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Lord Renton: Strangely enough, the issues raised by this group of amendments have a considerable bearing upon the protection of the countryside. I say that for the following reason. Many people are not satisfied with life in the towns because it is not made attractive enough for them. Therefore, they decide to move out into the countryside, which leads to development that is not always to be welcomed. The more attractive we can make the towns the smaller will be the threat to the countryside. Leaving aside the technicalities of the amendments, I believe that the general spirit behind them deserves consideration for the reason that I have given.
Earl Ferrers: I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for the careful way in which they have introduced and spoken to the amendments. We are now moving into a most sensitive area with the subject of sustainable development. My noble friend Lord Renton is entirely correct to say that the more we can develop our cities and improve them the better it will be for the countryside. Otherwise, we shall have to take fresh greenfield sites and leave unused relatively industrialised sites in towns. That would be a great pity. Indeed, that was one of the aspects considered in the rural White Paper.
I shall deal first with Amendments Nos. 218 and 220. Clause 122 provides that financial assistance can be given for regeneration and development. Amendment No. 218 would extend the purposes for which financial assistance may be given to include,
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who suggested that "sustainable development" was a curious expression. Indeed, one always has to stop and wonder exactly what it means. It really means that what we have to do is so conduct ourselves that we do not destroy the environment of the countryside for our children and their children when their time comes. However, that does not mean that we cannot have economic progress: that we must have, though it must be carefully dealt with.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, said that he puts sustainable development at the top of the agenda and that that is much wider than slum clearance. I agree with him. But that is precisely what the Government are doing. I say that because sustainable development is a major concern of our regeneration policies. It is no coincidence that it is at the top of the list of wider strategies which bidders for the Single Regeneration Budget Challenge Fund are advised to consider in the Government's published Bidding Guidance with which they have to comply when making a bid.
The admirable objectives set out in those two amendments are already covered by the Bill's provisions. Perhaps I may give Members of the Committee an example--the creation of an attractive environment would include action to prevent land becoming derelict. We have tried deliberately to propose broad categories of activities so as to ensure that we can accommodate a very wide range of regeneration and development activities. We would prefer not to go into increasing detail for the usual reason; namely, that if one does so there is always the risk that that will raise doubts as to whether other areas of work are or are not covered.
Amendment No. 224 indicates that the "environmental effects" of any assistance should be assessed before any funds are given to a project. Work to protect and improve the quality of the environment is one of the objectives of the Single Regeneration Budget Challenge Fund. The Government take that into account in assessing bids. Bidders themselves are specifically asked to set out the costs and benefits to the environment of their bid.
In addition, where appropriate, particular development projects will require environmental assessment under the Town and Country Planning (Assessment of Environmental Effects) Regulations 1988. Under those regulations, environmental assessment is required before planning permission is granted for certain categories of development. For some categories, an assessment is required in every case. For other specified categories, assessment is required
Baroness Hamwee: Before the noble Lord, Lord Williams, responds, will the Minister consider before the next stage the proposition of putting environmental objectives on the face of the Bill as part of what is already quite a long list? That would help to achieve the Government's stated objective of encouraging such work. In their response to the environment committee's report into the single regeneration budget, the Government published a table showing the percentage of bids addressing the SRB challenge fund objectives at each stage of the bidding process. The environment came pretty low on that list at the point when bids were submitted. It is a good deal higher as a percentage of the bids approved, but it still seems as if those who are making bids needs encouragement to address themselves to the area.
Earl Ferrers: The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, seems to be a blighted person as regards my correspondence with him. I felt pleased when I wrote that letter because I thought that I was apologetic to the noble Lord when I should have been. I thought therefore that I had satisfied the difficulty in that I had given him a draft scheme. I am unbelievably appalled to find that that did not reach him either. The reason the noble Lord did not receive the draft scheme the first time was because my noble friend Lord Lucas wrote to everyone who had participated in the Second Reading as regards Part II of the Bill. That must have been about the only part of the Bill the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, did not participate in. Therefore, we did not think he would be interested in receiving the draft scheme. However, the noble Lord may recall that there should have been a set of these publications in the Library and in the Printed Paper Office. Those went astray, as we discussed the other day, but they are in the Library now. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to attach himself to one and not let it go. I am sorry that my letter did not include the draft scheme.
The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, was concerned that energy use was not mentioned in the Bill. There is a limit to how much one can mention in statutes. One can make the mistake of including too much. Responsible energy use is very much part of sustainable development. Everyone is deeply conscious of that, in the same way they are deeply conscious of sustainable development. However, one cannot include every facet of sustainable development in legislation. The noble Lord referred to greenfield sites and said there was no inhibition as regards the use of such sites. However, I believe there are inhibitions. The planning policy guidance notes are detailed and specific, and they are being updated. It is important that there should be some forms of development, in a limited way, in the countryside because people have to work and conduct business there. They can only do that if one enables the countryside to share in manufacturing. However, that has to be carefully controlled. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell--as I agreed with my noble friend Lord Renton--that, where one can, one wants such development in the cities. One should not leave derelict areas in the cities while one is developing greenfield sites across the country. I give way to the noble Lord.
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