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Lord Elton: My Lords, the welcome part of the prologue to the Statement is what amounts almost to the formal reinstatement of rehabilitation as a principal aim of the Prison Service. It is very important to recognise that when you bang the door on a prisoner the problem is not solved; it has reached its peak. Not banging the door is very important, too. Therefore, I welcome the new respectability and importance given to restorative justice.
All that comes very late in the criminal career. Noble Lords have heard me say previously that, if only all that ingenuity and money could be thrown into reaching people before they become criminals, we would all be happier and the prisons would be much emptier. I am very puzzled by the following two-line paragraph:
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that it is important to start as early as possible to ensure that people do not continue on an offending pattern throughout their lives. The Youth Justice Board will therefore continue the efforts that it is currently investing in that. On other occasions the noble Lord has commended the Youth Justice Board's work and its innovative use of mentoring, intervention and
As the noble Lord knows, for some time the other concern has been, "You are doing all that for young offenders, but what are you doing about adult offenders to try to replicate the interventions that are proving so positive?". That is our answer regarding what we seek to do with adult offenders. I reassure the House that we will continue to ensure that the link between the adult criminal path and the juvenile path is managed carefully. I agree with the noble Lord that the earlier we can intervene in an offender's offending pattern of behaviour, the better.
Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, although I welcome many of the points in the Statement, does not the Minister agree that the other side of the coin is that we need to increase considerably our efforts to explain honestly to the public that, over many years, short prison sentences have been a failurethat is quite clear because we have so much re-offendingand that community service or intermittent custody is an effective way of reducing crime because it is likely to prevent too much re-offending? The need to convince the public is very important, as the public normally suggest that a proper sentence for anyone is to send them to prisonthat is widely seen. With the changes we need a real effort to convince people that a move towards community sentences and to intermittent custody is the way forward.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I understand and empathise very much with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson. The whole point is that the public must see that that is the case. We are trying to engage local communities to participate in their local criminal justice process so that they can see, touch and hear the consequences of what is happening. That is how people will discover for themselves that community penalties will be more effective. We will certainly do all that we can to ensure that the public have a proper understanding of what we have now discovered about what works, what does not work and what helps us to bring about change.
The Bill is part of a step change in the Government's policies for building successful, thriving and inclusive communities in all the regions of the country. We need to work together at all levels to improve local economies; to promote safety and stability; to provide quality public
Planning is important. It is critical to the delivery of new housing, transport infrastructure, hospitals and schools. It is also important because we must ensure that we make the best use of land: increasing development on brownfield sites and protecting and enhancing our green belt and valuable countryside.
The current planning system has served the country well but needs reform. All governments have failed to address the problems of the planning system as they have built up over the years. Too many councils fall far short of the targets for handling planning applications. Too many local plans are out of date and no longer reflect the realities that many communities face. We issued a planning Green Paper in December 2001. There were some 16,000 responses, one of the biggest responses to consultations on record, which demonstrated the importance of the planning system. There was a consensus about the need for change, and we listened. We continue to listen as the Bill starts its passage through this House.
The Bill has had considerable debate in the other place, as no doubt many noble Lords will realise. Some might say that it has had unprecedented scrutiny, simply because it is the first Bill that has come over the loop from one Session to another. It has been through two Committee sessions in the other place, totalling 20 sessions and some 55 and a half hours of debate. The objectives of the Bill are quite straightforward; they sound almost banal. We want to make the system fairer, faster and more predictable. We want to bring clarity, certainty and a more strategic direction to planning.
I emphasise that the Bill is only part of a wider package of reform that is not just about legislation. The extra £350 million announced in July 2002 for the planning system over a three-year period, for example, is nothing to do with the Bill. It is ongoing, and in February we will announce the money for the second of the three years. Extra money will go to those authorities that demonstrate their commitment to high-quality planning. It is not just about setting targets for local authorities and asking them to do better. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is leading the way in setting itself challenging targets for handling cases called in by the Secretary of State. We are making progress on that already. Successful planning reform depends also on a change to the culture of planning. We need to improve education and training, to raise skills and morale for planners and councillors, and to look at ways to spread best practice and provide help and guidance for local authorities.
What will the Bill do? It simplifies the plan-led process by abolishing the middle tier of planningthe structure plansthat exists in some areas; that is to say, areas where there are county councils and two-tier local government. The new system will have two linked levels of planning: regional spatial strategies and local development frameworks. The local development frameworks will be made up each of a set of local development documents, which each authority will be required to prepare. Together, these documents will
Each authority will prepare a local development scheme, which will list the local development documents that it will prepare, and the timetable for producing them. There has been considerable debate about the new arrangements for local planning and how complex, it is alleged, they appear in the Bill. I am not aware of any legislation where the provisions in the Bill are the whole storyI emphasise that point at the outset. They will be expanded and clarified in secondary legislation and, of course, the volumes of planning guidance. We were trying to cut down on those, but we are also refreshing planning guidance. So the Bill is not the whole story. Recognising this, we will be holding a presentation to explain the arrangements in more detail later this month.
The counties will be consultees on regional plans, and will continue to be responsible for transport, waste, and mineral plans. The regions can use the counties as agents on sub-regional planning. The Bill will also enable counties to work with districts, where agreed, on local plans. We realise that there are concerns about this. We expect county councils to play an important role under the new arrangements.
Our policy intention is unambiguous, but I know, from conversations I have had and conversations my ministerial colleagues have had with county councillors, that concerns remain. They welcome our commitment to guidance, but they need reassurance that this will be turned into action. They want to see further safeguards of involvement in the Bill. We recognise this concern and the wish for change. At the same time, we want to avoid creating unnecessary bureaucracy or practical difficulties on the ground, so we should not make any changes to the Bill that will provide opportunities for unreasonable obstruction or delay to delivery. We are working hard on seeing if this can be achieved. I am fairly confident that we will find a solution to this as the Bill passes through your Lordships' House.
The role of parishes is unchanged by the Bill. Central to our reforms in the Bill is better community involvement. Local planning authorities will have to prepare statements of community involvement. They will have to set out how they will consult with local communities on preparing local development documents and significant planning applications. The Bill also contains a provision for making grants under which we will provide grants to organisations such as Planning Aid. I know, from my former role in the other place, how valuable organisations such as Planning Aid are to Members of Parliament in helping their constituents to get professional advice to deal with some complex planning situations.
We will allow such organisations to be more pro-active and we will target communities that traditionally do not get involved in the planning system, in particular groups in deprived areas or representing the socially excluded.
We will introduce also a statutory purpose for planning. This sets out what we want planning to be for: a planning system which supports sustainable development. Clause 38 is one of the clauses that has
The Bill also introduces local development orders. Developers will be able to request a statement of development principles. There are also provisions to speed up the planning process for applicants and to introduce greater clarity, such as standard application forms. The Bill will also stamp out abuses brought about by the failure of the systemI do not criticize developersby preventing repeat applications and twin-tracked applications. I fully understand why that situation has arisen, because of the way the planning system has developed over the years.
The Bill also reduces planning permission from five years to three years, but this can be extended where projects are particularly difficult. The onus is not just on local authorities. The Bill requires the Secretary of State to set a timetable for decisions on "called in" planning applications and recovered appeals and related decisions. It introduces a duty for statutory consultees to respond to consultation requests within a specified time and to report on their performance.
The Bill will also speed up the processing of major infrastructure projects. There will be a three-part approach. First, it requires a clearer government policy statement on any issue concerning a major infrastructure project. One example, which I would not have been able to give if the Bill had come before the House earlier, is the recent airports White Paper. There must be clarity about the Government's policy. Time must not be wasted at a major infrastructure inquiry on deciding what the policy is. There is a requirement for clearer government statements.
There will be new inquiry rules that will allow inspectors to make better use of inquiry time. The Bill will put in place new procedures that will allow a team of inspectors to operate concurrently on an inquiry. I emphasise to your Lordships that that is not about stifling debate. I would play no part in that and nor would other Ministers. Everyone will be able adequately to express their views on major infrastructure projects. This is not the original proposal that was put forward in the White Paper. That proposal, I think, included the idea that there ought to be a parliamentary element in the process. I must say frankly that, when my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister and I arrived at the ODPM, we had a chat about it for five minutes, and we thought that it was not a workable idea. It would have involved Members of Parliament in what would have been executive decisions. That is not the function of Parliament in any event. We made our position clear on that.
We also had to find a different way of dealing with major infrastructure projects, so that we could avoid a situation such as that which occurredI put it no more strongly than thatwith Terminal 5 at
The Bill also introduces changes to what are known as Section 106 notices. These relate to the complex and slow negotiations on the provision of infrastructure and community facilities by developers, sometimes called "planning gain" and sometimes called ruder things by other people. Originally, in the White Paper, we consulted on the proposal for a tariff approach to help avoid such issues and bring clarity. We decided at the time, when we made the Statement before the Bill was published, not to go down that route but to see whether we could modify, update and modernise the Section 106 procedure. We considered it in the context of the growth areas and of what will happen in the Thames Gateway.
Last summer, when the discussions about the Bill and its related processes and about how we should proceed were taking place in the Government, we had the opportunity, by referring it back to Committee in the other place, to take extra time on the Bill, carry it over from one Session to the next, and revisit what we wanted to do to modernise the Section 106 procedures. As will be seen in the way in which the Bill is now drafted, taking account of the amendments made in the other place, we are modernising Section 106, while giving developers an alternative route by which they can, if they wish, avoid lengthy negotiations by paying a charge. There are, in effect, two routes for dealing with that problem. It will, in many ways, be up to the developer to decide which way to go. There are also provisions to make sure that developers do not pay twice, because, sometimes, Section 106 arrangements will still have to made, even if there is a charge. The consultation that is going on will close at the end of the week.
The Bill also introduces and sets up business planning zones. It reforms the development plan system in Wales. The basic pattern of development plans in Wales will be retained. Local development plans will be simpler, more concise documents than the present unitary development plans. Procedures will be simplified and community participation will be improved. Provision is also made for the National Assembly for Wales to prepare and publish a national spatial plan for Wales.
As is implicit in the title, there are also matters in the Bill relating to compulsory purchase. Where it is necessary to use compulsory purchase powers to assemble land for regeneration and large-scale projects, the implementation of our proposals should help speed up the process. We intend to achieve that by making the basis on which local authorities can exercise their powers clearer and more positive, while improving compensation levels by introducing additional loss payments. Among other issues, the Bill also abolishes Crown immunity, which we were able to put in the Bill due to the extra time that it was considered in the other place in its second Committee stage. That is an important issue, which has long been promised.
Later, I shall do my best to respond to the points made in this debate. To sum up this short introduction, the Bill sets out a reform planning system for this new century that will help us to deliver sustainable communities faster and more fairlyit is no good being faster unless it is fairer. That will help us to meet the challenges for the future and to deal with the problems that we inherit at present. I believe that it will also protect the heritage from the past. I commend the Bill to the House.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I am very pleased to open the debate on behalf of the Opposition. I am grateful to the Minister for his helpful introduction, particularly the points that he made about county council involvement and major infrastructure planning decisions. I shall comment on those two issues during my speech.
Perhaps I may say at the outset that we recognise that planning is an extremely complex business, requiring the careful weighing of many different interests. Often it is not possible, however good the system, to achieve a balance that satisfies all stakeholders. The current planning framework has negotiated that balance well for many years. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that, in spite of its imperfections, we have one of the best planning systems in the world. We know that because as we travel we can see it. As always, however, the system could work better. With that in mind, there are parts of the Bill that we welcome. I shall mention those later. There is, however, much in the Bill that we fundamentally oppose.
We could say that the Bill introduced by the Minister today nationalises the planning system. It gives the Secretary of State the power to set planning frameworks at the regional level and to direct local planning policies. It creates an enormous vacuum between strategic and local planning. It destroys the balance between efficiency and local accountability on which all planning systems should be built. Rather than simplifying the planning system, as claimed by the Minister, the Bill risks introducing more complexity, more bureaucracy and more delay, while making it remote and less democratically accountable.
We all want to see a fast and effective planning system that serves the needs of local people and a system that balances the requirements of sensible development with the need to protect the environment in a sustainable way. We all want the current system to be more efficient and more transparent. Many people think that the Government's legislation will not achieve that. It has largely and unwisely ignored the concerns expressed by many relevant and interested bodies, such as the LGA, the Planning Officers Society, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the National Trust and the CBI.
Many experts have consistently argued that improving the imperfections of the existing system, which has served us well for many years, would be a far better solution than the fundamental changes that we are debating today. If the Government are to tear down the architecture of the current planning system with all the upheaval and costs that that will entail, we should be confident that it will be replaced by a better system. I fear that that will not be the case. So what lies behind those sweeping changes?
One answer might lie in the Government's regions agenda. The Government know that they will lose their argument for regional assemblies at the ballot box, so they are ploughing ahead with their "regions by stealth" agenda. We have already seen plans for the regionalisation of the fire and emergency planning services. This is the next step.
In commenting on the role of county councils, as noble Lords will know, I am particularly involved as leader of Essex County Council. By seeking to abolish the role of county councils in producing structure plans and introducing the requirement for regional planning bodies to produce regional spatial strategies, the Government are prejudging the voice and choice of people across vast swathes of England. The Government would give unelected, unaccountable and remote regional bodies the power to decide planning issues that may affect towns and villages hundreds of miles away.
Exacerbating that democratic deficit, one can find measures throughout the Bill that increase the centralisation of planning. Either via legislation or via order-making powers, the Secretary of State assumes an enormous range of powers. He controls regional spatial strategies which, in turn, will determine local development plans. If any particular local development plan is not to his liking, he can simply intervene to have it changed. Why not cut out the middleman and just have the whole thing done in Whitehall in the first place? No doubt that would speed up the system fairly effectively, if that is the Government's chief objective.
As regards local development documents, the inspector's report will be binding on the local authority, no matter how half-baked the conclusions. That represents a further weakening of local democracy. We shall table amendments that enable local authorities to retain discretion or to depart from the inspector's recommendations if there is a good cause. The Bill would abolish the current role of county councils in the planning system. That would be a fundamental mistake; we shall seek to persuade the Government on that issue in Committee. Obviously, I was interested to hear the Minister's comments.
Without a key role for county councils, it is hard to envisage how the gap between regional planning and local planning can be bridged. It is simply too large without an intervening mechanism. For example, South Buckinghamshire District Council's local development plan will be for an area with a population of 62,000 residents. But the next level of planningthe regional spatial strategy for the south eastwill directly affect 8 million people, which is equivalent to
Occasionally we hear Ministers on the Benches opposite mention something called "new localism". Apparently, that is about devolving power down to the local level. Certainly, that is not a concept that enjoys much credence with the planning Minister. It is a prime example of old Whitehall centralism rearing its ugly head once more.
Regional planning bodies will not be able to match county councils' grasp of the truly local, nor manage sub-regional planning as effectively. There is no evidence that county councils are responsible for any of the failures in the current system. It would have been far better to incorporate some of the logic of "spatial strategies" into structure plans and to improve the cross-county mechanisms for developing regional planning guidance than to engage in this bonfire of the existing system.
County councils responsible for providing services with significant land-use functions, such as education, social services and community safety, and with continuing responsibility for minerals, waste and transport plans, will no longer have a key role in strategic planning. Do we really believe that that will lead to better planning outcomes?
Those are functions that cannot be easily divorced and a reduction in the ability to integrate different strategies and plans will surely follow. This would achieve the precise opposite of the Government's aims. Overall, the key role played by county councils in balancing the social, economic and environmental well-being of their areas will be seriously undermined by the effective removal of their strategic planning function.
I am also afraid that in creating this new policy the strategic planning capability of county councils will simply leak out of the system for two reasons. First, county councils will find it difficult to justify non-statutory spending on planning when they are under so much pressure to transfer resources to education and social services. Secondly, history tells us that a major restructure of local planning will almost certainly lead to a mass exodus of highly skilled planners, at a time when the national shortage of planning staff is one of the major reasons for the problems in the current system.
So far I have dealt with the weaknesses in the Bill that stem from the Government's regions pipedream and I shall return to them in Committee. For now, however, I shall move on to other parts of the Bill. In introducing the legislation, the Minister pointed out that the Government seek to make the planning system simpler and quicker, aims which we support. However, we believe that the proposals risk achieving the opposite outcomes. This legislation will unleash regional spatial strategies, local development schemes, local development frameworks, local development documents, action area plans, simplified planning zones and statements of community involvement. How will all these plans and schemes, with their different timetables, consultations, inspections and appeals, make the system more transparent or streamlined? This level of complexity and fragmentation will accelerate public disenchantment with the system. It will lead to uncertainty, delay and planning by appeal. However, it is interesting to note that the Government are to spare Wales these problems by introducing a much simpler system than that for England.
We certainly support the intention to aid business by speeding up the planning process and introducing more predictability into development control, but we do not agree that statements of development principles will offer more legal certainty than outline planning permission. In Committee we shall seek an explanation from the Minister on how these statements of development principles will provide more certainty rather than less.
As the Minister commented in his opening speech, only a couple of weeks ago the Government published their White Paper on aviation which proposed, among other things, a second runway at Stansted in Essex. I should be interested to hear the Minister's comments on whether it would be possible to stop the further expansion of Stansted by proving that it does not comply with Clause 38 of this Bill covering sustainable development. I look forward to his comments on that point.
In Committee we shall want to give very detailed consideration to the Government's proposals for major infrastructure projects. While I accept that the proposals are a big improvement on those in the White Paper, at the moment they are far too widely drawn. They give the Secretary of State discretion on when he can intervene and are unclear on the process for involving local people and local planning authorities. We shall certainly wish to return to these matters at a later stage.
As I promised at the start of my speech, there are some things in the Bill that we can welcome. We welcome the proposals to eliminate "twin-tracking"repeat and multiple applicationson which the Minister commented. We agree that sustainable
In the spirit of constructive engagement, we would like to help the Government pass a law that strengthens planning in this country by addressing the stresses in the current system. It is vital to tackle the real problems that we all recognise, such as poor quality development, red tape, delay and uncertainty. However, the Government will not remedy the situation with the Bill before us today. It ignores the advice of the practitioners and the wishes of ordinary voters. It steamrollers the planning system into a regional straitjacket. It will bring huge transitional costs that outweigh any potential benefits. It will undermine public confidence in the system. Unamended, it will lead to a weaker, slower and more complicated planning system that is less accessible and less accountable than the one we have at present.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, with a Bill of this size, it is difficult to know where to start in order to get your brain around it. Should one read it straight through from the Title to, I think, page 145? Should one start with the kindergarten version set out in the Explanatory Notes, or with the briefings which pour in from interested organisations, or go and make a cup of tea? I read through Part 1 and found quite a few references to the Secretary of State. I thought, "here we go again", and while making the by then much-needed cup of tea, wondered about three particular points.
First, if this Bill has its genesis in assisting businessthat was the aim set out in the Green Paper, although I accept that we have moved on somewhatdoes it in fact do so? Secondly, if it is to have a role in increasing citizens' and community engagement, will it have a positive or negative effect? Thirdly, if sustainability is about the economy, business, social and community matters, and the environment, how does it knit all those together? While there are no cups of tea available in the Chamber, I thank the Minister for his explanation and for getting us started. Further, I should declare two interests: first, I am a vice-president of the Town and Country Planning Association; and, secondly, I am a member of the London Assembly, which scrutinises the Mayor of London as he exercises his planning functions.
Because I want to be constructive, I shall start by saying that we welcome some aspects of this Bill, among them the provisions on Crown immunity, compulsory purchase, the grant-making powers to support planning aid and so forth which the Minister mentioned in his remarks. However, on other provisions we would like to see the Government go further and be more clear, in particular as regards the "soup" of provisions on development and the role of sustainability. However, I readily acknowledge that none of this is easy territory.
But I should say clearly that our welcome is not enough for the Minister to be able to say that he is glad that we "support the Bill", because we do not. We do not do so because of the transfer of powers from elected county councils and principal local authorities up to a regional tier which is as yet unelected and which in some areas is unlikely to be elected without boundary changes. That is a pity because we see an important role for regional and, indeed, sub-regional planning. However, on reading only as far as the second subsection of Clause 1, one finds that the regional spatial strategy must set out the policies of the Secretary of State.
Further, although we may be making assumptions about which bodies will be "recognised" as regional planning bodiesthose which are to keep the regional spatial strategy under review and prepare draft revisionsnothing in the Bill makes clear the criteria which a body must satisfy for such recognition. To put it another way: what are the criteria for the criteria which the Secretary of State can prescribe for that recognition? That reminds me a little of the establishment of the Government Offices for the Regions by the previous government. That was initially hailed by somefar too uncritically, I thoughtas an act of devolution, but it was not.
In Committee we shall address several of the topics already referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, in particular about how at the least we can give a role in planning to the counties. They provide a great resource and are important brokers in this area. My noble friends Lady Scott of Needham Market and Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer cannot be here today, but they will want to take part in that debate, as will my noble friend Lord Bradshaw. All three will bring their knowledge to that debate, and therefore the Minister will not be surprised to see an amendment from these Benches to the effect that the regional provisions should not kick in until there is a directly elected regional body.
Perhaps not today, but certainly in previous debates in another place, the Government have emphasised what they call the "front loading" of the system; that is, the establishment of a framework which has general support and within which applications can be considered. That notion is undoubtedly a good one but we have had a plan-led system for a decade and more.
I would not begin to oppose a requirement being placed on a local planning authority to prepare a statement of community involvement. However, if that is right at local level why is it not also right at regional level for the regional spatial strategy? How far is it possible to legislate for successful community involvement, where culture and attitude are most important? I hope that through the clause we can find ways of strengthening the requirement.
While we are doing so, perhaps we can ask the Plain English Campaign to translate Clause 17 for public and community consumption in order that the hierarchy of documents and the role of the community are rather less opaque than they are expressed in the Bill. I do not know whether the Bill is so opaque in order to make it legally watertight, but it is difficult to follow.
This is important because public confidence in the planning system and trust in the politicians who deliver it is at stake here. We are not starting with a blank sheet. One matter which currently brings the system into a good deal of disrepute is what people see as a feeble attitude to enforcement. I know that the Government are consulting on that issue at the moment. I was interested in a suggestion from an authority of which I used to be a member that where there is unauthorised development the local planning authority should be able to serve notice that it is unlawful and enter it on the local land charges register until it is dealt with. This may be by way of a retrospective application being passed, but such an application should attract a higher fee.
That is perhaps a deviation from what I wish to say, but the Bill could do a great deal to demystify planning and involve citizensor, if we are not careful, it could add to the problems. The Bill could also do a great deal to bolster the autonomy and discretion of local planning authorities and the roles of politicians and communities in expressing their views on what kind of place theirs should beor, again, it might not.
Inevitably people are stirred up more by particular applications than by a plan and I wonder whether the proposed statements of development principles will be of any use. They will not be adequate for financing for investors and developers, unlike outline planning permissions which can co-exist with them. They certainly will not be of any use in large schemes of regeneration. They are likely to be too simplistic and will not be as detailed as a site brief. They could result in a considerable extra workload for stretched planning departments, as we have already heard.
I have approached crabwise an issue which should be at the start and/or the heart of the Billalthough the Bill also approaches it crabwiseand that is the role of sustainable development. The duty on authorities is to exercise functions,
That might set the context for sorting out the relationship between a regional spatial strategy and other regional strategies, an argument rehearsed during the passage of the Regional Development Agencies Bill. I thought thenand I still dothat the spatial strategy should be the senior one.
"Sustainability" includes a variety of matters. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rogers of Riverside, will be able to share with the House his views about the need for good quality design of more than individual buildings. One aspect concerns access in its widest sense. This is not only a case of amending Section 76 of the 1990 Actalthough the Bill provides an opportunity to do sobut also of taking on board the notion that if individuals with a disability are
We shall also spend some time discussing on what it is valid to spend the money which is paid through the new contributions system. I do not have time today to raise the concerns that have been expressed about whether the new system might prejudice the achievement of affordable housing. I hope that other speakers will allude to that. We support the provisions for contributions but we are concerned about their detail and the need for transparency and certainty. In particular we are concerned about the linkage between contributions and the triggering development. Such contributions should be seen not as a nice little revenue earner triggered by a development, but as unrelated to it. We are not talking about a betterment levy or development land tax.
There is a great deal that I have been unable to mention, but I should at least express disappointment that the Bill does not provide for at least a limited third party right of appealfor instance, when there is to be a departure from the local plan. We do not get many opportunities to legislate on the planning system. When we are distilling down a system which aims, however complicatedly, to produce public confidence, the issue of the right of appeal should certainly be debated.
In Committee we shall address far more issues than we can cover today. Some may be of merely academic interest to some people but may be of real interest to those affected. For example, my noble friend Lord Avebury has a great concern about whether the new strategy will provide scope for setting targets for accommodation for travellers.
On a point that is not academic, in June last year, the Minister, Mr McNulty, said that he expected the new system to be up and running by June 2004. I am sure many people outside the Chamber would be interested in the current estimated time of arrival of the new provisions. I should be grateful if the Minister could help me on that issue.
I have said that we have a rooted objection to what the Minister calls a step changeI have written down what the Deputy Prime Minister might call ittowards devolution. We see this as too much of a centralising measure. We want a system which is speedieralthough, like many others, our focus remains on qualityand simpler for both local planning authorities and communities; one which makes it easier to react to changing circumstances and to deliver incremental change. Whether it improves the morale and expertise of planners and councillors, as the Minister said, will perhaps be teased out over the next few weeks. We look forward to the next stage of the Bill.
Lord Cobbold: My Lords, I declare an interest as a land owner in Hertfordshire. As the Minister has outlined, the Bill covers a great deal of ground, all of which we shall be addressing at the later stages.
The Bill has already had a chequered career and has been much debated and amended in another place. The aim of the Bill, we are told, is to simplify and speed up the planning process. I have tried to read and understand it but I find it an almost impenetrable jungle of bureaucratic jargon which can only further complicate and extend the already overbearing planning process.
I welcome in principle the idea of a regional involvement in strategic planning but I am far from sure that the proposals as they stand give any degree of independent thinking in the construction of the so-called regional spatial strategy. These documents, we are told in Clause 1(2), must set out the Secretary of State's policies, however expressed, and in Clause 1(4) we are told that if these policies conflict to any extent with other statements or information within the RSS,
What will the proposed regional planning bodies do to justify their existence? There is no specific requirement for public consultation in the creation of the regional spatial strategy. Once again, it is left to the Secretary of State to determine, by regulation, the nature and extent of consultation and participation by the public. There is, however, a right of public representation on a draft revision of the regional spatial strategy in Clause 6(2), which seems rather strange. What is more, if the Secretary of State does not like a draft revision, he may institute an examination in public at whichagain, surprisinglyClause 7(3) tells us:
If we look at the proposed functions of the regional planning bodies in Clause 3, they are required to keep under review the regional spatial strategy, derived from the Secretary of State's regional planning guidance. They must also keep under review matters that are expected to affect development in the region and the planning of that development. Note, my Lords, the words "keep under review". There is no mention of actual planning and implementation of that development. There is no mention of such major strategic planning issues as motorways, trunk roads, rail links and airports. Regional planning boards may seek assistance from their constituent local authorities, but all in all, it is hard to see from the Bill how the regional planning bodies can be anything other than glorified talking shops.
Finally, if this were not enough, each local planning authority is required to exercise its function with a view to contributing, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, pointed out, to the achievement of that ultimate, undefined planning clichesustainable development. It must carry out an appraisal of the sustainability of the proposals in each local development document and prepare a report of the findings of that appraisal.
I regret it, but I find it very hard to welcome these proposals. This is particularly disappointing as I strongly believe that the country is in dire need of a rethink in the planning process. The system needs to be more flexible and responsive to the needs of the country in the 21st century. There is obviously a conflict of interest between development and conservation, but it can be resolved and the planning system should be more open and proactive in seeking solutions rather than burying itself in bureaucracy.
Lord Smith of Leigh: My Lords, I begin by declaring a number of interests: I am leader of a local authority and of a sub-regional grouping of local authorities. I am also a member of a regional planning body that exists at the moment, and a board member of Manchester airport. I think that fulfilling those various roles qualifies me to understand the passions that can be inflamed by planning matters. I still have the scars from a number of such matters. As leader, I was once asked to move the planning permission for a landfill site; the public gallery was filled with residents who were not all that keen on having the landfill site in the area, and were using language that I may not repeat in your Lordships' House.
As a director, I, among others, was responsible for gaining planning permission for the second runway for Manchester airport. It took us three years to do so. The cost of cleaning up after those who regarded direct action as a way of opposing that proposal was well over £12 million.
I think the Government are right to bring forward this Bill to improve the planning process. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, I think the current system is deficient. It has many grave failings and needs fundamental reform.
A particular deficiency in the current system is its slowness. Whatever we do, we need a system that works effectively and efficiently because neither proponents nor opponents of developments gain by the current delays. The property of an opponent of a
Planning involves change, and change, inevitably, is likely to be controversial. As former leader of Wigan borough council, I know that there is much we need to do to regenerate the local community from its industrial past, clean up derelict sites, modernise outdated infrastructure and provide housing and other social amenities fit for the 21st century. Such development may cause conflict with those more concerned with the environment or heritage matters. Community needs may conflict with individual rights. We know, for example, that supervised hostels are the best way to make sure that those released from prisons do not reoffend but, inevitably, if there is a proposal for a hostel in an area, the neighbourhood does not like it. I suspect that none of us would like it either.
The key principles that I would wish to apply to planning are that we need to make the judgments on a number of conflicting issues and that those judgments must be subject to accountability. I will return to those issues in a moment.
I was somewhat amused by the discussion on the regional dynamic of planning. There is, of course, planning guidance at the regional level. Each of the English regions currently has an assembly and the elected members of those regional assemblies are the regional planning body. When I was chair of the north-west region, I made sure that all the other partners involved in the region were engaged in our submissions for the regional planning guidance. We need to involve those stakeholders. I ask my noble friend the Minister to require the new regional planning bodies to consult more widely in preparing their regional spatial statements. Local authorities are required to produce that statement of community involvement. Why not expect the same for the new regional planning bodies?
I also welcome the clauses clarifying the contributions regarding planning gain. These contributions are somewhat controversialthey may be described in the local papers as bribery. But it is right that developers contribute to the local communities in which developments take place. Unfortunately, of course, those areas in which there is a considerable amount of development get the most. The reform is welcome. However, will my noble friend question why in Clause 46(3)(c) it is deemed necessary to have regulations to decide how authorities use the money they receive from this contribution? That seems unnecessary.
I have some concerns, which have been expressed by other noble Lords, about the presumptions in parts of the Bill about the value of the intervention by the Secretary of State. I am particularly concerned about the role and involvement of planning inspectors. They are regarded as having a valuable independent view on planning matters. That seems beneficial because it removes decision-making from local politicians. But in my experience, inspectors may be independent but that does not necessarily mean that they are objective. They may come with their own baggage of prejudices and frequently have scant regard for local needs or
The involvement of the Secretary of State is mentioned in many parts of the Bill. If the power was exercised by my noble friend the Minister, I would be more sanguine about it. However, in practice, it will not be Ministers who make decisions but civil servants stuck in regional offices up and down the country. Those faceless bureaucrats have their own prejudices, and decisions to call in or not call in planning applications are often seemingly at the whim of such officials. They exercise power in the name of the Secretary of State, but I am sure that the Secretary of State is not aware of what they are up to. They have too much power and there is no transparency about what they do.
The real problem about inspectorsand to an extent about the Secretary of State in the guise of civil servantsis that they exercise judgments on planning matters without real accountability. Conflicting interests in planning are inevitable, and we need to exercise judgment about how they work in local circumstances. I do not believe that inspectors or civil servants are prepared or able to make the right decisions about those local matters. In particular, they may listen to vociferous opposition to developments, when the real weight of public opinion is the reverse. On the development to which I referred, there was vociferous opposition to a proposed development, but in political terms we fought two elections in that ward, which was highly marginal, and won convincingly both times. That is how public opinion should be properly tested.
At the end of the day, accountability for planning matters should rest with those who live in the local communities and represent people in those communities. Ultimately, the people in those communities have the final sanction, because they can use the ballot box to see whether that judgment is being exercised properly. I ask my noble friend the Minister to ensure that we do not take away from local politicians their role in and influence on local planning matters.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I welcome the Minister's characteristically open-minded approach in introducing this important Bill. I have a number of interests to declare, many of them long-standing and passionate. I am a countryman who lives and farms in Suffolk, striving to survive the agricultural recession by providing houses to let, as far as I can. I am president of Suffolk Preservation Society and of Suffolk ACREAction for Communities in Rural
The British planning system is in my view one of the two great achievements of the post-war Attlee governmentthe other being the National Health Service. In the planning system I certainly include the hierarchy of designations, starting with the national parks, which were invented by the Americans 50 years earlier and which we adopted in 1948. I also include the other forms of designation in the hierarchy, such as areas of outstanding natural beauty. None of that would have happened without years of campaigning. Two of the founding fathers were the architect Clough Williams-Ellis and the great town planner, Professor Patrick Abercrombie. I suppose that in some ways the whole thing started in 1928 with the publication by Clough Williams-Ellis of his book, England and the Octopus, in which he pointed out the horrific way in which ribbon development and all the other horrors were destroying the country. I fear that some aspects of the Bill might make him turn in his grave.
At any rate, those founding fathers showed us the way and persuaded the country to take it. It was taken just in time, and that is why England has so much rural beauty to be enjoyed equally by those who live in the countryside and those who live in our urban areas. It is a tragedy that, in the early years after the war, the same effort was not made with urban areas as with rural areas, giving priority to the preservation and enhancement of our inner cities. In a sense, I always feel that the "new towns" policy was something of a cop out, as several of them were pale imitations of the achievements of those who set out our garden cities, such as Welwyn Garden City. The inner city planning failure has contributed to many of our urban social problems.
I mention that now because I notice that only yesterday a decision was made to set out a new partnership for the expansion of Milton Keynes. I hope that that is not just another opt-out from a proper urban renewal policy. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, deals with that matter.
The Bill relates to some of the most precious elements of our national heritage. Sadly, it has had nothing like the priority and consideration that it deserved in another place. In spite of valiant efforts by my honourable friend Mr Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, it was subjected to the cruel, but nowadays by no means unusual, punishment of the guillotine. The original Bill had its Second Reading on 17 December 2002, which I have read and am sure that other noble Lords have read. Following a rushed Committee stage, in which only 30 out of 90 clauses were discussed, the Bill was in effect withdrawn for drastic reshaping and did
Many major points in the Bill have been referred to, and will be; I shall mention only four. First, I believe that the whole concept of moving strategic planning from county to regional level is flawed. Not only must it mean that such plans will be made by people who are remote from the feeling of those who actually live and work in those areaswhether urban or notand who often have little empathy and perhaps less sympathy with them, but it is another blowI hope not a consciously aimed blowat the sense of identity that people have with their counties.
With diffidence, almost as a commentator on politics, I would, if I may, give a political warning to the Government. They hold many rural seats in Parliament. They cannot afford to lose them if they hope to form a working majority in the next Parliament. They have already lost much sympathy from the agricultural community. If they are seen, with this Bill in its present form, to be seeking to destroy the English county and to replace it with a remote, amorphous, bureaucratic regional entity, I think they will reap a whirlwind of alienation from the electorate.
Secondly, the idea that planning decisions can be made by remote bodies such as regional assemblies, whether appointed or elected, is itself unsound. The Minister reminded us that, not very long ago, the Government considered giving Parliament a giant planning role and responsibility for considering major projects such as airports. Luckily, the Minister in particular, and his Secretary of State, the Deputy Prime Minister, realised that Parliament is wholly unsuited to such a role. It was one thing for Parliament in the 19th century and before to consider enclosure Bills and private railway Bills, but today the rural areas are far more fragile and need the best technical skills to be combined with accountable local democracy to get the right answers.
The Bill appears to offer a complicated regional structure of regional development agencies to promote economic prosperity, and regional planning panels to produce this regional spatial strategywhich I think is a relatively new phrase and, rather like "sustainable
The third point I have to make, to which the Minister referred in his opening speech, is that, as we are all aware, much of the devil in planning is in the detail. A great deal of that will be in the subordinate legislation, including for this purpose not only regulations and Orders in Council, but also the crucial planning policies.
It is of some significance that the old PPGsplanning policy guidanceare being replaced by PPSs. Planning guidance is to give way to planning statements. The PPSs are therefore even more crucial than the PPGs were, and yet we still do not have even the draft of PPS1, which is meant to set out the general policy and principles. The draft of PPS7the old PPG7which is crucial particularly to rural areas, omits the important phrase:
Fourthly, there is a real concern that some of our special landscapes could be threatened by other economic policies, such as those advocated by a combination of central government policy and the regional development agencies. I will give just one small examplethe highly controversial subject of wind farms. The present generation of wind turbines are over 300 feet high and yet produce only 2 megawatts of electricity each. A nuclear power station near where I live, Sizewell B, has an output of 1,200 megawatts and so is the equivalent of 600 of the 300-foot towers. Which is the more intrusive in environmental terms? Yet there are current proposals to surround, and to dominate visually, the entire Lake District National Park with wind turbines. Wordsworth, too, might be turning in his grave.
We cannot allow these designated areas to be eroded and threatened. Only today I saw in the press that the Deputy Prime Minister is considering taking powers to overturn the local government designation of conservation areait is quite an old designation and has been in use for many yearson the grounds that that can interfere with the full use of his housing policies. That, of course, is precisely what such designations were intended for.
From my days as a Lobby correspondent I have admired the heroic qualities of Mr Prescott. However, I am beginning to fear that at any rate in planning and environmental matters he is somewhat out of his depth. In the ruthless pursuit of his policies he appears to be modelling himself on Lord Beaverbrook's activities as wartime Minister of aircraft production in
However, I am comforted by one thing. With the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, in charge of this Bill, we have no mouthpiece Minister. He is a robust and innovative political performer. I hope that he may add to his great "battle honour" of the "Rooker-Wise amendment", the radical improvement of this legislation.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I should begin by declaring an interest as an Oxfordshire county councillor. I shall refer mainly to the duties of county councillors. They constitute a nucleus of highly trained planning staff. They are people of whom the country is desperately short.
When the Statement was made on the White Paper I asked what the Government proposed to do about the shortage of planning staff. The number of people entering higher education institutions to seek planning qualifications is desperately low. Unless professional staff come along, there really is no hope of regional government undertaking the work that is envisaged within regional spatial strategies. The existing county council staff will exercise their right either to work elsewhere in the county council or to leave the service altogether.
I speak for an area of the country that is affected by this matter. Staff in Oxfordshire will certainly not go to Guildford which is the most expensive place in the south-east in which to live. There is a real crisis if the Government think that these people can move. The same mistake was made in the National Health Service when local hospitals closed. Accountants assumed that staff would transfer. However, in my part of the world those staff almost universally left the health service when local facilities were closed. I warn the Minister that this is a real problem, not some fanciful suggestion on the part of opponents. Staffing the relevant offices will be extremely difficult. From my experience of the railways I assure the Minister that the alternative of hiring consultants to do the work is incredibly expensive and does not constitute joined-up working. The people concerned have no commitment to the work and one faces enormous difficulties if one tries to do that. I should like the Minister to comment on staffing and staff training.
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, made reference to the democratic deficit if a transfer occurs away from the counties to unelected regional offices. We feel extremely strongly about that. We are not against regional government but we are certainly against unelected regional government and regional government that draws its powers not from the centre but from the layer of local government below it. So far as I can see from reading the Bill, that is what will happen. The Bill takes power from the county but not from the centre. That is a serious flaw.
I am speaking about such matters because they are the practical realities of life on the council. I know very well that if decisions are sucked away from Oxfordshire and placed in GuildfordI am sure that it is true all around the countrythe local representatives will feel that they have been stripped of something important. It is something about which they are prepared to argue with the electors, but they will not argue on behalf of some body that is totally unrepresentative of them. There is an enormous problem with stakeholder involvement if decision-making is taken away from where it is done now.
So far as I can tell, most counties are not behindhand with planning. In Oxfordshire, we are working on the structure plan for 2016, so we are not miles behind or causing delays. The delays are caused elsewhere in the system. In my experience, most delays are in getting decisions when documents are submitted to the Secretary of State or his regional offices for their opinion.
The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, referred to whether inspectors' decisions should be final. Quite honestly, we have the most bizarre decisions, which I am sure are sometimes made because some of the inspectors are not very good. One can tell that when one makes an application. With the Oxford transport strategy, we actually picked the inspector whom we wanted and waited until he was available. The decisions of inspectors vary very substantially. Unless the inspectors have some God-given power of absolute and total independence, I would much rather face the electors and local media myself than shelter behind a decision made on my behalf by an inspector who probably never faces anyone very much except the few people who bother to turn up at public inquiries.
The Minister mentioned that an amendment had been made on sustainability. Are the Government now satisfied that the definition of sustainabilityit is at present in Clause 38has actually been tested, thought about legally and will stand up to the legal pressure under which it will no doubt come?
My noble friend Lady Hamwee touched on third-party appeals. There are certainly disadvantages in them, and perhaps they are overemphasised. However, where a person is directly affected and where the challenge is on some point of law, the matter should be reconsidered. I am not asking for a licence for lobby groups to restate their case again and again, but where someone is actually the owner of land or is very closely affected and thinks that the law has been misinterpreted, there may be a case for that person to have the opportunity of making a third-party appeal.
Enforcement is mentioned in the Bill. I had discussions with the principal planning officer of our county this morning. He said that enforcement is a tortuous process that takes years to have effect; the fines are derisory; people have often made millions in the meanwhile; and, as I have experienced myself, have been known to go bankrupt so that one is unable anyway to collect the money for the derisory fine. Will the Minister consider in some circumstances making enforcement a criminal offence? I am sure that the threat of prison would be much more real in the minds of some people who are taking a calculated risk. They will pay the £5,000 or £10,000 fine when it comes along as part of their business expenses, whereas a period as a guest of Her Majesty might have a different effect.
Another problem that we have in Oxfordshire is sub-division of agricultural land. I believe it is a problem that is growing in some parts of the country, where speculators are selling fields and then dividing them into small sections. That is thoroughly objectionable; it serves no purpose; is entirely speculative and leads to the land looking awful. I hope the Minister will address that.
Many issues can be addressed, but I return to the final one. We are very concerned about the effect of the Bill on counties and on small counties that might be bullied by their larger neighbours or bullied in the interests of larger neighbours that have a much greater voice on the regional authority. We are certainly concerned about the democratic deficit.
There are some good things in it. There are important measures, many of which have been referred to, of a tidying-up nature, dealing with practical abuses of the development control process; for example "twin tracking", repeat applications and, separately, Crown immunity. Although one would assume that speeding things up was a good thing, the Explanatory Notes seem to suggest that that is the main purpose of the Bill. Indeed, they indicate that the purpose of the Bill relates to:
While, as I said, there are some good, practical things in the Bill, I believe that its main thrust is deeply worrying. In essence, it is a key measure in promoting the Government's regional agenda. The key planning processthe RSSwill be carried out by each regional planning body, for which read the "regional development agency", as prescribed by, and under the beady eye of, the Secretary of State.
The structure planning system is to be abolished and the county councils are to be deliberately sidelined. Indeed, an RPB is required to seek assistance from a county council and so on only if it considers that it would be "desirable". I believe that that is rather a weak word. I very much agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that this is an area where we must strengthen the Bill.
That and other measures in the Bill mean that the slow but steady evolution of our planning system from the seminal legislation of the 1940sthe carefully constructed system of checks and balancesis to be pushed aside. As I said, that is rather worrying.
Regionalism versus structure planning at a county council level will be the first main theme of my remarks. I shall touch on two other topics: namely, the role and status of national parks and, secondly, third-party rights of appeal. I shall not seek to cover the immensely complicated processes proposed for local development control. It seems likely, for example, that local plans will be extremely thin documents. Perhaps that is what the Government want, but does it make for good planning?
Then there are the other complicated issues which have also been mentioned: the Section 106 proposals or those to deal with compulsory acquisition, and so on. However, I shall listen with interest, as I have done already, to what noble Lords have said or will say on those matters.
I return to the central issue: regions versus county councils or unitary authorities. The objections to the proposals are so many and have been gone over by, I believe, almost every single speaker thus far that I shall be rather telegraphic. First, few people in England identify with a particular region. To the extent that we have them, they are an administrative construct. But people do relate to counties, and county councils are elected.
Secondly, moreover, to date we have no regional assemblies. If we were to have them, we have no idea how they would operate or what their powers would be and so forth. Thirdly, therefore, to put the key element of the proposed planning regime on regions which do not exist is to put the cart before the horse, or perhaps the metaphor is that the tail will be wagging the dog.
Fourthly, we are therefore asked in the mean time to rely on regional development agencies. The membership of their boards is appointed by the Government and members have a mostly business or urban background. By all accounts, they are flush with funds. Typically, only one member has rural expertise or a rural background. Inevitably, urban considerations will dominate countryside considerations and tensions will build up.
Fifthly, our existing structures of separate county councils and urban unitary authorities are understood, have evolved and are democratic and they avoid the town-versus-country issue. Sixthlythis point has been made by a number of speakersmost planning experts believe that the gap created by the abolition of structure plans will be too great; that is, the gap between the RSS and the local plans will be too large for good planning. The county council is a far better level for strategic planning.
Eighthly, how, it may reasonably be asked, are these proposals to be resourced? That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and I think others. There is already a shortage of planners. But the county councils will still need their planners if they are to maintain their other functions. Moreoverand it seems a little bizarrethey are to continue to be in charge of transport, minerals and waste planning.
The second matter I raise is the role and status of national parks. I declare an interest as the vice-president of the Council for National Parks. It seems to me that the statutory purposes, and with that the national role, of national parks, is in no way fully recognised. They are lumped togetherI refer to Clause 4(2)with county councils, metropolitan councils and district councils as a job lot of bodies whose role is to be reduced. Their national status is not recognised. In that connection I draw attention to Section 62 of the Environment Act 1995.
Everything I have said about the dumbing down of county councils applies with even greater force to our national parks. If the word "national" is to mean anything, then each part must be solely responsible for the strategic planning in its area. To put matters crudely: it must not be dominated by a bunch of businessmen at an RDA. That is a real danger. It will be an insidious danger too because in developing the park, probably in the name of tourism, we shall end up by damagingperhaps irreparablythe special qualities which have made it a national park.
I believe it follows from that that each national park authority (NPA) must be properly represented at the regional level. If, faute du mieux, we are to be saddled with this regional superstructure, an NPA must be able,
In the same connection, striking the right balance between economic development and environmental quality will be a key factor in strategic management. We would, I suggest, do well to study the thinking of the National Trust. I am happy to declare an interest as a former chairman. I am very happy to see the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, in his place this afternoon. He is a former chairman too. The National Trust's experience in this respect is unrivalled, as is the thinking of people such as Mr John Dunning. He is a member of the North West RDA and has much of interest to say on the subject.
Before I move on, I must say a few words on AONBs. There is nothing in the Bill about them. There is nothing about AONB conservation boards. One is left to wonder whether this is the same Government today that passed the CROW Act only three years ago. Broadly speaking, AONBs, which under the 1949 Act are areas that have the same landscape qualities and value as a national park, need similar but appropriate treatment in the Bill.
The last point I wish to raise is the omission of any measure for third party rights of appeal. Again, one or two noble Lords have raised the issue. There have been repeated representations and notably a major report commissioned by eight highly responsible environmental organisations. Some fairly trenchant comments were also made by the House of Commons Select Committee. Yet the Government continue to resist even limited rights. At the same time they state in the Green Paper, and they have continued to reiterate the theme:
Planning has been described as a mediating process for dispute resolution. It has been developing over the years, following the landmark legislation of the Attlee administration, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and by the typically British process of evolution, but the main thrust of the Bill does not take us down that well trodden route. Its tendency is towards centralising, not towards sub-regions. It over-emphasises the desirability of speed at the expense of openness and fairness. It is sad that it falls to a later Labour Government to abandon a process that has served so well.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, whose great experience of the matter, like that of so many other noble Lords who have spoken, I cannot hope to match. I agree with virtually everything that he said; in that regard, I suppose that I ought to declare an interest as living in an area of outstanding natural beauty.
I am not surprised to find that when our planning system is compared knowledgeably with that of other developed countries, it comes out as one of the best, if not the best. I agree with what has been said about the great achievement of the Attlee government in the famous 1947 Act. It follows from that that we must regard it as a precious attribute of the country and be extremely cautious, although not timid, when we address perceived defects. It is also remarkable that we can claim it to be the best notwithstanding its inbuilt capacity to frustrate certain people.
In a small country such as ours, whose undeveloped land is, as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said, such a precious amenity to the life of almost everyone, it is essential that the necessary power to control the use of land should be sharedand democratically shared at that. In the sharing of that power, many people are bound to experience frustration from time to time. For the greater good, there will on occasion be a need to make them suffer frustration; but they will wear that if the decision that occasions it is democratically fair and taken at a reasonably local level. If it is not, the degree of public acceptance of, and therefore of compliance with, the planning decision will be entirely different.
It is rather fashionable for people unfavourably to compare with the French system the time it takes here to get consent to a major infrastructure proposal, for example. My answer to that is that with the French system goes an authoritarian attitude at all levels that could be called cavalier, if that were not to be unfair to Cavaliers. We would not and should not wear that in England; and my real fear is that the Bill may provide the Government with an opportunity to learn that lesson the hard way.
Those reflectionswhich, I fear, are not especially originallead to my justification for adding to the list of speakers. What is proposed in the Bill in substitution for the county councils' present jurisdiction to make structure plans will add to the frustration and diminish the democracy. It is seriously undemocratic and remote from the areas that it will affect.
I invite your Lordships to consider the south-eastern region. To begin with, the proposed assembly, which will to a great extent assume the jurisdiction of the county councils, will draw its members from North Oxfordshire in the north to Thanet in the south-east, while skirting everything included in Greater London. It is not easy to imagine a less homogeneous areait is more of a hotchpotchfor decision-makers to control when they are invested with the jurisdiction to make nominally regional decisions and nominally regional, strategic, spatial strategies, while local development frameworks, put forward by truly local bodies, are obliged to conform to them.
How should deprived Thanet, for example, in east Kent, be expected to conform to what is apt for the M4 corridor or indeed for Oxford? I listened with much admiration to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. That is only the beginning of it. Who are those decision-makers to be? Why, for the present, they will be the officials who comprise the regional chambers. None of them will be elected for that purpose. Their numbers will inevitably burgeon and their regional spatial strategy will have to comply with or, to use the words of Clause 1, to "set out" the policies of the Secretary of State, however expressed. They will exercise that statutory jurisdiction in place of the locally elected county councils for an indefinite timeat least as long as it may take the Government to enact their regional assemblies legislation. I say "at least as long" becauseyes, it really does get worsea referendum under that Bill could perfectly possibly result in a "no, thank you" answer from the electorate, declining an elected assembly in the south-east. I fervently trust that that is what will happen, because I judge that we are pretty happy with our county councils. In that event, the undemocratic set-up that I have tried to describe will indeed last indefinitely.
Ministers will doubtlessly retortwe may hear it tonightby urging us to vote "yes" in our referendum if we do not like it. That, of course, is their intention. However, I suggest to your Lordships that that would be a shocking misuse of power, for the question whether a region is to be saddled with an unelected assembly should surely stand alone. It cannot fairly be presented, or represented, as a question, when the structure plans that it will supersede will already have been taken away. The icing on that unwholesome cake is provided by calling it "devolution". We shall certainly come back to the issue.
It is important to be fair and therefore to take heed of the fact that Ministers can indeed remark on the failure of some local authorities in some circumstances to meet their planning targets. That is said to be evidence of a failing system. So it is, but the fault for the failure in Kent, for example, is that of central government and not of local government. I take Kent to be an illustration; I do not believe it to be unique. In Kent, a land bank has been allocated for development sufficient to meet the needs of the next nine years. I understand that the reason why Kent has been able to build only 75 per cent of its allocation each year in the north Thames Gateway lies in the failure of central government to fund the necessary infrastructure, such as road junctions, schools and libraries. Therefore, the reason does not lie in the deficiencies of the planning system; and I will be surprised if that is a unique experience.
I conclude by joining virtually all other noble Lords in pointing out that there are indeed good things in the Bill. I have already cited two examples. The first is the Bill's nailing of the abuse of repetitious applications. That is important. The second is putting a stop to Crown land immunity from the planning processes. We all recognise that.
However, first, the Bill's impact on local democracy and local ownership of planning decisions, and, secondly, the vast accretion of power to the Secretary of State, to say nothing of the complexity of many of the provisions, cumulatively amount to a very serious and retrograde feature of the legislation. I very much hope that we will be able to diminish that.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, like the two previous speakers and other noble Lords, I wish to start by saying that I believe that the planning system in this country over the past half-century, warts and all, has been a huge success. The suggestion that the planning system is bust and must be reformed thoroughly from top to bottom is fundamentally wrong. One need only compare this country with others, many of which have far fewer planning problems than we havewe are far more densely populated and have a much greater variety of landscape than many countries.
In the 1930s, when much of the pressure for a planning system was building up, ribbon development was a key factor in making people realise that an efficient planning system was needed. If that had not happened and ribbon development had continued for the past 50 years, every main road and country lane in this country would have a row of houses along it. Imagine how that would be. One need only think about what this country would be like had the planning system not existed. Noble Lords talked about the national parks. Let us take for example the Lake District and the development that there would have been in Langdale, Borrowdale and all its other valleysand probably, in some cases, on top of mountainsif it had been allowed. It is obvious that planning has served this country well. That is not to say that some changes and reforms should not take place.
Unlike my noble friends, I am no longer directly involved in local authorities so I have no interest to declare. However, I spent 25 years as a member of local planning authorities, and my expertise in planning is due to my having been at the coalface. Recently, for example, I spent several years as chairman of various development control sub-committees and committees. I have, therefore, local experience of planning.
My first huge question on the Bill is: why are the Government centralising power in this apparently drastic way? In particular, why are they taking structure planning powers to a regional level? There may be elected regional assemblies in some parts of England in the fairly near future. I doubt that it will happen in the north-westalthough it mayand it certainly will not happen in most regions. We are faced with half the planning system that rests with local authorities at present going to a regional level. Even in a region such as the north-west, that is a step too far.
I cannot understand from reading the Bill and the Explanatory Notes what will happen in the existing unitary authorities. What will happen to existing structure plans in the mean time? Who will look after them? Once the Bill is passed, who will be responsible
Presumably, parts of the planning process in unitary authorities that represent the county level of a structure planning system in two-tier systems will also go to the regional level. What is the process by which unitary authorities will be stripped of half their planning powers? In the mean time, what will happen to unitary development plans, half of which will no longer be the responsibility of the authority that set them up? For obvious reasons, a lot of the debate is about counties in two-tier structures, but the problems and the complications that will occur in existing unitary authorities are just as great, and in fact they may be greater, because an existing unitary system will be split.
The Government have said that this system will be more simplified and will lead to faster decisions. The view of local planning officers to whom I have spoken, again at the district level of development control and the district level of producing local plans, is that the new system will be more complex; that the new folder full of all these local development documents will be more time-consuming, more resource-consuming to compile than the existing local plans; and that more resources will be required. Will the Government provide those resources for local planning authorities? One planning officer told me that the Government are looking for a Rolls-Royce system, whereas at the moment they have an ordinary Ford Pop system. My concern is that by not providing the resources and the ability to produce a Rolls-Royce system, they will in fact end up with something that owes rather more to Heath Robinson than to Rolls-Royce.
Sustainable development is a wonderful thing; at least, they are two wonderful words. Everyone agrees with them, because everyone thinks they mean what they want them to mean. People who want to see a lot of economic development believe that sustainable development will lead to sustainable profits for their company; economically sustainable development. People who believe that new housing estates should be provided with schools, community centres, shops and all the rest of it believe that it is to do with socially sustainable development. Of course, a lot of people think it is to do with preserving the environment and reducing global warming and all the rest of that, in other words, environmentally sustainable development. Everyone agrees with sustainable development until they start to define it. So it is not really surprising that the Government have not put a definition in the Bill, because if we start talking about definitions, we will find that everyone thinks that it means something different. It is not good enough for the Government to say that they will issue regulations saying what this means. If we are going to pass this Bill here in this House, we want to
I will talk about one or two local issues. The Government talk about speed in planning decisions. It has been said that this Bill is all about speed, trying to speed up the system. Even if it will do that, there is quite often a trade-off in planning decisions, between speed on the one hand and the quality of the decision on the other. When you come to complicated development decisions at local level, you often find that you can pass it quickly and virtually do what the developers are asking for, or you can spend care and time improving the proposal. If you do that, you go beyond the eight weeks and you lose marks on the government tick-list when they come along to assess your planning policy. They look at how many proposals you have passed within the timetable, and if you have not passed 75 per cent, or 80 per cent or whatever it is nowadays, they will say, "Oh, you are naughty boys and girls", and they will give you less money in future.
Nevertheless, you might be getting better development decisions, because you have taken the time and the trouble to consult outside organisations; you have taken the time and the trouble to talk to developers, to negotiate; you have taken the time and trouble to explain to local people what it is all about and to get their involvement, and if not their total agreement, at least their acquiescence that you are doing it fairly and you are looking at all the points. It is often a trade-off between speed and quality, and the Government simply do not understand that. I am not arguing for inefficiency; I am not arguing for planning departments that put things in a cupboard and do not look after them. However, it often takes time, and even on small planning applications, it often takes time to get it right.
Major or small local planning applications will continue to be there. Once development takes place, the results will be there for 20 years, 50 years or perhaps 200 years in many cases. If a development is wrong, the people of the future will suffer because it is not at least as right as it might have been. There are no total rights and wrongs in planning. It is always a matter of compromise. Therefore, as regards speed, the Government should think again about exactly how the competence of local planning authorities is to be assessed.
One of the problems that causes delays in planning is the appeals system, which is out of the control of the local authority. It is in the Government's control. But do the Government have their own tick-list about how quickly appeals should be organised and dealt with? Perhaps I may give a brief example. A planning application for 200 houses has been made by the ward that I used to represent in Colne in Pendle borough, Lancashire. I shall not talk about its merits or otherwise because it is still at appeal, but the application was made almost two years ago. It went to committee and there were a great number of delays while organisations such as the Lancashire Wildlife
The local public inquiry took place last April. There was a delay in obtaining the public inquiry, which there always is. We are still waiting for a decision. That is no good for the applicants. It is no good for the residents who are objecting to the extension of the lovely new houses that have just been built on the edge of the countryside. Some people are objecting for much better reasons than that. It is no good for the local authority. It is no good for anyone. Yet that is the delay in the system, which is all down to the appeal. As far as I can determine, there is nothing in the Bill about speeding up appeals. But it is a fundamental problem, which is not fair.
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