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Baroness Blackstone: I support Amendments Nos. 113, 114, 116, 117B, in the names of my noble friend Lord Rogers of Riverside and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I declare an interest as the chairman of the RIBA Trust.
These are constructive amendments. Striving to achieve high-quality design should be central to a civilised planning system. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said about the importance of design in the built environment. Most of us spend a great deal of our time in the built environment, and it affects us all. I am sure that the Minister will also agree with that.
Until last year, I was the Minister of State responsible for architecture at the DCMS. I was the sponsoring Minister for the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. Since it was set up, CABE has worked hard, and with some success, to champion architecture and high-quality design in the built environment. Its existing remit has limited its role in championing better design largely to the public sector, where it has worked with a number of departments and agencies on a wide range of schemes from schools and hospitals through to the design of court buildings. Nevertheless, a design review function has also enabled it to make valuable contributions to planning decisions on a number of large-scale private developments.
I welcome the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Rogers of Riverside that CABE could be commissioned by the Government to develop guidance on what a statutory role to contribute to the achievement of good design in the built environment should mean. They have already issued useful guidance to the public sector through the
CABE understands that high-quality design is about much more than just individual buildings. As my noble friend said, it is as much about the spaces between the buildings as the buildings themselves. Careful planning requires a holistic and a well-considered approach. I am pretty convinced that CABE can provide valuable help to those planning authorities that perhaps lack some of the necessary expertise and need good guidance.
There is no doubt that developing a better consideration of design issues during the planning process can lead to better decisions, not just on design outcomes, but also on transparency and on community involvement. My noble friend Lord Rogers of Riverside made a persuasive case about how an absence of design considerations has led to some serious abuse of the system. Design considerations must be central to the reform system. I hope that the Government are able to support these sensible and reasonable amendments.
Baroness Maddock: I support what has been said. The design of the built environment is particularly important. I heartily agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, when he said how important it was to him to be in a good, attractive environment. That is certainly true for me, although I am aware that some people do not notice their environment at all. That always comes as a great shock to me.
I thought, as he said that, of my walk every morning from Pimlico to the House. I go through the Millbank estate, which some noble Lords will know. It was built in 1901 by London County Council, and it is a really attractive development. I would be happy to live in it. I then pass what holds prison departments of the Home Officehuge granite blocks that look like prisons. I think, "oh, help!". They are about to improve what was the Westminster Hospital, and then I go through Smith Square and Lord North Street, and I am returned to better spirits by the time I get to the House.
I particularly support the references to sustainability, which we will discuss later. I am concerned that we try, by whatever means we can, to ensure that homes are more energy efficient, that they use natural resources such as water in a better way, and that building methods are changed so that we do not have as much waste and materials are used rather better. There may be opportunities to discuss that later.
I was particularly pleased to hear the Minister talk about guidance and the importance of sustainability in that guidance. I was also pleased when he said that there would not be new labels on existing plans. That is important in the context of the debate.
I remember many times in my local government days when I wished heartily that we could have thrown out some of the housing developments that were coming through. We used what we could in the planning system. In a bigger authority with a good
When I moved from the city of Southampton to live in a conservation area in Christchurch, I was struck by how particular they could be about everything that happened. I was putting new windows in the front of my house, and I wanted to make them more energy-efficient. Because it was a conservation area and I had to keep the same-sized panes in the windows, I could not have double windows. There is a huge contrast in the way in which we deal with this, and I hope that the Bill will enable us to remedy such matters.
With regard to Amendment No. 114, as I have indicated, I certainly support a process that would enable distinctions to be made between different statements of design principle in the planning process. Amendment No. 116 deals with outline planning permission. Proposed new subsection (1B) refers to regulations made under the Act. As I have said, I hope that, in those regulations, we can look particularly at energy efficiency, use of materials and other matters.
As has been said, outline planning permission can, for local communities, be used to impose developments that, when they are built, bear little resemblance to what was put down at the outline stage. That abuse has been quite common, and it is not surprising that people have become conditioned to being suspicious about planning applications.
I hope that we can have some assurances from the Minister. A good case has been put from all parts of the Committee. I have heard the Minister and other Ministers talk about the importance of design and how we want to improve it, particularly with regard to the Gateway. I hope that we will see a difference and that the Bill will mean that we get better design in our built environment.
I live on the edge of an old textiles village in the Pennines called Trawden. Thirty or 40 years ago, it was full of people who had been weavers all their lives. It has now been taken over by teachers, social workers and all sorts of people, who have done the place up. It is an extremely attractive village. It is not a normal village. It is higgledy-piggledy along all the lanes coming into the village, and, as a result, on an aerial photograph or a map it looks like a spider. Obviously, the developers wanted to fill in the gaps between the spider's legs.
It is a land usage issue. Over a long period of time, residents, councillors and the council have fought a great many battles, attended many appeals, and have won. They have prevented that kind of infill taking place and have maintained the basic character of the
That raises the question of what type of housing should be put on these old mill sites. That is where the position becomes much more difficult to control. It is much more difficult to encourage new development that is in keeping with the old village. The village is made up of all kinds of things. There are old farmhouses, some of which are hundreds of years old; there are old weavers cottages; and there are rows of terraced houses that were built in Victorian times for the more modern mills. It is a higgledy-piggledy kind of place. So it cannot be said that one kind of development on a site is ideal for everything.
That is where the issue of drawing up statements of design principles becomes difficult. Good design is required for each site, which might need to be different for each site. With respect, if the Minister listens he might learn something. Planning and development control authorities need the ability to insist on good design on a site-by-site basis. That would be very difficult to write into local development plans, and it would be very difficult for the Minister to write into his new system. But, as a general principle, those are the powers that are needed.
In the most attractive and higgledy-piggledy part of the village where I live, a mill became vacant, became derelict and was pulled down. The development company that bought the land was very interested in producing a high-design scheme that fitted into the village. It came up with something quite different from the rows of bog-standard terraced or semi-detached houses that people were used to. It was a brilliantly designed scheme that would have been wonderful if it had come about. It caused a great deal of local controversy. The local council did everything right. It talked to the developers and the parish council, and called a public meeting. At the time, I was chair of the council's area committee that had development control powers. We had a public meeting that I chaired. There was a large turn out, including the developers and villagers.
It was generally agreed that it was an exciting scheme and should go ahead. It obtained planning permission. We refused to give outline planning permission. We said, "This is an important site. We are going to give permission for the full scheme as we want it". The developers agreed with that, and planning permission was given. Then, nothing happened. A few years later, the development company that had bought the sitefor about two dozen housessold the land to another company that, on the basis of the existing planning permission which, of course, included outline planning permission for housing, put in a new scheme for bog-standard semi-detached houses. That is what we have got.
Local authorities in such areas need the ability to consider applications on a site-by-site basis and to say to developers, "We will not give you planning permission unless there is design of a high quality". At the moment the system does not really allow them to do so. If they try to insist on it, it will go to appeal and they will lose.
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