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Lord Whitty: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 247 and 249 appear to have as their aim to express in the legislation the need to consult locally on the preparation or review of management plans. It is the

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Government's firm view that there should be widespread local consultation when management plans are prepared or reviewed.

The position is that the Countryside Agency has begun work on guidance on the preparation of management plans, in full co-operation with those who look after AONBs, and that guidance will undoubtedly indicate a wide-ranging local consultation similar to the wide-ranging local consultation when national park management plans are prepared. That matter is best covered by guidance rather than by a measure on the face of the Bill.

Amendment No. 248 would require a local authority or conservation board which is intending to review and adopt a non-statutory plan prepared before the passage of the Bill to review it within 12 months. However, the amendment does not appear to be consistent with, or follow through, any change as regards the timescale which is already on the face of the Bill in Clause 82. The amendment is internally inconsistent. Local authorities will have to publish such plans within three years of commencement or designation of the AONB, whichever is the sooner, and conservation boards will have to do so within two years of the establishment of a conservation board. So it is not necessary separately to require the review to happen within 12 months. Neither does it define when the 12 months would begin. I believe that the timetable in the Bill is clear. The amendment would confuse the issue.

I was gratified to hear the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, say that his Amendment No. 249A constituted mainly "having a go" at MAFF rather than my department. Nevertheless I consider that it is a little misplaced. The provision he has in mind, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has in mind, relates to plans which are part of the planning system; that is, the structure plan, the development plan and the community strategies to some extent. However, the management plan is in a different category. Structure plans which are generally prepared by the local planning authority at county level are very much part of the development plan system and subject to formal response from the Secretary of State. That is the general position with regard to the development plan system.

AONB management plans are different. They are not part of the development plan system. Wherever there is a management plan there will also be a structure plan which will go through the normal process in relation to the Secretary of State. I do not see that the amendment would of itself bring about any improvement in the way in which the system of management plans operates in practice. Clearly there are occasions when the Government will wish to comment on the plan and the representatives of government will certainly want to participate in the plan, or the review of the plan, and in the work involved in delivering the plan, usually through the Countryside Agency and other bodies. This should be a continuing involvement by the Government's local agents as integral partners.

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What we do not want to see is a system of formal responses from government, which appears to be the implication of the amendment. As occurs with the planning system on occasion, that risks developing into a confrontational situation in requiring the Government to draw up a list of ways in which their policies may conflict with the management plan. That would not be productive; it misunderstands the nature of the management plan system. If the plan has been prepared sympathetically with the participation of the agencies involved, there should be no such conflict. If the Secretary of State has to make a formal, statutory response, one gets into a situation approximating to the response to development plans, regional planning guidance and so forth. I do not think that that was the intention.

If it would help the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, I assure him that the question of the involvement of the Government and their agencies in the system of management plans is one that we are determined to see dealt with firmly and clearly in the guidance which the Countryside Agency is in the process of producing.

The noble Lord may take comfort from government Amendment No. 234 giving government departments and others a statutory duty to have regard to the purpose for which AONBs are designated. However, I would not think that the formal response which seems to be required by the amendment is sensible. I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.

1.30 a.m.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the Minister for those explanations. We have come a long way. Our amendments relate to consultation and planning. I think that there is a good logic here. I accept the Minister's words that consultation will now take place, not just on this issue. I am content with that. I hope that plans will be produced after that consultation. Things happen only if you make plans to ensure that they happen and then review those plans to see what corrective action is needed. I hope that a system will be built up within the conservation boards which allows for plans to be made and reviewed on a regular basis. That is the nub of the matter. The Minister knows what we are driving at. He wants what we want. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 248 and 249 not moved.]

Lord Renton of Mount Harry had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 249A:

    After Clause 83, insert the following new clause--


(" .--(1) The Minister (as respects England) and the National Assembly for Wales (as respects Wales) shall, in respect of every management plan which they receive, publish a response within six months setting out--
(a) the steps which the Minister or the Assembly intend to take to further the objectives in that management plan; and

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(b) the extent to which the policies of the Minister or the Assembly may conflict with that management plan, and the steps which are to be taken to resolve that conflict.
(2) In this section--
"management plan" means a plan published in accordance with--
(a) section 82, or
(b) section 66 of the Environment Act 1995; and.
"Minister" means the Secretary of State or the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I cannot say that I have quite the same satisfaction with the Minister's reply. He said that he did not see how my amendment, which provides that Ministers would have to reply to management plans within six months, would help or improve the process. I cannot believe that he really thinks that.

An individual may have spent a lot of money and time working to improve a management plan, perhaps having consulted with the Countryside Agency, the NFU or MAFF in the process. Having finally sent the plan, he then receives a card from the Minister (as I did recently) saying, "Thank you. The contents have been noted". That is not satisfactory. That seems common sense.

Under the circumstances, given the late hour, I do not wish to take the matter further now. However, I shall return to the issue at Third Reading.

[Amendment No. 249A not moved.]

Clause 84 [Grants to conservation boards]:

[Amendments Nos. 250 to 251 not moved.]

Clause 85 [Interpretation of Part IV and supplementary provision]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 252 and 253:

    Page 59, line 27, leave out ("Act") and insert ("Part").

    Before Clause 87, insert the following new clause--

("Local access forums

.--(1) The appointing authority for any area shall in accordance with regulations establish for that area, or for each part of it, an advisory body to be known as a local access forum.
(2) For the purposes of this section--
(a) the local highway authority is the appointing authority for their area, except any part of it in a National Park, and
(b) the National Park authority for a National Park is the appointing authority for the National Park.
(3) A local access forum consists of members appointed by the appointing authority in accordance with regulations.
(4) It is the function of a local access forum, as respects the area for which it is established, to advise--
(a) the appointing authority,
(b) any body exercising functions under Part I in relation to land in that area,
(c) if the appointing authority is a National Park authority, the local highway authority for any part of that area, and
(d) such other bodies as may be prescribed,
as to the improvement of public access to land in that area for the purposes of open-air recreation and the enjoyment of the area, and as to such other matters as may be prescribed.

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(5) The bodies mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (d) of subsection (4) shall have regard, in carrying out their functions, to any relevant advice given to them by a local access forum under that subsection or any other provision of this Act.
(6) In carrying out its functions, a local access forum shall have regard to--
(a) the needs of land management,
(b) the desirability of conserving the natural beauty of the area for which it is established, including the flora, fauna and geological and physiographical features of the area, and
(c) guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State (as respects England) or the National Assembly for Wales (as respects Wales).
(7) Subsection (1) does not apply to the council of a London borough or to any part of their area unless the council so resolve.
(8) The Secretary of State, as respects England, or the National Assembly for Wales, as respects Wales, if satisfied that no local access forum is required for any area or part of any area, may direct that subsection (1) is not to apply in relation to that area or part.
(9) Before giving a direction under subsection (8) as respects an area or part of an area, the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales must consult the appointing authority for the area and the appropriate countryside body.
(10) In this section--
"appropriate countryside body" has the same meaning as in Part I;
"local highway authority" has the same meaning as in the 1980 Act;
"prescribed" means prescribed by regulations;
"regulations" means regulations made, as respects England, by the Secretary of State, and, as respects Wales, by the National Assembly for Wales.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 254, as an amendment to Amendment No. 253, not moved.]

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