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Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will the Minister address the point that I raised with my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) regarding the level at which the local authority will set the charges? Will they be applied across the whole local planning authority area? Will there be different charges for different areas—for example, if one is in growth, but another is not? Might there even be different charges for separate developments in a very large regeneration development?

Keith Hill: As one would expect, the charge will differ according to the different impacts of the development. It is essentially a matter for consultation, however, and we expect a vigorous input from all interested parties. I am sure that in due course the hon. Gentleman and the House will have the opportunity comprehensively to examine the proposals.

A contribution paid by compliance with the relevant requirements—that is, the traditional section 106 arrangement—enables contributions to be negotiated. As I said, that provides the flexibility to agree a contribution that is tailored to a particular development or its circumstances. It also enables planning contributions to relate to matters that are specific to the development site, such as provision of adequate access. It is intended that the relevant requirements will be similar to the provisions contained in section 106. Where the developer opts to pay the contribution by the prescribed means, our consultation document suggests that a residual negotiation may be necessary to cover matters that could never be covered by the charge. Where that is the case, and in order to ensure fairness, subsection (4) of new clause 1 provides that where a developer has paid the contribution by one means, the planning authority cannot seek more through the other method of securing a planning contribution.

New clause 2 sets out in further detail the matters for which the planning contribution scheme will provide. It allows the Secretary of State to set the minimum and maximum amounts that the planning authority may set as a contribution, enables the planning authority to update the set amounts by reference to a criterion such as the retail prices index in order to avoid a reduction in their value, and requires planning authorities to produce an annual report so that we can all see how the contribution system is working. As in the case of section 106, agreements to pay planning contributions will be enforceable by the planning authority. It is envisaged that the powers that are made available will be similar to those contained in section 106. The contribution may be modified or discharged depending on the circumstances.

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I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) for his support for the broad thrust of the proposals, which he said are probably right and represent a more satisfactory arrangement. On his question about South Shropshire, the Government are considering that approach with interest, and I shall of course reply to him in due course. He also asked about affordable housing. I assure him that the last thing that the Government would want to do is to limit the ability of local planning authorities to secure more affordable housing.

I turn to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Cotswold. The fact that they deal with the detail of the provisions rather than general principles suggests that on the whole he accepts what the Government are trying to achieve—I am glad about that. I am concerned, however, that such amendments to new clauses 1 and 2 would fetter the flexibility that they provide in allowing us to respond effectively and sensibly not only to the consultation that we are undertaking, but to changing circumstances.

I cannot understand, for example, why the hon. Gentleman should wish to tie us now, in primary legislation, to how the contribution should be calculated, as he proposes in his amendments (f) and (g) to new clause 1. It would surely be more appropriate to introduce such provisions in secondary legislation, which can be more detailed, and which would also be able to take on board matters arising from the consultation process and future proposals relating to the calculation of contributions. We would not want to be too prescriptive at this stage, and to find that we were bound by the criteria set out in the amendments. For example, requiring developers to pay our optional planning charge on a per dwelling basis might simply have the effect of encouraging developers to build large houses, which would not always be appropriate.

Nor can I understand why the hon. Gentleman should have tabled amendments (h) and (i) to new clause 1, which, taken together, delete the provisions that we have proposed to ensure that developers do not have to pay twice in relation to the same matters. Our intention is that the regulations will ensure that, when a developer opts to pay the charge, he cannot also be asked to contribute through any residual negotiation in relation to matters that the local authority said were covered by the charge. These provisions are an essential ingredient of what we propose. I should also emphasise that, as with the existing system, it will be open to the developer to refuse to make any form of contribution whatever. In such a case, the local planning authority will still be required to consider the application on its planning merits, having regard to the development plan and other material considerations. So it is not necessary to introduce the additional appeal mechanisms proposed in amendment (b) to new clause 1; the existing appeal mechanisms will still be available when a developer feels that a planning contribution is unreasonable.

I detect concern that developers should not be asked to pay more than was originally indicated in the local

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authority policy on what it would seek through planning contributions. This appears to be the reason behind amendment (a) to new clause 2.

Mr. Clifton-Brown rose—

Keith Hill: I believe that I can offer reassurances on this point, if the hon. Gentleman will bear with me. We envisage that the local authority and the developer will need to come to some form of agreement, as they do now, on whether they opt to make the contribution by the prescribed means or the negotiated route. That agreement will bind the developer to pay, and the local authority to accept, the charge agreed at that point. The form of the agreement could be decided between the local authority and the developer, or could take a standard form that the Government may prescribe in regulations or issue as guidance. I accept that there are concerns about this issue, and I shall be happy to consider further whether we have the right mechanisms in place to ensure that we have the right balance of flexibility and certainty for all parties in the process.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I want to use the Brian Walden technique on the Minister to make sure that I have understood this. He has contradicted himself, because he said earlier that there would be an appeal mechanism against these tariffs, yet he now appears to be saying that there will be no such appeal, and that once they have been set in the local plan, that will be it. If that is the case, and if the developer cannot negotiate a satisfactory section 106 agreement and cannot appeal against a tariff, it could result in some areas remaining undeveloped.

Keith Hill: The hon. Gentleman has got me wrong. I was asked a general question, as I recall—I have been asked scores, if not hundreds, of questions during the debate, many of which I have attempted to respond to—and I certainly said that there were appeal mechanisms. Let me also say, in relation to a charge agreed, that in certain cases the circumstances might alter, and that it would be utterly irrational to say that we should not take account of changed circumstances when it could be impossible—for good reason—for the charge, as agreed, to be met. In such circumstances, there has to be flexibility in the arrangements and the possibility of the agreement being revisited. On the whole, however, we would not wish to encourage such a situation, and that is not an outcome that we expect to see as a result of our process of consultation or, ultimately, the drafting of regulations.

7.15 pm

I also detect concern that the criteria set by the planning authority for calculating the contributions should be certain, and that any changes should be consulted on. This seems to be the root of amendment (k) to new clause 1, which refers to the power to enable planning authorities to adjust amounts set by a criteria published in advance, for instance the retail prices index, and suggest that any changes should be made through the development plan document process. New clause 1(3) (d) provides planning authorities with the ability to

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update amounts set out in a document setting out the contribution without the need to go through a fresh consultation, when the principle of how the sum was calculated and what it would be used for has been consulted on, discussed and accepted. Both the nature of the amount and the criteria used to update the amount will have been subject to the development plan document procedure or an equivalent process. There is therefore no need for the additional safeguard proposed in amendment (k) to new clause 1.

That also seems to be the root of amendment (l) to new clause 1. Again, the planning contribution document will set out what is expected. If the developer is of the view that other demands will be made of him in respect of similar matters, he will have the option to negotiate a contribution that could accommodate future demands from other statutory bodies. As I have said, the proposals we have put down provide flexibility.

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