Town and Country Planning (Major Infrastructure Project Inquiries Procedure) (England) Rules 2002

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Mr. Foster: And an adjournment.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: And an adjournment.

No matter how much paper is produced, it does not take one and half years to read it. My God, if I had one and a half years with nothing else to do, I could read a ship full of paper. The Secretary of State ought to have been able to make a decision on the T5 inquiry within six months. Perhaps that is not the time scale that the hon. Member for Bath came up with, but the Secretary of State certainly ought to have been able to make a decision within that time. The inquiry would therefore have been reduced from five years to four years and the project would probably be under way. The Minister must take notice of that point.

Time is marching on and there is a host of other points that I could make, which is why this procedure is so unsatisfactory, but I want to allow time for my hon. Friends to make their points. Finally, and this is very important, paragraph 4 of the schedule describes various types of infrastructure projects. There are, however, certain glaring omissions in the schedule—for example, it does not mention large renewable energy projects or nuclear power stations. One would have thought that a large wind farm, a tidal barrage and a nuclear power station are precisely the sort of infrastructure projects—[Interruption.] I know that the Minister is pointing to the schedule, but it does not mention nuclear power stations specifically.

Paragraph 5(a) concerns

    ''waterways, canalisation and flood-relief works where the area of the work exceeds 1 hectare.''

One hectare is a very small area. We are going to bring within the scope of the statutory instrument a huge range of inland waterway projects. Likewise, paragraph 5(d) concerns:

    ''Construction of other harbours and port installations including fishing harbours, where the area of the works exceeds 1 hectare.''

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That area is pretty small. The Minister will need to consider that quite carefully, or he will find himself loaded with large infrastructure inquiries.

Paragraph 8 concerns:

    ''Dams and other installations designed for the holding back or permanent storage of water, where a new or additional amount of water held back or stored exceeds 10 million cubic metres.''

I can tell the Minister that there are many farm-built reservoirs exceeding 10 million cubic metres up and down the country. If they must all be included in the large infrastructure procedure, that will really get bogged down. In making those remarks, I draw attention to my Member's interests. Paragraph 9 refers to:

    ''Pipelines for the transport of gas, oil or chemicals where the area of the works exceeds 1 hectare''.

If such a pipeline goes across more than 100 m—1 hectare is 100 sq m—then the work will have to come under the large-scale infrastructure inquiry procedures.

In summary, there are many technical deficiencies in this statutory instrument. It is wrong and unsatisfactory to introduce what amounts to a very complex piece of legislation under the statutory instrument procedure. We have one vote at the end of the debate and we cannot amend the rules as we could primary legislation.

How will the rules fit in with the Green Paper on large-scale infrastructure projects and the two daughter Green Papers? Can the Minister tell the Committee whether he intends to introduce a major planning Bill in the Queen's Speech? Why is this statutory instrument being introduced now? Could it be anything to do with an article by Jonathon Carr-Brown in The Sunday Times on Sunday saying that the Government are about to come up with some very far-reaching proposals to build several—perhaps two or three—extra runways in the London area that will be fearfully controversial? Is that why they are rushing through the statutory instrument today, ahead of that announcement?

11.22 am

Mr. Andrew Mitchell: I am grateful to have the opportunity to address the Committee briefly on matters about which I claim no special expertise, although I have been considering them carefully. I was struck by a recent conversation that I had with a former Member, Chris Patten, who said that when he ceased to be a Minister in 1992, on his desk were papers on the issues surrounding T5. He then went to Hong Kong where, under his governorship, the most modern airport in the world was built. He returned to Britain after the completion of that airport to discover that precious little had happened on T5 while he had been away.

I recognise that there are several ways in which the statutory instrument seeks to move forward a procedure that, in this country, is woefully inadequate.

Mr. Wilshire: My hon. Friend said that during Chris Patten's absence in Hong Kong, nothing seemed to happen in the T5 inquiry. In reality, what happened in that period was that people determined to wreck the

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economy of my constituency by delaying the development entered into a huge number of spurious objections and time-wasting tactics.

Mr. Mitchell: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but that bears out my wider point—the procedures in this country are woefully inadequate.

It is extremely important for the public to have confidence in our planning procedures. I remind the Committee of an issue raised by my predecessor, now Lord Fowler, concerning Peddimore, a large green-belt site in my constituency. In March 1996, Birmingham city council announced that it had identified land there as a possible future industrial development opportunity. There was a huge number of objections to that and my predecessor initiated a debate on the matter in the House of Commons. On 3 June, a planning application was lodged for the Peddimore site in the name of the West Midlands development agency.

The whole development was enormously unpopular and was resisted and opposed by the people of Sutton Coldfield. There were petitions with thousands of names on them, and a very logical argument against the proposal was advanced. The planning application was considered on 18 July, just 56 days after it was submitted, and was approved. Given the significant departure from the unitary development plan that the application represented, it is remarkable that the process was completed so quickly.

The application was called in and there was a public inquiry. The Peddimore planning inquiry commenced on 3 December 1996 and continued until January 1997, not an enormous length of time, as my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne will agree. The inspector reported in 1997 and recommended the refusal of both applications. There was a great deal of joy at that in Sutton Coldfield. Imagine, therefore, the huge consternation and irritation when, on 7 August 1997, the Deputy Prime Minister overturned the inspector's recommendation and granted consent for a microelectronics fabrication plant at Peddimore. My predecessor then raised the matter again in the House of Commons. To date, no potential user of the site has come forward. Both Birmingham city council and Advantage West Midlands have allegedly spent tens of thousands of pounds marketing the site, without success.

I make no apology for raising that matter with the Committee because the conclusion to which it has led all my constituents is that their voice is not heard and that the planning application process is corrupt—that is not too strong a word to use. It is possible to go through all that procedure, and for ordinary people and experts to put their views before a planning inquiry, but for them then simply to be dismissed for political reasons and overturned in Westminster and Whitehall without a proper explanation. It is in that jaundiced context that I approach the statutory instrument today.

I have some questions for the Minister that relate to the Lords debate to which Lord Rooker responded. I understand that Lord Falconer indicated that the next stage in taking forward the measures that we are

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discussing today would be not a White Paper but a statement on the Government's intentions. I have never heard of that procedure being used before. Can the Minister explain what Lord Falconer meant by outlining that rather unusual process?

In her speech, Baroness Hanham, repeating a question asked by Baroness Hamwee, asked

    ''what inquiries are likely to come forward within the next few months that make it so urgent that these procedures have to be implemented without consultation and before the Government have had time to publish their responses to the Green Paper or to issue their consultation paper on the major infrastructure projects put forward in the previous Green Paper.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 24 June 2002; Vol. 636, c. 1185.]

My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold mentioned that Green Paper. Can we have an answer to that question?

Mr. Brazier: A rumour is going round at the moment that the Government are about to announce a fresh list of sites for asylum seekers and that, as with the first batch, they will all be in Conservative-held constituencies.

Mr. Mitchell: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The Minister has heard it and will no doubt give us an answer when he replies.

I want to raise some points that were touched on by the hon. Member for Bath. The first concerns rule 8, which allows for a strict timetable for the setting of the inquiry, effectively giving the Secretary of State control over the extent to which anything can be discussed. Does the Minister really think that that is a fair and legitimate use of this powerful instrument, against which my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold inveighed so powerfully ?

That power is taken further in rule 17, which would allow the inspector to refuse or to curtail the cross-examination of witnesses if that would endanger adhering to the timetable. That will clearly prevent important evidence from being heard. Will the Minister give the Committee an idea of his and his Department's views of the circumstances in which the use of the power outlined in rule 17 would be acceptable?

Rule 10, which has already been referred to by the Opposition, gives the Secretary of State the power to appoint a technical adviser to assess technical evidence. Rule 11 allows for the appointment, again by the Secretary of State, of a mediator in the event of a disagreement. The appointment of a mediator could be extremely sensitive if there is a contentious issue before the inquiry. Why does not the inspector, rather than the Secretary of State, have the appointing powers? Why do not the Government produce more guidelines about suitable appointments for posts to prevent the possibility of appointing biased appointees?

In view of the scandalous treatment of my constituents over Peddimore, I hope that the Minister understands that these are not arcane, Whitehall matters, but very important indeed. Our constituents are, as we all know, already disillusioned with the political process. If they are to have any confidence in the new measures that the Minister is

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introducing, they must feel that there is an opportunity for their voices to be heard and for their just arguments to receive the weight and merit that they deserve.

11.31 am

 
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