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Mr. Chope: I do, but perhaps the Minister did not expect us to reach this group of amendments so quickly. She may be on her way to the Chamber. I know from my own experience when I was a Minister with responsibility for planning matters that this is a technical area, and a Minister for Housing and Planning can speak with much more authority than the Minister for Energy, although I accept that the hon. Gentleman is very knowledgeable about most things.
Malcolm Wicks: My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning is in her constituency, where many of us would like to be on a Friday. The fact that I am in the Chamber to represent the entire Government shows that we do not just talk joined-up, we do it.
Mr. Chope: I am glad that the Government make provision for Ministers to attend the House on a Friday, because the Government and the House decided that we should meet on various Fridays during the year. It would be rather bizarre if
In other words, the development order provides for planning permission to be granted without any notice having to be given, without any consultation with those who are or may be affected by it, without any need for a planning application, and without the involvement of any locally elected councillorsjust like the planning-free environment which, to an extent, prevailed before the advent of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947.
A permitted development order can therefore be a very far-reaching curtailment of environmental protection.Clause 9 seems designed to facilitate further and far-reaching curtailment of environmental protection. That is why I am very concerned about the clause and have tabled an amendment seeking to remove it from the Bill. I recognise that the issue creates
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a dilemma for my hon. Friends. To what extent should we jeopardise one part of the environment, such as visual amenity, in order to benefit another part, perhaps by seeking to reduce global warming? Those are just the sort of issues that we should debate. They are not black and white, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst agrees that inherent conflicts and contradictions on environmental issues are best resolved locally, by locally elected representatives. Of course, that is what can be done under planning law, but could not be done under the general development order relaxation proposed in the clause.
Mr. Forth: Does my hon. Friend share my unease about the danger of making a presumption in favour of the ability to install what are now rather loosely known as microgenerating plants? The danger is that that will enable more and more such installations to be established, perhaps even against the wishes of individuals or local planning authorities? It is that change of presumption that is key to the provisions, which is why we have now probably got to the crux of the Bill and of the effect that it could have on our communities and in our constituencies.
I should like to illustrate that point by referring to the recently published document "Built to Last", which was produced by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. That document, which I shall not quote extensively, sets out "Our aims" as follows:
We will not enhance the beauty of our surroundings if we allow monstrosities otherwise known as microgenerating plants to proliferate in our residential neighbourhoods without the need for individual planning consent.
Mr. Hollobone: This is a very serious issue. If a planning application for 2,000 houses were made in my constituency, for example, the Government might take the view that the best way of providing energy for the houses, on the basis of the figures before us today, would be a 25 MW community energy scheme. Presumably, such a scheme would require planning permission in the normal way. If permitted development orders are introduced, the alternative is that 400 wind turbines could be constructed on an estate of 2,000 houses. Such a development might be beneficial in terms of climate change, but in terms of visual amenity there would be many different views as to whether it was acceptable.
I hope that, as my hon. Friend develops his argumentindeed, our hon. Friend the Member for
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Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) may wish to elaborate as wellsomebody somewhere will give me an idea of the size of installation that we are talking about. It is in the context of the clause and amendments before us, in respect of which you, Madam Deputy Speaker, most helpfully guided us earlier, that we will properly consider the size of wind turbines, community energy plants and the like. If we do nothing else, we should make people outside this place aware of the direction in which we are going in the name of so-called microgeneration and what they may end up having in their communities in that context.
Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I shall come to the size of some of the plants, although without the ability to use visual aids in the Chamber, I shall have to rely on the powers of description rather than on anything else.
As it stands, clause 9 is about circumventing the local planning system, despite the fact that planning is deemed by most of our constituents to be the most important responsibility of local government. That is why people argue for keeping local councils, because it is the local councillors who are in touch with people's concerns about planning issues in particular. The importance of planning as a local government function was borne out by all the research done by the Local Government Commission for England when we last looked at reorganising local authorities and considered whether we should abolish district councils in favour of unitary authorities or county councils.
I shall take the House rather slowly through clause 9, because it is actually very sinister. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, who is assiduous in considering such matters, will try to follow the provisions with me. Clause 9(1) states:
about the installation of microgeneration equipment. There is no reference to what evidence, if any, should be considered by the Minister, and neither is there any requirement that he should publicise any evidence.
irrespective of whether such development has an adverse impact on the beauty of our surroundings or visual amenity. I can almost hear the promoter of the Bill or perhaps the Minister saying, "Don't worry; once the review is published, it will be possible for local authorities, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Wildlife Trusts and so on to give their input." Such a
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common-sense safeguard is, however, specifically precluded by subsection (3), which states that
There is no provision for consultation on his conclusions. Even worse, there is no provision to allow for modification of his view as expressed in the review report, because subsection (4) contains this requirement:
"Where the Secretary of State proposes to make provision . . . in development orders in consequence of the review, he must . . . exercise his powers under section 59 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990",
and he must do so as soon as is "reasonably practicable". In other words, there is no provision for parliamentary discussion, public debate or consultation. That is all too familiar from this Government.
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