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



Examination of Witnesses(Questions 480-499)

BARONESS YOUNG OF OLD SCONE, DR ANDREW SKINNER AND MR ROGER VALLANCE

WEDNESDAY 24 APRIL 2002

Miss McIntosh

  480. Baroness Young, you have amended your evidence to exclude waste management facilities in your paragraph eight. I am mindful of the fact that in the Green Paper at paragraph 5.19 there is a call for, if you like, streamlining applications for pollution control authorisation of PPC at the same time as planning permission. Are you aware of the economic impact and cost this will have for small businesses, in particular such as pig farmers, if this synchronisation goes ahead? You are looking at the environmental impact assessment, the planning permission and IPPC control and if all three are not granted at the same time but all three have been applied for they will incur substantial costs on what are small businesses.
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) I think the present system does not work very well to be honest because at the moment they are done in random order and often the same arguments are dealt with, sometimes appropriate, sometimes inappropriate, in each of the application processes. Particularly the public, perhaps not small pig units, but things like waste disposal units, incineration and landfill, go through the same anxieties on each occasion and there is quite unnecessary public angst duplicated or even sometimes three times. We recognise that there is concern that if you get two out of the three or one out of the three but do not get the other two that may be a problem. Our view is that a well constructed application for a process which we authorise or license that takes account of the best available environmental techniques and is clearly being proposed by an operator who is an effective and efficient and properly qualified operator will almost always be permitted by us because we will have no reason to refuse it. So to some extent the Agency's role in that is a comparatively simple one to satisfy by discussion with us and by complying with the requirements that we lay down in order for a licence or permit to be issued. We believe that it is actually to everyone's benefit to try to harmonise these and bring them together and bring them into the same timescale because at the moment we have got examples of local communities, for example, where they have gone through extreme angst on the planning application, they then go through the same extreme angst on our permitting process when, in fact, our permitting process, providing the operator complies, is almost automatic.

  481. Might you consider a similar exemption for pig farmers?
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) I think it depends on the scale of the pig farm. Do you want to comment on the IPPC issue?

Chairman

  482. I do not want to spend too long on pig farmers. I can understand why you do not want a pig farm next to you and I can understand why the pig farmer wants to get on with it but is there a size of pig farm? The problem with planning is that often things grow, it starts small and it then gets bigger which is when the problems occur.
  (Dr Skinner) In terms of our permitting powers the new PPC regulations in a few years' time will bring large piggeries and other intensive agriculture under our regulatory control.

  483. Can you tell me what is a large piggery?
  (Dr Skinner) 5,000 units.[1]

 

Mrs Ellman

  484. What role do you think the new regional planning bodies proposed in the Green Paper will play in developing environmental policies?
  (Dr Skinner) We welcome the concept of the regional bodies. We welcome the concept of statutory status for their findings. We welcome the way in which potentially these could really tackle sustainable development issues within their wider regional remit. Our concern is the way in which the issues which are dealt with at the regional level will actually translate themselves into planning decisions, particularly those which we come across particularly in the waste field where the optimal scale of consideration is at a sub-regional level. As we have already said, the gap between the Regional Spatial Strategy and the local frameworks is a big gap for quite a lot of things which are very important for environmental protection. In particular we are saying to Government we are concerned about the implementation of the waste strategy with the framework which is proposed.

  485. Would it be better if those deciding the regional strategies were linked to a directly elected assembly?
  (Dr Skinner) I do not think the Agency has a particular view on that, we can make our input into the process one way or the other. What we are looking for is a joined-up process of planning which will take regard of the environmental issues at the very scale at which it applies so from the perspective of the Agency the democratic status of the body would not be a primary issue.

  486. Do you have any concerns about over-stressing the business interests in the structures that are proposed?
  (Dr Skinner) The previous question related to the impact on business, particularly small business, and we certainly have done all we can to collaborate on making the process less onerous and more seamless in terms of individual businesses. Businesses do not always want to have that simplicity because they like to have the flexibility which the present system applies to take their chances through the permitting system in the way which they perceive to be best for their particular commercial interest in that situation. Without a direction, which the Government does not wish to take, that does not seem to be a step we can make except by consensus.

  487. Do you think that these proposals in the Green Paper will give too much dominance to economic interests and business?
  (Dr Skinner) Providing our voice is heard in terms of consultation with the Agency at the regional spatial level, with an input to local frameworks, with ability to influence at the-sub-regional level, with ability to have statutory powers on the basis I have described, we believe that environmental issues can be adequately safeguarded.

Mr O'Brien

  488. In the evidence that the Environment Agency have submitted you support the replacement of the local and unitary development plans by Local Development Frameworks. What are the advantages?
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) I am not sure we would say we support the Local Development Frameworks. I think we see ways in which Local Development Frameworks can be made to work, particularly if they are linked with local community strategies and local community strategies are effective. That is a lot of ifs right now because local community strategies are very much emerging processes and our concern, I think, with Local Development Frameworks is that they might end up being all things to all men and insufficiently precise, and simply leave open lack of clarity for individual planning applications.

  489. Let me quote from your evidence. It says "We support the proposals for Local Development Frameworks and we welcome proposals for better community involvement". Can you give us some of your experience on that?
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) We do indeed welcome the opportunity for local community involvement but I think the devil is in the detail with Local Development Frameworks quite frankly. It is going to be very much about how effective, but not diffuse, community involvement can be structured in each circumstance. The risk is it becomes a consultation jamboree that goes on and on and on. We have got to make sure that it is very focused and very structured to produce a result which is a Local Development Framework that can actually guide people effectively in individual planning applications.

  490. In the report that you have referred to you express experience on these matters. What is your experience of plans that have included only criteria and not land use allocation?
  (Dr Skinner) We made the point that criteria based plans have not proved effective. Our experience is largely in the waste area. The issue about waste is location, it is how near it is to you, what the environmental impact is to your environment, and we do not believe that environmental issues can be properly dealt with on criteria based plans which are not specific to space and location.

Chairman

  491. What you are telling us is that maps work and frameworks are somewhat dodgy, is that right?
  (Dr Skinner) That is a good summary, yes.

Mr O'Brien

  492. In the framework as it is suggested now there is no proposal for certain specific land use, as a matter of fact it specifies that it will not be specifying land use in all areas. Does that conflict with your earlier comment?
  (Dr Skinner) Not if our advice on the way we wish to interact with the process is taken, which is through statutory consultee status and the use of standing guidance and constraint based maps, because we, as a good example, being in flood plain management have the maps and would give our advice based on those maps. In terms of our input to the process we would be working through that process.

  493. Are you suggesting that you would support a third party view in these operations in the planning framework? You say you want to be nearer to the people and the framework will be nearer to the people and you support that.
  (Dr Skinner) Yes.

  494. Are you supporting third party involvement in the planning procedures?
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) Could I perhaps help with an example. Hampshire in its waste plan went to extensive lengths to consult, and strangely enough Hampshire has done quite well on waste planning, and I think the consultation at higher than a local level with some real consideration of location in that consultation worked on a really contentious issue like waste. I think where there are less contentious issues criteria based plans can work but where there are contentious issues about people not wanting something in their back yard and where decisions need to be taken not at a local level but taking a strategic look at an issue and deciding not only what the need is but where the need should be located, I think then—

  495. So you pick the cherries and leave the lemons?
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) No, I think it is picking the lemons actually and leaving the cherries.

Mr Stevenson

  496. In your evidence you seem to generally support the flexibility that is required in criteria based plans but you want site specific plans when it comes to waste sites. I tend to support what my colleague has just said. Could you just clarify that it is only your experience with Hampshire and other areas like that that leads you to conclude in that specific area of waste it should be site specific, for the rest you are okay with criteria based?
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) Andrew will want to comment on the broader issue. It is not just Hampshire, but Surrey, our experience country-wide is that waste sites are incredibly contentious and if they are dealt with on a local basis they are almost impossible to resolve. We need to bring together the strategic assessment of waste issues and the strategic locational decisions.

  Mr Stevenson: I can think of the siting of a bus stop that has caused a revolution.

  Chairman: I think we will leave bus stops in Stoke.

Chris Grayling

  497. Not so much specifically related to Surrey but there is general concern underlying the points of discussion here about the proposals to reduce the involvement of local authorities and local communities in planning decisions and there are very significant levels of response, of concern, being expressed by people involved with authorities or related to authorities. Does the Agency have a view on whether a change that involved greater or lesser local involvement in planning would be a positive or negative step for the planning process?
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) I am not sure we have a view per se. We would be loath to see a reduction in public involvement. I hate to go back to the waste issue but—

Mrs Dunwoody

  498. Forgive me, Baroness, but that is not quite true, is it, because you actually said when it comes to contentious issues these nasty local people have a habit of objecting and therefore it has to be taken at a strategic level, ie you move it away from them.
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) I think the problem with the waste issue is that, alas, we are all producing waste, it is continuing to increase.

  499. Let us not use a particular instance. In reply to Mr Grayling you were saying "yes, we do want local people involved except when it happens to be a contentious issue".
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) The problem with not having a locational decision at strategic level for waste is that you find everybody is playing against each other.

 


1   Note by witness: IPPC applies where there are 2,000 or more production pigs, 750 or more sows, 40,000 or more spaces for poultry. Back

 
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