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Earl Peel: The Minister in moving his amendment drew attention to the fact that he expected conservation boards or local authorities to work closely with local people when drawing up management plans. I am obviously delighted to hear that. However, as I understand the position, there is no statutory obligation for them to do so. Does not the
The management plan proposed by the noble Lord is the conservation board's intervention in planning. That will eventually be equal to a county structure plan. It will cover much the same area and scope. I would hope, therefore, that it would make the conservation board a statutory consultee at that level. I am not clear from the clause whether it does so. The provision refers to the plan being referred to the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales. What do they then do with the plan?
Amendment No. 533 calls for a specific response. I suggest to the Minister and my noble friends on our Front Bench that this is an appropriate additional clause to seek. If the management plan is of importance--the Minister says that it is a mixture of high level aspirations and specific objectives with structure planning in mind--and goes to the Secretary of State, he should have to reply within a reasonable time; I have suggested six months.
I have talked to one of the former chief inspectors of prisons. Whenever he sent in a report on a prison, the Home Office told him that it was a marvellous report but did not reply to it for two years. By that time, conditions had changed; the governor had probably moved. The next chief inspector of prisons made it a condition of accepting the appointment that the Home Office would reply within six months and, if not, that he would have the right to publish the report off his own bat.
This is not an exact analogy but there is some similarity. I hope, therefore, that Amendment No. 533 will find favour with the Minister and will be adopted. I believe that it would be a proper emphasis to ensure that the management plan receives a reply at the highest level within a reasonable period.
Lord Marlesford: I support Amendments Nos. 528 and 533. It is an essential part of the legislation on AONBs. As my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry says, the management plan is similar in effect to a county structure plan. Its advantage is that it is a plan prepared for the benefit of the AONB. It will apply only where there is a board. That is a good reason for having a board for AONBs.
I agree with my noble friend that there should be a response to the plan. When a planning application is made to a local authority which appears to be contrary to a county structure plan, that is a good reason to oppose the planning application. It enables voluntary bodies in particular to make a good case to the district council, which is the planning authority, against a specific proposal where it appears to conflict with the county structure plan. Although the Minister explained earlier that the Government do not intend to take over the planning function from local authorities
Lord Whitty: I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, was trying to clarify Amendment No. 528 through Amendment No. 528A, but I am not sure that it does that. Subsection (5) of Amendment No. 528 already allows a local authority or a conservation board to adopt a pre-existing non-statutory plan. Subsection (6) deals with the situation in which a conservation board is set up and wants to adopt an AONB management plan prepared after the passage into law of the Bill, which would therefore be a management plan of the type required by the Bill.
Local authorities acting jointly will continue to be able to delegate that statutory function to a properly constituted joint committee. That is implicit in the normal run of things. The Bill places the duty to prepare a plan on local authorities. We do not need to refer specifically to the possibility that a local authority may have delegated that to a joint committee. The local authority is the responsible body.
Amendment No. 528B would require the conservation board to announce within six weeks of its establishment whether it intended to adopt an existing management plan. That would add substantially to the pressures on a newly established authority. The Government have laid down a time limit of two years to adopt a management plan, including in the case of a decision to review and adopt a non-statutory plan, or within six months of establishment if the decision is to adopt an already prepared AONB management plan. If a local authority develops a plan that meets the requirements of the Bill and a board is subsequently established, the time limit will be six months, not two years. It is a bit exacting for a new board to have that time limit reduced to six weeks. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will not pursue that amendment.
The noble Earl, Lord Peel, asked about consultation on the plan. He is right that there is no statutory provision for consultation, but that will be reflected in the Countryside Agency's guidance on how the plans operate.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, has tabled Amendment No. 533. It is not accurate to say that the plan being produced in this case is equivalent to a county structure plan. The management plans are separate from the development of the plan system. I suspect that he knows that in national parks there is a structure plan and a management plan. We shall continue to have a structure plan alongside the AONB plan. The Government envisage that such a plan should be a local document. Government representatives will participate in the drawing up or the review of those plans and the local representatives of the government agencies should continue to be involved in the operation and review of the plans.
The amendment would require the Government to produce a formal response to the plan, much as they produce a formal response to regional planning proposals. That risks us getting into a confrontation with the AONB body. There should not be such conflicts if the participation of the agencies has worked well.
Lord Whitty: There is a possibility of a government department commenting informally on the plan via the agency or directly, but a statutory response stage in the procedure would contradict the fact that the AONB body, whether it was a local authority or a conservation board, should have the responsibility for drawing up and reviewing that plan. Taking the analogy of planning arrangements, there could be potential conflicts, particularly if there was highly controversial material in the plan. Therefore, there is nothing to stop the Secretary of State or his officers commenting on the plan, but I believe that having a statutory response is building inflexibility and possible dispute into the process. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue the point. I understand his need to see an iterative process between the AONB body responsible and the agency or department, but, I fear, not in this way.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful to the Minister for his response to my two amendments. I shall certainly undertake to study with care his reply to Amendment No. 528A. In saying that, I should like to feel that the arrangement might be reciprocal. I am not entirely convinced that he has answered the point that I raised. I hope that in a rather, shall we say, cooler atmosphere than we have to deal with tonight he will consider whether I have a point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.