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Lord Glentoran: I do not wish to dissent from the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis. However, perhaps I may comment on his plea for the sons and daughters of farmers to be able to build cottages. If they genuinely intend to continue to work on the farm, I support the idea. But that has led to a proliferation of the most appalling scattered dwellings all across County Antrim. I do not know County Tyrone so well as I do not visit it frequently, but the system has been badly abused in the area in which I live.

As a farmer myself, I have a great deal of respect for farmers and an understanding of the problems that they are experiencing. However, I am not sure how such a plea in respect of farmers' relatives will fit in with this order. If such a reference is included in the order, it is important to tie the matter up tightly so that the proliferation of small houses in the middle of green fields all across the country does not continue. It is unsightly; it does not help farming; and it makes it extremely costly for local authorities to service the dwellings. I support the main thrust of the comments by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, that farmers must be helped to encourage their sons and daughters to remain in the countryside and run the farms.

I take a slightly similar approach to tree preservation. I have experience of it in this country. It should not mean that trees cannot be cut down. If trees are not cut down, in time they fall down. What is necessary is to preserve woodlands and to ensure that, when trees reach the stage where they need to be removed, their removal is allowed provided that they are replaced. In this country, since the major storms of the past decade, huge acres of woodland have been destroyed. A great deal of that land has been replanted and will bring back the woodlands and wildlife that existed there previously.

In Northern Ireland, even beeches and hardwoods do not live very long. I see that with the trees around my own home. They have reached the stage where, every time there is a storm, one, or a part of one, comes down. It is necessary for the Department of the Environment, to pay attention to this matter and to ensure that plantations are replanted.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: I do not wish to extend the debate much further. I appreciate the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. I merely regret that his visits to County Tyrone are so few. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal will understand that County Antrim is to the east of the area where the people of County Tyrone are forced, for economic reasons, to migrate. That is part of the

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reason for the pressure in terms of planning for new dwellings. People moving from west to east obviously want to try to maintain something of their rural heritage. Therefore, although only some 60 miles separates the two areas, the situation is somewhat different.

There is no reason why a system could not be devised whereby ugly and unsightly houses are not built in the middle of green fields but families can maintain a noble tradition—that of mutual support, where the older members of a family can rely on having their sons or daughters close to them as they approach old age. In that, I do not differ from the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran; but neither would I want his caveat to undermine my point about the needs of the rural community in places such as Tyrone and Fermanagh.

As regards woodlands, I ask only that woodland is not viewed in isolation from the associated flora and fauna and the impact on water supplies. I assure the Committee that we do not have a huge problem with water supply in Northern Ireland! But woodlands and water supply are now becoming increasingly linked in terms of planning for the future. I hope that there will be an awareness in that particular area. I am grateful to the Committee.

12.30 p.m.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and I have been engaged in a silent exchange as to which of us would speak first. The noble Lord has been very gracious. I declare an interest in trees. I was particularly glad that the subject was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Smith. It has always struck me as a happy antithesis, in terms of 19th century political history, that Gladstone, who took a great interest in the affairs of the island of Ireland, spent his life cutting trees down, whereas Disraeli spent his time planting them. That seems to me to be an index of the nature of those two great parties.

Lord Dubs: Answer that!

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: There was a period in Northern Ireland when, because of the state of the economy, planning laws, particularly in terms of building in the countryside, were largely disbanded in order to make sure that economic activity was occurring. There are people who are connoisseurs of ministerial speeches at dinners within this city as to which part of the speech has been written by the department and which has been added by the Minister in the car on the way there. As I drove round Northern Ireland I used to keep an eye open to decide which houses had been built without planning permission during that period of economic encouragement and which had been built properly.

The National House-Building Council for the United Kingdom says that there is no question that the best quality houses are built in Northern Ireland and that the standard of the work is high. Nevertheless, there is no doubt—the matter has been debated seriatim since it was originally raised—that the countryside fares worst in terms of what might be termed spot building.

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I hesitate to make any observations on spot listing—I am not totally up to date with the controversies in Northern Ireland—but I have believed strongly in the principle ever since the late Lord Rippon saved Covent Garden by the nature of the decisions he took, upon an instant, to spot list a whole series of buildings there, thus preventing its large-scale demolition under the plans of the local authorities.

Underlying my remarks about building in the countryside without planning permission was my strong approval of the basic principles of this order—which I am happy to support. Likewise, I, too, regret the fact that the third amendment proposed by the committee of the Assembly was not pursued. I do not know the reasons, but the Lord Privy Seal will tell us shortly. In my experience, it is not only the operations of large developers that cause distress—although, even today, the decision of the Firestone company to destroy its factory on the Great West Road when spot listing was about to occur still rankles among conservationists, so great a building was that art deco building. Irritation occurs in regard to small-scale schemes and relatively modest changes. That is certainly the case in inner-city areas, where, for example, your next door neighbour cheerfully goes ahead without planning permission and seeks to have the changes endorsed afterwards; and yet you, the local householder, have had no opportunity to express your views on the scheme. However, I approve of the basic thrust of the order.

Lord Dubs: This is an important piece of legislation. If it were primary legislation, we should spend several weeks on it. In default of doing so, I welcome this procedure, which gives us a better chance of engaging with the issues than we could have secured under the old way on the Floor of the House.

I should admit that for some two and a half years after the 1997 election I was in charge of planning matters in Northern Ireland. I shall resist the temptation of making an interminably long speech. I am full of views about almost everything in the provisions.

Lord Glentoran: Guilt.

Lord Dubs: The noble Lord says, "Guilt". No, not guilt, except where I failed to save some listed buildings. I shall come to that shortly.

I pay tribute to the Planning Service, under-resourced as it is; it does a pretty good job in view of all the difficulties and pressures on it and its lack of resources. That should be said in light of the criticisms that several Members of the Committee have implicitly made.

What do we expect of a planning system? There are at least four things that we expect: it should be sensitive to the needs of the economy, which should be able to flourish and develop—the system should not hold back economic development; it follows that we want reasonably quick decisions—long and protracted decisions are not helpful or healthy; we also want to

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ensure that planning provisions are toughly and robustly enforced; and the whole system should show some respect for the built environment.

Sadly, there are not that many outstanding buildings in Northern Ireland. It is therefore even more important that the planning system should be robust enough to preserve those that there are.

In my experience—perhaps things have changed in the recent past—the built heritage is not sufficiently respected by the people of Northern Ireland. There is what I call a bulldozer mentality—"Let's get this out of the way and put up something new in its place". Vernacular buildings and even the countryside are neglected because of the pressure to build new bungalows. It is rather sad that some of the finest buildings in Northern Ireland are not being preserved. When a fine building is pulled down—this is so obvious that it hardly needs stating—it has gone for eternity, and there is nothing that one can do about that. That is why it is important that the buildings that have merit should be protected and that only in the most exceptional cases should they be allowed to be pulled down.

I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, about developments in the countryside. As the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, said, that is always a matter of contention. However, I recall—I speak from memory—that more than 80 per cent of planning applications for building on farms and so on were agreed. I kept pointing out to district councillors that one hears only about the applications that were turned down. We should bear in mind that the system grants many—probably too many—applications. The granting of planning permission should depend on the needs of farmers and whether essential members of their family want to work on the farm. The danger is that the farmer gets permission and sells the building; another part of the countryside therefore has a building on it but it lacks a relationship with the farm for which it was originally intended. The Planning Service must be careful. I have sympathy with the views of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran.

There are dreadful examples in the Republic of what happens when buildings are allowed to be developed all over the place. About a year and a half ago, I visited Donegal. I found that one of the most wonderful landscapes in Europe, at Bloody Foreland, was absolutely pepperpotted with buildings—they were all over the place. One of the best landscapes in western Europe has been ruined. Lest someone believe that I am attacking the system in the Republic, which is not the subject of our debate today, I stress that I have made that point to every politician from the Republic whom I have met, and they all agree that the system failed completely. The lesson for us is that we must not allow the system to fail us in Northern Ireland. I am really seeking some assurances about the way in which the provisions will work. I shall concentrate on that. I welcome the increased penalties for pulling down listed buildings. I am not a lawyer, but I note that there is to be a fine of 30,000 or six months' imprisonment on summary conviction or a limitless fine and two years' imprisonment on indictment. When a listed building is

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pulled down without consent, will the department be sufficiently robust in seeking a penalty of the right order? The proposal is that it will, but I would like to be assured of that. It is all too easy for a developer to pull down the listed building, pay the fine and make a profit 10 or 20 times larger than the fine. That has happened, and I shall give examples in a moment.

The profits for developers in getting rid of a listed building are high. Some examples have already been given. The case that shocked me most, when I was in Northern Ireland, was the pulling down of listed buildings in Ogle Street in Armagh. As far as I know, the penalty was 5,000, and the developer made hundreds of thousands of pounds of profit. He got off scot-free. That was a tiny penalty in comparison with the benefit that he got. There are other examples: the Tilly and Henderson factory, Redhall, 9 to 11 Bangor Road in Holywood and 1 to 7 Malone Place in Belfast. All those buildings were pulled down when they should not have been.

Apart from the buildings that I have mentioned, there are others under threat, which is, perhaps, more relevant at the moment. They include 1 and 2 Corry Square in Newry, Limavady Town Hall, Olderfleet Hotel in Larne, 16 Upper Crescent in Belfast, 2 to 4 Market Square in Dromore and the Chapel of the Resurrection in north Belfast. I understand that all those buildings are under threat, and I hope that the department will deal robustly with those threats. They are all fine buildings, and it would be better for Northern Ireland and its built heritage if they could be retained.

There are also buildings that are not listed but are in conservation areas. It is not clear how the new provisions will apply. Are buildings in conservation areas as well protected as listed buildings? If not, what protection is there for such buildings? Pulling down such a building leaves a gap, and the concept of the conservation area can be weakened.

I note that the penalties for breaching planning controls are fairly small. There is a fine at level 3, which represents a fine of 1,000. That is a small sum in the context of a commercial development, although it may be a significant sum for the owner of a small house. It depends on how it is applied. The maximum seems low, and I share the concern that there has been no new offence created of commencing development without planning permission. I agree with the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville. We have all seen such things happen in Britain, and they are not desirable. Allowing people to evade planning controls creates an incentive for everybody to do so.

I must make a plea for better co-ordination between those responsible for planning decisions and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. That department ought to have some standing in consideration of such matters and should be involved before any decisions are made about listed buildings, in particular.

Having said all that, I am sure that there are some good proposals in the order. I merely seek an assurance that excellent parts of the built heritage in Northern Ireland will be properly protected.

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12.45 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am grateful to the Committee for those observations. The issue is of great importance to those who live in Northern Ireland, and that is reflected in your Lordships' remarks.

I share the anger expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, about the demolition of the Firestone art deco building. Fortunately, the Tesco building is still there. Even illuminated on a dank Sunday evening, it is a triumph of the art deco style. The problem with the Firestone building was that it had not been spot-listed and was demolished over a weekend before the department could list it on the following Monday. I shall not name the developer, but his name will live in odium for some time.

I shall deal with some of the weapons in the armoury, an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, and others. There is an important weapon contained in Article 5, which provides a useful power. It says:


    "Where the Department considers it necessary or expedient for—


    (a) any actual or apprehended breach of planning control;


    (b) any actual or apprehended contravention of Articles 44(1) or (5), 66 or 66A; or


    (c) any actual or apprehended contravention of hazardous substances control . . . it may apply to the court for an injunction".

Had the Firestone building been listed, an immediate injunction on the emergency application might have brought about the desired outcome. That deals in part with the level of penalty. I shall develop that theme in a moment.

The noble Lords, Lord Glentoran, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass and Lord Dubs, spoke about those living in farming communities. I sympathise with the thrust of what the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, said. It will always be difficult to strike a balance between the social and cultural interest to which the noble Lord referred and the adverse consequences to which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred. In England and Wales, we are all familiar with an application to build for agricultural purposes a house that is then sold on. That is an abuse of the planning system.

I hope that it will be of satisfaction to the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, to hear that we are going to issue a draft policy statement on development in the countryside. It will be issued for consultation later this year, so there will not be any undue delay. There is a delicate balance to strike. Sometimes, there is a continuing blot on the landscape; in other circumstances, for social or family reasons, development is legitimate. That will be of benefit. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, said: we must bear in mind the need to sustain rural communities and not destroy them. I am happy to give your Lordships that reassurance.

Tree preservation orders apply only to trees and do not protect ground flora. However, other powers are available, including those under the Nature

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Conservation and Amenity Lands (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which can be used in some circumstances. There was also a question about trees and woodland. A tree preservation order can be used only to protect the amenity value that the tree affords to the general area. Sometimes, the protection of woodland can be better achieved under the amenity lands order that I mentioned.

The issue of the creation of a new criminal offence exercised all noble Lords who spoke, I think. I have made my point about the injunction, which is the alternative weapon in the armoury. I recognise the strength of feeling expressed not just here but in the Environment Committee at Stormont. We have borne in mind the fact that, as your Lordships said, the Executive Committee had agreed the recommendation in principle. The Government's attitude was that any extension of the criminal law required strong justification. I note the strength of the argument that has been put, and I can tell the Committee that it is a matter for further consideration.

Manifold though my duties are, I do not think that issuing directions to the judiciary in Northern Ireland is something that any sane person would attempt. I will ensure that the Hansard record of the noble Lord's comments is passed to the relevant authorities.

I was asked about the level of fines and imprisonment. My noble friend Lord Dubs asked about the department's policy. The department's policy will be to be increasingly proactive. Where appropriate, application for trial in the Crown court will be made. My personal view—it is not necessarily a government view—is that the sanction of imprisonment ought not to be overlooked. However large the unlimited fine, a possible maximum sentence of two years in prison will be a useful reminder for anyone who carries out such actions. Some might say—I could not possibly comment—that it is too infrequently used.

I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for what he said about the Planning Service, which has been working in difficult circumstances. We will recruit additional staff; some are already in place and others will be recruited. We want to reduce the number of live applications in the system—applications are more usefully done on a documentary basis—and to reduce over-regulation. We shall have improved consultation arrangements with statutory consultees, including councils, and improved handling of Article 31 cases.

The number of enforcement posts, which was raised, will be reviewed because of the department's strengthened enforcement powers and its absolute commitment to be proactive in the way that I mentioned.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked about heritage and protection in relation to the Bill. I have dealt with the sanction of imprisonment. He rightly referred to two years, which is available to a Crown court; an unlimited fine is also available to Crown courts. One would have thought, without interfering with the judiciary, that those fines should be proportionate and proportionate multipliers of the benefit that has inured to someone

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acting unlawfully. Enormous public anger and distress are caused when people appear to get away with things and to make a profit, and destroy buildings of quality. I take the noble Lord's observations on the Bill. He will understand that I cannot properly comment on them. When courts are assessing fines, they often assess the financial benefit that has inured.

My noble friend Lord Dubs asked about the position of buildings in conservation areas. I am happy to reassure noble Lords and my noble friend in particular that all buildings in conservation areas require the consent of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs under the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991. That order applies the new enhanced and increased fines and penalties that apply to listed buildings to buildings in conservation areas.

I was asked about the increase in the level 3 fine of 1,000 to the level 5 fine of 5,000. The conclusion that was come to—I can only recite it—was that the case had not been sufficiently made.

On the question of buildings that are under threat, the new powers of spot listing are extremely valuable. I agree with my noble friend that they require constant vigilance on the part of the department and of those living in the locality.


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