Examination of Witnesses (Questions 920-939)
LORD FALCONER OF THOROTON QC, BRIAN HACKLAND, MIKE ASH AND JEFF CHANNING
WEDNESDAY 8 MAY 2002
920. But when we are talking about a region that is pretty substantial, by any definition, how on earth is it possible for you to map out any kind of serious local involvement; and particularly how is it possible, what you have within a county organisation is individuals who know what is feasible and what is not, how can you possibly deliver on a regional basis the kind of local knowledge that says, there is no way that town can deal with that many extra houses, it is going to make the whole thing remote, aloof and based on no real local knowledge, surely?
(Lord Falconer) Surrey County Council will be involved in the process of preparing the regional plan. Surrey County Council have, one would imagine, elected members will be engaged in the regional planning body.
921. It will not have a right of veto, it will not be able ultimately to say, "They go there," or "They go there"?
(Lord Falconer) It does not have a right of veto at the moment, as to what houses come to Surrey.
Chris Grayling: No, but it does on where they go.
Chairman: I am sorry, we are going to have to move on.
922. You obviously expressed your desire to ensure that consultation is an essential part of the new process.
(Lord Falconer) Very much so, yes; engagement, really.
923. And you would expect local authorities to take seriously the responses they got from consultation?
(Lord Falconer) Very much so.
924. If local authorities therefore put out a particular proposal for consultation and 88 per cent of the respondents said they did not like it, would you not expect them to have a rather careful rethink about whether they had got things right?
(Lord Falconer) I would say that the right thing to do, in relation to it, is to see what the nature of the response would be. I do not know if that is a reference to the response we have had to the Planning Green Paper; in some proposals, there are sort of 90 per cent on the yes/no answers, which say, "Yes," to some of our proposals, and 90 per cent
925. It was a fairly carefully-designed yes/no system, was it not, so that you could create confusion with the answers; is that not right?
(Lord Falconer) Not intentionally, it was not.
926. No; but that has been the result, has it not?
(Lord Falconer) No. We provided you with Smith and Williamson's analysis of
927. I think basically it says that it is a shambles but that the written answers are a bit more useful?
(Lord Falconer) Exactly; exactly. That exactly summarises it, and that is my answer toI am sorry, could I withdraw the, I am not sure it says it is a shambles, it says: "It should be emphasised that this report represents only a partial analysis of the responses to the Green Paper, many of the standard responses that have been qualitatively analysed have been initiated and influenced by organised campaigns. We suggest that, in order to gain a more complete picture, focus should be put on the reasoned responses rather than the yes/no ones, or the ones that are parts of campaigns." So it does not quite say any reference to shambles.
928. You do not think that was a reasonable précis of what you have just said?
(Lord Falconer) With respect to the reference to shambles, I think it is quite close, yes.
929. So the sums did not come down on your side particularly
(Lord Falconer) No, they did, in some.
930. Well, the Local Development Framework, 88 per cent of responses said they did not want to change the system.
(Lord Falconer) The proposals on development control definitely were getting sort of 90s, on our side, and I think we have got to do it on both sides of
931. No, they wanted a quicker system, but not necessarily a fundamental change, I think that is what came through. But let us have a look at the Local Development Framework; look at the quality issues there. Now if there is going to be significant change likely then there are going to have to be plans provided, as we understand it, there is also going to have to be plans provided for green belt, for special scientific interest areas, for conservation areas, for major housing sites, so there are actually going to have to be plans covering quite a lot of the local authority area, but done in different ways, all separately done, and somehow hanging together with the LDF?
(Lord Falconer) Yes. And I think that is a point that has come out pretty loud and clear from the consultation, that an aspect of doing it in those sort of thematic action plans might lead to it being too fragmented. I think it is absolutely vital that there be some sort of plan that brings it all together.
932. A unitary plan?
(Lord Falconer) A plan, Mr Betts, is what is required.
933. We can call it anything we like, as long as we do not call it unitary; is that right?
(Lord Falconer) No, you can call it a unitary plan, but the reason why it is called a unitary development plan at the moment is because it is a unitary authority, so it would not be that appropriate for a non-unitary authority. But Clive's point I accept, which is that there is too much fragmentation in the detail of the proposal, we do need to bring it all together to provide the sort of clarity that is implicit in the question that Clive asked.
934. I think that is a helpful point, because I think certainly one of the things from my experience of dealing with constituents is, if there is a plan there of some kind they are going to find it an awful lot easier to look at what might happen to the area where they live in the future, than if they have got to read through pages and pages and pages of policy advice, which they are not going to deal with and not going to understand?
(Lord Falconer) I could not agree more, and I think that we need to reflect that in the proposals that we adopt.
935. Would you also accept that if actually there are plans produced, in whatever way, there is a fundamental requirement then that where people's property rights are potentially affected they will have the right to go to a public inquiry and make those points?
(Lord Falconer) They have clearly got to have a right to be heard, in relation to it; whether it requires a full-blown public inquiry I am not sure. There must be a proper opportunity for their point to be heard; they have got to feel they had a fair crack of the whip before a decision was made.
936. Just moving on really to the local action plans. You are partly answering, are you therefore really expecting major local authorities, that have got specific policies in a whole number of their areas, to be preparing so many action plans that virtually there is one plan to cover
(Lord Falconer) There will be one plan that will identify, for example, housing, for example, the green belt, for example, major employment sites.
937. And those will be based on maps?
(Lord Falconer) There will be maps, yes, exactly, but it does not necessarily follow, from that, that every part of the district to which the Local Development Framework relates has got a specific designation.
938. Will the parts that are not covered by a local action plan want one?
(Lord Falconer) Many will not, I suspect.
939. The people living there might?
(Lord Falconer) Sometimes they might and sometimes they might not; they might want no change and they might just wantwhat we are trying to develop is a situation where, instead of a lot of time being spent on detail that ultimately did not matter, what the plan, which Clive referred to, produces is an indication of what are the important sites involved, important in terms of green belt, important in terms of employment, important in terms of housing, but that what you do not focus on is trying to cover every single part of the district with a designation.