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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)

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

TUESDAY 18 DECEMBER 2001

  120. The core policy has to subscribe entirely to that. Okay. Community strategies are the new element you have brought into the planning paper and they are linked in some way to core policies and planning decisions. There may be real benefit but would you accept that this will lead to planning refusals occurring for a wider variety of reasons than hitherto because people will indicate within their community strategies reasons why the planning development cannot go ahead?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The reference to community strategies is to try to ensure that what you do with land use reflects better other policies that local authorities may have. That is not ultimately to change what the land use policies are but to ensure that they better connect with what goes on in other areas of policy. I do not think that would lead to more refusals or grants than previously.

  121. I was not thinking of more; I was thinking that the range of reasons people may cite, the material considerations they may bring in, may be broader than hitherto.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think that is necessarily the case. The position is that in preparing your land use development plan you should have more regard than you do at the present time to community strategies. That will not mean that there is a wider range of reasons for refusal because, in considering a particular planning application, you will still have to have regard to the local plan or the local development framework. That local development framework will have been brought into existence after consideration of such things as community strategy.

  Mrs Dunwoody withdrew and Mr Bennett took the Chair

Miss McIntosh

  122. Could I ask why you have placed an obsession almost on the speed with which a planning decision on a major construction project should be taken?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What we have always said is that the decision should be made, whether it be in relation to a major infrastructure project or in relation to an individual application, within a reasonable time, and the reasonable time will vary from project to project and application to application. I would not regard it as an obsession, but I regard it as one thing which has been said very frequently by people engaged in the planning system, that the planning system does take too long to reach conclusions both in relation to what the Local Plan should contain and also whether or not particular applications, whether they be for major infrastructure projects or whether they be for ordinary planning applications.

  123. Is there not a very good reason for that, being the lack of space in this country for development?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Why should that lead to a delay in making a decision?

  124. Because if you take my own constituency as an example, we have virtually no brownfield sites which are not on flood plains, even on the presumption under your policy that we should build on a brownfield site even if it is on a flood plain, which I do not necessarily agree with, but also we do not wish to take the greenfield sites, so we are effectively running out of space. I believe that the starting point in the Department was looking at the speed with which decisions are taken on similar projects in France and Germany and the reason that they can decide quickly is that if one site is deemed to be appropriate for a number of very good reasons, notably the residents, and I am thinking of Strasbourg Airport, one of the reasons why the fast-speed rail service was not agreed and the track was not laid was because Air France felt that they would lose market share on Paris to London, one of their key routes. Was that the starting point, that you looked at the speed of some of the Continental decision-making?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No. We obviously took account of what other countries did, but that was not our starting point. We think it should take a reasonable time, ie, the time it takes for there to be a proper examination of a major infrastructure project, for example, and long, long delays in relation to that are bad for the community just as much as they are bad for business, for the national interest because it blights land for years and years and years if you cannot take a decision. You rightly identified many problems that the planning system faces, like, for example, in certain cases a shortage of brownfield land, but those problems, whilst they require proper and adequate investigation and proper and adequate opportunity needs to be given for the community and the applicant to express their views, it does not mean that the system needs to take many, many, many years to resolve those problems, thereby blighting the community just as much as preventing what may in some cases be sensible development. Do we not need a system that is able robustly and within a reasonable time to say no just as well as to say yes?

  125. How would the motorway status being agreed for the A1 from Bramley(?) to Barton be speeded up under your proposals?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well, I do not know whether that would be a major infrastructure project or not.

  126. It has certainly been hugely delayed. Perhaps you could do a note separately on that.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  127. In your Planning: Delivering a Fundamental Change, the Government is minded to take away completely the strategic role of county councils in County Structure Plans. Is this the first move to abolishing county councils?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, it is not. That proposal is made exclusively on the basis of what leads to a more effective planning system and if we are serious about making it simpler, then one of the steps that needs to be taken, and there was widespread agreement on this, was the need to remove some of the layers or one of the layers of plan-making, and the county council Structure Plan layer was one that it was possible and sensible, we believed, to remove. That does not mean that counties will not have an important role to play when, for example, the Regional Spatial Strategy is being drawn up.

Mr Betts

  128. Coming back to the planning system, the process is quite clear that, say, for any industrial use, certain areas of a local authority will be reserved for that purpose and people generally know that is where that purpose is going to go. In addition, is it not the developer in putting in an application who is going to determine where development goes because they will judge their site in respect of that with particular leave for anything in his path?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If in a particular area, you want heavy industrial or industrial or manufacturing development to take place, there is absolutely no reason why the relevant local authority should not identify such an area as an Action Plan area where that sort of development is specified.

  129. And it would not happen outside that area?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The implication of it being put there would be that it would happen inside that area and if the local authority wish to specify, after going through the appropriate procedures, that as a matter of principle that sort of development should not be permitted, except in that particular area, that would be a conclusion they can put as one of their statements of principle in the Local Development Framework.

  130. Where there is no area Plan, then there will be simply the situation where the developer decides what happens or takes a lead in what happens by putting an application in so there will be nothing before that? The application will simply go in and then be looked at according to the applicant's relevance to the site, so in principle yes, but there is no particular Plan?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The application made when there is no Action Plan will be determined in accordance with the principles laid out in the Local Development Framework. If in the example that you posit the particular area wanted only manufacturing development in one particular place, which was covered by an Action Plan, then, as I say, that could be specified in the principles.

  131. Then we can talk about certainty in terms of, say, local residents not being certain of what is going to get built on the site next door to their homes, which is invaluable, but for developers as well as for businesses, is this not going to be a more uncertain system because then they put in an application on sites when they have no idea in principle whether the local authority might be minded to grant permission, but you as the local authority decide whether it is relevant and proper for that area.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They will know in principle because the Local Development Framework will set out the principles, but there is a fundamental disagreement between us.

  132. But for that application for that site?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is a fundamental disagreement between us which, if I may say so, as it were, is the undercurrent of all of your questions which is that unless you have a system which is site-specific for every single site in the country, you are going backwards because then you will not know what is happening when you make an application and you will not know what is going to happen next door to you. That approach, we believe, has not been successful because the effect of that approach has been you have got a long, drawn out and complicated process which has led to considerable delay in Local Development Plans being produced, the numbers of Local Development Plans not being produced at all and the very many Local Development Plans that are being produced being out of date. I have got a note here from Jeff on my right which says that 214 Plans are now going out of date out of 362 authorities, so the approach that is implicit in your questions simply leads us back to the problems that we have got at the moment, so you need to address the problems and that is what we are seeking to do in relation to this proposal.

  133. I agree with that, but it is whether this is the right way. Is not the difference that currently, however long-winded it is, decisions on uses for particular sites are taken in the context of the overall Plan, whereas decisions on uses of sites will be taken in the future on the basis of an individual application in isolation of anything else?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, they will be taken in the context of the principles set out in the Local Development Framework and, where there is an Action Plan, in the context of that Action Plan which is much better than being taken in the context either of no Plan at all or in the context of a Plan that may very well be out of date.

  134. Can they not just choose to refer to the Action Plan for the whole of the area?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, they could if they wanted, but then you would be going back to the position where you have got the problems that you have got at the moment.

Sir Paul Beresford

  135. Is it not like in places like London where they have all got their UDPs, so they just put a new title on it and call it an Action Plan and what is the difference?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think it will happen like that.

Chairman

  136. How will you stop them doing that?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well, the process is intended to lead to a much quicker time-frame for Local Development Plans to be produced.

  137. Are you just praying that it will happen? There will not be a mechanism that will make it happen?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well, the mechanism that will prevent it happening, the ultimate fall-back is the Secretary of State can intervene at the end of the day.

Sir Paul Beresford

  138. Which applies now.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Which applies now, but he cannot intervene when there is nothing to intervene in, when there is no Plan.

  139. In London they all have their Plans. Let's use a specific example. Everybody knows a heap of bricks called Battersea Power Station, so take us through the procedure where, say, a new application went in for some reason. What would happen in your plan that is different from now?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Can I answer that in a moment, but Mike would like to respond to the previous question.
  (Mr Ash) Well, I will refer to that as well. The point we want to get across here is that if you look at, say, UDPs in London, what you tend to see is within those Plans there will be policies that apply throughout the area to provide a framework for development control and there are specific areas where there is change happening, where there are new developments being concentrated and Battersea Power Station is clearly a change area. Nothing is happening at the moment, but it has got the potential for development, so on that basis, then the local authority would designate that area as for an Action Plan and draw up an Action Plan setting out the proposals for the use of that site.


 
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