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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)

LORD FALCONER OF THOROTON, QC, MR MIKE ASH, MR JEFF CHANNING AND MR CHRISTOPHER BOWDEN

TUESDAY 18 DECEMBER 2001

Chairman

  1. Good morning, my Lord. I wonder if you would be kind enough to introduce your team?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) On the far left is Christopher Bowden, who is responsible for drafting the major infrastructure projects document that was produced on Monday. Mr Mike Ash is the acting head of the planning directorate in the DTLR and Mr Jeff Channing is the principal draftsman of the main Green Paper produced in the course of last week.

  2. And you are?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am Lord Falconer.

  3. Did your Lordship wish to give us a small homily before we begin on the discussion of this highly focused document?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I do not wish to make any opening remarks.

  4. The power for residents to ask questions of the local authority at a local plan inquiry is central to giving legitimacy to the final plan. It is also a more powerful mechanism of community engagement than anything offered in the Green Paper. Why do you want to abolish it?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Could you repeat the question? I apologise.

  5. Residents absolutely rely on their ability to ask questions about a local plan.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We are not for one moment suggesting in the Green paper to reduce community involvement in the local development plan framework. Far from it. We are seeking to increase community involvement. We are seeking to ensure that the community has a proper voice in the development of those frameworks. We seek to do that in a number of ways. For example, the plan itself has to indicate how the community will be involved. We want to beef up measures by which they can get proper representation but above all we make the process less complicated and more accessible.

  6. Why do you think it is less complicated?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because what you aim to do is produce a plan on a regular basis. Currently in some cases it has been so complicated a process that no plan has been produced at all by 40 local authorities areas.

  7. Why do you think they are going to support something they cannot see very clearly reflects their views?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It may or may not reflect their views. What they have to see is a process whereby their voice can be heard and it will reflect to some extent what is said in that process.

  8. Paragraph 4.26 says: "Under the present system everyone has the right to make objections to draft local plans and for these to be heard ... Unfortunately this approach often proves time consuming and adversarial." Does it not occur to you that the reason it gives that impression is that people have different views and like to express them?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Indeed they do and we are not for one moment seeking to prevent those views being expressed. One aspect of local plans at the moment, for example, is large, commercial interests taking part in the development of the local development plan because they either wish to promote or object to a particular use of a particular site. What the resident is then confronted with is therefore a quite strongly legal driven process. That in many cases is not conducive to the views of the community actually being heard. What we would try to do is to reduce the legal driven nature of the process and increase the accessibility of the community to affecting what goes in the local development plan.

  9. Why do you need such a major change to deliver your objectives? People thought the objectives were already there.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) This is one aspect of a whole series of changes. The essential problem with the planning system at the moment is it is very complicated. There are huge numbers of things you have to look at before you know whether or not, for example, planning permission would be given. That comes from a many layered system which has lots and lots of guidance at each layer. The essential, underlying purpose of many of the changes is to reduce the amount of guidance at each level and reduce the number of layers because you make it simple.

  10. Who are you basically trying to assist, because you speak frequently in the document of businesses and the complicated system that they face. There is very little emphasis on the rights of individual people.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think that is fair. We are trying to assist the community which includes business. What we seek to do is to make the system responsive to the community. That will include developers, including commercial developers. They, just like the rest of the community, are entitled to their applications being heard, being dealt with within a reasonable time and being dealt with on a consistent and clear basis.

  11. Where is your evidence that they have suffered so disastrously from the existing system. Does it not seem to you that they are better equipped to deal with it than the ordinary householder?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In many cases, the interests of business do make it hard for communities to express their views. For example, the example I gave earlier on in the conversation about where you are having a public inquiry into a local development plan under the existing system. That very frequently gets quite dominated by commercial interests.

Mr Betts

  12. You have already said that you do not want to change the principle of a plan led system.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Correct.

  13. How do you have a plan led system where there is no overall plan at local level?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) You will have an overall plan at local level. You will have the local development framework. We have a plan led system at the moment. That in principle is a good thing but a plan led system does not work if first of all there is not a plan at all, which is the position in relation to 13 per cent of local authority areas, and secondly it does not work well when you cannot rely on the plan either to be up to date or consistent with other layers of planning guidance. In order to address those two problems—namely, there are a number of areas where there is no plan at all because the local plan process has not produced one and the out of date aspect—we say simplify the plan. Make it easier to keep up to date; reduce the number of layers.

  14. The whole emphasis is on simplification?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Simplification is a very important emphasis, yes.

  15. Some people have said that by simplifying in that way what you may do is create a developers' charter because instead of applying for permission where there is clearly designated use for land in future developers will be applying for planning permission where there is no designated use and it will be up to that application to be determined in a vacuum.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) First of all, you have the local development framework.

  16. If the framework is going to give an indication as to what the land is going to be used for, you are back to a UDP.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The local development framework will set out the principles. They will apply right across the district. Where there is expected to be an area of change, the local authority as the Green Paper makes clear can have a detailed action plan. In the drawing up of that action plan, it can if it is appropriate be site specific. The difference between the new system and the old system would be, under the new system, you would only need to address the site specific issues where it really mattered. You would not have to address them in areas where simple principles would be sufficient.

  17. There are going to be some areas therefore where planning applications go in with this new, simple framework and where developers will be making an application with no predetermined idea as to what that land can be used for. The decision will be taken purely on that application.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It will be made on the basis of the principles which will not be site specific. It will not be as detailed as the existing local authority development plan. There will be these principles and the planning application made subsequently will be decided on the basis of those principles.

  18. How will you manage to perform the sequential test on housing where much of an area will not be designated for one thing or another?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The document makes clear that in relation to the local district area there will have to be a distribution of housing. There will have to be a plan that says where in the area housing will take place. That is just one aspect of what we are doing. Housing is very important.

  19. You will have to have a similar document therefore for shopping because a sequential test for out of town shopping centres will apply too.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If there is to be an application in relation to an out of town shopping centre, a sequential test would have to be performed by the developer, which happens at the moment. The local authority will have to look at it. The difference between the future and now is what you do not have to do in the future is go through every part of the district and make a decision as to how each part of the district is going to be developed. It is that, among other things, which causes great delay and causes a process whereby not only you do not have plans for certain areas but you do not have up to date ones in very many areas where you do have plans.


 
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