All's fair in LURB and war: Let Ping Pong commence!
Party conference season is officially over. Parliament is back in session and, for all of us LURB-watchers, that can only mean one thing: It is time for Ping Pong! And what a game it is shaping up to be!
To remind everyone of the background for the moment. The Government is committed to the LURB getting Royal Assent by the end of the parliamentary term. Given that the new parliamentary term starts on 7 November, this realistically only gives them a couple of weeks to get the legislation through.
The House of Lords made copious amendments to the Bill, many of which were significant, and yesterday the House of Commons sat to consider those changes.
Scores at the end of Round 1
Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the significant or contentious amendments made by the Lords went down in flames, including:
- The proposal to allow local planning authorities to hold virtual planning committees,
- The prescriptive requirements for consultation on NDMPs, which were replaced with a far fluffier requirement that gave more discretion to the Secretary of State to disapply it.
- The proposal to allow councils to set planning application fees locally;
- the moratorium on building on flood plains, the requirement to align planning policies with our climate change objectives, and the new statutory requirement for ‘healthy homes’ standards; and
- The requirement that local planning authorities to set their housing requirements at a level that would eliminate homelessness within a reasonable period was defeated and replaced with a requirement that “the local plan must take account of an assessment of the amount, and type, of housing that is needed in the local planning authority's area, including the amount of affordable housing that is needed”. Which seems remarkably similar to how the system already operates.
For anyone interested in the current score card, it is set out in full below:
"Lords amendments 5, 7 to 9, 11, 12, 15 to 17, 19 to 21, 23 to 29, 32 to 43, 47 to 79, 83 to 89, 91 to 101, 104 to 116, 118 to 132, 135, 136, 138, 140, 141, 143 to 155, 158 to 171, 173 to 179, 181 to 198, 200 to 230, 232 to 236, 238, 245 to 248, 250 to 272, 274 to 279, 281 to 284, 286, 287, 289 to 326, 328, 330 to 368 and 370 to 418 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 73 to 75, 78, 301 to 326 and 349 to 367.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83H(2)), That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing with their amendments 1, 3, 13, 22, 45, 46, 80, 82, 133, 134, 137, 139, 142, 156, 157, 172, 180, 199, 241, 244, 249, 280 and 327;"
The reasons for rejecting the amendments, and the latest proposals, will now be sent back to the Lord for consideration… and so, the game goes on….
Half-time analysis: The Debate
The most fascinating part of yesterday was not actually the vote on the amendments. Instead, it was the debate itself, in which battle lines were drawn, updates promised, and timetables set out.
It became clear very early on that, not only has this bill has become intensely political, but that the government was paying very close attention during party conference season. During the debate the Housing Minister:
- Attacked the Lib Dems for both taking a BANANAs approach to development and adopting a 380,000 homes per annum housing target;
- Called out Labour's new YIMBY stance as inconsistent with both their voting record on the LURB itself, and Keir Starmer's previous approaches to developments in his own constituency; and
- trotted out some well-worn lines about the Conservatives commitments to housebuilding - whilst simultaneously reassuring Theresa Villers that the December Written Ministerial Statement that has caused such chaos in local plan making remains government position… a tightrope of a position if ever there was one.
All of which seems to signal that housing has been recognised as a key election battleground, by all three major political parties. Which likely means a lot of ‘fun’ in the months ahead.
Updates and Timetables
We also got a update both on the likely appearance of the NPPF and its probably content. This took the form of the following exchanges, which I am going to set out in full:
Will the Minister assure the House that the compromise set out in the Secretary of State’s letter to colleagues of 5 December last year will be implemented? It is an important way to amplify local control over what is built in a neighbourhood, while still delivering the volume of new homes that we need.
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that point, which I think is a matter of interest to all colleagues. She will know that we have had an exceptionally high level of interest in the consultation on the national planning policy framework, with over 25,000 respondents across the country. That demonstrates the keen interest of parliamentarians and their constituents in this important issue. She will know that officials need to work through those responses, as they are doing directly with her and others, before we make proposed changes. Officials will continue to work with her and other colleagues, and we look forward to publishing the updated document shortly. To be clear, the position remains as outlined in the Secretary of State’s letter of December 2022"
My hon. Friend says, very importantly, that we will be getting an update to the NPPF to reflect the changes made in the Bill. Can she give us an idea when we will get it? We were promised it before the summer and then we were promised it in September. When will the House and the country actually see the updated NPPF?
I recognise that there is a keen appetite to see the update. As I set out earlier, there has been a huge amount of work to analyse the very significant volume of responses. We will be bringing forward the update as soon as the Bill receives Royal Assent".
In short - we won't see the new NPPF until after LURB becomes LURA and, whilst the government is still reviewing all 25,000 responses, to date they have not changed their mind on ‘abandoning housing targets’….
Nimbys vs Yimbys
- the LURB is in its final stages. Whether it makes it through ping pong in time is anyone's guess, but the Government seems determined to at least try and push it through.
- Housing delivery is now about as political as it comes, and will be a key battleground in the upcoming election; and
- the Conservatives appear to be walking the same tightrope that they accused the lib-dems of occupying. They are trying to simultaneously appear to be pro-development and actively trying to solve the housing crisis, whilst placating the Theresa Villiers wing of their own party…. We have yet to see how this will play out, but if it is felt that Yimby-ism is required to win the next election, then not releasing the new NPPF until after the bill has passed may prove to be a very canny move indeed.