Examination of Witnesses (Questions 696-699)
SIR JEREMY BEECHAM AND MR LEE SEARLES
WEDNESDAY 1 MAY 2002
696. Can I welcome you to the Committee and ask you to introduce yourselves for the record.
(Sir Jeremy Beecham) Sir Jeremy Beecham, Chairman of the Local Government Association.
(Mr Searles) Lee Searles, Programme Manager at the Local Government Association, responsible for planning and transport.
697. Do you want to make an opening statement or are you happy for us to go straight to questions?
(Sir Jeremy Beecham) We are happy to go straight into questions.
Chairman: John Cummings?
698. Many submissions made to the Committee have suggested that the current system could be streamlined without the major overhaul proposed by the Government. Do you agree with this?
(Sir Jeremy Beecham) There is a reasonable case for a significant overhaul of the current system, amongst other things, as the Committee have just heard from another witness, to reduce the adversarial and promote the inquisitorial approach, which I think would be helpful. It has to be said that there has always been tension between different requirements of the system, the need to consult the community on the one hand, the need to expedite decision-making on the other, the balance between community interests and commercial interests, and the need for transparency. So I think the Association's position is that we welcome the thrust of the paper and we welcome some of the departures suggested around planning obligations and around major infrastructure and so on, although the detail clearly still has to be worked through.
699. What do you believe are the present shortcomings of the local government planning system and how do you think the current system could be improved?
(Sir Jeremy Beecham) The shortcomings are perceived to be slowness, uncertainty, unpredictability about some of the decisions, particularly in the context of strategic decisions where there is perhaps a missing tier in the sense of effective regional structures at the moment. Of course there is particular concern about long running inquiries and delays. There are delays partly built in by the consultation process, delays about calling in, delays in the conduct of inquiries and in the reporting structures and in decisions of the Secretary of State, and there are, of course, the very prolonged inquiries around for example what I have termed "Interminable Five", the sort of issue which really discredits the whole system. The Association's view is that many of the proposals would assist in dealing with some of those problems but it is a mistake to think you can iron out all the conflicting interests. It is not possible to reconcile the irreconcilable.