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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)



  100. They will not know what might be built on that land as a result of those policies.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They know what the basic policies are. Because we are not changing the basic policies the degree of security provided by the planning system will not materially change.


  101. They will not know how it applies to them. We all know what the general principles of Christendom are but we do not know how they apply to our church until we go through the doors.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is a sufficient degree of clarity about how our principles apply at the moment to provide people with adequate security about whether, for example, the green belt will continue to be protected in their area.

Mr Betts

  102. Green belt is not the same as open space. Open space may be currently preserved for limited use and people may know that but if an application comes in under your system to build industry on there or whatever, there may be general principles involved but people cannot be certain that is going to be turned down, can they?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is a very good example of why I think your fears are exaggerated. In relation to open space, there is a draft, substantive document which this Committee is looking at, PPG17, which in effect proposes that local authorities should analyse what the requirement for inter alia open space is and have a policy indicating what they are going to do about the open space in the area.

  103. That is a policy point for the whole area. It is not going to reassure someone who lives next door to a particular site about what happens there. This is taking power away from many of the communities, is it not?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, it is not, not remotely away from the communities. Far from it. It makes the process simpler. PPG17 would involve a system where the community has a much better idea what is going to happen to the open space in its area.

  104. You are turning the clock back to pre-1991 when we did not necessarily have to have full coverage of plans for a whole area. It was on a patchwork basis. That is what we are going back to, is it not?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We are not going back to pre-1991. We are recognising what has happened since 1991. A plan led system is only of value where you either have plans -and 40 authorities do not, as I have indicated, or you have plans that you can rely on.

Miss McIntosh

  105. Who are the 40 councils that you have indicated?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I can give you a list.

Mr Betts

  106. Are they getting government grants for the planning system?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They are getting revenue support grant.


  107. You have a certain amount of muscle that you could apply and, quite frankly, it has been applied by government departments before, if you will forgive my being vulgar in mentioning it.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We have been wanting these local authorities to produce—not just this government but previous governments as well—

  108. You have not thought of insisting?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In relation to planning, the way that you can get the planning department to operate is by using the Best Value techniques and eventually getting to a point whereby, after a series of interventions, you take away the planning function from the local authority.

  109. The problem that we have as a Committee is you are proposing a very large change which appears to some of us to go backwards rather than forwards and which will have a direct effect on the rights of individuals in relation to their own planning areas.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, but it is a practical, sensible change that addresses the fact that the plan-led system at the moment has led to complicated, complex, local plans. That is why some local authorities do not have them. Yes, you can put pressure on the local authorities but the reason why 40 do not have local development plans is because the system is difficult. It does require a very substantial effort before such a plan is produced.

Sir Paul Beresford

  110. Will these 40 authorities have their local development frameworks and their action plans? What will you do if they do not?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We believe it will be much easier for local authorities to comply with the sorts of proposals we are making in the Green Paper than the complex local development plans that very many local authorities seek to produce. If they do not produce them, there are measures that can ultimately be taken but ultimately surely we want a system where the vast majority of the local authorities concerned do produce relevant plans.

  Sir Paul Beresford: Which is current. The vast majority currently have done that with UDPs.

Miss McIntosh

  111. Would another way forward not have been to threaten to withhold payment of revenue support grants until those 40 councils produced plans?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) You are not allowed to withhold un-ring fenced grant in part. Secondly, there is a fundamental problem which has led to why there are not these 40 local authority plans and that is because it is a very complex, very long, drawn out period that has to be gone through before you produce a local development plan.

Dr Pugh

  112. Can I take you back to Mr Betts's question on the whipping? As I understood your answer to his question, what you appeared to be saying was if there was national policy it would be okay to whip over a national planning decision. If there are with a local development framework core policies or consequences of core policies are identified by the administration about particular local authorities, would they be justified in whipping to because that seems a logical consequence of the line you were taking.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I sought to not comment on what the appropriateness or otherwise was of whipping. If it is government policy, no doubt it will be a proposal which the government supports.

  113. You are resisting saying it would be wrong for an administration to whip a planning committee where they feel their core policies are on the line, as it were.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Are you talking about Parliament or local authorities?

  114. I am talking about local authorities. The issue is whether local authorities can behave exactly as the national government would in this case. What you said in answer to Mr Betts was that if it was a national policy whipping in the House of Commons would be okay on a national planning decision. If it is a local, core policy or the consequence of a core policy, the administration is advising their planning members and surely they should then have the right to whip those members, on your line of argument?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In relation to the local authority planning application, they do not whip and I do not think it is appropriate that they should whip. The reason for that is because they are the planning authority. What is happening in the infrastructure project proposal is that the principle of the proposal should be debated and either approved or not by Parliament. Ultimately, the planning decision finally is taken by the Secretary of State but only after Parliament has approved the principle.

  115. You do not regard the in principle decision by Parliament on a major infrastructure project as a planning decision?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is part of the process, but it is not—

  116. It is a planning decision.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is highly relevant to the planning decision but it is approving in principle whether or not the project should go ahead. There then needs to be a process whereby the local inquiry looks at the how and it is then for the Secretary of State to decide whether or not the project should be approved.

  117. Can I return to local development frameworks, core policies and plans replacing the UDP? We know what the UDP is. We have not got a list of core policies for every local authority in the same format. Are you going to be very specific about what may or may not be included in core policies? If I can give an example, supposing a local authority were to produce a core policy about the location of mobile telephone masts. Would that be a permissible core policy?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) To put them in or to not put them in?

  118. To say where they should go in, where they might go in and where they may not go in.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is a PPG in relation to that already.

  119. Could it be incorporated within core policies?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If it is already incorporated in core policy, that is something that we as a matter of principle think should be dealt with at national level. All you would be doing would be repeating what is already in the national policy guidance.

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