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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)

TUESDAY 20 NOVEMBER 2001

LORD FALCONER OF THOROTON QC, MIKE GAHAGAN, JOYCE BRIDGES AND MIKE ASH

  60. If you could persuade local authorities to do it, you would not need legislation.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is right, but the point I am trying to make is that what we are not dealing with here is changes in policy. We are not changing our policy, for example, on out of town shopping centres or PPG3 housing or on flood defences. What we are trying to do is improve the way the system deals with the resolution of issues about the plan or particular control applications and I think that can be done without the need for primary legislation. The critical primary legislation issue is probably going to be about the form of the plan and its connection with other things that local and central government do such as community strategies.

Mr Cummings

  61. If that is the case, are you in agreement with the House Builders' Federation who recently said, "We do not favour radical reform as this could cause upheaval, confusion and delay. There is an urgent need for action to deliver development and achieve government policy now"?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am in favour of wholesale reform. I do not think it means that you have to pull up the whole of the roots of the planning system. I think that much of the wholesale reform to which we are referring can be delivered without primary legislation.

  62. Are you agreeing with the House Builders' Federation there?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think that you did need pretty wholesale reform. If and insofar as they are saying that improvements can come without primary legislation, I agree with that. I think that we do need to focus as quickly as possible on delivering that.

Christine Russell

  63. On the day, Lord Falconer, that Parliament are probably finally going to be told the decision on Terminal 5, could you perhaps share with us what you are envisaging in your reform system and what procedures you are thinking of bringing in to deal with these major infrastructure projects and can you confirm that any changes would actually mean primary legislation, so therefore would not be coming in until after 2003.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The Secretary of State, Stephen Byers, has already indicated in a statement in July the broad parameters of what is envisaged in relation to major infrastructure projects. First of all, there should be more policy statements by government on infrastructure issues so that there cannot be a debate about what national government policy is in, for example, issues such as where should a major railway line go or where should a major new airport go. Secondly, we want to develop a process whereby, in respect of major national infrastructure projects, of which there will be very, very few in any particular period, Parliament should make the decision in principle as to whether or not that major infrastructure project should go ahead. Thirdly, one needs to, connected with the second, develop parliamentary procedures and that is for Parliament not for the executive to work out as to how the public could be engaged in making the decision in principle about whether or not the major infrastructure project should go ahead.

  64. You must have some views, if you like, on the parliamentary procedures. What are your personal views? Do you feel, for instance, that those projects should come before this Select Committee for scrutiny? What parliamentary processes do you see?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am very loath to express a view about what the correct process is. The purpose of the process must be to ensure that the particular local community that is affected by major national infrastructure project has an opportunity to express its views to Parliament before Parliament debates and forms a view about whether or not in principle the proposal should go ahead. The community will obviously have an opportunity at a subsequent public inquiry on how you actually implement the decision in detail, but I think there also needs to be a process whereby they have an opportunity to express their views before the decision in principle is debated and voted on in Parliament. How that should be done is a matter for Parliament to resolve rather that for the executive, but that seems to me to be the way the principle should work.

Chairman

  65. Dealing with private bills in Parliament over the last 20 years, it has not been a very happy process, has it?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No and that is what a lot of people have said. It takes a long time and it is a lawyer driven process and it is quite variable in its outcome.

  66. You are not going back to that, surely.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, we do not want to go back to that, we want some other process whereby the views of the community affected were taken into account. The views of the community are taken into account but everybody's views have to be taken into account as well. I think this would lead to conclusions more quickly and more engagedly than recent experiences of major infrastructure projects. A significant period of time in the T5 inquiry, for example, was spent in hearing evidence about what government policy was on airports.

  67. Yes but if there had been government policy on airports, it would have been quite simple, would it not?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Indeed, that is right. That is why the first part of the reform is that there should be more—

  68. There should be some government policy.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Not in generalised terms, but there should be more statements—this was in answer to Christine's question—setting out what government policy on those major infrastructure issues is so that any inquiry does not have to take a long time trying to work out what central government's policy is.

  69. So you think that the Secretary of State would have been happy to have made a statement on airport policy within six months of a general election?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not want to comment on the timing of it but before an application is made by a public body like the BAA to, for example build a new airport or whatever, there should be a clear statement of what government policy is overall because that obviously clarifies the landscape in which the decision has to be made.

Mr Cummings

  70. What do you believe are the three most important proposals in the Urban White Paper and what action is being taken to implement them?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think that the most important aspect of the Urban White Paper is the commitment to effect an urban renaissance, to make our towns and cities much better places to live in. I think that the specifics in relation to delivery of that are a whole wide-ranging number of things. I think particularly important aspects are the urban regeneration companies, which are very important, the remediation proposals, ie focussing on making sure that as many brown field sites are brought back into use and also the planning policy of ensuring that you have to use brown field land first before you use green field land in order to develop housing.

  71. How are you going to ensure that?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) How are we going to ensure the brown field policy?

  72. Yes.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think in three particular ways. One is the planning system. We have introduced—

  73. Is it robust enough?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think it is robust enough. I think it depends on national government making it absolutely clear that it will enforce PPG3, by which I mean that where there are indications that local authorities are not following the principles of brown field first, green field only if there is not enough brown field available—

  74. How are you going to demonstrate the success of that?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) One way we are going to demonstrate that is by reaching the figure of 60 per cent brown field development by the year 2008. We are at 57 per cent now and we have been at 57 per cent for a considerable period of time. The way you demonstrate progress is by seeing that figure going up and that is what we would aim to try and do.

  75. Can you advise the Committee as to the achievements of the Cabinet Committee on urban affairs to date. How many meetings have there been and how is its progress being monitored?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The purpose of the Urban Affairs Cabinet Committee is to make sure that the issue of urban regeneration and the issue of urban renaissance are approached on a cross-government wide basis. I do not know how many times the Urban Affairs Cabinet Subcommittee has met; I will let you know what the precise figure is.

Chairman

  76. Are we talking about a couple of times or are we talking about 10 or 12 or more?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think we are talking more about a couple of times than 10 or 12, though I may have the figure here. I am told that it has met twice.

  Chairman: Twice in how many months?

Mr Cummings

  77. Over what period of time?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is over a period of time of 12 months ... That is twice since the election. The purpose of having a cross-government Cabinet Committee is that it means that it is not just the meetings, it also means that the members of the committee circulate to each of the departments any issues that reflect or are important in relation to urban issues. It means that government looks at it in an across the board way.

Mrs Dunwoody

  78. Does it come to an across the board agreement?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Sometimes it does and sometimes it does not, but it means that—

  79. If you could give us some indication of the results of the deliberations of these two meetings which have taken place since the last election.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I could give you some examples of that. Could I write to you about what the specific agreements were?


 
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