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Mr. Chope: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, increasingly, local authorities will impose a condition on a planning consent which means that the applicant is not allowed in the future to rely on the provisions of the general development order?
Dr. Whitehead: Yes indeed, and that underlines my point that there is a boundary on permitted development orders that local authorities can apply, and also, through the general permitted development order, a boundary on the extent to which permitted development orders apply in any event. If one applies that logic, a biomass plant might extend the curtilage of a particular properly by more than 15 per cent., which would be outside the terms of the general permitted development order. Similarly, if a wind turbine went well above the roofline or beyond the building line, that would also be beyond the terms of the general permitted development order, so there are boundaries anyway.
The difference that is suggested is very modest indeed. It would simply clarify the terms under which microgeneration deviceswhich were not in existence when permitted development orders were first thought about in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990
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might be attached by householders to their households, in the same way as, under other circumstances, they might introduce a roof extension or a porch to their house. The suggestion in clause 9 is that if a review agrees that that is a good idea, householders who wanted to put solar panels on the roof who, in other times and places, might have considered that it was necessary to apply for planning permission, would not after that general permitted development order was put in place have to do so in any local authority in the country, subject to all the conditions and the constraints that I have mentioned.
The result for microgeneration would be that there would be clarity throughout the country in terms of what one could or could not do. A person who was installing a modest device would not have to go through the red tape. Cost is also involved. The price of a small wind turbine, such as the Leader of the Opposition is considering for his house, comes to about £1,500. As things stand, the Leader of the Opposition would have to spend perhaps £300 or £400 of that £1,500 on seeking planning permission, with all that that entails, to get that device on to his house.
Our suggestion is both modest and economical. It takes out of the realm of red tape those modest devices within the overall constraint of permitted development orders that could aid microgeneration and thereby help householders to generate the power that they consume in their households without recourse to the national grid.
Mark Lazarowicz: Perhaps my hon. Friend would also confirm that special requirements under the procedure for permitted development orders, which apply, for example, to conservation areas and listed buildings, would in no way be set aside by the proposal.
Dr. Whitehead: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The same applies when we consider the safety of such devices. The hon. Member for Christchurch painted a picture of almost Frankenstein proportions of large swathes of white electricity fizzing across the landscape as people put power into the national grid. The truth is that if one had a solar panel on one's roof that produced electricity when it was not being used in the house, a two-way meter could place current completely safelywithout danger to small children, pets, or anyone elseinto the national grid. The same would be true for other forms of microgeneration.
I regret that several wild misapprehensions have been raised today, perhaps because of a lack of clarity or understanding about the proposals in clause 9. However, with the benefit of any reasonable consideration of how permitted development orders work, how a review might be undertaken and the extent of what is proposed, no reasonable Member in the Chamber could oppose clause 9.
The hon. Gentleman has made a useful contribution to the debate and our understanding. To summarise, he has made a strong
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case that if the review is conducted sensibly and sensitively, it could result in a welcome anti-regulatory measure.
Dr. Whitehead: We could indeed have an anti-regulatory measure whereby the red tape behind something that could be of great benefit to many people and the country as a whole could be removed without in any way undermining people's rights to enjoy their houses in the normal way, subject to any concerns that they may raise with local authorities about how their amenities might be reduced. It is useful to see such a measure in the light of being anti-regulatory when considering the development of microgeneration.
Mr. Forth: I am sure that we are all grateful that it has been acknowledged that these debates have real use. Some of our parliamentary colleagues have finally accepted that these occasions have value, and I am glad that they are participating in themthat is at least a small step forward. However, despite the clarification that we have been given, I am not sure that we have all the reassurance that we might need.
The problem is that the environmental fanatics have a mysterious hold over the body politic and assume that whenever they produce a Bill, it cannot possibly be debated, questioned or in any way delayed in what they think should be its seamless passage through the parliamentary process. That is unfortunate, but at least some of us have not been taken in by all that yet and, indeed, believe that it is our duty to ask questions, even about something as allegedly worthy as the Bill. I hope that the process that we have undergone hitherto has demonstrated that. Our debates have elicited useful information.
Finally, the promoter of the Bill and the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) have done the House a real service by setting out several arguments about the Bill that were long overdue. Fortunately, the assumption that the Bill was so worthy that it hardly needed explanation, which several hon. Members tried to make, is behind us and we are getting proper debate and explanation, which is a real step forward.
Of course, both my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) and the Minister intended their comments to be helpful. My hon. Friend said with great bravura and confidence that we need not worry because the wind turbines would be the size of a television aerial. If my hon. Friend was the Minister and able to give such an undertaking, I am sure that we would all be reassured. If I could press him further to guarantee that that would be written into the Bill or the guidelines, the reassurance would be great indeed. However, I am not sure whether the Minister would be prepared to go quite as far as my hon. Friend. A range of possibilities has been put before us. On the one hand, we have my hon. Friend's television aerial, and on the other, we have the wording of the amendment that we agreed this morning which refers to capacity of up to 50kW. Perhaps the reality lies somewhere between the two extremes.
The right hon. Gentleman will recall that earlier this week, in a Statutory Instrument Committee that he was chairing, I expressed some surprise at the speedy discussion of the matter before the
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Committee. Does he not agree that this is precisely such a matter of detail which could, if there was a review, be discussed in a Statutory Instrument Committee, and that he might be able to pursue his points in more detail at that time? That would be a very helpful way forward.
Mr. Forth: It would not be as helpful as the hon. Gentleman might think. I can tell him that if I had been a member of the Committee, rather than its Chair, the proceedings would not have gone nearly so speedily. The business would have been properly scrutinised instead of being nodded through. This is something of a red herring because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, statutory instruments are not amendable, and it is simply not good enough for the Minister
I was saying that we are now presented with a wide spectrum of possibilities. I am now picking up the points made in this debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle, and I am about to pick up a point made by the MinisterI thought that that was what debates for. The Minister said that we have had a review of this important area of planning and development and referred to a kilowatt or two. He was trying to reassure the House, and that is very welcome, but I am not sure that his words here will be sufficient reassurance for people out there who might be worried about the potential intrusion of these microgeneration devices. It may not be enough simply for the Minister to say, "Don't worry folks. Although my amendment refers to 50kW, it won't really be anything like that; it will be a kilowatt or two."
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