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

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Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): I have a few remarks to make relating to content. As a member of the Select Committee that drafted the recent report on the planning Green Paper, it is inexplicable that the Government should push through proposals while driving through the major infrastructure elements of that Green Paper. Each of those discussions is taking place in isolation, almost in a vacuum. The Government talk about introducing specific measures in Parliament for the assessment of major infrastructure projects and, at the same time, they are amending the appeal process. That is an example of utterly unjoined-up government.

I have some specific questions for the Minister. Rule 8 states:

    ''The inspector shall not vary the timetable mentioned in paragraph (2) without the approval of the Secretary of State.''

That is a draconian provision that does not allow the inspector any leeway, even in the smallest sense, in dealing with variations during the process without referring to the Secretary of State.

Rule 13, which contains the list of those who are entitled to appear at the inquiry, is completely stacked against residents. There is no provision for groups which are not statutory bodies to participate actively in the process. Later, rule 17(5) limits the number of people who have the right to call evidence at the inquiry. That is an attempt to balance the inquiry process against the individual. I fully accept the points that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne—T5 was a national disgrace in that the whole process was excessively delayed—but to go to the other extreme and rule people out of active participation in the process is ill-thought out.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend has raised a very important point. If the public lose confidence in inquiries, passive disobedience will begin and if we are not careful, we will spawn a new generation of swampys.

Chris Grayling: That is a fair point. The Government must ensure that their new process does not disenfranchise those affected by the proposals.

My next point relates to rule 20, which states:

    ''The Secretary of State shall, as soon as practicable, notify his decision on an application or appeal''.

That in no way excludes politics from the process. It will remain immensely easy for a Minister to delay a decision that might otherwise be taken at a politically inconvenient time. If we really want to speed up the process, that should not be happening.

My final point, to re-emphasise some of the issues raised by my hon. Friend, is about the lists of major infrastructure projects in the schedule to the instrument. He referred to nuclear power stations. It is noticeable that roads are not included either, at a

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time when the Government's 10-year plan includes significant private sector investment in the road infrastructure and when Britain's first toll motorway is about to open. I would welcome the Minister's explanation as to why the schedule does not include roads, nuclear power stations—there is plenty about reprocessing but not power generation—and a variety of other projects.

Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Cotswold have raised interesting points about what is included in the list, which is growing by the minute. The list in the Green Paper, ''Major Infrastructure Projects: Delivering a Fundamental Change'', is infinitely shorter than the current list and does not even refer to railway systems, let alone roads.

Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point and amplifies the apparent chaos that exists in the Government in this policy area. If the Government vote in favour of the statutory instrument today, the flaws in it will go on to the statute book. The statutory instrument contains fundamental inaccuracies. The whole thing is a mess, and the Government should go back to the drawing board before they try to force through unnecessary instruments.

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Mr. Wilshire: Several issues still need to be ventilated. The hon. Member for Bath said that we should not be repetitious, so I shall try to do as he says and discuss only new issues. Before I do that, may I comment on a few of his points? He accepted that there was a need to make the rules more efficient. I agree with that, but I hope that he will accept that the rules must stop abuse by objectors. I hope that the Minister will take a bit of encouragement from that support, which I am more than willing to give. It is not only a matter of efficiency. In the case of the T5 inquiry, I am satisfied that the existing rules were used to abuse the planning process and the wish of the majority of my constituents, and that must never be allowed to happen again.

I also accept the hon. Gentleman's point that we must keep the rules under review. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold said, one very good reason to keep the rules under review is to remove foul-ups from the system, because every so often mistakes will be discovered. I accept much of what the hon. Gentleman said, but there are some other points on which I would welcome the Minister's comments.

I suspect that we have a case of double standards in rule 4(1)(a), which states:

    ''The local planning authority shall on receipt of the relevant notice,—

    (a) forthwith inform''.

Throughout the document, we keep finding that other people must do things or respond forthwith, but every time we see a reference to the Secretary of State, we find the magic words ''as soon as practicable.'' I would like the Minister to tell us why he feels that it is suitable to order other people to do things when he says, but that it is not suitable to apply the rule to the Secretary of State, the inspector or anyone else in the

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Government. That seems to be a case of double standards.

Rule 5(1)(a) states:

    ''Upon receipt of the notice given under rule 4(1)(a), the local planning authority shall—

    (a) send to each person notified or known to the local planning authority . . . to have an interest in the proposal''.

To everyone who is known to have an interest in the proposal to build a fifth terminal at Heathrow, for example? That is ludicrous. Are the Government telling local planning authorities that they must send notices to the millions of people living under flight paths? If the Government believe that that is what is required to speed up the process, heaven help us.

May I take the Minister on to rule 13, on appearances at an inquiry? Rightly, the inspector is allowed to say who can appear, and there is a list of persons who are entitled to appear. If the people who are entitled to appear are listed, why is there a loophole in rule 13(2)? The rule lists those who must appear but then includes any other person whom the inspector wants to allow. Why have a list if the inspector can allow anybody and why make it so open ended? Rule 13(1)(h) ought to say that the inspector can allow anybody who has relevant, as opposed to any, information to give, otherwise we will get more time wasting.

Rule 17(2) states:

    ''At the start of the inquiry the inspector shall identify the matters . . . to be considered''—

quite right too. However, rule 17(3) states:

    ''Nothing in paragraph (2) shall preclude any person''

from raising anything else. One of the biggest problems at the T5 inquiry was that an inspector was understandably terrified of ruling out something as irrelevant. After several days of time wasting there may be a little nugget buried away that would be held to be relevant on judicial review. Given that wording, it is impossible to control the waffle that will go on in an attempt to frustrate the planning process.

Rule 18 contains the same stupidity of saying that notice must be given to anybody with an interest before a site inspection. If every relevant person turned up at Heathrow for a site inspection there would not be enough room, and I do not know why we need that provision.

Rule 19(1) states:

    ''After the close of an inquiry, the inspector shall by such date as the Secretary of State may determine''.

We have had that debate and all the Government have to do is turn ''may determine'' into ''must determine''. The Secretary of State has the power to set a timetable if he wants to, but we have been arguing that he must do that.

The same point applies to rule 20(1), in which there is an opportunity to replace ''as soon as practicable'' with ''immediately''. Why not use ''as soon as possible''? Why choose the word ''practicable'', which allows for more delay?

I should like to know who will pay for the additional copies of documents mentioned in rule

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20(3). In a case such as the T5 inquiry, the cost of producing another dozen copies of the document is phenomenal. If the rules say that one should submit three copies, one ought to do that at one's own expense. If somebody in the Department wants a few more copies to pass around to other people, the Department should pay because the costs are huge.

The only other thing on which I should like the Minister to comment is paragraph 4 of the schedule, which includes an extraordinary list of items. Paragraph 4(a) mentions runways of ''2,100 metres''. Who picked that figure and why? Why does paragraph 4(b) only include new runways? Building a new runway is just as controversial as replacing an old one, which would not generate additional flights but would become a major project. Why does paragraph 4(c) mention ''100 metres''? What is the significance of that? Why does paragraph 4(d) specify

    ''more than 5 million passengers per annum''?

Many airports in this country do not handle more than 5 million passengers. Similarly, paragraph 4(e) refers to

    ''more than 100,000 tonnes of air cargo per annum'',

which is a vast quantity of air freight. Who picked that figure and why?

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Prepared 9 July 2002