Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 460-479)

LORD FALCONER OF THOROTON QC AND MS SALLY KEEBLE MP

WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2001

  460. So that is one of these 800 pages of national guidance on planning that you are complaining about?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The 800 pages of guidance includes PPG3 but does not include the help that goes with it. Really what you want local authorities to do is to focus on the basic principles, give the help in relation to how they do it by guides like that which goes with PPG3.

Sir Paul Beresford

  461. I was just a touch concerned. I understand why you are looking at PPG17 to maintain leisure facilities. You are wanting planning to take some recognition of the strategies and the aims of the council. However, that can cut both ways. I have felt that it was of great importance that we maintain that separateness of the planning and we both recognise them in the way the Committee has maintained. If I give you a very small example, which partly relates to this, I am looking at my local authority, Surrey County Council, who are looking very shortly at three plans for three incinerators. Those three incinerators are to be put up by two different firms. One of the firms is contracted to Surrey County Council. Of the two sites that firm has chosen, one is greenfield and one is green belt. If you did not have that separation there is going to be a distinct feeling that the planning committee is going to be guided by the fact that they are linked to the contractor and we could have for our community some really quite disastrous decisions of having two incinerators dumped on greenfield sites, so they have got to be kept totally separate.
  (Ms Keeble) Do you want me to—

  462. Help them with the decision? Yes, I do.
  (Ms Keeble)—deal with some of the waste management issues? You have got two systems there. One is about local authorities having a plan for their waste management in which they might say they want particular types of waste management; they might say they want a certain percentage landfill, a certain percentage incineration and a certain percentage recycling, and that is their plan. You are quite right that the planning committee has got to be seen to be scrupulously independent of that in terms of when it makes the decision on an individual application, but there is exactly the same type of thing here where the local authority will have, say, a strategy for sports development (or will not have, as the case may be) or they might have a cultural strategy, which would include sport, open spaces and leisure, and things like that. They talk about the type of facilities they want and the type of standards they want and what they hope to achieve through their policy. The local authority will then have a development plan in which it will set out how it wants its land to be used. We are saying—and that is what Chapter 6 of the PPG is about—that is the approach that you want. I think that is what we have been talking about, the approach that they will want about where they want the land to be identified for sites. The individual planning decisions have obviously got to be made on a case-by-case basis and have got to be seen to be independent. However, if you do not have any plan for the type of provision you want, then you will just be at the mercy of what development proposals come in.

  Sir Paul Beresford: I think there is a bit of recycling going on, but if you look back at Hansard I think you will see that Lord Falconer was being drawn into bringing in a closeness that some of us would be a little bit nervous about.

  Chairman: I do not want to spend too much time on incinerators.

Mr Betts

  463. If I can deal with the point in a slightly different way, if there is scope for closeness between local authority general policies and strategies and what they are trying to achieve through their plans, and, also, connected to that you indicated some additional guidance which did not have the same status, how is that going to be reflected—both those two issues—when it comes to appeals and where the inspector fits in?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In terms of appeal the material consideration would principally be the PPG 17 itself rather than the accompanying guidance.

Chairman

  464. Do you mean to say that lawyers would give up, in a planning appeal, the chance to refer to the extra guidance?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am quite sure they would not give up—

Mrs Dunwoody

  465. Your Lordship is in danger of becoming a blackleg.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Can I go back to the point Sir Paul was making, which is that what you are trying to join up is the local development plan with other non-planning strategies of a local authority. When it comes to particular applications, there has got to be complete propriety about that planning application being considered in accordance with all the appropriate planning laws by the planning committee. The fact that you have got a local Development Plan which is consistent with your other wider policy strategy does not mean that planning law goes out of the window; far from it, it simply means that in using the land use system you may reflect what you wish to achieve in other areas.

Dr Pugh

  466. Can I just pursue this very important point. If you refused an application—and it may be a marginal matter which could go either way—and the deciding factor is that it is not within the plan (I am not referring to the UDP but the local authority's Development Plan for sport and recreation, which has low status now, at the moment) what would be the legal ramifications of it? Would an appeal necessarily be won on planning grounds? Or are you suggesting that could be a decisive factor in determining a planning application? I must admit, on some aspects I would welcome it.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) After PPG 17 becomes final, if you have a needs assessment which reflects what facilities you wish to preserve and what new facilities you want, that would then become a material factor in determining whether or not to grant planning permission for, for example, development on an existing facility or development of a new facility.

  467. In the document of refusal that the developer gets, with the grounds for refusal spelled out, it would also say "Inconsistency with Council's development strategy for sports and recreation"?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, that would be a reason. Indeed, what PPG 17 is saying, for example, is that once it becomes a final rather than a draft, if you, as a local authority, have not done your assessment then no application which involves developing on existing recreational facilities shall be allowed, and that would be a material factor for refusing it. That is what it is saying, because it is saying "If you have not shown what the needs in the particular area are and, therefore, you cannot show that the particular recreational facility is surplus to those requirements then you should not, as a developer, be allowed to develop on that, because you cannot tell it is surplus to requirements."

Chairman

  468. That is quite a strong statement. Is it not a temptation to local authorities never to put this strategy into place because that means they can always defend every piece of space that they have got?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There would certainly be a temptation to that effect. In 1991 there was a similar document which—and these are not the exact words—said it would be helpful if local authorities produced strategies in relation to sports, recreational and open space facilities. This is now saying, in effect, they have got to do it, they should do it. It is turning up the volume because it is intending that this now becomes a requirement for local authorities. I cannot guarantee that every local authority will do it. There is a requirement in earlier legislation for local authorities to produce local development plans and 40 of them still have not, ten years later.

Dr Pugh

  469. To continue that very quickly, in a way a local authority, by not having a development plan, weakens its position as a planning authority as well. Does it not?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is exactly the point the Chairman is making, which is if you do not do it nothing happens in relation to existing space and you never get any new ones, because the developer does not know whether it is worth applying.

Mrs Ellman

  470. You make reference to the hope of the Planning Green Paper bringing a more joined-up approach. Does it make sense to have PPG 17 before the Planning Green Paper?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Obviously, I cannot say what the detail of the Planning Green Paper is going to be, but some of the things that the Planning Green Paper will require will need primary legislation, subject to consultation. Obviously, we would have to consider that issue but it is probably wrong not to produce further guidance after we have consulted on PPG 17 because to wait for wholesale reform would be to wait too long. This has been cooking for some time. Basically, delaying it for a long time because of a more wide-scale reform would not strike me as sensible, if what you are trying to achieve is basically better recreational, sports, green space facility issues.

  471. What work has the department done on defining different types of open space?
  (Ms Keeble) That is one of the things which the Green Spaces Task Force has done. We have got the interim report coming out, in fact, tomorrow and that will include some of the work so far. It includes urban open space, a mixture of public and private, formal and informal landscape and that is dealing with all the hard surface areas—the issues we were talking about earlier—and the urban green spaces including the wider range of types of spaces. So that should be published tomorrow. The final report will only be next April.

Chairman

  472. If that is coming next April and yet you are going to have the revised PPG before the final report?
  (Ms Keeble) No, the PPG is going to be also after the final report.

  473. So that is a change from what the officials told us.
  (Ms Keeble) Yes.

Mrs Ellman

  474. Will the content of the report be the basis of the guidance for local authorities on open space?
  (Ms Keeble) The Green Space Task Force?

  475. Yes.
  (Ms Keeble) That report officially goes to government and then, obviously, there has got to be a policy statement coming out of that. The one that comes out tomorrow will be interim work looking at particular subject areas. The final report will have recommendations on a whole range of issues about protecting green spaces, and it is urban green space.

  476. Will you be giving guidance to local authorities on producing open space strategies?
  (Ms Keeble) Formally, that should come out of the department after we have got the Task Force report.

  477. When?
  (Ms Keeble) It will be after next April.

Chairman

  478. But a whole lot of local authorities are devising their Unitary Development Plans at the moment, are they not? So they have to wait for this part of it until after that report.
  (Ms Keeble) I have to say I think the Task Force has done its work quite remarkably quickly, given the scale of the job there is to do. I think that it is quite right, given that there is something of a need for some good policies in this area, to look carefully at what the range of people on the Task Force have to say—it is a wide range of people with a wide range of expertise—and take the best advice on what is the best practice and come up with some good policies.

Mr Cummings

  479. Lord Falconer, you are quoted in the 9 November issue of Planning as saying "There are more than 800 pages of national guidance on planning. We can make a start by reducing that burden almost immediately." How will the forthcoming Planning Green Paper achieve this and, also, change the role and scope of PPGs?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What we have heard in the process of preparing for the Green Paper is people saying that a lot of time goes into producing development plans at local authority level, it takes so long to do that, by the time it is done it is often inconsistent with either regional planning guidance or national planning guidance that has been produced, leading to great confusion as to what the detail of the planning requirement in a particular area is. One way of seeking to deal with that is to try to reduce, as much as it is reasonably possible to do, the quantum of guidance there is from the centre on national planning policies. That is a task that does not require legislation and is a task that can be, in effect, embarked upon as much as possible. If you look at a lot of the national policy guidance, quite a lot of it is unclear as to whether it is just best practice or whether it is basic principles which should be applied. What we are going to try and do is shorten it to focus, as much as possible, on the basic principles and as little as possible on the best practice. So you know where you stand.


 
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