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It might have come from Europe, but I am not sure why we needed to adopt it. We could always have translated it, could we not? I am all in favour of being a European as well as being British, but if I were to go out into the high street of Worthing and ask people what they thought of the Government's policy on spatial planning, they would say, "Say that again. What's it all about?" The Government have failed to explain why they are putting forward their national strategy in this way, and why they have not
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managed to convince the very sensible people in the Local Government Association, which includes the local councils in the Worthing, West constituency.
Sir Sydney Chapman: I think that my hon. Friend will find that the term "spatial development" was first introduced in the Greater London Authority Act 1999. I made exactly the same point at that time as my hon. Friend is making now. It is a new-fangled concept with which I find it difficult to come to terms. I notice that since it was introduced in that Act, there has been less and less space in London as buildings get taller and taller.
I believe that, in a number of respects, the Government's intentions are good. In the seven years that I have represented my present constituency, however, I have also learned that the Deputy Prime Minister, in trying to deal with the traffic problems along the A27 corridor through West Sussex, has set up a system that was designed not to produce a result. When I now hear from the planning Minister and the Government that they want a system that will not allow for delay but will identify delay and overcome it, I wonder what that will mean for the people who will lose their lives, be injured or have their environment wrecked by an uncontrolled traffic flow on unsuitable roads through urban areas.
The Minister does not need to give me an answer this evening because that is a local point, but I hope that he will ensure that, if the Government are so concerned about this spatial planning, it should include transport planning as well. That would be helpful, because many development issues are affected in that way. I could give the Minister an example of a case in which the Secretary of State overruled an inspector in my neighbouring constituency of East Worthing and Shoreham two or three years ago.
West Sussex county council has been well led and well run at officer and member level, and I want it to be satisfied with planning controls that will help it to achieve what it is required to achieve, and which will stop it being dissatisfied because the Government are not listening to the reasonable voices in the House of Lords, and which are being supported by the Local Government Association. That is why I wrote to the Minister a couple of weeks ago asking him to explain why the Lords amendments were unacceptable, and either to accept them or to present alternatives that would bring about consensus on what the Local Government Association, the Lords and the West Sussex councils wantedtogether with a reasonable opportunity for the Government to achieve the aim of their wholesale changes.
At present, I think that the House would judge it fair to say, with a half-smile, that the Minister has not even tried to justify the Government's intentions, other than by saying that the Government do not want anything to happen after the inspector has made a recommendation because they do not want that. We have heard no argument that stands up to reason. As the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) kindly pointed out, we have heard no response to my request
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for real examples of things going wrong. I hope that if the Government's majoritywhich, I note, has not been reflected in this evening's Back-Bench speechessucceeds in overturning the amendment, their lordships will go on requiring Ministers in the other place to produce arguments that make some kind of sense. At present, this House is being asked to approve something that does not make sense.
The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) spoke of the complexity of the architecture. I think that we have already dealt with that. Althoughif I may use a colloquialismI know where the hon. Gentleman is coming from, those of us who have thrashed out these issues in Committee are pretty clear about the structures. Any new system takes some understanding, but I am confident that this system is understood. The fact that a number of local authorities are already drawing up their local development frameworks suggests that it is clearly understood out there.
I strongly rebut what I believe to have been the assertion of the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) that this was a top-down system. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are introducing much more powerful elements of community involvement to a planning system that is already characterisedperhaps more than most areas of local and national government activityby a greater degree of public participation than that system has yet experienced. That is a direct contradiction of the notion of top-down decision-making.
Front-loading is essential to the concept of binding inspectors' reports. As I shall demonstrate, all key material issues will emerge earlier in the process, and there are innumerable safeguards to prevent the introduction of unpredictable measures. All interested parties will have an opportunity to participate at the outset.
Matthew Green: The Minister said that I had described this as a top-down system. If he reads Hansard, he will find that I said nothing of the sort. In the examples I gave, inspectors were not just failing to go along with what the local authority wanted, but their actions were not in line with national and regional planning guidance, and thus not in line with the top. My point was that a check would be needed after an inspector's report. I agree with the Minister about front-loading, which I think will remove the need for numerous inspectors' reports and public inquiries. I agree with all the positives. However, I do not see the necessity to take away a council's ability to overturn a report.
Keith Hill: If the hon. Gentleman did not use the expression "top-down", I withdraw my allegation and apologise. However, he did say that the inspector would be acting in Ministers' names, which is absolutely not the case. The inspector will be entirely independent, which is why clause 19 provides for an independent examination.
The hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) used a traffic analogy. I repeat that the inspector will be strictly limited in terms of the new
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matters that he may present. It is invidious to cite cases and Ministers must be awfully careful with planning issues, but it is well known that a weakness of the planning systemfor it is bound to have some acknowledged weaknessesis that it can lead to excessive delays. Frequent unreasonable delays at the modification stage are a byword, and the Bill seeks to deal with them.
At this point I should scotch another canard. I seem to begin all my replies by scotching canards. The hon. Member for Poole began his description of what he called the architecture of the Bill by saying that we began with a national spatial strategy. There is no such thing, although we have the planning policy statements and the White Papers which inform the regional spatial strategies, which in turn inform the local development documents.
Conservative Members have expressed anxiety about the powers which, they assert, will accrue to inspectors. They fear that an inspector might make changes to a development plan document that would not be considered at the examination. I repeat that the inspector will be able to recommend a substantive change in the document only if people have had an opportunity to make representations on it, or it has been considered at an examination and the representations, or debates, support the change.
Generally, inspectors will not be able to introduce new proposals. Any new proposals must be tested against the criteria for soundness at the public examination stage. Inspectors will be able to recommend a substantive change in the plan and the policies only if it has been through due process. They can, however, reconvene the examination panel or return the matter to the local planning authority for consideration. As a result, it will be subject to the preparation of a new plan or the alteration of the shortly-to-be-adopted development plan document.
The inspector's job will be to consider both the test of soundness and the representation. If he or she believes that the plan contains a substantial weakness that has not been subject to representations but on which he or she might need to make a recommendation, he or she must raise that at the examination and invite discussions.
Safeguards will be available to local authorities in extremis. The hon. Member for Worthing, West mentioned factual errors. A fact check will be available to authorities. The local planning authority will see a draft of the report and will be able to point out factual errors, which will be set out in the final version of planning policy statement 12.
Secondly, anyone can ask the Secretary of State to exercise his intervention powers to direct changesthat is in clause 21or to call in the plan, under clause 23, where a development plan document is up for approval and under challenge. Challenge in the courts is possible under clause 109 on the grounds that the document is not within the appropriate power or that a procedural requirement has not been complied with. As we have said, in certain other circumstances judicial review might be appropriate.
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Finally, Members from both Opposition parties have alluded to the Birmingham case. Again, it will be understood that it is not appropriate for me to comment on specifics, but I put it to those hon. Gentlemen that they are assuming that the new arrangements will be exactly like the existing ones, except that the inspector's report will be the final stage. As I have sought to explain in extreme detail, the features of the new system mean that that will not be the case. It seems unlikely that examples such as Birmingham will recur.
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