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Keith Hill: I knew that you would say that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I am grateful for your intervention, but it goes without saying that I am unqualified in my enthusiasm for the Mayor, his membership of my party and his re-election campaign over the next couple of months.

If I may be a trifle more serious about the issues raised by Opposition Members, let me respond first to observations made by the Corporation of London. Michael Snyder is a member of a council with which I am in regular contact. We were aware that it was possible to construe the Mayor's interpretation of general conformity as perhaps being unduly detailed. We are clear that it is a test of general conformity and not conformity. That means that it is only where a local development document would cause significant harm to the implementation of the regional spatial strategy or London plan that it should be considered as not being in general conformity. Conservative Members alluded to my statement today, which set out the Government's policy on general conformity. That statement reflects those principles and we also intend to provide guidance on the issue in planning policy statement 12.

The hon. Member for Cotswold challenged me to provide a clearer explanation of our statement on the Government's policy on general conformity between the Mayor's spatial development strategy, the London plan and London boroughs' unitary development plans. I
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will also seek to offer reassurance to the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet on the relationship between the Mayor's powers and borough development plan documents.

The test is, we believe, of general conformity, not conformity. That means that it is only where an inconsistency or omission in a UDP would cause significant harm to the implementation of the spatial development strategy that the UDP should be considered not to be in general conformity. The fact that a UDP is inconsistent with one or more policies in the spatial development strategy—either directly or through the omission of a policy or proposal—does not by itself mean that the UDP is not in general conformity; rather it tests how significant the inconsistency is from the point of view of delivery of the SDS.

Mr. Clifton-Brown rose—

Keith Hill: If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to complete my train of thought, I will be only too delighted to deal with his particular issues of concern. I am seeking to resolve some of the evident anxieties that he demonstrated.

Where a borough considers that one or more of the UDP policies and proposals are not consistent with the SDS, it has to give robust reasons for its view. The opinion of the Mayor—that a UDP is not in general conformity—does not mean that a document automatically falls. Rather, the Mayor's opinion on the matter will go forward as a duly made objection to be considered by the inspector. At the inquiry, the inspector will determine whether he or she supports the opinion, and recommend accordingly. In addition to concerns about a lack of general conformity, the Mayor may wish to make other representations about making changes to specific policies and proposals. So far, so good.

Let me turn to the specific issue of the Mayor's power, raised by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet. I am pleased to offer the reassurance that the Mayor has no power to intervene in borough development plan documents, but the hon. Gentleman specifically asked about the status of the UDP. Where a UDP review has passed the formal deposit stage, there is no specific provision for the Mayor to make formal objections on grounds of general conformity, but, like any other party, the Mayor may make representations to a borough at any time before the adoption of the plan. However, the Secretary of State would wish the Mayor and the boroughs to resolve issues of general conformity through discussion, having regard to the Secretary of State's policy. It will be for the boroughs to satisfy themselves that a UDP is in general conformity with the spatial development strategy before proceeding to adoption. I would also like to reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Mayor cannot call in any planning application, but can direct refusal of strategic planning applications. The definition of a strategic application is set out as I have indicated in circular 1/2000.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister is merely reading out words of civil service gobbledegook. Will he please explain in his own words the meaning of "significant harm" and "inconsistency" with the UDP. It would be good to hear in the Minister's own words what some of
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those terms mean. It remains unclear to me—and, I suspect, to the rest of the House and certainly to the planning community in London—what exactly will happen and the degree to which the UDP has to be out of kilter with the Mayor's spatial plan. Please can the Minister do better and explain to the House what those terms mean?

8.15 pm

Keith Hill: With permission, I would like to respond to that. The hon. Gentleman should not get so agitated. It seems to me that the words—my own words—that I just articulated are absolutely crystal clear. I also draw attention to the fact that the hon. Gentleman's Front-Bench spokesman and the Liberal Democrat spokesman have both gone out of their way to welcome the clarification that my statement today has offered. That will do for me.

Lords amendment disagreed to.

Lords amendment No. 27 disagreed to.

Clause 44

Major Infrastructure Projects

Lords amendment: No.41.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Yvette Cooper): I beg to move, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

We have considerable sympathy with the principles behind the amendment, but we do not think that either part of the amendment is necessary or sets out the best way to achieve the objectives. I shall deal with each part of the amendment in turn.

The first part refers to economic impact assessments. We would expect the promoter of major infrastructure projects to engage with all parties at the earliest possible stage in the development of such projects. Indeed, we expect promoters to do full economic analyses of their project. It would be surprising if any developer or private or public funding body were prepared to sign up to major infrastructure projects without appropriate economic analysis being done. We must recognise that it is only at the stage that the application is made that the Secretary of State will be able declare that he thinks that the application is of national or regional importance and should therefore be called in, rather than left to the local planning authority. Only after that decision was made would the major infrastructure project rules come into play. It is the Government's view that to require an economic impact report to be completed at that stage is too late in the process.

As I said, we would expect some form of economic impact assessment or analysis to have been completed at a much earlier stage. Assuming that the application is called in, the inspector will consider the economic effects, along with all the other aspects of the application as part of the inquiry. Those would also include environmental and any other impacts, and local people would have a further opportunity to raise their concerns, including any concerns on economic aspects, at the inquiry. If the economic impact is disputed, concerns can be raised about that, too. However, to require an economic impact assessment based on a
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particular format at this late stage therefore seems unnecessary. It also raises questions about why an economic impact report alone should be a statutory requirement for a major infrastructure project inquiry, bearing in mind the fact that there will be other considerations—about the impact on local communities, local amenities and other services, for example—none of which would be specified in the Bill. The Government do not want to predetermine through the legislation which issues the inspector should consider or focus on at an inquiry. The inspector will need to be able to consider what the particular issues to be resolved are, and what to devote inquiry time to, in each particular case.

The second subsection of the Lords amendment would require that

whether the development is needed. Again, we do not think that that requirement is necessary. Throughout the progress of the Bill, the Government have said that where there is a national policy statement White Paper, it should help to reduce the argument at a planning inquiry about the need for a specific development at a particular site—but that of course, the inspector is likely to have to consider the balance between need and other factors.

Those who oppose a specific development will be able to present their arguments against it, and it is right that they should have the opportunity to do so. It has never been the Government's intention to rule out the possibility of the inspector spending some time considering need, but that will be done in the context of what is said about need in the national policy statement. The inspector must ensure that all relevant impacts of a specific development are considered during an inquiry, and that means all material considerations, together with relevant impacts such as the economic or environmental impact.

The aim of this part of the Bill is to speed up the inquiry process for granting planning permission for major infrastructure projects. We are sympathetic to the intentions behind the amendment, but we think that legislative provision to enable an inspector to consider the issue of need is unnecessary. The Lords proposals in both aspects of the amendment are unnecessary, so we ask hon. Members to reject it.

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