read the Bill carefully—every damned word of it—and, in my view, it will make things worse. It will make the planning system more centralised. There will be more detailed centralised control over everything that happens and local people will have less influence and power. It will become more complicated and less accessible for people to put their spoke in. As I have said, if you do not believe me, read the Bill and not the spin.