Today’s entry reports on the completion of the Localism Bill committee stage in the House of Lords and the consideration of infrastructure planning amendments
The House of Lords is considering the Localism Bill and last night completed the committee stage of the Bill after ten sessions. On Tuesday, the ninth session, they finally reached the amendments to the (amendments to the) infrastructure planning regime. Parliament is now adjourned for the summer, but the next stage of the Bill will be the start of the report stage on 5 September, which is the first day back.
After nine sessions, their Lordships had only considered 124 out of 215 clauses of the Bill, but they managed to deal with the rest in a single sitting. Click here for a chart of the number of clauses they considered each day, which illustrates the rush at the end.
In general there were no upsets: all the government amendments were accepted, and none of the others were. A new version of the Bill (renumbering the clauses again) will be published on this page shortly.
Infrastructure planning amendments
Several amendments were tabled in respect of the Planning Act regime: three government amendments, and 20 or so backbench amendments, some of which I had a hand in drafting. The latter were moved by Lord Jenkin, supported by Lords Boyd and Berkeley.
The effect of the government amendments, which were of course passed, is as follows:
- the first deals with the ability to bring new consents into the Planning Act regime for matters devolved to the Welsh Assembly;
- the second relaxes the provision on the acceptance of applications so that they do not require strict compliance but need only be to a standard that the Secretary of State considers 'satisfactory'; and
- the third starts each deadline running (for reporting on applications and decision-making) when the previous stage actually completes rather than its deadline for completion (unless it is late), which should shorten application times in most cases.
The other amendments would have further streamlined the regime by allowing more consents to be brought into the Planning Act regime without needing permission to do so, and various other improvements. There is a fuller list of what the amendments would have done in this blog entry.
There was a glimmer of hope, however, as Earl Attlee, for the government, said that discussions would take place over the summer on the prospect of making further amendments to the Bill along similar lines at the next stage of consideration, report stage. In the light of recent developments on the Brig y Cwm application there may be a few additional ones about procedures for changes to applications during their examination.
There were a few further amendments outside that list. Two amendments to raise the 'nationally significant' thresholds in the Act (for electric lines and railways) were also unsuccessful (since this need not be done by primary legislation) but they are likely to initiate a discussion with departmental officials about changes.
The electric line threshold is currently that the line carries (is that the right verb?) 'at least 132 kilovolts' and the proposed change was to make it 'more than 132 kilovolts'. That may not seem much of a change, but since that would take the whole of the national distribution network (whose highest voltage is 132kV) out of the Planning Act regime, it would be quite significant and a great relief to the distribution network operators. Projects such as the one the IPC rejected, a short 132kV line near Neath in Wales, would no longer be considered nationally significant.
The railway amendment would allow the Secretary of State to declare that particular projects need not use the Planning Act regime - at the moment projects can only be brought into the regime, not taken out of it.
Lord Berkeley tried to introduce approval of National Policy Statements by the Lords, but the prospect of the Lords and the Commons reaching different conclusions was enough to defeat that attempt.
Amendments may be made at report stage and even at third reading, the next and final stage, so let us hope that the discussions over the summer are fruitful.