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The Campaign to Protect Rural England has been a vigorous supporter of this amendment. That organisation might be thought to be less concerned with economic impact assessments than with pinning down every last detail of environmental appraisal. The fact that it is notand I do not think there is anybody in the Chamber whom I will provoke too much by stating this viewis probably a major achievement of the EU.
On the second limb, the EU environmental impact assessment directive requires consideration of the alternatives to many major projects. The Minister said that the inspectors should not have to spend inquiry time on an alternative. That either means that the amendment is otiose, or it is necessary because of the confusion. But neither way is it wrong. We support the amendment.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has said, this is an issue that has been debated many times, and at least twice in your Lordships' House. Although the debate was not as full as the noble Lord would have liked, we recognise that it was an important debate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has anticipated some of the arguments that we intend to deploy this evening. At an earlier stage, we said that we thought that the amendment was unnecessary because a promoter of the type of development which the Secretary of State is likely to declare a major infrastructure projecteither of national or regional importancewould engage with all parties concerned as early as possible. Intelligent developers will do that, whatever the nature of the development, particularly if they want to be successful.
We would expect some form of economic impact assessment or report to have been completed in preparation for the application, in much the same way that we would expect an environmental impact assessment or statement to have been prepared. This should bewould bewell in advance of the stage at which the amendment envisages it happening. Any major developer will look at those issues right at the outset, to understand the opportunities and optionsand the likelihood of the application's success. We would expect the promoter of a development of the type that we are discussing to engage at an early stage with all concerned. That would mean that, by the time an application for planning permission was made to the local planning authority, the community would have already been actively engaged in the processes.
It puzzles us slightly why the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, feels that only an economic impact report should be a statutory requirement for a major infrastructure project inquiry. What about all the other important impacts, such as those on transport, highways, amenity value and loss, and social, environmental and cultural factors? All those seem highly relevant, so why just focus on the narrow concern of economic impact?
On the second subsection of the amendment, I shall repeat what was said both in Committee and on Report. Clearly, where there is a national policy statement, or White Paper, it will help to reduce argument at a planning inquiry about the need for a specific development of a particular type at a particular site. Where need is established by a national policy statement, the inspector should not have to spend lots of inquiry time considering whether a need for the development exists. He should instead consider whether the need identified is outweighed by other factors. That does not rule out the possibility that the inspector will spend some time looking at need, but it will be in the context of what is said about need in the national policy statement. I do not think that we can say more than that. The Government do not want to require through primary legislation that an inspector considers need. There may be circumstances where there is agreement on the issue of need and when inquiry time could be more usefully spent considering other issues specific to the proposed development.
I recognise the importance of the amendment and understand why the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, tabled it, particularly given his experienced background and knowledge of major development proposals in and around Essex. However, it is too narrowly concerned and too narrowly crafted. In the circumstances, we do not wish to see the amendment pushed forward. We do not think that it adds anything further to the legislation, so I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw it.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. We have debated the matter but not as fully as one would have liked, and it has normally been at a late hour. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, for his comments today. Major infrastructure developments are normally put forward for economic benefit and needI do not like to return to Stansted,
I agree totally that inquiries should not last three or five years, for example, and that we should speed up the processes. But there must be the opportunity at an inquiry to question the need and the positioning of a runway or a bridge, for example. Later we will have bridges along the Thames, which will involve another big debate. I am not saying that those projects should not happen; governments have a right to put in White Papers that they should happen. But there must be local debate and a proper inquiry to ascertain the positioning, potential need and the reasoning behind projects.
I do not think that the Government have fully allayed people's fears that there will be enough freedom and democratic input to those major national decisions, which affect so many people's lives and affect our country for ever. Therefore, I feel that I need to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.