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Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for the assurances which he has given. A member of the department complained rather sadly that it was perhaps inconvenient that the House of Lords judgment did not come until December, which virtually coincided with the introduction of the legislation. These things tend to come at inconvenient moments. The reality is that a solution has to be found because, as my

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noble friend said, these consent wordings go back a very long time to predecessor bodies, which suggests that people have been working on certain assumptions about their meaning and indeed that they have been generally accepted because they have not been previously challenged in the courts.

Therefore, we have a problem and I believe that my noble friend recognises that. In the light of the clear assurances which he has given that serious consideration is being given to the best way to resolve the problem, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Norrie moved Amendment No. 178A:

Before Clause 58, insert the following new clause:

("Major development test

. Any proposal for development within the National Parks which is likely to have significant effects on the environment shall not be permitted unless it can be demonstrated by rigorous public examination, prior to a decision on consent being made, to be necessary in the national interest and there are no practicable alternatives.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I take as my brief in bringing this new clause before the House the recommendations of the most thorough and highly respected National Parks Review Panel. Part III of the Bill represents a considerable step forward in the internal management and protection of the parks, but it still does nothing to protect them against the arguably far greater threats which they face from external pressures for development.

At Committee stage there was overwhelming support for the principle that that issue should be addressed. There was also strong support for the concept that because national parks are such precious assets they deserve special and different protection from such external development threats. It is for that reason, and with the Edwards Report ringing in my ears, that I bring forward this new amendment.

It will ensure that development proposals in national parks which have potentially significant environmental effects will not be permitted unless environmental criteria are satisfied. I hope that noble Lords will find that this much simplified amendment responds to the criticisms of the earlier amendment at Committee stage. I shall return to that point.

The national parks cannot be entirely insulated from major development pressures. However, I believe that their special status requires a statutory test to ensure that such development is allowed only in certain circumstances. It should be demonstrated through rigorous public examination that the development meets a national need and that there is no alternative means of achieving the desired objective. The need for such a test is strongly endorsed both by the Countryside Commission and Countryside Council for Wales.

The Government have already agreed in principle the need for such a test. That is demonstrated by the 1992 policy statement on national parks and by Planning Policy Guidance Note No. 7. However, the weakness of PPGs is that they constitute advice only and that they are but one material consideration among others. Also they do not cover all forms of development, the main

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categories being electricity, infrastructure and major road proposals. As I have mentioned, this new amendment has been drafted in response to criticism of an earlier amendment in Committee that "major development" would be difficult to define.

My amendment overcomes that problem because the test would apply to any proposal requiring an environmental assessment. Whether a development requires such an assessment is already established in legislation. The trigger is whether a development is likely to have "significant effects" on the environment. That term is well understood and has a precise legal meaning, being used in the Town and Country Planning (Assessment of Environmental Effects) Regulations 1988. Environmental assessment legislation applies to developments under the electricity and highways legislation, so, unlike PPGs, this test would apply to the necessary range of projects. The Government rightly regard national park designation as conferring a high status of protection as far as landscape and scenic beauty are concerned. I believe that we should take the advice of the Edwards Report that that cannot be achieved without a statutory test for assessing major development. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, the House will be aware that we supported the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, in Committee —and we support this amendment. It is difficult to achieve a balance between policy planning guidance on the one hand and practice on the other. As we have discovered on many occasions, the major developments which may take place are not necessarily subjected to the rigorous examination that they need. The noble Lord mentioned developments under the Electricity Act. I should like to refer also, as I did in Committee, to developments under the Telecommunications Act whereby BT has rights to override the planning mechanisms.

In Committee the Minister said that his right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade was aware of those matters. I very much hope that the Government feel that something needs to be built into this part of the Bill to ensure that those who are on the fringes of the planning process, if I may put it that way, can be brought fairly and squarely within the ambit of the Bill—although they abide by the legislation that is relevant to them.

There is a danger at present that, although environmental assessments may well be undertaken by those who are outside the normal planning procedures, the crucial questions are not asked. They include questions as to whether a certain development is necessary and whether there are alternatives to it. I noted that, in their 1992 policy statement on the national parks, the Government said that, when an environmental impact assessment is to be carried out, the national park authorities may reasonably expect a prospective developer to examine alternatives to his preferred option. I believe that the amendment would help to ensure that that happens in practice. I very much hope that the Government will give it a fair wind.

Lord Chorley: My Lords, I have added my name to the amendment and should like to make three points on

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it. First, I believe that it would bring transparency to the decision-making process. I should like to make it clear that what we are trying to do does not relate only to public inquiries. Whether a decision is being made by a national park authority, the Secretary of State or an inspector, and whether a proposal falls within the town and country planning system or the consent procedure operated by the President of the Board of Trade, the proposal should be subject, as the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, said, to rigorous examination of need and alternatives, and there should be an opportunity for public input into the decision-making process.

My second point is parenthetical. I had the impression in Committee that some noble Lords thought that major developments in national parks were usually subject to parliamentary scrutiny. The Okehampton bypass was cited. As I understand it, that proposal came before Parliament because the compulsory purchase of an open space was involved and therefore the parliamentary procedure under the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 applied. In fact, parliamentary scrutiny does not normally apply just because the land targeted for development may lie within a national park, nor, as I see it, does this introduce scrutiny by Parliament.

Thirdly, in Committee, as I understood it, the main thrust of what the Minister and other noble Lords said was that we have in place, through statute and the PPG system, clear planning procedures and criteria. National parks are planning authorities, and we have laid down in statute for structure plans and local plans, procedures and so forth. But PPG7, taken with these statutory procedures, is argued to be a better control mechanism—better because, implicitly, the guidance element is a more flexible tool than statute for detailed definition. In a sense, solutions can be "negotiated", in that appropriate solutions can be achieved on a case by case basis.

The system usually works well within its terms, but I accept that it only on the basis that the existing statutory backing—fine though it is for its purposes—is entirely different in kind from what is needed for national parks. I emphasise the point "different in kind." That is what this amendment seeks to provide. Moreover—and the noble Lord, Lord Williams, raised this in Committee - PPGs can be changed; Secretaries of State change; Governments change. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, received a satisfactory answer from the Minister on that point.

We need to set out the broad principles in the Bill—as this amendment seeks to do—and those principles should underpin the guidance procedure.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I will speak very briefly at this hour of the night. We on these Benches feel that national parks should have the highest possible protection from the kind of development that we are talking about. The amendment includes a reservation about the national interest, because in an on-going parliamentary democracy you cannot have total, absolute protection. The Bill provides the most protection we can give and, that being so, we should give it.

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