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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 640 - 659)



  640. What powers do you have? You have been talking about the areas where you could be influential, but what actual power do you, as Secretary of State, have to influence the future prosperity of regions? After all, you are the Secretary of State for the Regions.
  (Mr Byers) Absolutely, and it is a responsibility that I take very seriously. The power I have, the influence I have is to be the advocate for the English regions at the Cabinet table and in our discussions with the Treasury, and that is what we do. That is the role that we play and when the Spending Review comes out later this year, people will be able to judge how successful we have been on behalf of the regions.

  641. When we asked this question to Nick Raynsford, he said this was all a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Was he wrong?
  (Mr Byers) Well, it is a matter for the Government and the Chancellor will be responsible for the Spending Review 2002, which we have begun. I will discuss with him the priority that needs to be attached to the regions as well as to transport and other areas for which I have responsibility, and ultimately it will be a Government decision that will be made. The Chancellor will obviously make recommendations.

  642. Who ultimately will take the decisions about regional issues in terms of financial allocations?
  (Mr Byers) In terms of the amount of money that will be received, it will be a Government decision.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Can I just offer an illustration on this in relation, for example, to the regional development agencies. From next year onwards we are going to have a single pot for the money which they spend which was a programme which was worked on by the old DETR when we sponsored those agencies, but much of the money that those agencies spend is actually money which comes off our votes and we have direct influence over what they are going to spend that on and the way we are going to work the capital pot, the single pot, is that they have to provide their corporate plans which are considered by all the key spending departments, so we and the Secretary of State will influence how they spend their money, what they spend it on, et cetera, even though we no longer sponsor those agencies, and those decisions will therefore be taken by the key Ministers with those regional spending responsibilities, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and so on. They are collective decisions which are taken about our strategy for the regions.

Mr Betts

  643. On the comparisons between parts of England and Scotland, and we will come on to the details of the SSA reforms later, it is pretty obvious that MPs are going to be drawing comparisons between Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle to see how they do. Do you not equally believe that MPs are going to say, "How do Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle do against Edinburgh and Glasgow?", and that Ministers should be prepared to come to the House and select committees and not actually say, "Oh, it is the Treasury's responsibility", but actually to justify the expenditure for those different authorities, and accept that comparisons should be drawn and that Ministers should be prepared to justify them?
  (Mr Byers) Comparisons will be drawn and rightly so because we are a united kingdom.

  644. And that Ministers should come and not say, "Oh, it is the Treasury's responsibility"?
  (Mr Byers) And explain why those differences exist, yes.


  645. When will Scottish constituencies be the same size as English ones?
  (Mr Byers) Well, we now have responsibility for electoral matters and there is a commitment to reduce the number of Scottish constituencies by the time of the next Election and we are working on that timetable.

  646. Minerals Planning Guidance—what has happened to the proposals to revise it?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Well, what has happened on that is that we were working on a revision, in particular I think it is Guidance Note 6, from memory.

  647. That is right, and you started in 1994 with it.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Well, we have had such guidance and we were committed to revise it.

  648. You were committed in 1994 to revise it.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Yes, and we have been proceeding on the basis that we are going to revise it. The position we are currently in is as follows. Inside the Department we were preparing revised guidance in relation in particular to Guidance Note 6. In parallel, we were working on the Planning Green Paper and one of the things which came out of the Planning Green Paper, on which we are now obviously consulting, was the feeling that some of our guidance notes are too detailed, so what we have decided to do is to go away and think a bit more about Planning Guidance 6 in relation to the main Minerals Planning Guidance, which is number 1, if you are still with me, but in the meantime the bit that is really out of date is the national and regional guidelines for aggregate supplies, how much we need and where we might get it from, and we are proposing to take that out and to deal with that separately and to consult on that in the spring of 2002, so the real reason why we are now going a bit slow on the guidance itself is that we want to streamline it as part of our approach to planning guidance following the Planning Guidance Green Paper.

  649. So the streamlining process means that it will take ten years to get the revision out?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Certainly not.

  650. Well, you started in 1994, so you are confident you will have it in two years' time?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I will set myself that target, Chairman.

Dr Pugh

  651. Can I take you to the Planning Green Paper itself now. We asked Lord Falconer why he thought that current planning restricted the development of clusters of the IT industry and evidence from your Department shows that it does not. Your evidence provided seems to indicate that that is not the case. Is the policy being evolved, therefore, on the basis of evidence or just simply on the basis of hearsay?
  (Mr Byers) It can, but it depends which parts of the country you are looking at. In some parts of the country, there is a greater belief that the development of clusters is more important than the economic regeneration of that—

  652. Sorry, I am not talking about beliefs, I am talking about evidence, and the evidence of the planning of clusters seems to indicate the contrary, does it not?
  (Mr Byers) Well, there is some evidence, but evidence goes both ways. I remember when I was at the Department of Trade and Industry, there was some evidence there which we commissioned which showed that planning was standing in the way of the development of clusters and I think people will be aware of that fact, so there is evidence in both directions.


  653. Could you send us a copy of that evidence?
  (Mr Byers) Of the work in the DTI, yes, of course.

Dr Pugh

  654. Just to quote briefly from this document, if I may, it says, "From our case studies", your case studies, "real planning issues relate not so much to business development". That is what it says at point 7.9 on page 57.
  (Mr Byers) Is that specifically in relation to clusters?

  655. That is specifically in relation to clusters.
  (Mr Byers) Well, as I say, there is other evidence which will conflict with that and I am firmly of the view that in some parts of the country the planning process has stood in the way of the development of business clusters.

  656. Okay. Moving on, when will proposals for the parliamentary procedures for considering major infrastructure developments be defined and presented?
  (Mr Byers) Well, we are consulting at the moment, as you will be aware. We have produced a consultation paper just before Christmas and we will not make any decisions until the consultation process is complete.

  657. Have you got a definition of what a major infrastructure development is? Lord Falconer seemed uncertain whether a nuclear power station was a major infrastructure development. What is your view?
  (Mr Byers) That certainly would be a major infrastructure development, yes.

  658. That is progress.
  (Mr Byers) That is an interesting definition of progress.

  659. Progress in clarity. You have very little time to get a Planning Bill in the Queen's Speech. Is the consultation basically a formality and a farce?
  (Mr Byers) No. My approach to planning is this, which I think is probably worth putting in this context: I happen to believe that planning and the use of land is one of the key levers that we have got both for social renewal and economic regeneration. One of the great achievements of Attlee's 1945 Labour Government was actually to put in place a proper system of planning which was used to achieve those objectives. Since then, the planning system has moved away from achieving those objectives and what I want to do is to use it once again as a key lever for economic regeneration and social renewal. Now, to do that, you need to build a consensus around what you are trying to achieve. A planning system will not work if people feel they are being excluded from the outcome and you have to get people to buy into it. Now, I happen to believe, partly from my own constituents' experience and partly from what happens elsewhere in the country, that local people, if there is a big planning application, they do not feel they have got a role to play because you get barristers coming from London, QCs paid enormous expense and local people just feel intimidated by the whole process. They do not feel they are involved and that has got to change. Now, the Planning Green Paper is about actually involving local people right at the very beginning with their own local development plans about what they want to see in their own area.

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