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


MAJOR INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS

Supplementary memorandum by the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (PGP 01)

  1.  The Committee asked for a note on ways in which Parliament might scrutinise proposals for major infrastructure projects, with reference to our proposals set out in the consultation paper (New Parliamentary Procedures for Processing Major Infrastructure Projects) published on 17 December 2001.

BACKGROUND

  2.  On 20 July 2001 the Secretary of State announced a package of measures to speed up planning decisions on major projects. The package comprised:

    —  Up-to-date statements of Government policy, before major infrastructure projects are considered in the planning system to help reduce inquiry time spent on debating the policy;

    —  An improved regional framework which will assist consideration of individual projects;

    —  New procedures to give Parliament the opportunity to approve projects in principle;

    —  Improved inquiry procedures for major infrastructure projects;

    —  Improved arrangements for compulsory purchase and compensation.

  3.  The consultation paper—New Parliamentary Procedures for Processing Major Infrastructure Projects—sets out proposals for procedures for informing Parliament of major infrastructure projects of national importance and seeking Parliament's approval of them. It is not anticipated that the procedures would be used frequently. The consultation paper acknowledges that Parliamentary procedures are ultimately for Parliament to determine and indicates that the Government would like to have Parliament's views on what procedures might be appropriate for scrutiny of major infrastructure projects.

  4.  In drawing up our proposals for new Parliamentary procedures we have considered existing procedures for Parliament's involvement in the approval of major schemes under the Hybrid Bill procedure, section 9 of the Transport and Works Act 1992 (TWA) and Special Development Orders. These are reviewed briefly below. In essence, we feel that the new procedures proposed have the advantage of giving the opportunity for extensive public involvement and Parliamentary consideration within a carefully defined timescale. The proposed procedures would also apply to a broader range of developments than those covered by the TWA.

  5.  The overall package of measures on major infrastructure projects gives people the opportunity to have an input at three key stages in the process:

    —  The Parliamentary stage would generally be preceded by development of a national policy statement, on the content of which there would normally be prior public consultation;

    —  The public would have a clear opportunity to make their views known before Parliament debates the issues;

    —  The Parliamentary process will be followed by a public inquiry on the detailed aspects of the scheme, at which people can also express their views.

  6.  These opportunities for people to be involved would be over and above the consultations between developers and local people on proposed projects before a formal application for planning consent is submitted. The importance of developers engaging local communities to the greatest extent possible before submitting an application is underlined in the Planning Green Paper.

EXISTING PARLIAMENTARY PROCEDURES

  7.  As noted above, there are existing mechanisms for Parliamentary consideration of proposals by way of Hybrid Bills, section 9 of the Transport and Works Act 1992 and Special Development Orders. These are examined in annex B to the consultation paper but it may be helpful to review them briefly here.

  8.  The Hybrid Bill mechanism was used for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) and the Dartford and Severn Crossings, for example. It is subject to fairly complex Parliamentary procedures, but these can take less time overall than the planning inquiry route. Hybrid Bills may be particularly useful for Public Private Partnership projects because of the certainty of the process. They can provide a good solution where, for instance, the Government has a leading interest, including where the public policy aspects of a project require primary legislation.

  9.  A Hybrid Bill defines the maximum extent of the works and is accompanied by a full Environmental Impact Assessment. The principle of the project is established at Second Reading in the Commons, and special Select Committees in each House consider the detail by hearing petitioners' requests for amendments to the works. The Act grants the equivalent of outline planning permission only. The subsequent approval of details being delegated to the local planning authority. A key consideration is the scarcity of Parliamentary time; and room would have to be made in the Government's legislative programme. Parliament would need to be convinced that the use of its time is justified by the special importance and urgency of the project. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act took approximately 2 years to pass through Parliament.

  10.  Authorisation of railway, tramway and inland waterway schemes and works across rivers or in the sea which interfere with navigation rights is achieved through a Ministerial order-making procedure under the Transport and Works Act 1992 (TWA). Before enactment of the TWA these projects were authorised by Parliament under private Bill procedures. The TWA was introduced as a result of concerns that the increasing volume of private Bills was taking up a disproportionate amount of Parliamentary time. It seemed more appropriate that these projects were determined by a Minister following examination at a public inquiry. It was decided, however, that Parliament should retain a role in respect of the approval of schemes of national significance.

  11.  For these schemes a special procedure applies (section 9 of the TWA) under which the draft Order and Environmental Impact Assessment and other supporting documents are submitted to Parliament. Single debates are held in each House on a motion moved by a Government Minister to approve the proposals. If both Houses pass the resolution, the application goes forward for more detailed consideration at a public inquiry. The Secretary of State determines whether the Order should be made. Since the TWA has been enacted two TWA Order applications have been referred to Parliament under section 9. These were the Central Railway Order, promoted by Central Railway plc, which was rejected, and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Stratford Section), promoted by Eurostar (UK) Ltd, which was approved. Examples of the motions relating to these projects are appended to annex B of the consultation paper.

  12.  Parliament also plays a role in relation to Special Development Orders (SDO), under section 59 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. These Orders are subject to a negative resolution procedure, granting outline or detailed planning permission for a specific development. The Order comes into effect within a specified period after it is laid. If there are objections in the House, a debate may be arranged and, if there is a majority against the Order, it is revoked by Order in Council. The SDO procedure has only been followed on a few occasions when the proposal had already been subject to the scrutiny of a public inquiry. The SDO procedure is not thought to have been used to authorise any major project that has not been subject to such prior scrutiny.

PROPOSED NEW PROCEDURES

  13.  These existing mechanisms would continue to be available for use when necessary but we would expect that the proposed new procedures would be the primary route for any Parliamentary consideration of major infrastructure projects (though it is not envisaged that they would be used frequently).

  14.  The proposition is that the Secretary of State should have discretion to designate a major infrastructure project as one which Parliament should have the opportunity to approve in principle. Annex C of the consultation paper illustrates the projects potentially in the frame.

  15.  The consultation paper outlines the proposed procedures for notifying Parliament, giving people the opportunity to make objections and representations, and providing Parliament with information about a project and people's views on it. The steps and timetable proposed are designed to strike a balance between, on the one hand, giving people enough time to make their case to Parliament and for Parliament to consider the issues properly and, on the other, making decisions on projects of national importance in a reasonable time.

  16.  The intention is that Parliament should receive as much information as soon as possible in the process so that they have the opportunity to begin the scrutiny process when a project is designated. Thus Parliament would have from the outset copies of the planning application (or equivalent), the Environmental Impact assessment (and non-technical summary), the relevant national policy statement(s) and Regional Planning Guidance, and the draft text of any Order that Parliament would be later requested to approve. Thereafter, Parliament would also receive a statement of the economic and other benefits of the project, copies of all the objections and representations, and a summary of them.

  17.  As noted in the consultation paper, the proposals have been informed by the procedures under the Regulatory Reform Act 2001, modified so that they are appropriate to approval of the principle of major infrastructure projects and the broader policy and procedural context in which that approval is sought—culminating (if Parliamentary approval is obtained) in a public inquiry into the detail and a decision by the Secretary of State.

  18.  Whilst the precise way in which Parliament scrutinised project proposals would be for each House to decide, the consultation paper notes some options. Each House could debate the draft Order in the usual way. Or they might wish to appoint a committee to assist the process. The paper records that the procedures under the Deregulating and Contracting Out Act 1994 (on which the Regulatory Reform Act procedures are based) proved a success in that they allowed each House to set up a committee to scrutinise proposals and report to the House to inform debate. If a committee were appointed it could, for example, just review the information placed before Parliament or it could invite further representations, either written or by taking evidence in person.

  19.  The consultation paper recognises that, if Parliament preferred the committee route, they would no doubt bear in mind the timetable implications in deciding the type of committee used and the way in which it operated. Parliament would also be aware that matters of detail would be for a public inquiry to examine if Parliament approved a project in principle.

  20.  No legislation would be needed for any of the committee powers or procedures, as these could be determined by Orders of each House, as would the committee's precise terms of reference and timetable. However, any committees would need to report in time to inform the debates on approval of the project.

SPECIAL PARLIAMENTARY PROCEDURE (SPP)

  21.  The Committee raised a particular point about this procedure. Under section 19 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981, where a compulsory purchase order authorises the purchase of common, open space or fuel or field garden allotment, it needs to be subject to SPP, unless the Secretary of State certifies that suitable exchange land will be given or that certain other criteria are met. SPP can also arise in other circumstances. We recognise that the SPP process can be lengthy and complex and that any committees set up by Parliament on major infrastructure projects, as part of an overall procedure designed to streamline the decision-making process, would need to be geared to helping Parliament debate draft orders to approve projects in principle. As noted above, consideration of details would fall to a subsequent public inquiry.

A1 BRAMHAM TO BARTON IMPROVEMENT

  22.  The Committee also asked how the new proposed Parliamentary procedures would speed up the A1 Bramham to Barton road improvement. The Bramham to Barton road based study, announced in the 1998 Roads Review, ran from February 2000 to consider safety issues along the length of the A1 through North Yorkshire. Three schemes, designed to upgrade the whole length of the A1 to motorway standard were included in the study. The three schemes were:

    —  Bramham to Wetherby (10.2 km)

    —  Dishforth to Leeming (21.6 km)

    —  Leeming to Barton (18.5 km).

  23.  The study concluded that it would be difficult to justify upgrading the A1 from Barnham to Barton, at a total cost of around £250 million, on safety grounds alone. Further work is now being carried out to examine what other benefits might be achieved by upgrading to motorway standard.

  24.  The study looked at the length of the A1 from Bramham to Barton (total length about 50 km). However, the actual improvement works, if and when implemented, would be taken through the statutory procedures as three separate schemes. As the schemes do not involve the construction of a new route, but involve the upgrading of an existing route, and none of the schemes are more than 30km in length, they do not fall within the current definition of a major infrastructure project (and would not thus be in the frame for designation under the proposed Parliamentary procedures).

PROGRESS WITH ADOPTION OF LOCAL PLANS AND UNITARY DEVELOPMENT PLANS

  1.  Lord Falconer undertook to provide the Committee with a list of local authorities which had not yet adopted an area-wide local or unitary development plan in accordance with legislation enacted in 1991.

  2.  The Department publishes, each year, a comprehensive list of progress with all 362 local and unitary development plans. That setting out the position as at 31 December 2001 will be published shortly. An extract from the draft of this document is attached. There are three tables identifying the authorities which, at 31 December, had:

    —  yet to put a draft plan on deposit for public inspection and objection (2 authorities);

    —  deposited a plan but where the public inquiry into objections had yet to be held (11 authorities);

    —  held the inquiry but not yet finally adopted the plan (32 authorities).

  These 45 authorities were the ones referred to in evidence by Lord Falconer.

  3.  There are another 10 authorities (listed on a further table attached), who have adopted Local Plans/UDPs covering all or most of their area, but have yet to consolidate these into a single area wide plan.

Table 1

  Local planning authorities which have not placed their Area Wide Local Plan (AWLP) or Unitary Development Plan (UDP) on deposit at 31 December 2001.
Local Authority Plan Type (AWLP/UDP)Estimated Date For Deposit Estimated Date For Adoption
East DevonAWLPJanuary 2002 February 2005
Bath & North East SomersetAWLP January 2002February 2005

Table 2

  Local planning authorities which have placed their Area Wide Local Plan (AWLP) or Unitary Development Plan (UDP) on deposit but have not yet begun an inquiry at 31 December 2001.
Local Authority Plan Type (AWLP/ UDP) Date of DepositDate of 2nd Deposit (if applicable) Estimated Date for Start of Inquiry Estimated Date for Adoption
West SomersetAWLPJun-1998 Feb-2002May-2003
South SomersetAWLPJun-1998 Apr-2002Mar-2004
PenwithAWLPOct-1998 Jun-2001Mar-2002Jun-2003
TewkesburyAWLPDec-1998 Feb-2001Mar-2002Oct-2003
KerrierAWLPSep-1999 Sep-2002Dec-2004
TorridgeAWLPOct-1999 Jan-2002Apr-2004
StroudAWLPNov-1999 Oct-2000Nov-2003
North East LincolnshireAWLP Jan-2000Jan-2001Feb-2002 Dec-2002
South GloucestershireAWLP Sep-2000Feb-2003 Feb-2005
RotherAWLPJan-2001 Apr-2003Jul-2004
Warrington*UDPJun-2001 Jun-2002Feb-2003Oct-2004


  *  Unitary authority established April 1998, at the time when Warrington had been preparing an AWLP.

Table 3

  Local planning authorities which had held an inquiry, but had not yet adopted an Area Wide Local Plan (AWLP) or Unitary Development Plan (UDP) at 31 December 2001.
Local AuthorityPlan Type (AWLP/UDP) Deposit Date Date Inspector's Report Received or Date inquiry began/closed if no report Estimated date of adoption
DoverAWLPNov-1993 Jul-1999Mar-2002
BromsgroveAWLPJan-1994 PI Began May-01Jan-2003
Castle MorpethAWLPApr-1994 Jun-1999Apr-2002
BassetlawAWLPApr-1995 Apr-1999
North West LeicestershireAWLP Apr-1995Nov-1998May-2002
Bracknell ForestAWLPJun-1996 Sep-2000Mar-2002
LiverpoolUDPJul-1996 2nd PI Began Nov-01Nov-2002
PrestonAWLPSep-1996 Sep-1998Dec-2002
TeesdaleAWLPSep-1996 Apr-2001Feb-2002
CharnwoodAWLPOct-1996 Jul-2000Aug-2002
LewesAWLPDec-1996 PI Began Nov—01Oct-2002
North TynesideUDPDec-1996 Feb-2001Feb-2002
East DorsetAWLPJun-1997 Oct-2000Nov-2002
SelbyAWLPJul-1997 PI Closed Mar-01Jun-2003
ChesterAWLPSep-1997 PI Began Oct-99Dec-2002
LancasterAWLPOct-1997 Jun-2000Apr-2002
WokinghamAWLPOct-1997 Oct-2001Jun-2002
RyedaleAWLPNov-1997 Jul-2000Apr-2002
Ellesmere Port & NestonAWLP Jan-19982nd PI Began Nov-01 Jan-2002
Taunton DeaneAWLPApr-1998 PI Closed Dec-01Apr-2003
North DorsetAWLPMay-1998 Aug-2000Sep-2002
Chester-le-StreetAWLP May-1998Dec-2000Apr-2002
MendipAWLPMay-1998 PI Closed Oct-01Nov-2002
YorkAWLPMay-1998 PI Began Nov-99Jun-2005
Blackburn with DarwenAWLP Sep-1998Oct-2000Apr-2002
Aylesbury ValeAWLPOct-1998 PI Closed Jun-01Oct-2003
BournemouthAWLPFeb-1999 Aug-2000Mar-2002
PurbeckAWLPMay-1999 PI Began Nov-01Feb-2004
SedgemoorAWLPJun-1999 PI Began Nov-01Feb-2003
TorbayAWLPJul-1999 PI Began Nov-01Dec-2002
North LincolnshireAWLP Sep-1999PI Began Oct-01Dec-2002
Durham CityAWLPFeb-2000 PI Began Sep-01Jan-2003

Table 4 (a)

  Local planning authorities which had more than one adopted Area Wide Local Plan (AWLP) or Unitary Development Plan (UDP) for the whole of their area, or a single adopted AWLP or UDP giving almost total area coverage (90%+) at 31 December 2001.
*Local AuthorityPlan Type Number of Plans% Area coverage Date of adoption of earliest plan End date of earliest plan Date of deposit or estimated date of deposit of single
plan
HavantAWLP4 100%Nov-1980 Jan-2001
North York Moors National ParkAWLP 490%Mar-1983 2006Mar-2001
HastingsAWLP2 95%Jun-1983 Dec-2000
Mid SussexAWLP5 100%Oct-1985 Aug-2001
South NorfolkAWLP2 Dec-19942001 May-1997
Brighton & HoveAWLP 2100%Feb-1995 Sep-2001
East Riding of YorkshireAWLP 3.5100%Jun-1996 2002Jun-2003
HerefordshireAWLP4 100%Nov-19962001 Apr-2002
ColchesterAWLP2 Oct-1984 Feb-1999
MalvernAWLP2 100%Jan-19982001

TELECOMMUNICATIONS

  1.  The Committee asked about whether it would be appropriate for a local planning authority to include in its core policies a statement that it wants to see masts located more than 100 yards away from a domestic residence.

  2.  The Planning Green Paper makes clear in paragraph 4.8 that the core policies would set out the local authority's vision and strategy to be applied in promoting and controlling development throughout its area. Paragraph 4.9 explains that the statement of core policies would be a short, focused and strategic document. Whilst the core policies may include issues, such as telecommunications, paragraph 4.30 of the Green Paper makes clear that, where there is national policy (as there is in this case), the Local Development Framework can simply cross-refer to it.

  3.  A statement that telecommunications development should not take place within 100 yards of a domestic residence would in any event be contrary to current Government policy as set out in Planning Policy Guidance Note 8 'Telecommunications'. The guidance states:

    "The Government's acceptance of the precautionary approach recommended by the Stewart Group's report `mobile phones and health'[2] is limited to the specific recommendations in the Group's report and the Government's response to them. The report does not provide any basis for precautionary actions beyond those already proposed. In the Government's view, local planning authorities should not implement their own precautionary policies eg by way of imposing a ban or moratorium on new telecommunications development or insisting on minimum distances between new telecommunications development and existing development".

January 2002




2   A copy of the report can be found at www.iegmp.org.uk.

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