Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Hamwee: I should like to say a few words about the presentation of the Government's new proposals. I am prepared to accept that they could make life simpler. However, as presented, they make life much more difficult. Outside this Chamber, I have used the example to the Minister of the difficulty in local planning authorities. In many cases, planning officers do not know that planning permissions can be for a length other than five years. If they labour under such misapprehension about a system that has been in force for some time, the difficulty that they—let alone the public—will have in getting to grips with this new system cannot be underestimated.

I use this opportunity to make a plea on the record that I have made to the Minister outside the Chamber. Work should go on to ensure that the explanation for every regulation, guide or code of practice is as straightforward as possible. As many of the documents as possible should be written by people who do not know or understand the technicalities of the process. They would then be forced to address them and explain them in straightforward language.

5 p.m.

Lord Rooker: I have just taken some advice and I feel a little cheated. For what is, let us face it, a substantial amendment that covers three or four pages

22 Jan 2004 : Column 1237

of the Marshalled List, I have the most gigantic speaking note that one could imagine. My noble friend says, "Not any more you haven't". Bearing in mind that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, sat down after six minutes, I said to my noble friend, "Let's see if I can stop at a certain point in these notes to make the position clear". I have just been given approval to do that.

I was looking forward to this because Part 2 is a very important part of the Bill—there is a lot of good stuff to put on the record from the Government and it is all in plain English. I shall try to read it in plain English after what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has just said. On a more serious response to her latter point, I would say, "Absolutely. Yes". I cannot claim that all our documents will be subject to the Crystal Mark, but we do try to achieve that. We do our best to get them written in that way. Sometimes, legal terms have to be used, but as far as the leaflets and booklets explaining the planning process to the public are concerned, they will be written in plain English. I cannot say that for the guidance notes because they are necessarily written for inspectors and other professionals. However, the noble Baroness is absolutely right because, if the public cannot understand a policy that we introduce, they will not benefit from it and it is an absolute waste of time. That is what puts people off the process.

The amendment is a fairly radical proposal to gut Clause 2 of the Bill and replace it with another way of doing things. I shall try to explain why our proposal is a clear way of proceeding. Amendment No. 81 would insert a new clause to replace a substantial number of the provisions in Part 2. I am not complaining about the number of subsections because the amendment has obviously been put together as one clause. However, it substitutes a lengthy clause setting out how local planning authorities should prepare a "local development plan" containing a number of "local development documents".

The noble Baroness starts from the viewpoint that the system that we are putting in place is over complicated, which is what I have been told before. I reject that. It can be perceived to be over complicated, but it is not. The noble Baroness believes that attempting to cover local planning arrangements in a single clause will make the system better and easier to understand. She clearly believes that the arrangement in these amendments will lead to a better local planning system or she would not have made her speech. I understand that some of her colleagues made similar speeches in another place. I hope that I can persuade Members of the Committee to disagree.

Our new arrangements, while precise, are not too complicated. We genuinely believe that they will deliver simpler, clearer local planning which is faster. However, contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said, that is not the be all and end all. I have already repeated the words "faster and fairer". If it is faster but not fairer that is not on. We need planning which is more flexible and with which the community can become more easily involved.

22 Jan 2004 : Column 1238

Describing the component parts of the system in sufficient detail means that people can be certain about how it operates. Each element of the new system is there for a reason—to address the problems, and to contribute to the goals of our planning reforms. The amendments not only fail to address some of the problems; they would create some entirely new ones.

As regards the proposed system, we have set out a clear system for local planning which contains straightforward elements, linked in a clear way. We start from the proposition that all local development documents should be prepared with full community involvement, and that they should be programme managed in a transparent and open way. The initial documents that will form part of the development plan are called "development plan documents". People may perceive complications with regard to the terminology used to describe the ingredients and building blocks of various parts of the development plan. Those which are supplementary to the development plan, other local development documents, are called "supplementary planning documents". In our draft regulations we have called them "development plan documents" and "supplementary planning documents".

Development plan documents are those that need independent examination before they are adopted by the local planning authority. In order to allow flexibility in the new system and to meet the need for clear policies, development plan documents may take different forms. Regulations may prescribe which local development documents are the development plan documents so that there is clarity and precision about which document falls into which category.

Each authority is required to have a core strategy covering 10 or more years. There will be a proposals map showing which land is to be developed or conserved. Authorities may choose to have one or more area action plans showing in more detail what will happen in areas where there will be a lot of change or which are to be kept as they are. All these development plan documents will form the development plan along with the regional spatial strategy for the area which they are required to follow.

Planning authorities will be able to set out more details on their main policies or their policies on, let us say, accessibility or design. These elements will be known as supplementary planning documents. That is the second category to which I referred. Each planning authority will also have a statement of community involvement explaining how local people and other interested parties will be able to influence and express their views on plans for their area. And, to make sure that these elements are put in place within a reasonable time, each authority will prepare and stick to a project plan setting out what documents it will prepare and a timetable for their preparation. This will be known as the local development scheme. People will be able to follow the process of the scheme and the timetable.

We have some serious problems with the present system. That is why we seek a solution. We believe that our proposals ensure that local planning in future will

22 Jan 2004 : Column 1239

not suffer from the serious problems that it has under the current system. No longer will plans take far too long to put into place. No longer will it be extremely difficult and time-consuming to update them. Having plans updated is one of the serious issues.

Plans will be required to set out a clear strategy for the area's future development, not merely a list of hundreds of policies which make it hard for anyone to see what development might happen where. No longer will preparing or altering a plan be such a mammoth endeavour that the residents and businesses find it too hard—or, as they see it, deliberately off-putting—to become involved and stay involved in the process. The noble Lord, Lord King, referred to that point.

These are new arrangements. As with all changes, it will take time for people to become familiar with them. I accept that people might say the changes are complicated, but they are new. I do not think most people find reading a Bill the best way to grasp a new system. When I became a Member of the other place, I had that romantic notion. My first Committee considered the abolition of the infamous Industrial Relations Act. We thought it was a one-clause Bill to abolish it; not on your life. It had one clause: "The Industrial Relations Act is hereby abolished". It then had dozens of new clauses. What for? To protect the unfair dismissal legislation that was the one good bit of the Industrial Relations Act, which we had abolished with our one clause. I thought, "Oh, is this the way it is done?". It was not clear and straightforward. We were told that a one-clause Bill would get rid of that Act, but it did not quite work out that way. So reading the Bill is, I suggest, not what people do to find out how best the system is going to operate and to get a grasp of what will happen.

Last autumn, we published consultation drafts of the key documents on local planning. These are the Part 2 regulations, transitional regulations, planning policy statement 12, local development frameworks and the policy statement on the new system. We published a guide to procedures and codes of practice; that is, a guide to help stakeholders and the ordinary person become involved in the new procedures. There was also a guide to creating local development frameworks, a "how to do it" guide for local authorities and others involved in preparing the new local development documents.

The comments were requested by 16 January, for which I apologise. Obviously I apologise because the Bill had already entered your Lordships' House and had had a Second Reading. A number of consultees said that they will be a few days late. We are happy to wait a few days for these, as we want to take all the comments into account. By the way, that is my experience over the past few years. When a consultation closes down, the great bulk of comments always comes in at the last minute. Generally speaking, even responses that come in after the deadline—in my experience, this is so in more than one department—have always been taken into consideration, up to the point where one is making

22 Jan 2004 : Column 1240

one's final decision. We are happy to wait a few more days for these comments, as we want to take them into account.

We will amend the drafts as appropriate, and publish them in an accessible style to assist all those working in, and involved with, local planning. Copies will also be on our website and will be available through the planning portal. The planners will know all about that, so I shall not explain it for the non-planners. We aim to have these out as soon as possible, to give everyone a chance to gear up for the new system.

We are also preparing guidance on sustainability appraisal and strategic environmental assessment and guidance on monitoring and indicators. The Planning Officers Society, with support from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, is preparing guidance for local planning authorities on what spatial planning policies could look like. All this new guidance will be published in draft in the next few months.

It is clear that these reforms are a bigger step-change than many in local authorities and elsewhere realised. It is a question not of putting new labels on existing plans—far from it—but of preparing new-style documents. It involves making decisions early, front-loading the system, and involving the community properly. Therefore, it is not surprising that some people have initially said that they find the new arrangements confusing. However, once authorities embark on them, they will become much easier to manage, as not everything has to be done at once. When one has the burdens of life, whatever they may be, if one can sit down and say, "Well I do not have to do it all at once", then one can make a plan to work it through. The strategic approach can set the context for the detailed, and there will be no incentive for anyone to defer decisions to the end of the process, which causes unwelcome surprises and has led to lengthy inquiries and delays before plans are adopted.

We will continue to work with the government offices, local authorities and stakeholders to prepare everyone for the commencement of the new system. We have already held training sessions with all Government Offices on the basics of the new system, and have held seminars for local authorities and others in every region to fill in the details of the new system, answer queries and encourage a full response to the consultation to which I referred.

Larger conferences have been held to roll out the key messages on planning reform at four regional venues in co-operation with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Town and Country Planning Association and the British Urban Regeneration Association. Ministers or officials have spoken at a number of conferences.

As soon as the provisions have reached the statute book, our officials will work with Government Offices to provide training to authorities to help them make rapid progress in starting on the preparation of their local development frameworks. As the year unfolds,

22 Jan 2004 : Column 1241

the culture change agenda will focus on supply-side issues, promoting the training of planners and the users of the planning system.

I should add that, during that period, loads more money will be rolling out from central Government to local government by way of the planning delivery grant. As I have repeatedly said, this Bill is not the be all and end all. In the previous spending review we secured 350 million in extra new money resources for a host of ways of improving the planning system and raising the esteem of planners, for training, and for providing a faster response rate to planning applications. So we are not leaving it simply to legislative changes. More resources are going into planning. That 350 million has not been robbed from elsewhere but is brand new money. We will aim to ensure planners have the attitudes, skills and resources they need to practise spatial planning effectively.

That is as brief an overview as I can give. There is a chronology to it. We have titles for different sets of documents, some of which are probably subject to inquiry; I have delineated the ones that are not. Although the Bill looks incredibly confusing and complicated, outside the House, as I have just explained, we are operating on a wide front, with seminars and consultation, in order to gear up the industry for the changes, to ensure that the documents we produce are in a readable form for the public, and to ensure that consultation is at the heart of the process.

I genuinely think that that is a fair summary. The new system is clear and need not be overcomplicated. Some aspects of the system and some of the terminology are new, but I am absolutely certain that time will cure that. As soon as the public—the important people, our fellow citizens—and developers wanting to develop and those who wish to stop or adjust development plans become more involved and experienced with the new system, they will see the benefits of that system. They will say, "It was not anywhere near as complicated as we thought it would be. Thank you for giving us such a clear, precise and fairer system".


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page