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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)

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

TUESDAY 18 DECEMBER 2001

  140. That is being done already though.
  (Mr Ash) Yes, well, they are sometimes a bit like that at the moment and we are seeking to build on that approach which does not seek to cover every square inch of an area with specific designations. In the suburbs most local authorities can put in place a set of local control policies to deal with house extensions and all the other generality of planning applications that are made without having to go into the detail of putting area allocations en masse. That is a set of core criteria-based policies which will act as the framework for development control procedures in those areas. Where there are development prospects, where there are areas of change, those are the areas that you would designate for action planning and do that on a more flexible basis because it is specific to a particular area and would be done just for that area when it is needed to be done. It does not have to be done as part of the monolithic process at the moment which produces a development plan with 300 or 400 policies in it.

Christine Russell

  141. Can we move on to housing. At the moment the County Structure Plan determines the number of houses needed—
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In two-tier authorities only.

  142.—in two-tier authorities.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The County Structure Plan will only in fact distribute housing among 46 per cent of the population because 54 per cent of the population live in unitaries, so the county is not distributing to them.

  143. So how exactly in future in those areas are the housing numbers going to be determined?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In the same way as they are currently determined to the unitaries, which is that the Regional Planning Guidance presently distributes them to the unitaries and in future if the proposals set out in the consultation paper are brought into effect, then the distribution will be done from region to all district councils.

  144. Can I just ask you, sticking with the county councils, they are going to retain the overall responsibility for waste and minerals?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Correct.

  145. Is that it?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is it.

  146. Will their planning departments have any other residual responsibilities?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They will obviously have a role to play in relation to drawing up the Regional Spatial Strategies because, as Sir Paul indicated rightly, obviously the local authorities, including county councils, will be very keen to be involved in the drawing up of those.

  147. As they are still responsible for transport matters in their areas and as they are still responsible for education, for instance, will they not still argue that they need to have their own County Plan?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well, what we are saying is that that County Plan is an additional and complicating layer under the planning system at present. If you are serious, as we are, about making the system simpler and reducing the number of layers, that, we believe, is the layer that can most easily go.

Miss McIntosh

  148. I note you are leaving minerals and waste with the county councils.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because they decide the development control applications in relation to that.

  149. Why?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because those are areas we think which are dealt with in a self-contained way and dealt with sensibly and there is no reason at all to interfere with that particular area.

Mr O'Brien

  150. Could I draw attention to Business Planning Zones. What you are saying is that Business Planning Zones will need to be identified in regional strategies and "planned by local authorities in partnership with universities, RDAs and leading edge companies, but any of the partners should be able to initiate proposals for a Business Zone". How does that fit in with the Regional Planning Guidance, particularly in Yorkshire as we have heard recently, because it does conflict, what is being advised in the Regional Planning Guidance with what you are advising in this document?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There would be no reason why a Business Planning Zone should not be only agreed to when it is consistent with what the Regional Spatial Strategy or the Regional Economic Strategy of the Regional Development Agency proposes.

  151. The only difference in that is that in this document, it does say—
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Which document are you referring to?

  152. I am referring to the Regional Planning Guidance for Yorkshire and Humber to 2016, received a few days ago. It is dated October 2001. What it says is this: "It will take time for the RPG policies to affect the underlying economic and social processes discussed in this chapter. However, individuals, companies and public and private infrastructure and service providers make location decisions at all times about where to live, where to invest and what services to offer and what areas to serve". Now, that is what the Regional Planning Guidance is saying which implies that individuals and business will at all times have the right to decide where businesses should be, where to live and all the rest of it, but what you are suggesting now is that new Planning Zones will be introduced where planning permission will not be required. There is a conflict. Which do we believe?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not see any conflict between saying in the Regional Planning Guidance that it is for individual businesses or persons to decide where they want to locate. Obviously they need to get planning permission, but equally there is nothing wrong with saying in certain places where we want to encourage a particular type of business that a Business Planning Zone should be set up.

Chairman

  153. But that is abolishing planning, is it not?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, because in certain specified places, you say subject to certain criteria being met, and the sort of criteria referred to in paragraph 5.36 and following in the consultation document, then you should be able to treat yourself as having planning permission.

Mr O'Brien

  154. In here it says that the decisions taken will be subject at all times by these individuals, businesses and all the rest of it, but what you are saying now is that when Planning Zones are introduced, that goes out.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What the bit you read to me says or seems to be saying is that it is for each individual business to decide where it wants to locate its business.

  155. No, it says that the policies included in this, "it will take time for RPG policies to affect the underlying economic and social processes discussed in this chapter. However, individuals, companies and public and private infrastructure and service providers make location decisions at all times about where to live, where to invest, what services to offer and what areas to serve". Now, I read that as saying that when a planning application is submitted under this procedure, there will be an opportunity for people to make observations upon it, but what we are reading today is that when a Business Planning Zone is introduced and identified, then the question of people having the opportunity to make an observation as to where they want to live, where their business should be and all the rest of it goes out because of the fact that you have introduced a Planning Zone and planning applications are not required. It is going back to what we have at the present time with the telecommunications aerials, where a decision has been made and immediately something controversial comes up our constituents are told, "Well, we can't do anything about it because of the fact that the Government has made a decision". Now, I can see that we are running into the same situation. This gave us hope, but this takes all that away from us.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think that is not a fair analysis of the two documents. What this is saying is that a local authority—

Miss McIntosh

  156. A county council?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The relevant local authority, the district authority, can determine where it would be sensible to lay down particular parameters in a particular place where, if those parameters are met, planning permission is not required.

Mr O'Brien

  157. So whereas it was assured a few days ago by the Regional Planning Guidance that decisions on these matters will be taken at all times, that is, by the people involved, including council tax payers, however with this, when the decision is made for the Planning Action Zone and there is no length of time that these Planning Action Zones can be in being, they can go on for years, other circumstances will change, but the individuals and people will have no opportunity to change anything in their Action Zone. I consider that that is a step backwards.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well, it would be done in areas which were tightly defined and the parameters would be tightly defined. The sorts of business that we envisage would be ones that would be low-impact in the area, hi-tech, for example. They would not significantly add—

  158. What about out-of-town shopping, supermarkets?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They would not be included in this sort of Business Planning Zone. It is much more limited, but they would only be agreed to once the local authority had gone through all the proper consultation processes.

Chairman

  159. Well, we have the Simplified Planning Zones. How many of those have actually operated?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Very, very, very few indeed.


 
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