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

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Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will the Minister now give way?

Mr. McNulty: Of course.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful that the Minister has found his courtesy. He talked about halving the time in which the Secretary of State makes a decision. The T5 inquiry took one and a half years, which means that a Minister would still take nine months after an exhaustive inquiry of four years under the tight time schedules laid down in the new procedures. Does the Minister think that nine months is appropriate?

Mr. McNulty: I really should not have bothered to take that intervention. Cutting time in half was simply a reference to the PCCD and our commitment in the planning Green Paper to halve where practicable our response time at the central level. I have said nothing about T5 or major infrastructure projects. The hon. Gentleman went way outside the area covered by the rules, and I was simply responding to what the hon. Member for Canterbury said about the delay at the tail end of smaller non-MIP public inquiries. That is what I mean when I refer to the PCCD and our wish and desire to halve the process. It had nothing to do with T5 or MIPs.

I profoundly disagree with the comment about an inspector being able to appoint a mediator. The whole point of a mediator—the Secretary of State may or may not be a clumsy tool by which to do it—is that they are distinct, separate and independent from an inspector. As the process unfolds, an inspector should not be party to anything other than the agreed mediation statement at the end of the mediation period. It would be wholly inappropriate if a mediator were seen to be appointed.

The project described by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield was not a MIP. I should have thought that he would know that nuclear power stations are not brought forward under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, to which the statutory instrument refers. They are brought forward by the Department of Trade and Industry under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989, and separate rules apply to them. I should have thought that any member of the Committee would know that there is a little Act called the Highways Act 1980 under which all significant road developments are taken. It therefore makes perfect sense that roads do not figure in the statutory instrument.

As the Government have said in the House of Lords, there are no major conspiracies and no MIPs waiting to come along. It is tiresome to hear the hon.

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Member for Canterbury talk about plans to build a load of asylum seeker accommodation centres. I hope that that looks good in his little newsletter because it ill becomes him to raise the issue in that context.

In conclusion, the statutory instrument merely updates the rules that have prevailed before and have been updated more or less every two or three years. They will continue to be updated in that way because of the nature of significant projects. One of the few sensible things that Conservative Members said is that such projects are significant and matter to the local communities in which they occur, which is why they need to be streamlined and more efficient. When the rules are taken in the round rather than being considered separately, Conservative Members should see that the mediation, the pre-inquiry and the other elements will properly streamline the MIP process.

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Question put:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 4.

Division No. 1]

AYES
Challen, Mr. Colin Ennis, Jeff Fisher, Mr. Mark Foster, Mr. Don Henderson, Mr. Ivan
McNulty, Mr. Tony Mahmood, Mr. Khalid Owen, Albert Woolas, Mr. Phil

NOES
Brazier, Mr. Julian Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Grayling, Chris Mitchell, Mr. Andrew

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the Town and Country Planning (Major Infrastructure Project Inquiries Procedure) (England) Rules 2002 (S.I. 2002, No. 1223.)

Committee rose at Twelve o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Begg, Miss Anne (Chairman)
Brazier, Mr.
Challen, Mr.
Clifton-Brown, Mr.
Ennis, Jeff
Fisher, Mr.
Foster, Mr. Don
Grayling, Chris
Henderson, Mr. Ivan
McNulty, Mr.
Mahmood, Mr.
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Owen, Albert
Woolas, Mr.

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):
Wilshire, Mr. David (Spelthorne)
Randall, Mr. John (Uxbridge)
Clappison, Mr. James (Hertsmere)

 
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Prepared 9 July 2002