Labour fails to change 'special measures' clause

Labour MPs have failed to get through any amendments to the government's controversial proposals to put poorly performing planning authorities on 'special measures'.

Roberta Blackman-Woods
Roberta Blackman-Woods

A raft of amendments to clause one of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill were debated yesterday by the committee scrutinising the draft legislation, which was published last month.

Clause one sets out provisions for planning applications to be made directly to the secretary of state where councils have a poor track record in the speed of decisions or the proportion of applications overturned on appeal.

Labour MPs, led by shadow planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods, argued that the move goes against the government’s localism agenda and the government has not taken into consideration any mitigating circumstances that could lead to slower planning decisions by councils.

They also criticised planning minister Nick Boles for not giving committee members enough time to look at the criteria for judging poorly perfoming planning authorities, which was published for consultation just one hour before the committee debate.

Blackman-Woods cited exclusive research by Planning which last week revealed that under the criteria set out by government six councils would currently fall into designation. She slammed clause one for being "badly written and inappropriate, and a rushed, panic measure that does not contain adequate consultation".

Labour MP Paul Blomfield also said that there seems to be no information about how authorities can be become undesignated.

But Boles said that the government has always made it clear that it does not want to "catch many authorities" with the clause.

"That is why we have set the criteria as proposed in the consultation document at a level where the timeliness criterion would catch a few authorities—a maximum of six, I believe," he said.

However, he added that this number might change when the government looks at planning performance agreements for major applications and other "mitigating circumstances".

He also argued that any authority that has been so designated will still deal with the vast bulk of the applications they receive and under the bill there is no compulsion for applicants to go to the Planning Inspectorate, just the option.

But despite a heated debate among the MPs, none of the amendments to clause one were taken forward.

Blackman-Woods withdrew several of the proposed changes following discussion by the committee.

This included an amendment for the clause to cease to have effect one year after it comes into force.

Three amendments were put to the vote which were:

  • Any costs incurred by a local planning authority in carrying out directions given under subsection (6) shall be reimbursed by the secretary of state;
  • Before reaching a decision on an application made to him under this section, the secretary of state must ensure that adequate consultation of the local community takes place;
  • The secretary of state shall, as soon as possible after the end of each financial year, publish a statement of the costs incurred by the secretary of state during that year in pursuance of this section.

But all three were voted against by the Conservative MPs, who make up the majority of the committee, meaning none were carried.

The committee then voted that the clause stand as part of the Bill with eight votes in favour against five against. It will next meet on Tuesday 27 November to continue its line-by-line scrutiny of the bill.

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