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



Examination of Witnesses(Questions 500-519)

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

WEDNESDAY 24 APRIL 2002

  500. You are saying you want them involved except when you get to a local and rather contentious issue.
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) No, you then get speculative planning applications competing, with each other and not all of them are going to achieve planning status. There is not the requirement for all of them. They would not all get the business, and you end up with umpteen local communities very upset, rather than a process where the local communities could still be involved, but does not cause a whole load of speculative planning applications, which people know will not necessarily be able to get the business.

Chris Grayling

  501. Is that not partly a consequence of central government saying effectively "you will have incinerators" rather than saying to a county "these are the environmental objectives you have to achieve, go away and find a way to do them"?
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) I am not sure that central government is saying to people that they must have incinerators. Basically the requirement for a waste plan at a regional level would mean that you looked at what the waste issues were, including recycling, reusing, minimising, you would look at what the need was in the next 20 years, you would look at the spatial strategy for the region as a whole and you would take account of all of those facts in making a decision about where the best location might be. At the moment we have got cases, I have got one in Wales particularly in mind, where quite frankly the decision made by a single local planning authority on the basis of a speculative application has basically disadvantaged the local community severely because it happens to be over the boundary in the next door borough. That, for me, is not the best of public protection or engagement or involvement.

  502. You are not suggesting that a regional assembly, government, whatever you care to call it, should be taking responsibility for saying "it will go there"?
  (Dr Skinner) We are talking about environmental capacity and we are talking about impacts on the environment of waste as an example.

Mrs Dunwoody

  503. At a strategic level.
  (Dr Skinner) At a level which is balancing the communities who are producing that waste. There are options about where these things might happen, there are options on techniques, incineration, landfill, composting, there are options about location, and these have got to be played in the balance and any local community which is concerned about one wants to see those kinds of issues debated and evaluated. That is what we do now, somewhat imperfectly depending on location, in county or such waste strategies and that is what we are concerned will be lost with the proposals as they currently are, which is why we feel that at sub-regional level, and we would put our expertise into this, there must be some way of recognising the issues where there is the best environmental option.

  Sir Paul Beresford: You did mention Surrey and the temptation is too much for me.

  Mrs Dunwoody: Where is that?

  Sir Paul Beresford: Where you get most of your tomatoes from.

  Mrs Dunwoody: I never eat tomatoes.

  Chairman: You are talking about tomatoes and waste together.

Sir Paul Beresford

  504. I had a lecture from the NFU yesterday. The waste development plan for Surrey did not come forward with specific sites and as a result, would you agree, the sites that did come forward were selected by the contractors on bases other than those that the local authority would have chosen, particularly access and commercial?
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) I think you have summarised how we feel about Surrey.

  505. I think it explains what you are trying to get at and why you say specific sites.
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) Yes.

Mr Betts

  506. In your evidence you oppose the proposals to introduce local tariffs as planning obligations. What do you think the problem with those would be?
  (Dr Skinner) We are not opposed to it per se, we are opposed to it in terms of our responsibilities in terms of environmental protection and making sure that a development meets environmental criteria. The tariff system we feel would be too crude and too insensitive geographically to be able to respond to the kind of environmental protection issues which we currently see instituted through things like section 106 agreements. We think that the present system works tolerably well. It has the subtlety to deal with the complexity both in space and time of environmental issues. Replacing it by a tariff which will be inevitably crude for simplicity and effectiveness just would not achieve the protection that we would wish to see. We would at best argue for some kind of hybrid system whereby the planning agreements were preserved in those and similar circumstances.
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) I think the other concern that we have also is the signal of paying for the right to damage and also losing leverage. As soon as a developer is able to clock up his tariff we then lose any leverage we have in getting environmental mitigation into the development.

  507. Just explain more on this tariff system.
  (Dr Skinner) The Government's proposal is that a tariff system will make things smarter and quicker and be one of the drivers for effective systems. If we are talking about affordable housing and choices there, we do not have any lien on that matter or any concern. All we are saying is that we do not see how a similar system would work to build in environmental protection in the way that the planning agreements currently work and, therefore, if we are going to go for tariffs we would wish to see it done in some kind of hybrid way whereby the benefits of the present system were kept. It is the baby and the bath water point.

  508. Surely even with tariffs you can still impose planning conditions which give weight to environmental protection issues and presumably you could ring-fence elements of money and resources from the tariff to achieve those ends?
  (Dr Skinner) Planning conditions exist now and they do not achieve all the goals, which is why section 106 agreements are quite widely used and similar systems. We would not anticipate a tariff system that was smart enough to meet the Government's objectives would be subtle enough to achieve the kinds of environmental protection issues that we would wish to see and, as Barbara has said, it would remove the element of planning gain negotiation which we think is often quite a win for the environment.
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) Quite often what we get from developers of the environment is not money, although resource helps, but it is quite often skills, land assemblage packages, a whole load of things that can be achieved working with a developer through section 106 agreements and that is what we really worry about losing.

Christine Russell

  509. Can I ask you about your surprising, I have to say, support for Business Planning Zones because if implemented they would result in a reduction in the level of planning controls. How do you square the circle, if you like, with wanting to achieve your environmental goals, which in many cities is reducing pollution and congestion, and the concept of Business Planning Zones?
  (Mr Vallance) We take a different view because we do not necessarily see that Business Planning Zones, if properly introduced, need involve a reduction in planning control. What we would propose is that Business Planning Zones should be proposed in Local Development Frameworks, they should be subject to consultation, there needs to be consultation with the Environment Agency on their location, and only if they go through this procedure and they are linked to the development planning process, ie they are plan led, do we think they should be introduced.
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) We also think that they should only really be for hi-tech developments, not beyond that. If there is a specific problem, which is flexibility and the fast moving pace of high technology development, let us deal with that but not see these as a wider instrument.

Chairman

  510. Can I press you on two issues on the question of speed. The whole idea is that things are done quickly. First of all, do you think ministers really have the courage or suicide wish to announce an extra airport for the South East of England just before a General Election?
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) I think your judgment on that is probably more accurate than mine.

  511. Does it fill you with confidence that ministers are going to make decisions that are politically controversial quickly?
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) I think there is a need for these national frameworks. They will look at the big issues like transport, like air transport, like ports. What is going on at the moment in Dibden Bay in Southampton is a failure of an attempt to get a ports strategy for this country where we have got all the ports around this country basically anticipating speculative growth in quite sensitive environmental areas and not all of them are going to get the business but they are competing with each other and with Europe. So we have got the Southampton proposal and if one had a ports strategy for this country it might not actually be necessary. I think there is a case for Government led national strategies for some of these big infrastructure issues but there does obviously need to be considerable consultation about locational issues and that is where the major infrastructure proposal, we do not believe, meets the bill in the way we describe. We do still believe that planning inquiries are the right way forward providing they can be speeded up.

  512. If you are against the proposal, whether you are an environmental campaigner or you are a supermarket trying to protect your supermarket clientele against a rival, you have got an interest, have you not, in spinning out any inquiry system for as long as possible hoping that the economics of the scheme will become less viable?
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) One could take that sort of view. Certainly it is not something that the Agency would take part in. Our aim is to be as efficient as possible.

  513. I realise that the Agency would not be but if the aim is speed would you not expect that there are going to be a lot of objectors, whatever the system, who are going to have a vested interest in making it work as slowly as possible?
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) I think that is where some of the proposals in the Planning Green Paper are of value, particularly the idea that there are contractual relationships between various players in the process and applicants that mean that timescales can be controlled if not necessarily shortened.

  514. The last question is in relation to the rights of third parties to appeal. At the present moment third parties do have rights when structure plans have been drawn up but they are going to lose their rights under these proposals. Do you not think that third parties should have rights, perhaps where local authorities are wanting to give themselves planning permission?
  (Baroness Young of Old Scone) Certainly we believe that the public involvement at all stages in the process needs to be proper. We do not support third party rights of appeal as a generality. We did toy with the idea whether we would seek it for ourselves but came to the conclusion that if somebody ignores our advice and we believe very strongly that it is of huge environmental impact, we would rather see it called in.

  515. So you would like to get the veto quietly rather than publicly?
  (Dr Skinner) It is a public process.

  516. Do you want to add anything?
  (Dr Skinner) I do not have any comments to add, no.

  Chairman: On that point, can I thank all of you very much for you evidence.


 


 
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