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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 840-859)




  840. That is very acceptable, but at some point you have got to start doing it, have you not?
  (Lord Falconer) Absolutely right, I could not agree more with that.

  841. And we would just like to know when; if it is not this September, for universities, is it the following September?
  (Lord Falconer) I think it is going to have to be the following September and thereafter, but it has got to be done in a methodical way, we have got to know the shape of the changes, which means listening to the consultation now, making the announcement in July and then working in tandem both on the increased education process and the increased resources process, and developing the changes in local authorities.

Chris Grayling

  842. It will take three or four years to get those people off the street?
  (Lord Falconer) It will take time, yes, but that is not a reason (a) for not embarking on the change, and (b) making sure that the timetable of change reflects the need for ensuring you have got enough staff. So take, for example, the points that you are making, assume legislation, at the earliest, could be passed with effect from 2004, there would still need, as I have said, probably to be a three-year period between 2004 and 2007 before you could transit from the current system of development plans to a totally new system for development plans. Between now, 2002, and 2007 we need all these strands to be operating in tandem, and that is what we are working on.

Mrs Ellman

  843. I want to ask you something more specific about money. Could you tell us more about the basis of your bid to the Comprehensive Spending Review for planning, assuming that you have made a significant bid, and what is that bid for, is the money for planning in local authorities, and/or in regional authorities, what is the basis of the bid that you have made?
  (Lord Falconer) I think it would be unwise of me to talk about the detail of any bid I have made in the Comprehensive Spending Review.

  844. Have you made a bid?
  (Lord Falconer) I think it would be wrong for me to talk about the detail of that—

  845. But have you made a bid?
  (Lord Falconer) Of course; planning is a significant—


  846. Surely, you can tell us the scale that you are bidding for; we are not going to give you marks out of ten as to how much money you get, but surely the whole—
  (Lord Falconer) You may not. Although you do it in a very seductive and tempting way, I think it would be a great mistake for me to start setting out the detail of discussions that are going on between my Department and the Treasury. So, tempting as you make it sound, I—

  847. I am tempted to suggest that you have already been turned down, and therefore there is not much point.
  (Lord Falconer) Do you know more than I do?

  848. No, I was just looking at your expression, and wondering how to get it on to the record.
  (Lord Falconer) We are being filmed, so it is okay, Chairman.

  849. Yes. The problem, surely, is that the whole of the system is underresourced. Now there is a strong argument, from the evidence that we have seen, that one way would be to have adequate resources and the present system would work; your argument is that it needs a very big shake-up. What you are also saying is it needs extra resources.
  (Lord Falconer) I am, yes.

  850. The worst of all worlds is that you have the big shake-up and you do not have the resources to do anything with it; so, surely, it is fundamental to Parliament and its scrutiny that you at least give us some idea as to whether the scale of the money that you have asked for is appropriate for the job that you are doing?
  (Lord Falconer) First of all, I do believe the system is underresourced and I do believe it needs more resources. I do believe as well that there needs to be fundamental change in the system. I do not believe that one is necessarily dependent on the other, but I believe simplifying the system and making it easier to operate will bring its own gains, whatever the resources position is. However, I strongly believe that there should be more resources in the planning system. There have been discussions about resources. There are three places where additional resources can come from. First of all, greater fee income from those using the planning system; you know that on an interim basis we have increased fees by 14 per cent, we have made it explicit that that is an interim fee increase and the fees may go up further. That is one source. The second source is the reallocation of resources within local authority spending, so local authorities can choose to spend more of their money on planning. And the third source, obviously, is more money from central government. A combination of all those three, I hope, will produce more resources into planning. I cannot tell you the precise level of the bid that has been made because I do not think that would be appropriate; but I accept completely the proposition that is coming from the Committee, that there does need to be more resources into it, and I am happy to share with you the, as it were, expert advice, that is the Arup report that we have got, on that. And the figure I was going to tell you was, because Brian passed it to me, that report shows that between 1996 and 2001 there has been a fall of in the region of 240 million in planning departments.

  851. That is about a 37 per cent fall, is it not?
  (Lord Falconer) I do not know if that is the right percentage, but Brian is saying yes.

Mrs Ellman

  852. Are you saying that local authorities should spend more of their existing resources on planning, or are you saying they should get additional resources which are earmarked for planning?
  (Lord Falconer) I am saying there are three separate possibilities, extra fees—

  853. No; within those three possibilities. You made a statement that local authorities should spend more resources on planning, but it was not clear whether that meant that you thought they should spend more of their existing resources on planning, therefore less on other things, or whether there should be new resources, which presumably you would want to earmark for planning?
  (Lord Falconer) I think there needs to be new resources for planning. I am not saying where it should come from, necessarily, because it could come from fee income. I also think that, in certain cases, individual local authorities should spend more than they are currently spending on planning.

Sir Paul Beresford

  854. But they point out that it is Government pressure on them that has meant they would have to siphon it off, and, if I heard her correctly, the Minister from Wales cited the best value as an example, and this is the system you are going to use to pressurise local authorities, to make sure that they follow the points made by Clive Betts?
  (Lord Falconer) Yes; but I think, in some cases, local authorities are not, in particular individual cases, spending enough on planning.

  855. There is no argument on that, but the discussion that the local authorities are saying is that they are under pressure to put the money into other areas, into other best value?
  (Lord Falconer) Yes; and they have got to identify their priorities.

  856. Well, they have?
  (Lord Falconer) Even in the context of the identification of those priorities, I am saying, in certain cases, they may well not be spending enough on planning.

  857. So you are not the Minister for best value?
  (Lord Falconer) I am the Minister for planning, and there is a best value element to that.

Mrs Ellman

  858. But would you want to see a new, central directive, saying local authorities were required to spend amounts of money on planning? Local authorities at the moment complain that large amounts of the additional funding they have had is prescribed by Government directives to meet national objectives; are you saying there should be an addition requirement now to spend money on planning, and therefore less on other things?
  (Lord Falconer) No. I think it is for local authorities to make their own decisions about how they divide the money given to them by central government. I think, in certain cases, local government, in exercising that discretion, are not spending enough on planning; but I am not in favour of any sort of ring-fencing in relation to planning money.

Mr Betts

  859. Just an interesting point to go to then, the tariff system. Are we going to have tariffs instead of other ways of raising money from development, or is it going to be in addition to it?
  (Lord Falconer) It would be, as it were, the benchmark against which developers would judge what the planning gain they have got to provide is; in very many cases, it would be all that they would have to provide. I recognise, however, that there will be certain sites where, instead of actually paying a tariff, it will be sensible to extract a benefit in kind, for example, affordable housing, because in very many parts of the country, where there is pressure on housing, the scarcity of sites makes it sensible for the local authority to say, "Although the tariff is X, the sensible thing is for you to provide that tariff by building X number of affordable houses on the development you are doing."


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