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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)



  20. In an area like Sheffield, you are going to have plans for the city centre because of a possible regeneration, plans for the old industrial area, plans for a suburb where growth may take place and on top of that a housing plan and maybe plans for other particular policies because the sequential tests are going to be performed. Is that really a simple system?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It will be a simplification but it is up to Sheffield to decide where it thinks a plan would be helpful. It would not be necessary for the whole of Sheffield. It would be necessary for those bits where change will be required or in order to specify where new housing within Sheffield is going to go.

  21. Do you have to predict change at the time you are doing it or can you amend it as you go along? You never have a fixed LDF?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) You have a plan that you continuously update to make it consistent with other levels of planning. Sheffield can decide when they want a new LDF and whether or not they want a whole range of plans or just a few. It is up to Sheffield.


  22. So no one would ever be totally clear what was going on at all.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes they would because they would have the local development framework.

Mr O'Brien

  23. You suggest in the report, paragraph 5.59, page 45, "We propose that Best Value inspectors should take the failure of local planning authorities to open up their meetings to public participation into account when considering the performance of local authorities." Some local authorities do open their meetings now but they allow the public two minutes to express a view. The public complain then that they do not have an opportunity. Is there any guidance in your proposals as to how the public should be accommodated in these open meetings?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is no guidance in the Green Paper in relation to that but the purpose of making the committees open is not just so that they can hear what is said but also where appropriate either applicants or objectors can make their voice heard. To be able to speak for two minutes on a complicated application may well not be adequate, depending on the nature of the application. We would think it appropriate that in every significant application objectors and applicants should have their voices heard before a committee.

  24. If the planning authority says, "You have two minutes to put your case", this means that we are not benefiting the public a great deal because that is available to them now. You are suggesting that you will make it simpler and there will be more opportunities but without guidance I consider there will be confusion and frustration because the public are looking for improvements. What are you going to do about it?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We may have to issue guidance as to what the appropriate length of time for people to address the committee is. I know there are often many complicated applications where there are a lot of objectors to a particular application, many of them with different interests. The committee, on that basis, would quite frequently need to think of a structure whereby each of the interests could be heard. They do not want to go on for an unreasonable length of time but they need to make sure that everybody's voice is heard. We will issue guidance, I am sure, in relation to this but ultimately is it not for committees to decide how is the best way to ensure that people's voices are heard?

  25. That is true and we would look forward to some openness, transparency and democratic procedures, but this document, as you present it now, does not offer that.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is a slightly unfair criticism of the document. It is not intended to go into that sort of detail. What it is intending to do is to say, for example in this area, that open committees are an important thing that is required; let us hear views. "Do you think in principle that is the right thing to do? If so, how best do we develop it?"

  26. Views from whom?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The people who will read this consultation document. That would include developers, local authorities, people engaged on behalf of communities, pressure groups with interests in planning like the CPRE or the Friends of the Earth—anybody who wishes to respond in relation to the contents of the Green Paper.

  27. Should not the lead come from the centre, saying, "We propose" or, "We suggest that this is the kind of approach that should be made to open committees"?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The approach that we are proposing in 5.29 is that committees be genuinely open. As to what that will involve in a particular case, let ideas come forward. If guidance is necessary specifying how that should be achieved, then no doubt we will issue that guidance.


  28. You keep talking about local authorities that have not got plans and saying there are not very many of them. Would it not be easier, rather than changing the entire system, to insist on those local authorities producing plans?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We have been trying to make them produce plans over the last ten years but in 40 cases we have failed. You can demand it but ultimately a plan, to be of any validity, needs to be properly consulted upon with the community and proper thoughts have to go into it.

Mrs Ellman

  29. Who decides what the regional spatial strategies are?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The proposal is that there be a regional spatial strategy steering group. It should be wider than simply local authorities. It should represent a wide range of interests in the region. It should consult with the region on drafts so that the community within the region expresses its views. That regional spatial strategy then needs to be submitted to the Secretary of State. The publication of the regional spatial strategy is then formally done by the Secretary of State.

  30. Who decides who is a member of the regional strategy group?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It will have to be a matter for a regional spatial strategy steering group to be set up.

  31. Who decides who will be on that group?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It will be the local authorities in the area in consultation with the regional chamber. They will probably consult with the Secretary of State as to what the steering group should consist of.


  32. So the Secretary of State ultimately decides?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What the Secretary of State and the relevant players would be seeking to establish would be a representative group that adequately represents the region and that representation has to be beyond simply local authorities.

  33. So how is what Mrs Ellman is asking.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Consultation with those players, the local authorities, the Secretary of State and the regional chamber.

Mrs Ellman

  34. Who takes the decision?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Hopefully it will be reached by agreement at the end of the day.

  35. Who takes the decision?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) At the end of the day, if the regional spatial strategy has been drawn up in a way that the Secretary of State does not—

  36. I am not on the strategy yet; I am asking you about the membership of the group which will put together the regional strategy.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Ultimately, since the Secretary of State can say no to the RSS in particular if it does not adequately represent the views of the region, the Secretary of State could indicate at an early stage whether he thought the steering group was not adequately representative.

  37. How is the assessment made on what represents the views of the region?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Obviously, we are consulting on this as part of—

  38. Who will decide?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Hopefully it will be reached by agreement but because the Secretary of State can say at the end of the process, "That was not adequately representative", the Secretary of State could ultimately say, "The group you have put together is not adequately representative."

  39. Would it not be better to have directly elected regions if the regional strategy groups are going to have such importance?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We think not at the moment. Obviously, there are separate issues about elected regional assemblies. We think the appropriate course is to do it by consultation.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 22 February 2002